Playbook: Tape study on SB XLVI

In the public view, Super Bowl XLVI was defined by the plays that weren’t made – fumbles the Patriots didn’t recover, a ball Wes Welker didn’t catch, a few throws Tom Brady didn’t make.

But when you pop in the coaching tape, you see there are even more aspects of the game where the Giants excelled, earning them a win in a well-contested championship game.

Here are a few key factors that brought New York its second Super Bowl in five years:

A patchwork offensive line made of steel thread

The Giants offensive line sprung a few leaks when Will Beatty went down in the regular season, moving David Diehl from guard to left tackle and Kevin Boothe off the bench and into Diehl’s original spot.

Nevertheless, this group was able to spring the Giants’ running backs for 114 yards on 4.06 yards per carry, affording the Giants a semblance of balance on offense.

Boothe, combining with Diehl or center David Baas, was especially effective at the point of attack on double teams versus New England’s defensive tackles. He even managed to acquit himself in one-on-one matchups with Vince Wilfork.

A consistent push inside made life more difficult for the Patriots’ linebackers, too, who were already a step slow at diagnosing the Giants’ run schemes and filling their gaps. Add a fantastic effort from fullback Henry Hynoski and the Giants rolled to 4.79 yards per carry out of two-back sets versus the Patriots.  The G-Men were the only team to face New England in the playoffs and average four or more yards per carry on the ground.

While New York can’t count on this offensive line to pull them through the entire 2012 season – expect upgrades through the draft or free agency – it played its best game of the year during the most important one. 

Patriots in a blanket

You still had to be impressed by the cohesion and timing of the Patriots inside receivers with Brady in a losing effort.  They kept this offense moving in critical situations throughout the game.

But on the winner’s side, you have to be even more impressed by the work of the Giants secondary and its aggressive play.

By not dropping their safeties deep, the Giants dared Brady to throw the ball over the top – and, with no outside threats, the Patriots couldn’t do it. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was masterful at mixing his coverages on Brady, bracketing inside receivers with linebackers and defensive backs. Even defensive linemen were involved in walling off in-breaking pass routes.

Against the Patriots’ bunch and stacked formations — their bread and butter — the Giants communicated very well and passed off underneath receivers with ease. This forced Brady to hold the ball more than normal, making him uncomfortable at times.

While Brady had sufficient time to scan the field, his timing was thrown off by a group of corners who effectively jammed and re-routed his receivers. Antrel Rolle was asked to play a lot of press, man-to-man on Welker in the slot and definitely held his own, forcing Brady to look away from his favorite target at times.

Better in the end

After the Giants jumped out to a 9-0 lead, their first-down offense progressed as the game moved along.

In the first half, New York only gained 3.2 yards per carry on first down and 5.4 yards per pass. That hindered drives and allowed the Patriots to regain the lead.

But in the second half, the Giants upped their run average to 3.6 yards per carry with a fresh set of downs. And Eli Manning, who finished with 126 yards on first down, threw for 8.8 yards per pass during the game’s back-half; that includes an absolute drop-in-the-bucket throw to Mario Manningham along the left sideline for 38 yards, a strike that led to the Giants’ game-winning score.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show – aired Thursday and Friday on NFL Network during the season. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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