Keys to a New York Giants Win over the New England Patriots
On Sunday, the New York Giants will host the undefeated New England Patriots in a game that very few people outside the walls of the Quest Diagnostics Training Center seem to think the Giants can win.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because that was the common opinion about the Giants prior to their matchup with the Patriots in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, as well as the Giants’ 2011 regular season game at Gillette Stadium where the Patriots hadn’t lost a regular-season game since the 2008 season when they went 5-3.
That was then and this is now. While many people seem to be basking in the aura that is the Patriots, it needs to be remembered that the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Jets both came close to stopping them.
What did they do that others weren’t really able to do? And how can the Giants deploy some of that into their strategy to win this game?
Read on to find out.
Release the Kraken (a.k.a the Pass Rush)
In their last three victories against the Patriots (the two Super Bowls sandwiched around one regular season win), the Giants have been relentless against quarterback Tom Brady.
According to the SportsXchange, in that three-game stretch, the Giants sacked Brady nine times, hit him 20 times and broke up 18 of his pass attempts.
The Colts had success in this regard against Brady, sacking him twice and forcing one interception. Their defense also hit Brady six times and broke up six passes, a showing that might have been good enough against most quarterbacks in the league except
For as good as Brady has been this season and in his career, no quarterback wants to have to deal with pressure in the pocket, something the Giants, and particularly defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, know all too well.
In Super Bowl XLII, Spagnuolo's defense had success against Brady by attacking the A-gap. This time around, the personnel is much different, but the philosophy is still the same: to create those little creases in the protection in order to dictate to Brady when to throw.
The problem, though, is that Brady gets rid of the ball so quickly that it's a challenge to get to him. Per Pro Football Focus, Brady is averaging a league-best 2.18 seconds from dropback to release.
"If you can, push it a little bit and get him uncomfortable," said defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo when asked how to work around Brady's lightning-quick release. "If we can get somebody, if it’s not our guys, if it’s their offensive lineman, then we’ll try to do those things."
The return of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul seemed to wake up the Giants’ sleeping four-man pass rush last week so it will be interesting to see if, with another week under his belt, he can top last week's performance.
When it comes to ball security, no one does it better than the Patriots, who, according to their weekly game notes, have turned the ball over just four times this season and, since 2002, are an NFL-best 100-13 in games played in which they don’t throw an interception.
The Giants defense, meanwhile, might not be the top group in the league, but one thing they have been is opportunistic when it comes to forcing turnovers.
New York has a plus-12 turnover margin, the best in the NFL, with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie being the most productive in that area given his three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
The Colts converted Brady's lone interception in that game into seven points, that coming on a 14-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"Whenever you get a chance, some of those guys have a history of just fumbling the ball, so if they do catch it, get to them, put as many guys to the hat and try and get the ball out that way," said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
...and Convert Turnovers into Points
Getting turnovers is one thing; doing something with them is quite another.
As good as the Giants have been in getting turnovers, they've had their struggles with cashing in on them and scoring touchdowns.
According to the Giants' weekly game release, of the 21 defensive takeaways, the Giants have scored just nine touchdowns and three field goals, a mark that needs to improve moving forward.
"You have to keep the ball, you’ve got to take full advantage of your drives, your opportunities and the good mix, and the clock running is all part of that," said head coach Tom Coughlin.
Find a Way to Minimize the Gronk Factor
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has evolved into such a force that defenses these days don’t simply try to stop him—that’s next to impossible. Rather, they seek to minimize the damage he’s capable of inflicting on a team.
One possibility to minimize the threat of 6’5”, 265-pound Gronkowski, who is the best receiver on the Patriots, might be to put 6’2”, 193-pound cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on him.
“You guys are going to talk me into something here,” head coach Tom Coughlin said with a smile when the idea of a Rodgers-Cromartie-Gronkowski matchup was suggested.
“We’re thinking about borrowing some of our tight ends that are as big as him, put them up there,” Spagnuolo joked. “Try to get him at the line of scrimmage and put three guys on him—I don’t know.”
Hopefully Spagnuolo does have an idea of how to stop Gronkowski because this season his defense has been eaten alive by the opposing tight ends.
According to the NFL game books, opposing tight ends have caught 52 of 70 pass targets for 658 yards and five touchdowns against New York.
Whoever the Giants do put against Gronkowski, the key might be playing his hands rather than trying to get too physical with the hulking tight end.
This would involve timing jumps to coincide with the ball, and then, if Gronkowski should manage to get his hands on the ball first, trying to poke it out of his grasp.
Keep the Patriots Offense off the Field
That’s obviously not a good statistical matchup if the strategy is to keep Brady and the offense on the sideline, nor is the fact that the Giants offense is ranked No. 21 in the league on third-down conversions.
So for this key, let’s look to the offense to keep the drives going, where the Giants need to be efficient in a few areas.
First, if presented with a short-yardage situation, they need to do better. According to NFL Game Statistics and Information Service, the Giants have had nine 3rd-and-1 plays this year in which they’ve run the ball. Their total yardage on these plays? Eight—not good.
The same holds true with pass plays, especially against a solid pass rush such as what the Patriots have. The key will be to keep the third-down yardage manageable, especially if the offensive line isn’t going to be able to hold its blocks long enough to let deep pass patterns open up down the field.
That’s been a problem for the Giants, who have had more third-down pass plays of six or more yards (52) than those of five yards or less (46).
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.
Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.