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Film school: How the Giants used scheme to stop the running game


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After watching the Texans get destroyed by the Giants, I came away thinking "how in the hell did they so completely and thoroughly dominated?"


I knew the Giants were using eight-man fronts the entire time, but this isn't the first time the Texans have seen, or had to run against, an eight-man front. I called my dad, Larry, who has coached the offensive line in college or the pros for 32 years. I figured he had watched the game and I wanted to dig deeper into what the Giants had done to the Texans from a schematic standpoint.


Sure enough, dad had taped the game but hadn't really broken it down play by play so he told me he would re-watch the first half and break down what he saw. About 45 minutes later I got a call from him and he had five or six plays that he had isolated, so I hit "play" on the DVR and forwarded to each of the plays he had isolated and below are some of the findings along with some of my own personal thoughts interspersed.


It is always a little frustrating for me to hear fans complain about a team just getting beat due to "toughness" or "not being able to block" when there is MUCH more that goes into the chess match between defensive coordinators and offensive coordinators/offensive lines. I remember watching the game film with my dad of the Texans and Steelers from a couple of years ago immediately following that white-washing to open the season and I realized very quickly that no matter how much you think you know, you really don't know.


Hell, this is simply a look at the blocking schemes and defensive schemes of a few running plays in the game. Recognizing and picking up the different exotic blitz packages from teams like the Jets and the Ravens makes this look like child's play.



• We are going to start with this play because not only was it the first running play of the game, but it was also an indicator of what the Texans were going to see for the rest of the game.


• While the formation develops for the Texans, watch how the Giants shift and create a five-man front based on where Joel Dreesen ends up. Wherever Dreesen goes, the Giants will line the LB on that side up over Dreesen on the defensive line.


• Make sure and watch the defensive end on the weakside as he changes from a DE to a five-technique (lined up directly over LT Rashad Butler) as Dreesen goes in motion. The reason the Giants are shifting the DE down inside is because the Giants want to tighten up the backside cutback lanes.


• Before the snap, you'll see the middle LB and the weakside LB shift over toward the strong side and you'll see the free safety come down into the box as basically an extra LB. The safety is in charge of making sure to add even more contain on the back side.


• By having players directly over TE Joel Dreesen and RT Eric Winston, the Giants are able to keep the Texans from combo blocking the DE with Dreesen moving to the next level on the LB. Instead, the Giants are "setting the edge" by attack Dreesen at the line of scrimmage and forcing Winston to block man to man on the five-technique DE. Now, on this particular play, Dreesen doesn't block the LB, but instead he has the back-side block across the formation and FB Leach has the block on the LB, but the LB comes across the line of scrimmage and meets him head on, which shuts down the outside and turns the play back inside to where the Giants have schemed to close down the cutback lanes.



• On this play, my dad asked me to look at the down and distance and position on the field. Obviously it is first and 10 on the 10-yard line. Then he asked me to check out the defensive coverage the Giants had in the game against the Texans: 2 TE, 2 WR and 1 RB set. The Giants are in nickel coverage. He asked me why the Giants would be in nickel coverage against the league's best rushing team (at least entering the game) on what is frequently a rushing down. The answer is that they were still prepared to play the run and here is how they did it.


• On the last play, I showed you how the Giants were walking their LB up on the line of scrimmage to take on Dreesen heads-up. This time, Dreesen motions to the left, but the Giants don't shift at all. Hmmmm. What are they going to do to stop the run since they don't have a LB on that side? They do have a LB on that side, but the Texans just didn't know it. Read on.


• Before the snap, center Chris Myers will declare a "mike" (middle) linebacker and the offensive line will pick up their blocks based on that declaration. On this play, Myers declares the LB over LT Eric Winston as the MIKE with the CB on the line of scrimmage as the WILL and Jonathan Goff (LB over RG) as the SAM. On this play, LG Wade Smith is going to combo up to the second level on the MIKE, but the problem is that the nickel CB lined up over Andre Johnson is actually the SAM LB because he is going to blitz off the edge. This is also why you don't see the Giants defense shift much — they have their additional defender on that side ready to "set the edge," and that is the nickel CB who shoots in on Joel Dreesen.

• If Myers had accounted for the nickel CB as an additional defender in the box since he was so close to the line, then Goff would have been the MIKE and Wade Smith would have blocked Goff, which would have potentially opened up the play, but by disguising the run blitz, the Giants were able to throw the Texans' count off and Goff came unblocked to tackle Arian Foster for the three-yard loss. So while this looked like a defense designed to stop the pass, it was actually schemed to stop the run.



• On this play, the Giants saw the Texans were going to a 2TE, 2RB and 1 WR set so they decided to to take out a LB and add another defensive linemen to match up with the Texans. In this set, you have a 0-technique nose, two 3-technique DTs and two DEs. Once again, the Giants are sticking with their philosophy of trying to cover up the offensive linemen so that they can't get to the 2nd level on the LBs while also jamming, creating more difficult blocking assignments for the Texans based on alignment.


• As you'll see before the play is snapped, the safety who is following Owen Daniels in motion drops into the box right before the play. The Giants now have nine in the box. Now if the Texans and Arian Foster can find a crease, they could bust this for a huge play, but the Giants maintain their responsibilities and there is nothing there for the Texans.


• This was a good example of how Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was able to mix up his own defensive packages while matching up with the personnel groupings the Texans brought into the game.



• Nothing fancy about this one, but it is worth pointing out. The Giants are doing the same thing they've done for much of the game, which is to line up their SAM LB over Joel Dreesen in order to help set the edge in case the Texans try and run the outside zone, and once again they have their weakside DE lined up tight in order to help contain the backside cut-back lanes.


• On this play, the free safety is lurking near the line, but he is far enough off the line that he can defend a slant if the Texans try and throw it to Andre Johnson on that side. After the ball is snapped, the free safety reacts aggressively to his run keys and charges in to get to his run fit on the backside. You'll see Arian Foster make the proper reads and make two cuts in order to get all the way back to the outside, but Antrel Rolle does his job and makes the tackle, limiting what could have been a big gain to a very moderate one.


• Let's re-watch this and think about how the free safety reacts. Look how aggressively he charges in before the ball is even handed off to Foster. This could have easily been a play-action pass, but Rolle doesn't seem to care as it appears as though his primary responsibility was shutting down the cutback lane, play-action pass be damned.


• If the Texans could run this play all over again, they might run a play-action off of it with Andre Johnson running a go route and Kevin Walter running a deep cross. This would have put the strong safety who was playing center field in the position of helping on one route or the other and it could have lead to a big gain. I have to believe by the way the Giants used their free safety as an extra defender in the box so frequently that they didn't fear Andre Johnson as the deep ball threat that they usually would when he is healthy.



• This is an example of how being undisciplined can cost your team. Antonio Smith is the DE at the top of the screen and will be cut-blocked by the RT. After going down on the ground, Smith is clearly not happy with being cut and takes the opportunity to elbow the offensive linemen while the two players are on the ground. What Smith COULD HAVE BEEN DOING is getting up off the ground and pursuing the play. Had he done that, he would have been occupying the backside lane a split-second sooner and it might have kept to Ahmad Bradshaw from gaining 23 yards. Smith might be the most consistent defensive lineman the Texans have, but he loses focus and gets involved in altercations more than he should.



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