Taking a closer look at the regular-season matchup between the Patriots and Giants
|01.25.12 at 9:07 pm ET|
Here are five takeaways after rewatching the Nov. 6 regular-season matchup between the Patriots and Giants:
1. We’ve been big proponents of the Patriots’ use of the no-huddle all season — New England has used it one in every four snaps since the start of the regular season, and run it effectively on a number of occasions this year in hopes of catching an opponent on their heels. One of the things that really stood out was the fact that even though the Patriots couldn’t muster any offense in the first half (they were scoreless over the first two quarters), they didn’t run a single play in the no huddle in that time. In all, New England used it just four of 75 total offensive snaps against New York, or five percent of the time. To that point in the year, it represented a season-low in total snaps and percentage (two games later, New England used the no huddle just once in 65 offensive snaps against the Chiefs). The only time the Patriots went no-huddle against the Giants was on their final drive of the afternoon, one that ended with the go-ahead touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady to tight end Aaron Hernandez with 1:36 to go. For a team that leaned so heavily on the no-huddle all season long, the numbers were interesting.
2. Injuries were a big part of this game. Hernandez was still working his way back after a knee problem, and while he played 59 of a possible 78 snaps (according to Pro Football Focus), he clearly was at less than his best. That led to a passing game that relied almost exclusively on Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, as the two accounted for more than half of the targets (25 of 49), receptions (17 of 28) and receiving yards (237 of 342). In addition, the Patriots lost safety Patrick Chung to a foot injury late in the game and linebacker Brandon Spikes to a knee injury late in the second half. That led to some interesting personnel combinations down the stretch — linebacker Tracy White and safety Sergio Brown was on the field at the end of the game in pass coverage. On the other side of the ball, the Giants were without wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and starting center David Baas (more on them in a bit), which certainly altered their overall game plan.
3. The Giants were looking to defend the pass first and foremost against New England. According to Pro Football Focus, they had five defensive backs on the field on every play. Despite that, even with the New York pass rush being one of the best in the league, the Patriots were a pass-first offense — Brady looked to pass more than twice as much as run, with New England running the ball 24 times and throwing it 49 times. (For what it’s worth, PFF has Brady as being blitzed 14 times, and ended up going 4-for-12 for 68 yards with one run and one sack.) While New England got decent production in the running game from BenJarvus Green-Ellis, it was clear that Green-Ellis wasn’t 100 percent physically. For Green-Ellis, this game was sandwiched by eight-yard game against the Jets and a nine-yard game against the Steelers, and in the middle of an extended period where he was questionable on the injury report because of a toe problem on a consistent basis. (As our scout suggested here, expect the Patriots to try and run the ball more often against the New York defensive line that is always looking to get after the passer.)
4. Even though they didn’t sack him, the Patriots were able to get really good, sustained pressure on Eli Manning from multiple directions, including up the middle with Vince Wilfork, who had two of his eight quarterback hits on the season that afternoon against the Giants. (The team had eight in total.) Now, part of that was because New York was playing with its backup center in Kevin Boothe (Baas has since returned) and that the Patriots were able to exploit some matchups on the outside and get Andre Carter into the backfield on a number of occasions (three quarterback hits, five hurries). But considering the way that Wilfork is playing and the fact that the Niners were able to hit Manning 12 times (including six hits from defensive linemen), the amount of pressure that New England can generate up the middle will play a big role in this game.
5. The New York passing game looks very different now than it did in November. While Victor Cruz was a big factor two months ago (he had a team-high six catches for 91 yards), the Giants relied more on tight end Jake Ballard, who had four catches for 67 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Nicks, who would finish the season with 76 catches for 1,192 yards, missed that game with a hamstring injury. The Cruz-Nicks combination (the first time in Giants’ franchise history they’ve had two receivers top the 1,000-yard mark) should make for an added wrinkle for the New England secondary it didn’t have to deal with the first time around.