Excerpt: "This impromptu players-only film session included only the Giants secondary — nine defensive backs in all — and a few linebackers. It was brief, starting in the late afternoon last Thursday when the day’s schedule of mandatory meetings concluded. Players began strolling out 15 minutes into the informal session, a steady stream filtering out over the 40-plus minutes.
They watched film of the Packers offense, ignoring the opposing defense on the screen and setting their focus on how and with whom Green Bay lined up, rookie safety Will Hill recalled Friday. Before each play, someone in the room would identify the Packers’ personnel. The players then looked down at their call sheet, found the appropriate defense — a Cover-2, for example — for the specific offensive personnel and announced their responsibilities for the play, starters and backups alike.
Any discrepancies in the room were instantly addressed and resolved before moving on to the next play. The purpose of the exercise: to avoid confusion, hesitation and, ultimately, costly coverage breakdowns.
“We were making sure we were all seeing everything the same way and if we didn’t see something the same way, we would talk about it,” safety Stevie Brown said. “And make sure we’re all on the same page so if anything happened like that on the field, it’s something we’ve already talked about, it’s something we’ve seen and we’d all be able to know how each other would react.”
An alarming tendency to surrender long pass plays — and a two-game losing streak — spawned the coach-free film session, the first of its kind since last season when cornerback Corey Webster coordinated the initial meeting after a series of coverage gaffes had been plaguing the defense.
Entering last Sunday night, the Giants had allowed 41 plays of 20 or more yards, the second most in the NFL. Some were simply the opposition making a play, but a frustratingly high frequency of coverage breakdowns was the reason for a fair share of the large gains.
Players say the meeting made a tangible difference, and it came to fruition Sunday night. Besides Jordy Nelson’s 61-yard touchdown reception, when he beat Webster down the sideline on the Packers’ fourth play from scrimmage, the Giants shut down the Packers’ potent passing attack.
The Giants dominated with a three-safety look as their base defense, capitalizing on Phillips’ return after missing six games and Brown’s emergence over that span to return to the scheme they relied upon during their Super Bowl run last season. The Giants took it a step further on two snaps, fielding a four-safety package with Hill joining Phillips, Brown, and Antrel Rolle, who spent much of the game playing down low and shadowing Randall Cobb in the slot.
Having all his pieces, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said he was able to mix and match coverages on occasion to fluster the veteran Aaron Rodgers.
But, as it always does, it boiled down to execution and the back end’s success forced Rodgers to hold onto the ball longer than anticipated much of the night against the Giants’ feared front four. Consequently, Rodgers was under duress, hit or sacked on 17 of his 33 dropbacks.
According to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers held the ball an average of 3.55 seconds per play — a full second longer than Rodgers’ average time to throw this season — on the five plays he was sacked. His quarterback rating was substantially lower when the Giants rushed just four, evidence of the back end’s prowess. Rodgers had a QB rating of 90.5 against the blitz, and a rating of 54.9 and an interception when the Giants didn’t send more than four pass rushers.
Only one sack of the five, when linebacker Chase Blackburn shot up the middle untouched, was the product of additional pressure.
“Very,” linebacker Michael Boley, a participant in the players-only film session, said when asked how important the coverage’s role was in the pressure on Rodgers. “We work together, the back end with the front. Us playing our coverage definitely allowed those guys at times to get pressure and vice versa; them getting pressure allowed us to do better in our coverage.” Read more...