New Grantland Blog: Draw it Up: Two Key Plays, Super Bowl Edition

It’s now up over at Grantland:

On the other side was Manning’s brilliant thread-the-needle pass to Manningham. Just previously, the two had barely missed on a similar fade throw to the opposite sideline. (Manningham caught it while stepping out of bounds.) But get used to this one: We’re going to see it a lot, for a long time.

The entire game, the Patriots had played a form of “cover two,” two safeties deep to take away the big plays. Belichick did not want the Giants to burn them with deep passes to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, or Manningham, and for most of the game, they succeeded. The other elements of Belichick’s game plan were to move Vince Wilfork out to line up over the guard and tackle, to take away the off-tackle run game that the Giants favored (as with two safeties deep, the Patriots were a man short against the run the entire game), and to double-team the electric Cruz. This opened things up for Nicks, who had more than 100 yards receiving on 10 catches, and, ultimately, for Manningham, on the biggest play of the game.

Read the whole thing.

And yes, the Giants — likely unintentionally — used Buddy Ryan’s old “Polish Defense” tactic by having extra men on the field to force the Patriots to burn extra time off the clock before the eventual hail mary. A wild game.

  • Mviger11

    in real time it looked like Giants almost pass interfered on their 12-men play. wouldn’t that have been something!

  • bg

    I read elsewhere that the twelfth man was Tuck running off the field without a helmet on, so they hardly got the advantage of the Polish defense. But the true Polish defense really would’ve been a smart play–put 14, 15, hell, why not 20 guys out there just to make sure they didn’t complete a pass. I wonder how the football world would’ve reacted to that. It would’ve possibly tarnished the win for the Giants, and it probably would’ve made Belichick burst into literal flames of anger, but it wouldn’t be punishable by more than a live-ball five-yard penalty.  I wonder what the refs would do? Would they really let the Giants send 20–why not 40?–defenders onto the field?

  • Obpwilliams 482

    If Brady notices, he can just spike the ball and get the free five yards without using more than a second or two. 

  • Ahillfelder

    Chris, looking at the Dolphins game on the Hitch/Seam, Welker ran at exactly the same trajectory as the Super Bowl, right down the numbers. Brady put it right on that line vs the Dolphins but sends it much wider in the Super Bowl towards the sideline.

  • Cdeck1

    Finally, someone that doesn’t throw Welker under the bus. I think Welker anticipated a laser down the seam on his nose and was surprised when Brady threw away from the Safety. I think Welker read it right and Brady read it wrong, period. Even as Welker is falling to the ground dropping the ball the Safety isn’t even in the picture. I’d like to see more angles of that play, but from what I have seen Brady read the Safety wrong…he wasn’t in a position to make a play and should have put it right on Welker…..Welker knew it and was anticipating a simple throw and catch. YES, Welker should have caught it anyways…but I was upset with all of the post-game talk blaming Welker and not Brady. It really was a poor decision by Brady IMO. Eli Manning read the safety as being 3 inches out of position and made a great throw….Tom Brady didn’t read a safety woefully out of position AND made a poor decision.

  • Cheslow

    On the giants play,Chris, the pats deserve to be chastised. I think it was a great great throw and catch. But on a cover 2 it’s the cornerbacks job on the closed side of the field to re-route the X receiver for an inside release. Then Chung doesn’t have to read the seam and can step up. But because sterling Moore sucks, manningham got free to the outside, forcing Chung to stay over the top. The pats defense is one of the most undisciplined I have ever seen.

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  • Felix

    actually thanks to this blog, I actually thought of the “Polish goal line tactic” of Ryan’s when I saw the play happen while watching the game

  • bg

    Good point, I hadn’t thought of that. So it’s probably better to use some number that’s higher than 11 but not too much higher, so it’s not readily apparent to the opposing quarterback. 12 is probably the right number.  

  • Brad

    I get really frustrated with all the 2-deep = safe coverage talk.  IMO 2 deep is one of the riskier coverages out there because you have 3 seams deep down the field.  Certainly it is riskier than cov 3, cov 4, or 2 deep man under and I am not sure it is a dramatic improvement over Cov1.  At least with cov 1 you have a guy running with each guy.

    I hate it when the teams I follow play this coverage as supposedly safe, because it is not uncommon for them to get beat right in the spot where the Giants  beat the Pats.

  • Anonymous

     True, though for much of the game the Pats played it as Tampa Two with the Mike down the middle and the safeties wider, which does make it a “safer” coverage as it is essentially three deep.

  • Mr.Murder

    The Polish tactic was not intentional because if it was that extra defender would have played, preferably as a deep cover help. So the most you stood to lose was five yards. He was just caught running to his sideline….

  • Mr.Murder

    Buddy Ryan used 14 or 15 of them for his calls.

  • Anonymous

     I agree. At first it looked like he helped with underneath coverage (which actually would be a good place for him as forcing a deep but incomplete throw was really the best case scenario given the time that ran off), but it seemed to be more of a lucky break. But I think what we’ve seen is that it probably would’ve been a good — albeit risky — move to do on purpose.

  • Mr.Murder

    Plus a two deep is supposed to handle the outs by running a corner under those so the sidelines cannot be used short to medium. Helps make the time management phase work to your favor more.

    Thought they held Cruz all game, got about an eight yard contact cushiopn. Try that against NE and see what happens. Ravens had an INT called back for being inside of five yards and giving contact to a Patriot. Cruz still got off a quick start and it opens the field for Nicks, who controlled the game.

    Huge credit to Eli working different style throws to each of his great players at wideout.

    New England also shifted its defense and pointed at the Giants to get a free false start call. Did it all season, always got the call. Until Tuck made a huge pass rush play to turn it around for the defense, that sorry shift to cheat tactic was what positioned the Pats to perhaps win.

    Usually with NE their cover two is inverted, so the safeties can be closer to formation and help on run plays. That is what usually gave Peyton manning fits for the Colts, because it was harder to position that look out to the point you could get consistent spacing and reads on core calls to the h-back, running back,  and tight end. The Giants had so much speed that they used a more traditional look to stay on top of receiver stacks or tight splits, isn’t the fade supposed to be there? Glance for one high, fade for two hi?

    If you look at the Giants D that is where a cover clinic was put on. They rotated DB in and out(some of their toughest tests came when Ross was being substititued out in the second half). The way they guarded Gronk was an awesome commitment to placement by Fewell.

    There is a Run& Shoot formation that places the slot and h back/wing close together out of trips. It usually helps set up the snag/spot routes and the Giants found a way to remove Gronk as the read man. what it does is allows those two closely positioned players to switch tasks in traditional concepts so a power player and a speed player can use their cover man’s size or lack of it gainst them in the switch.

    If Gronk is outside the slot, move the cover man off the slot after the snap and rotate him under Gronk’s option route. It took away easy sure first down throws for quick routes and as Brady held the ball his feet got happy.

    The Welker throw goes back to Smartfootball’s article on Sean Payton’s passing instruction. Coach P emphasizes the left hand placement to tortion your body so that a throw has your left hand pull you through as it leads and you get more on the throw. Brady takes his left hand off the ball early. Lets him throw quicker and makes it a hard read for when it is coming if you look in, but it also means his passes outside the numbers, particularly to the left, may sail a bit IF you can get to his footwork enough to magnify that flaw.

    By itself it is not enough to degrade your mechanics. You  need pressure upon you to magnify the trait to the point it may interrupt timing or accuracy. It was not terribly off, but it did sail. Happy feet, sad passer.

  • During the constant stream of punditry over the past couple weeks leading up to the game, both ‘Playbook’ on NFL Network and Tom Jackson on ESPN pointed out that Brady has been missing the seam route quite a bit lately. 

    The original story being that Brady looks to Gronkowski quite a bit on seam routes, and his massive size and athleticism cover up for a number of bad Brady throws. However, his injury could be a factor here as now others (i.e. Welker) are running that route. Turns out this was exactly the case, and my immediate thought at the time was “Gronk makes that catch” as Welker is shown getting only fingertips on that pass.

  • Anonymous

     ….and….the bottom line is that regardless of the coverage in the NFL it’s going to be a tight window….that was one of the best throws/catch in NFL history, I have no problem with the defensive call. I’m still amazed he completely secured the ball and it didn’t move once he hit the ground…I think Belichick, who was standing 3 feet from it, simply assumed that surely the ball moved as he went to the ground. Great play.

  • Anonymous

     And Chris, quick question…..I don’t recall the Giants using their ‘switch release’ that you wrote about and that has been a staple for them all year…..granted, I could have missed it….but assuming I’m right, why do you think the Giants left that out? Since Cruz was doubled every play it left sensible throws to everyone else?

  • Anonymous

     I think Brady is getting too comfortable in the pocket and his footwork isn’t a priority, therefore he isn’t as sound mechanically….I’ve seen it happen to other great QB’s as well….Bill Walsh would never allow that to happen. Obviously, my point is very slight….but very slight is enough to miss a throw or 2 and lose a game. It could also be a symptom of being almost 100 percent in the shotgun. The Patriots won a very very weak AFC and have a lot of work to do if they are to get back in the SB AND win it. I think the “feet” problem could end up hurting Aaron Rodgers as well…he already throws off balance too much as it is. I think the most fundamentally and mechanically sound QB in the game today is no doubt Drew Brees.

  • Anonymous

     I’d have to look at it again but I think at least a couple of Nicks’ catches came on the switch, where after switching he wound up running a curl. I think with the high safety and so much attention on Cruz (with help over the top the DB was able to fight under the switch to prevent a quick one), it did open things up. Belichick is usually good at taking away your favorite stuff, so the adjustments are key.

    The concept that the Giants also hit a bunch to Nicks was having Cruz run a 5-yard sit or pivot route with Nicks on a square-in behind him. Love that combo.

  • Anonymous

     I’d have to look at it again but I think at least a couple of Nicks’ catches came on the switch, where after switching he wound up running a curl. I think with the high safety and so much attention on Cruz (with help over the top the DB was able to fight under the switch to prevent a quick one), it did open things up. Belichick is usually good at taking away your favorite stuff, so the adjustments are key.

    The concept that the Giants also hit a bunch to Nicks was having Cruz run a 5-yard sit or pivot route with Nicks on a square-in behind him. Love that combo.

  • Zach Calucchia

    Yeah, but in the middle of the field? There’s a difference between crowding all of your guys on a goal line set and having fifteen guys spread out in plain sight to defend a four wide recievers.

    Gotta say though, as soon as I saw the 12th man on the field and the five-yard penalty, the first thing I thought of was that article.