I took a long, hard look at the Patriots' defensive game plan against the Giants in Week 17, and it did reveal a number of things good and bad. I'm sure Bill Belichick has already addressed the issues that led to the Giants putting 35 points on the board, and he's probably comfortable with the things that worked well and will use them again. Here's a look at the New England defense from Week 17 against the New York Giants:
Things that worked very well
1. Turn the Giants running back inside: As retiring Buffalo offensive line coach Jim McNally said to me earlier this week, "The Patriots' outside linebackers want to turn the running game back inside to Vince Wilfork." I watched every running play from the end zone copy of the coaches' tape from the Week 17 matchup, and most of the time Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas meet the blocker with their inside pad and get the ball carrier to go back inside.
When you combine the number of times Giants RB Brandon Jacobs had to go back inside with the times New York ran at Wilfork, the results are clearly in the Patriots' favor. I recorded eight runs in that situation, and the average gain was fewer than 2 yards a carry. The Giants had success when they could stay outside by getting the outside linebackers either hooked or moved out of the "C" gap. On those eight runs the Giants averaged 6 yards a carry.
2. Slant the front more: The Patriots are known as a 3-4 two-gap front, and most football fans think of three big defensive linemen holding up the blockers so the linebackers can make a play. I was very impressed with Wilfork's ability to slant and move with great quickness. Ty Warren and Richard Seymour are equally talented when Belichick wants to slant the front. I would expect more slant calls in this game, especially now that Belichick has played the Giants and has first-hand experience against this offense.
3. Pass pressure schemes the first time around may change: When you count the scrambles by Eli Manning and the fumbled snap on a play that was going to be a pass, the Giants called 35 passes in Week 17. I was surprised at the distribution of pressure called by New England in the game. When a defense plays Tom Brady and a high-scoring offense, it isn't going to take too many risks and give up an easy score. However, there will be some adjustments to the pressure calls this time around.
For example, the Patriots called five three-man rush calls in the first 15 pass plays in week 17, sending just the three defensive linemen after Manning as eight men played in coverage. A conservative plan, to say the least, but the results should put the three-man rush on the shelf in the Super Bowl. New York threw two touchdown passes, a bootleg for another 10-yard gain, and Manning scrambled 11 yards to set up another score. The four-man pressure scheme wasn't much better in the first half.
In the first half of that game, the Patriots ran the following pressures:
» Three-man rush: Five times (Manning: 3-of-4 for 20 yards, two TDs)
» Four-man rush: Seven times (Manning: 6-of-7 for 133 yards)
» Five-man rush: Three times (Manning: 1-of-3 for 13 yards)
If you notice, there were no six-man pressure calls in the first half and very few five-man calls. In the second half, the decision was made to turn the heat up. There were no three-man rush calls after halftime. There were eight four-man pressures, five five-man pressures and, most importantly, Belichick called seven six-man pressures.
The six-man rush package produced the only sack of the game for New England and the Giants completed 2 of 5 passes for 4 yards -- and a touchdown when the defensive back fell down. Belichick will bring more pressure early in this game.
Brady always says that after a film session with Belichick, you feel like you didn't do anything right. I promise you, the day after the Giants game in week 17 the players felt like they had a lot to improve upon. Look for New England to modify the game plan off of what they learned.