For week six of the NFL season, I will preview the New York defense that has been absolutely dominating over the last two games. As always, questions, comments and suggestions are welcome.
In the offseason this year, the Giants made a bold move by hiring what looked to be a relatively low-profile, unproven defensive coordinator in Perry Fewell. Fewell came into the NFL in 1998 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who were then coached by Tom Coughlin, the Giants current head coach. The Jaguars had quite a bit of success in the late 90’s, going to the AFC championship game in 1999. In 2006, Fewell was hired as the defensive coordinator of the Buffallo Bills. With the Bills, Fewell’s defense were never great but always formidable, and Fewell is credited with doing a good job with a defense that lacked talent and depth at many positions.
After taking over for Bill Sheridan as the Giants defensive coordinator this summer, Fewell actually didn’t change much on defense. He kept the same defensive position coaches and only added three new starters to the defense. The Giants under Perry Fewell play what can be called a Tampa 2 defense (which is what he used to run in Buffallo), but does throw in some principles of a zone blitz scheme. As most defenses around the NFL, the Giants defensive gameplan (ie what they are trying to do) changes from week to week, but when Perry Fewell was asked about his scheme, here is what he had to say:
I want to be multiple in what we do. I want to attack. I want to be aggressive in what we do. I want our players to play fast and have fun playing the game. Definitely create turnovers; I believe you score on defense. I think you have to be physically tough. We have to play with discipline and we have to play as a team on defense.
For those of you who are not well acquainted with the Tampa-2 defense, here is a brief breakdown of philosophies of the scheme. The Tampa-2 is basically a cover two defense (cover 2 just means that there are two deep safeties) where seven men are used in coverage while pressure comes almost always from the front four. The major difference between a cover 2 and a Tampa 2 is that the middle linebacker acts almost like a safety in coverage in a Tampa 2. That means the middle linebacker is usually in deeper in coverage which leaves big gaps in the middle of the field. The main idea is this: get great pressure with the front four, especially defensive ends and force the ball to be thrown as quickly as possible. All defenders will rally to the ball and gang tackle the ball carrier/receiver.
Of course, this sounds great on paper but tough to play in reality. For one, the Tampa two is extremely reliant on the front four. All great Tampa-2 defenses have at least one great defensive end (Indianapolis has Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, Chicago has Julius Peppers, Minnesota has Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, and so on). If the front four of a Tampa 2 doesn’t get consistent pressure on the quarterback, the back seven is just as helpless in Tampa-2 as any scheme in the NFL. We all remember the Lions defenses under Rod Merrinelli that couldn’t get any pressure on the quarterback, which lead to the back seven being consistently exposed. The Giants defense is no different, but of course they do have Osi Umenyiora and Just Tuck among others.
As always, I like to provide some film to give you guys a visual illustration of what I’m talking about. This week, I will start of first by looking at the 2009 matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Giants.
There are a ton of plays in the video above that I could look at, but I will focus on a few. The first play starts at 0:09 of the video. Notice as the video progresses that the Giants actually get decent pressure and actually have solid coverage. However, Brees pump fakes which immediately opens up Lance Moore as the linebacker and corner bite on the fake. Now look at the play starting at 2:18. Brees goes to a play action and you can see the entire linebacking crew biting on the play action, which opens up the end zone for an easy touchdown. A lot of the problems the Giants had in 2009 can be attributed to the lack of coverage from the linebackers and safeties, which is why the Giants added Antrel Rolle and Keith Bullock in free agency, while releasing Antonio Pierce in favor of the faster, better covering Jonathan Goff.
The next video I want to look at is the game against the Chicago Bears, when the Giants sacked Jay Cutler ten times.
Start the video at the 0:34 mark. It shows how good the Giants defensive lineman are, and also shows that the Bears had a very poor game plan them. Notice how the Bears try to use Greg Olson, their tight end, to block a Pro Bowl defensive end in Osi Umenyiora. You will also see them trying to use fullback/tight end Brandon Manumaleuna to block Justin Tuck, another Pro Bowl caliber end. Simply put: the Lions shouldn’t try to do something that stupid in their game.
Now, for some numbers. As you would expect, the Giants are ranked 3rd in the NFL with 19 sacks, while opposing quarterbacks are only passing the ball 27 times a game (ranked 31st in the NFL). Also the Giants are allowing the fewest passing yards in the NFL, and they shut down the pass happy Houston Texans last week. Unfortunately for the Lions, the Giants are just as stout against the run, allowing only 3.5 yards per carry, which ranks them 4th in the NFL. Overall, the Giants are the NFL’s top ranked defense going into week six.
With all that said, the only question that remains is what the Lions need to do to be successful against them on Sunday. The good news is that even though the Giants are the top ranked defense, they are still allowing on 19.6 points on average (Lions are allowing 22.4 points), which means they can be scored on. Also, they were unable to shut down receivers like Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne, both of whom had over 90 yards receiving. Lastly, tight ends have been very effective against the Giants. In three out of the five games, the tight end on the opposing team has been either the leading receiver or the 2nd leading receiver on the team. The two weeks when tight ends weren’t effective, the Giants faced the Titans, who rarely throw the ball (Vince Young only completed 10 passes in the game) and the Carolina Panthers, who use their tight end more for blocking than receiving.
All in all, I think the Lions will surprise fans as to how effective they will be against the Giants. Moreover, the offensive line should surprise both Giants fans and coaches and Lions fans in how good they will protect Shaun Hill. In order to win this game, I think tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler will need to step up against a mediocre linebacking crew of the Giants and Calvin Johnson will have to make some big catches as I believe the Giants will shut down the run and force the Lions to be a one dimensional offense.