After reviewing some of the defensive snaps from the game Sunday, it seems Perry Fewell decided to ere on the side of caution late in the game (or at least more caution than he had shown previously that day). This post is not to condemn anyone or suggest blame- I think when a turnaround like that happens, credit/blame goes to the players on both sides of the ball as well as the coaches.
I took a close look at the plays in the first half versus the late 3rd quarter to 4th quarter, and I can’t deny that the defense (aside from playing poorly) backed off from their original gameplan- just slightly. These two big plays illustrate that point pretty well. I’m going mostly off the replays on NFL.com, so I may be off on some of the players, but I’m pretty sure on most of these. These diagrams are just how I identify players/formations, everyone has their own system.
In the 2nd quarter with the score 14-3 Giants, on 3rd and 8 near midfield, ball on the right hash, the Eagles came out in 20 personnel- 2 backs and no tight ends. They lined up in a Gun 3-wide look with their strength to the open side of the field. Jason Avant is the Slot, Jackson the Z, Maclin the X, McCoy the H and Schmitt the F.
I have the Giants’ players numbered because honestly, aside from the secondary shell and usually the down linemen, I don’t know how they identify their positions when they have 3 safeties and a Nickel (eg- do they call Grant the Sam LB or is this an entirely different package, I think it varies). They align with a 2-deep shell, both corners and Ross are pressed and playing bump-and-run man. The safeties, Phillips and Rolle, are playing halves. The front is where it gets tricky. They aren’t playing as safe as it looks- there is deep help, but Boley and Grant are accounting for Schmitt and McCoy man to man as well, and if a corner allows the X or Z to beat the press inside there’s a lot of unguarded real estate. The Eagles end up protecting with 7, and Boley and Grant are on a read blitz. If their man runs a route, they cover him; if he stays in to block, they blitz. You can see Boley peel off to the outside when Schmitt goes to block the edge rusher. There is also a stunt on with Tuck and Osi, which ends up sending Tuck right into Vick’s path for a sack. Basically this ends up being a high risk play of bump and run on their 3 best receivers and a 6 man rush. This play is actually one of the safer blitzes Fewell ran in the 1st half- a lot more were Cover 1 or 0 blitzes where Phillips played the deep middle or covered a tight end or slot 1 on 1. They payed off.
The second half saw a slight turn towards the safer side, and this play is pretty much the perfect demonstration of that. 4th quarter, down 31-10, 1st and 10, ball on left hash at their own 35, the Eagles come out in 11 personnel- 1 back and 1 TE- and line up in Gun Trips right, Maclin at the X, Jackson at Z, Avant at Slot, McCoy at H, and of course Celek at Y. They run four verticals, stretching the field, and use McCoy to protect. It looks like the Giants counter with an old classic, the 3-3 firezone. This is generally safer than press-man coverage. It gets 3 guys along the back and 3 guys underneath, so you’re basically giving up short stuff to prevent deep stuff while still rushing 5 guys. The first tipoff is our corners playing off and bailing at the snap. Osi and Tuck again line up together on the weak side, but this time they both drop- Tuck to the middle hook zone and Osi to the seam/curl zone. Grant takes the seam/curl to the other side, but his zone isn’t threatened so he drops with the slot running deep. Canty and Cofield both slant hard a gap+ to the side Osi and Tuck just vacated, and Boley curls in under both Tackles to the strong B gap. Rolle and Ross execute a spin blitz around the TE. The Eagles’ pass-pro works well as a guard picks up Boley, McCoy and the tackle account for 26 and 31. Tuck isn’t meant for coverage, and Celek runs to the hole between him and Phillips and we all know the rest.
It's important to note here- while this less dangerous approach may have cost us, what really hurt us here was Kenny Phillips whiffing. And then later Webster and Thomas failing to communicate the banjo coverage, and Ross forgetting rush lane discipline, and the list could go on and on. It also didn't help that Vick played some excellent football and deserves a ton of credit.
I don't think Fewell's strategy killed us, but I do think in general these tricky zone blitzes didn't get home in the second half, and it just doesn't benefit us that much to have our best pass rushers in the middle hook zone. I saw a lot more of both in the second half than in the first.