INDIANAPOLIS -- Who says coaching doesn't matter?
Not anyone who watched Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride put together a brilliant offensive game plan that keyed the New York Giants' victory in Super Bowl XLVI. From the clever utilization of high-percentage passes to making a strong commitment to the run, the Giants' adaptable offensive script effectively countered the Patriots' complex defensive tactics.
Here are three elements that stood out in my mind while watching the big game:
The Patriots were so concerned with the Giants' explosive passing attack that they routinely aligned in Cover 2 on early downs to protect their corners from being exposed in isolated matchups. The tactic certainly limited Manning's attempts to attack down the field, but the Giants countered by repeatedly dropping the ball to running backs and tight ends in the flat following play-action fakes. The threat of off-tackle runs lured the Patriots' linebackers to the line of scrimmage, while the vertical routes by the outside receivers forced the cornerbacks to vacate their responsibilities in the flat. As a result, the fullback or tight end was repeatedly left unguarded in the vacant area, leading to short gains that helped keep the Giants in manageable situations on second and third down.
In the first half, I noticed that Bear Pascoe, Henry Hynoski and Jake Ballard combined for five receptions for 41 yards, with most of those catches coming on quick passes in the flat. This not only took advantage of a weak area of the defense, it also helped Manning get into a terrific rhythm, while loosening up the defense for complementary passes used later in the game.
New York finished the regular season ranked 31st in rush offense, but made it a point to establish the run in the Super Bowl. The Giants opened the game with 16 runs in their first 35 plays, and featured an assortment of off-tackle powers to attack the Patriots' vulnerable edges.
In looking at the video to the right, you can see the Giants execute an off-tackle counter to get Ahmad Bradshaw loose on the perimeter through the backside C-gap. The pull action from the guard (Kevin Boothe) followed by the punishing lead block of Hynoski provided Bradshaw with a convoy around the corner.
This Bradshaw burst was one of the three explosive runs (10-plus yards) generated by the Giants' ball carriers in the first half, forcing the Patriots to respect the effectiveness of the ground game. In addition, the commitment to the run allowed the Giants to control the ball for 19:45 during the first half, which played a major role in keeping the Patriots' offensive juggernaut under wraps.
The Giants continued to run the ball in the second half despite trailing the Patriots until the end of the fourth quarter. Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs were bottled up on most of their carries, but the high number of attempts registered by the Giants prevented the Patriots from completely loading up against the pass.
When evaluating its personnel prior to the game, it was evident New York's receivers enjoyed a sizeable advantage over their Patriots defenders. Gilbride exploited those matchups when the game was on the line. He featured Hakeem Nicks prominently in the game plan to take advantage of his superior size and speed against Kyle Arrington and Devon McCourty in base formations. Nicks was targeted repeatedly on shallow crossers and square-ins over the middle, and he hauled in a few quick screens that isolated him against cornerbacks on the outside. When New England used its dime package with a bracket on Victor Cruz, in particular, the Giants instructed Manning to go to Nicks against Antwaun Molden on the outside. As a result, he finished the night with 10 receptions for 109 yards with several key third-down conversions.
Cruz, who only tallied four receptions for 25 yards, still was an effective weapon as a slot receiver despite facing some form of double coverage for most of the game. The Patriots buzzed linebackers in his vicinity and used roughhouse tactics with their defensive backs at the line of scrimmage. Cruz was unaffected by the physical play in critical situations, coming down with the Giants' first touchdown and a key third-down pickup in the fourth quarter. His superb instincts and route running makes him nearly indefensible in the slot, and the Giants made him their top priority when facing third and medium yardage.
Mario Manningham was the vertical threat in the Giants' game plan. He was targeted repeatedly on deep throws, and his ability to deliver an explosive play -- beating two-deep coverage down the sideline for a 38-yard gain -- on the game-winning drive was the difference.
While that play was certainly important, it was the 16-yard catch-and-run a few plays later that put the Giants in scoring position. Manningham's ability to get separation at the top of the route against AFC Championship Game hero Sterling Moore was key and Manning delivered a pinpoint strike away from the defender.
The Giants' receivers were able to win at will against the Patriots' defenders, and New York had the right recipe for success when Super Bowl XLVI was on the line.