It wasn’t long ago when Aaron Rodgers stood in front of the media and professed that maybe the answer to his sacking wasn’t more blockers, rather less. If there were less blockers to use, it meant more options to throw to. And it made sense entirely; after all, it was former Ajax soccer head coach Jack Reynold’s 1920s philosophy of the “attack being the best defense” that everyone presently subscribes to and agrees with. With more attackers, there’s more for the defense to account for, and the more scoring opportunities. That’s usually a pretty successful equation.
But on Sunday Night Football, the attack fell apart. Real estate was exquisitely compressed by the zone schemes of the New York Giants, with an occasional mix of the forever popular man coverage, and all of Rodgers’ attackers were manhandled at the line of scrimmage prior to being imprisoned by the Giants’ defenders. Rodgers was brought down repeatedly after running to find a teammate due to his five over matched — “lesser” blockers, one might say — blockers.
The pass rush of the Giants has always been the heart of their defense, and it didn’t stop working on Sunday despite being outnumbered five to four on the majority of the snaps. Four different rushers got to No. 12 a total of five times that night, and many of the sacks came with simple four-man rushes. Other times, there were “games”, as they’re called among D-line coaches, with T-E (tackle-end) stunts being used. But that wasn’t the main way the Giants got to Rodgers.
Admittedly, sacks tend to be overrated by football analysts, with many using them as the ultimate and sometimes sole barometer of a pass rusher’s. But they’re also often underrated. They change the momentum of a game and instill fear into quarterbacks. Many start to look over their shoulder, where the infamous blindside is, and wonder where forceful pass rushers are. Speaking of forceful, it allows a defense to be more aggressive when sacks are recorded, enabling them to control the game instead of the offense controlling them. On Sunday night, the Giants controlled the Packers with their sacks and relentless rush, forcing the offense to work out of lengthy down and distances.
Here’s an instance: the Packers had 12 third down situations in the game, and five were considered “long,” which is typically labeled as seven yards or more by coaches.
As you can see, those five third-and-longs had distances of 13, 11, 11, 17 and 14 yards. That’s a tough task for any offense, especially one that’s facing a fearsome rush of four. When they were far from the first down marker, the Packers were faced with relatively simple coverages, but ones that had something in common: a lid.
A lid is a way of saying a defense uses deep safeties to ensure that there are no vertical passes being executed by the offense. The Giants did this by playing three coverages: Cover 2, Cover 3, and Cover 2 Man.
Cover 2 is one of the most polarizing coverages in all of football, with coaches debating it’s merits against the run, but there’s no denying it’s effectiveness vs. the pass. The Giants were able to use it to be physical with the Packers’ receivers — who often came in Twin or Trips sets — as they were forcibly rerouted to the safeties and were boxed between zone defenders as Rodgers scrambled to find his open targets. Cover 2 consists of five underneath zone defenders and two deep safeties who split the field into halves as they keep an eye out for any vertical threats.
Like Cover 2, Cover 3 is a zone coverage, but it’s foundation is different. It’s largely been associated with run defense due to the eight-man box that’s created once a safety drops down into the box, leaving a single-high look and a difference from Cover 2 where there are two deep safeties. Despite it’s link with the run, the zone coverage has largely been used to slow down proliferating spread offenses that stretch the defense the width of the field.
This coverage uses four underneath zone defenders that patrol the seam and place an emphasis on expansion from the hashes to the flats. Last but not least, it allows the deep cornerbacks — who noticeably split the field into thirds along with the lone deep safety — to attack the ball while coming downhill from deep alignments. In this scheme, the Giants didn’t reroute the Packers’ receivers much because of the cornerbacks’ assignments, which was to get deep and prevent vertical passes.
Moreover, different from the described zone coverages is Cover 2 Man or “Man Under,” which is a combination concept that features two deep safeties splitting the field into halves once again but underneath, and the cornerbacks and linebackers are man defenders. They’re given a player to mark for the entirety of the play, which they play with an inside shade of the receiver in order to avoid any inside breaking routes and receptions. Playing Man Under allowed the Giants to once again get physical with the Packers’ receivers, disrupting their routes and rhythm with Rodgers.
While the receivers were attempting to separate themselves from the Giants’ defensive backs, Rodgers was looking to elude the Giants’ pass rushers and, as noted, it was mostly to no avail as he was either sacked, or he was forced to throw the ball away.
All in all, the Giants appear to be in form once again, concluding the month of November on a high note while the Packers’ offense took a step back and again could not beat their developing rivals. Until the Packers’ offensive linemen improve and the coaches adjust their offense to get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands quicker, there may be more troubles for the Green Bay offense.