Archive for the ‘Super Bowl XLVI’ Category

As the Super Bowl fades in the rear-view mirror, we’re trying to broaden our perspective on what took place Sunday night in Indianapolis. The minute details were reviewed in the immediate aftermath of Giants-Pats 2.0, but now we’re left finding new ways to reflect as we await the Combine, free agency and the draft.

One very simple yet important thing to do: update the all-time Super Bowl standings.

With their fourth Super Bowl title, the Giants actually moved ahead of the Patriots on the all-time list. Now, New York has joined four franchises — Pittsburgh (6), Dallas (5), San Francisco (5) and Green Bay (4) — to become the fifth member of an exclusive group of teams that have won four Lombardi Trophies.

Based on the fact the NFL has had between 24 and 32 franchises over the last 46 years, any team with more than one title has fared better than the math dictates they’re suppose to. But any franchise with one or zero titles has fallen short of the mathematical expectations. The Giants and Patriots are two of eight teams with at least three titles, so they’ve both been wildly successful.

But the Giants now have an edge.

Now, many of us weren’t alive in the early years of the Super Bowl, so those championships won in the 1960s and 1970s don’t carry as much weight with your average fan. That’s where Giants fans have been particularly lucky — Big Blue has won all four of its titles in the last 25 years. Here’s a look at the Super Bowl standings in that time frame:

1. Giants (4)
T2. Cowboys (3)
T2. 49ers (3)
T2. Patriots (3)
T5. Steelers (2)
T5. Packers (2)
T5. Broncos (2)

In terms of success in actual Super Bowl games, the Giants now have the second-best winning percentage in league history, at least among teams that have made it to the game more than once.

1. 49ers (5-0, 1.000)
T2. Giants (4-1, .800)
T2. Packers (4-1, .800)
4. Steelers (6-2, .750)

What’s crazy is how different the history books would look if two incredibly close games had ended with the Patriots beating the Giants, rather than the opposite. Had the Patriots won those two games, they’d have the second-most Lombardi trophies and the second-best Super Bowl record. Instead, they’re now tied for the all-time lead with four Super Bowl losses.

Meanwhile, this marked the eighth time in nine years that a team with previous Super Bowl victories won the championship. Dating back to Tampa Bay’s win in 2002, the only first-time winner we’ve had was New Orleans in 2009. As a result, there are still 14 NFL teams that have never won a Super Bowl and four that have never even been to the game.

The only teams that have been around for all 46 Super Bowl seasons and haven’t won: Buffalo, Minnesota, Arizona, Tennessee, Detroit, Atlanta, San Diego and Philadelphia.

The only team that has been around for all 46 years and hasn’t even appeared in a Super Bowl: Detroit.

How lucky were the Giants?

Luck undoubtedly plays a large role in sports. And before I look at a few good breaks that put the Giants in position to win the Super Bowl, I should note that, in terms of injuries, Big Blue was actually quite unlucky this year.

This is a team that lost a starting corner (Terrell Thomas) and starting middle linebacker (Jonathan Goff) before the season started. They also saw top draft pick Prince Amukamara go down for significant time, and second-round pick Marvin Austin never played a game. Goff’s backup, Clint Sintim, also missed the entire season, while they had to endure the midseason loss of starting left tackle Will Beatty. Oh, and receiver Domenik Hixon, who was expected to play a big role in the passing game, missed all but two games.

Call it karma, but the team’s bad fortune with injuries was balanced by some big breaks during the regular season.

This was, after all, a team that surrendered more points than it scored — the only 9-7 team to make the playoffs. But because their division was so weak, they got to host the Falcons on wild-card weekend, gaining a significant amount of momentum in a home victory over a team that is much better in the Georgia Dome than it is away.

The NFC East was terrible. The Eagles were a tremendous disappointment — if they had their stuff together and established chemistry earlier (in other words, if not for the lockout) they probably would have won the division easily. The Cowboys botched three games they had no business losing. The Redskins plummeted after a fast start — but even they were able to beat the Giants twice during the regular season. New York finished with a 3-3 record within a bad division, but still snuck into the playoffs…and actually got a home game to set the tone.

That’s break no. 1 (although you could argue that there were multiple breaks within that singular break).

For another one, let’s go back to Week 4, when the Giants barely survived against the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona had a 10-point lead with less than four minutes to play. Against a quasi-competent team, New York loses. But I won’t call playing a bad team a complete break. Where the break came is when a terrible ruling led to the game-winning score. Here’s how I explained it at the time:

Victor Cruz made a catch, fell to the turf, got up and dropped the ball. He was never touched. The “fumble” was recovered by the Cardinals, but the officials didn’t see it as a fumble, claiming instead that Cruz had “given himself up.” A play in which a player “gives himself up” isn’t subject to review (because it’s clearly a judgment call) and thus Ken Whisenhunt wasn’t able to challenge.

Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for six points on the next play and the Giants shut down Arizona on its final drive, moving to 3-1 and remaining in a first-place tie in the NFC East.

Watching the play, it’s hard to imagine that Cruz was giving himself up. Instead, it looked as though he stumbled and then tried to get up, assuming he’d been touched. I understand why referee Jerome Boger couldn’t review the call, but I can’t comprehend the call itself. Neither can former NFL officiating czar Mike Pereira, who thought the play should have been ruled a fumble. He noted on the game broadcast that the officials were essentially protecting Cruz “from his own stupidity.”

“We got a break on that one I think,” admitted Manning after the game. “I thought it was going to get ruled a fumble and I saw it pretty clear. I don’t know what the call was or why.”

Some said the victory deserved an asterisk. Without that play, the Giants might not have won. And without that win, they don’t make the playoffs.

OK, I’ve got another one for you. This time, the Giants trail the Cowboys 34-22 with less than four minutes remaining. And Dallas, at home, completely chokes. The Cowboys commit three penalties, go three-and-out with an inexplicable incomplete pass with the clock a factor, and have a game-tying field goal blocked. That block came after Dan Bailey had connected successfully, but that play had been blown dead due to a New York timeout. The freeze was successful.

I know, the Giants found a way to win, and you can’t blame them for the incompetency of their opponents, but they were extremely lucky to win both of those games.

And then there were the breaks the Giants got within the Super Bowl itself. If Tom Brady and Wes Welker don’t fail to connect on a wide-open pass in the final minutes (I’m refusing to call it a drop), the Giants probably lose. If Rob Gronkowski is healthy and able to box out Chase Blackburn on the game’s only interception, the Giants probably lose. And if the ball on that final Hail Mary bounces 24 inches to the right, the Giants lose.

It’s a game of inches, of being in the right place at the right time. That’s part of the Super Bowl equation on nearly an annual basis. The Giants deserved this title, of course. They got hot at the right time, and they found a way not to be the chokers like the Cardinals and the Cowboys. Brady and Welker failed to connect on that pass, but Manning and Mario Manningham found a way to make it happen on their big completion.

That’s what it is — a combination of good play, especially in clutch moments, and good fortune.

Credit Justin Tuck for the role he played in both of the Giants’ Super Bowl titles in the last four years.

In the two victories, Tuck had a total of four sacks, nine tackles, a forced fumble and a forced safety. In Sunday’s game, he made two of the most important defensive plays of the game, pressuring Tom Brady into his first-quarter intentional grounding penalty that resulted in two New York points, and sacking Brady in violent fashion on a third down in the second half. After that latter play, Brady was never the same again.

As a result, Tuck was a top-tier MVP candidate in both games.

In Super Bowl XLII, he was arguably the Giants’ leading candidate for the award until Eli Manning led the Giants on an 83-yard, game-winning touchdown drive in the final moments, making big throw after big throw — headlined, of course, by that historic completion to David Tyree.

Obviously, Manning was the MVP.

In Super Bowl XLVI, Tuck was again probably right there with Manning. If not for the safety created by him, the Giants would have needed a touchdown, not a field goal on that final drive, and thus New England wouldn’t have let them score. And in all likelihood, the Pats would have only needed a field goal on that final drive.

But it was again Manning who led the way on a final, game-winning drive, completing another pass for the ages and going 5-for-6 to essentially put the Patriots away.

Tuck’s hilarious reaction to that second Eli masterpiece was: “That guy stole my MVP again.” But here’s the problem with that logic: if not for Manning’s heroics, the Giants would have lost both games, and the MVP in both cases would have gone to a member of the Patriots such as Brady or Wes Welker.

If Manning comes up big, Tuck loses the MVP. If Manning doesn’t come up big, Tuck loses the game, and in turn, the MVP.

Tuck was clearly the defensive MVP of both Super Bowls, and considering that the Patriots averaged less than 16 points per game in those affairs, that counts for something when assessing his legacy as an elite defensive player. Unfortunately, though, there’s no such thing as a defensive Super Bowl MVP award.

Back in October, we relayed to you an interesting find from the guys at Smart Football, who stumbled upon a page from one of Buddy Ryan’s playbooks from Houston.

Essentially, the play — full diagram and explanation here — purposely called for more than 11 men on the field, essentially meaning that the defense was deliberately taking a too-many-men penalty, but taking valuable time off the clock…time that the offense can’t get back regardless of the penalty.

Ryan’s play was for goal-line situations, but it also makes sense if there are about 10 or 20 seconds left and an opponent with no timeouts remaining is in Hail Mary mode.

Sunday night, the Giants sent 12 men out with 17 seconds left. With that advantage, they successfully defended against the Hail Mary, losing only five yards due to the penalty while taking eight seconds off the clock.

Slate thinks that Justin Tuck is actually trying to get off the field prior to the snap, but it’s tough to tell and NBC didn’t provide a live replay with a wide shot. Regardless, it appears Coughlin used the strategy by accident. Had he been doing it on purpose, he would have used more than 12 men. Why not 13 or 14 or 45? Seriously, there’s nothing in the rules that gives the officials the right to blow the play dead in the instance that the Giants put the entire team on defense for a play like that.

Now we’ll see if the NFL closes an exposed loophole by introducing tweaks to that rule this offseason.

Tom Brady made this Tom Brady face because of the Giants defense.

While the quarterbacks get most of the publicity (and MVPs) in the Super Bowl, the defense continues to make big play after big play without getting enough credit. That changes now, as I delve into a halftime adjustment made by Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell that helped New York win the Super Bowl.

Fewell’s personnel packages were normal in the first half, consisting of the NASCAR package that features three defensive ends, and a Nickel package that was made up of three safeties unlike the typical three cornerbacks that teams put out on the field. Where it got interesting was in the coverage concepts that Fewell implemented, some of which featured straight man coverage, while at other times it was pure zone. Both of the philosophies came out of 1 and 2 high safety shells, with the former being used more while the Giants played Cover 3 — a 4 under, 3 deep zone coverage.

Cover 3 diagram courtesy of Smartfootball.com.

This was not much different than what was seen in the Week 9 matchup between these two teams. New England’s quick-footed pass catchers got the best of the Giants’ pass defenders, separating from them at the break point of their underneath routes multiple times and consequently moving the chains en route to 10 points in the second quarter.

However, the second half of the Super Bowl would be different as Fewell and the Giants defense made a coverage adjustment that would pay dividends late in the game. They still played their Cover 3 concept but with a slight alteration of responsibilities that would see the middle linebacker drop into the deep third area in the middle of the field, while a safety would replace him underneath in coverage. This showed that they were not concerned about the vertically challenged Patriots attacking deep, an area in which they failed all night, instead settling on short passes out of three- and five-step drops.

This coverage variation was seen on the final Patriots drive late in the fourth quarter. With the Giants leading 21-17, they turned to their coverage adjustment that they made while Madonna was performing the shuffle and some one-hit wonder was flipping the world the bird.

On this play, the Patriots came out in their 11 spread gun personnel package that has a single back in the backfield and a tight end flexed from the end of the formation, while the Giants looked to operate out of their 40 Big Nickel package — four-man line (40) and five (Nickel) defensive backs, three of which are safeties.

The Giants' coverage variation sees the middle linebacker drop while the safety comes underneath.

Tom Brady’s view of the coverage pre-snap was interesting, as he looked to the middle of the field to identify how many safeties there were, yet right across from him stood a linebacker fifteen yards off the line of scrimmage. To each side of the linebacker were the safeties — what were they going to do post-snap?

Looking at Tom Brady's view of the pre-snap defensive alignments.

When Brady snapped the ball, the MIKE (middle) linebacker dropped deep along with the two outside cornerbacks, splitting the field into thirds evenly. Underneath, the three safeties along with linebacker Michael Boley divided the field into fourths, with safety (left) Antrel Rolle and Boley being the Curl-to-Flat defenders, while safeties Kenny Phililps and Deon Grant became the Hook (middle) defenders.

Giants safeties stay while the MIKE linebacker drops deep.

After scanning the field, Brady threw the ball and targeted receiver Deion Branch. Branch, who ran an inside-breaking route, was open in the middle of the field, but the Patriots signal caller had to make a difficult throw. He got just enough air under the pass to put it through the hands of Philips…

Phillips reaches sky-high for Brady's pass.

But ultimately, the ball placement is what caused this pass to be incomplete, with Brady throwing it behind his intended target — something he doesn’t do very often.

Bad ball placement haunts Brady.

While it appeared that Branch ran freely into the middle of the field, the Patriots did not complete the pass that would have given them a significant gain.

This play was merely one example (and the best for diagramming) of many that the Giants had success on while in this coverage. The coverage concept switch-up administered by Fewell proved to be a big halftime adjustment because it allowed the Giants to become more athletic underneath, thus negating the Patriots’ matchup advantage and cutting down the yards after catch opportunities on quick passes thrown by Brady.

This guy was part of the 111.3 million.

Yawn, right? Another year, another Super Bowl that had really, really incredibly amazing ratings. This is barely a blip on your news radar, and you’re tempted to roll back over in bed while that Super Bowl hangover continues to subside.

And I’m here to tell you that this is worth your time, because the Super Bowl setting the record as the most-watched television show in U.S. history for the third consecutive year is kind of a big deal.

First, here’s the breakdown:

  • An estimated 111.3 million people watched last night, according to the Nielson ratings, which narrowly beats the 111 million who saw the Packers beat Pittsburgh last year.
  • The close game kept viewers engaged, and kept more rolling in. The last half hour of NBC’s broadcast topped out at 117.7 million when Mario Manningham made his improbable catch.
  • The last three Super Bowls join M*A*S*H as the only shows to draw over 100 million eyeballs in American television history.

The ratings this year were also significantly higher up here in the Great White North where 8.1 million people tuned in, which is a 12 percent increase over last year.

Again, the mere fact that a lot of people watched a really important and exciting football game isn’t shocking. That’s especially true after earlier this the power of Tebow led to regular-season ratings that eclipsed the ratings for the final game in the most recent championship series for the other three major North American sports. That Tebow game in late December between the Broncos and Patriots also topped the average rating for the Red Sox’s curse-breaking World Series win in 2004.

And all that still doesn’t minimize what was accomplished last night. We’re nearly one year removed from the beginning of a lockout that rigidly divided players and owners, but more importantly, it created a gap between fans and the game. The paying customers were angry about the mere threat of a product they love being ripped from their television sets, and in vein they threatened a blackout.

Sunday’s ratings prove once again that the NFL and the Super Bowl are impenetrable, and in North American sports there’s nothing that even remotely compares to the spectacle of the big game in early February, and the vast audience it’s able to draw.

The New York Giants are one of the most unlikely Super Bowl champions in NFL history. Ironically, the last time a team with this little preseason hype went on to win a title, it was Tom Brady and the Patriots back in 2001.

I know, New York was only a three-point dog for this game and many predicted they’d win. And the fact that a team with similar key contributors won the Super Bowl only four years ago means this isn’t exactly Jets over Colts in ’69.

But still, when you consider the expectations (or lack thereof) heading into the season, as well as the expectations (or lack thereof) as late as December, the fact that they’re on top of the football world is astonishing.

This is a team that didn’t get into the playoffs until the final game of the year. They’re the first-ever 9-7 team to win the Lombardi Trophy.

This wasn’t easy for me to dig up, but on Dec. 24 — just 44 days ago — I declared that the G-men didn’t even look like a playoff team, adding…

This has the looks of a team that should probably be seen as an underdog in the first round of the playoffs, regardless of where the game is. They have big-play ability on both offense and defense, and Jason Pierre-Paul has been a revelation. But they’re an all-or-nothing team, which doesn’t bode well for their chances in January against stiffer competition.

Considering the injuries they’ve dealt with, the Giants might have done enough to save Tom Coughlin’s job. Still, this is a team that will require some serious tweaking in the 2012 offseason.

Embarrassing, I know. But I was in the majority.

This is a team that was ravaged by injuries in August, losing Terrell Thomas, Prince Amukamara, Marvin Austin and Brian Weatherspoon on defense. An aging offensive line was going through a transitional period following major offseason changes, and the receiving corps didn’t scare anybody, especially after Steve Smith walked as a free agent and Domenik Hixon tore his ACL in Week 2. And on top of all that, Osi Umenyiora was disgruntled over his contract, threatening to sue Jerry Reese and requesting a trade.

It was messy.

So why, with the Eagles, Cowboys and even Redskins seemingly getting better, would anyone pick the Giants to reemerge out of nowhere in 2011?

Here’s what I wrote about them in my team preview last August:

Can they really say they got better? This is still a talented team, and they still won 10 games despite the injuries and the turnovers last season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they took step a backwards in 2011. Let’s give ‘em eight wins, maybe nine.

Another thing that made us laugh at the Giants in August: Eli Manning, who, coming off of a 25-interception season, essentially called himself elite. Despite what happened in Super Bowl XLII, few of us agreed with Manning’s assertion.

And those critics just gained more traction when the Giants started the season with an abysmal performance in Washington.

But everything changed when it mattered most in December, January and February. The line developed cohesion, the pass rush went from good to great and Manning locked Bad Eli in the closet for the remainder of the year.

So maybe we overreacted to early signs of trouble. After all, it’s about peaking late in this league. Maybe, we should have just listened to this dude from the Bleacher Report way back in August…