The New York Giants are once again the champions of the NFL after defeating the New England Patriots, 21-17, in Super Bowl XLVI. While many will talk and write about the plays that didn't happen (looking at you, Wes Welker and Deion Branch), it is important to note the big plays that the Giants did make happen. In what appeared to be a lethargic game at times, New York's finest team made several crucial plays that helped them come out on top. But how did they do it?
Breaking Down the Offense
New York's offense appeared stagnant at times, but it proved effective, taking what the defense gave them by throwing short to slant routes and running the ball in key situations that kept the chains moving. One of the most interesting aspects of the Giants offense in this game was play-caller Kevin Gilbride and his lack of aggressiveness.
Gilbride has a background in the famous (or infamous, depending on what side of the ball you're on) Run and Shoot offense, which threw the ball more than any other team down the field. It showed in the regular season, with quarterback Eli Manning throwing and completing the most deep passes (21-plus yards), yet there was only one deep play tonight.
A significant reason for this is because of the Patriots defense. Yes, the Patriots defense.
They played a plethora of snaps in a 2-high safety shell, keeping a lid on the Giants' vertical routes and forcing aforementioned play-caller, Kevin Gilbride, to be patient in his play-calling, a task that is a lot more difficult than it seems, and quarterback Eli Manning, who brilliantly managed the game by taking what was given before delivering strikes from various platforms late.
One of the coverages the Patriots turned to is Cover 2, a five-under, two-deep coverage that has the cornerback as the Force defenders in the flats. Simultaneously, two safeties patrolled the deep depths of the field and took away potential vertical threats, while the other three underneath defenders attacked the ball aggressively downhill.
This coverage, one among many out of the Patriots 2-high shell, worked for most of the night until late, when Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham made a significant catch down the sideline for 38 yards.
Manningham's catch, along with a few others, such as receiver Hakeem Nicks' 18-yard dig route into the middle of the field, proved pivotal in moving the chains during the game and getting closer to the championship.
The offense, which naturally gets the most publicity, made several crucial plays in situational football, but they weren't the only ones; the defense did as well.
Breaking Down the Defense
When it comes to discussing the Giants defense, it always starts in the trenches. They do a great job of applying pressure with their front four players, who are all very good at what they do and are put in position to succeed. The Giants turned to their "NASCAR" package, which features three defensive ends and one defensive tackle, on multiple occasions tonight and had success in winning one-on-one matchups.
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who slides into the interior of the defensive line in the previously mentioned package, did not always get to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but still had a big effect on the game by shedding blocks and getting his arms up to bat down passes.
Meanwhile, teammate Justin Tuck also had success and got to Brady twice. Tuck is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL because of his hand use. His hand quickness and strength allow him to gain leverage on pass blockers while also being able to swat the hands away of the blocker to continue his path to the quarterback, as witnessed on the late fourth-quarter sack.
While these two athletes have great ability to get after the quarterback, they also dropped in underneath coverage at times and disrupted passing lanes. They did not bat any passes down, but their presence alone made an impact when Brady dropped back and scanned the field.
Much like the NASCAR package, the Giants Big Nickel, which consists of three safeties, personnel grouping made its way on to the field for a significant amount of snaps and played well. They used several coverage concepts to combat the Patriots offense, and one of them was Cover 3.
Cover 3 is a four-under, three-deep concept that is played out of a 1-high safety shell, and it is something that the Giants have played a lot of against the Patriots, dating back to their Week 9 matchup.
But tonight's Cover 3 was a bit different than the previous one used because it was a variation, with the three safeties covering underneath and a linebacker patrolling the deep middle of the field. Antrel Rolle was a Force (flat) defender, while Kenny Phillips and Deon Grant were the Hook (middle) defenders and linebacker Michael Boley was the other Force (flat) defender opposite of Rolle. It appears that this second-half adjustment was done to get more athletic underneath, an area that the Patriots were working a lot opposed to deep early in the first half.
This was an impressive performance by the Giants, holding the Patriots offense (despite Gronkowski's injury) to 17 points and forcing them to settle on short throws. The Patriots had matchup advantages, but they did not prove to be enough. On the other side of the ball, the Giants offense was patient and took calculated deep shots that proved to be effective and ultimately won them the game.
Congratulations to the Super Bowl XLVI champions, the New York Giants.