So that's the NFL done for another season.
The Super Bowl itself was an interesting clash, largely due to a lot of the mistakes. You'll have to bare with me on this as I try to recollect all the things that caught my attention, which also points to the fact that I may indeed forget certain key things that I wanted to mention.
One thing I wont forget was the general display of poor technique that was shown by numerous players. I believe it was Brandon Spikes who had a shot at picking off the Giants first touchdown in the endzone, but like far too many defenders lately (across the whole NFL) he failed to get his head around and find the football.
I have no idea why so many players do this. It kind of goes without saying that unless you can actually see the football then you have no chance of picking it off. The coverage he was playing was purposely designed for him to undercut any quick pass such as the slant that came, but for that to be of any use then you have to get your head around and actually find the ball.
In that situation the plan is that you'll pick off the pass and not only save the touchdown, but have a great chance to run the ball back way down the field to set up the offense. But with your eyes transfixed on the receiver what hope do you have, as Spikes found out, of breaking up anything. If you cant see the ball then you cant stop the pass.
Now I'm not normally one inclined to give too much credit to Deion Sanders, but I will say this about him; he was superb at getting his head around to find the football and then make a play on it. He understood that unless you find the ball with your eyes then all you're doing is just following the receiver to the point where he makes a catch so that you can tackle him.
To have any chance of making an impact on the play and the game in general then you must get your head around and find the football. Spikes could have changed the whole complexion of the game if he had got his around and made that stop. Even just getting his hands on it and disrupting the pass would have been enough.
This was - however - just one of a veritable catalogue of errors. In a way I'm thankful. Error prone games tend to be more tightly fought, nail biting type contests as indeed was this one. It's why games between two crappy teams in the NFL tend to be exciting contests that end with ridiculous last minute comebacks etc, because the two teams are so error prone that neither of them can seal the deal properly.
The tackling in particular was poor at times. Hernandez might have got in for his touchdown anyway even if a more form like tackle been made on him, but one things that is for certain is that he was never going to be taken down by a simple hit, a point eloquently made when he bounced off and waltzed into the end zone.
Then there were the Giants fumbles. Three in all, two recovered by their own team, one ruled out by a penalty. It just stuns me that after all this time and what, ten seasons worth of heavy fumbles, the Giants still haven't fixed this. It's like the itch that they just cant (or wont) scratch. Given Tom Coughlin's reputation as a fearsome task master, and given the look on his face everytime he sees his team fumble the ball, I'm frankly amazed that this continues to be an issue.
Luckily the Giants got away with it this time. But it wasn't half a close run thing.
In particular I was disappointed with some of the Giants coverage. Given that the Patriots are not a team well known for their deep passing game this year I was surprised to see the Giants playing as much deep zone coverage as they did. That wasn't even the most odd/annoying thing though.
All season long the Giants have prided themselves on the quality of their pass rush, and rightly so. Mostly they've been able to get it done with their front four, but they've still made plenty of use of their linebackers in the pass rush, especially rushing Kiwanuka off the same side as Jason Pierre-Paul in order to guarantee that Pierre-Paul gets one on one matchups with no running back chip.
Yet they seemed incredibly reluctant to do this against the Patriots. Worse, they often found themselves on obvious passing downs (where the end rushers really make their money) but decided that instead of having their ends rush they would drop them off into coverage.
Now I could live with that if the ends were dropping off in the curl/flat zones to the sides but instead these ends often found themselves dropping back into the middle of the field where they were totally exposed, as happened to Pierre-Paul on the Patriots first touchdown.
I harped on this theme in a recent post about playing to your strengths and I'm going to harp on it again; why - on a critical passing down - is the best pass rusher on your team dropping back into coverage? I get that sometimes coaches like to pull little tricks to confuse quarterbacks but a) this is Tom Brady we're talking about, not some rookie and b) you can get too cute for your own good sometimes.
In this case I think the Giants were falling for B, getting far too cute with their coverage when they should have just unleashed Pierre-Paul at the quarterback. I noticed the Patriots also ran a pick play to get this touchdown, but expecting the Patriots (or indeed anyone in the NFL) to get called for offensive pass interference is like trying to get blood out of a stone.
I was also a little surprised by the Giants choice of coverage against guys like Wes Welker. Many times Welker found himself being covered by a linebacker, with the linebackers often sitting inside of him and giving him complete free reign to pivot or break to the outside. He - like most of the Patriots receivers - was also given a free release for most of the game.
This surprises me because if there is one thing we know about the Patriots offense, it's that they love to throw the ball short on quick routes and then let the receivers make the play with the ball in their hands. Given Brady's propensity to stare down receivers from the snap the tactic of jamming the Patriots receivers off of the line has proven very successful everytime that it has been used to date.
You simply can't allow guys like Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to come off the line cleanly and attack your defense. You have to get your hands on them and disrupt the timing, making Brady hold the ball for an extended period of time. The result of not doing this was aptly demonstrated at the end of the first quarter as Brady marched down the field playing short passes all over the shop. The Hernandez touchdown was also a great example of this principle in action.
In general I felt the Patriots did a slightly better job on defense for most of the game. They brought good pressure from their front, did a great job of taking Victor Cruz out of the game for large chunks of it, and were relatively stout against the run.
However they slipped up a few times and that cost them. Part of that was down to the Giants just having such a diverse array of deep threat targets, and partly it was because their secondary has been something of a bodged together unit this year.
Safety seemed to be a key area of weakness for them, as too many passes were hit deep along the sidelines or right in the middle in front of the safeties very eyes. The Patriots tackling was pretty good and they played the classic "bend but don't break" defense very well. In the end they essentially allowed Bradshaw to walk in for the Giants second touchdown out of the necessity of the time situation.
Really it was mistakes on offense though that killed them, something which is surprising given who we're talking about here.
Brady's intentional grounding penalty at the start was just inexplicable. He could have done many thing with the ball other than throw it to such a completely open spot. It really did make little sense, even watching it from the Sky Cam in real time. I'm sure that's one of the few throws he's made in his career that he'd like to have back.
Certainly some of his receivers would like to have some of those play back, especially on the final drive. Just when Brady needed the experienced hands of a guy like Hernandez he really let him down. It's difficult to say really whether the Patriots would have been able to march the field and set themselves up in a decent situation which wouldn't have required a hail mary shot, but they could at least have got much closer.
Overall then, in a mistake filled game that was a lot of fun to watch, the Giants made the least critical errors and did so further from the end game. That had a huge impact on the result I feel. It was still entertaining as hell and personally I thank both teams for the show they put on for our enjoyment.
Looking forward then, we have Free Agency just around the corner and that will be followed by the NFL draft. I've promised myself, for the sake of my blood pressure, that this year I absolutely will refuse to watch the combine or take any real notice of it. I plan to stick to that promise.
Sometime this week I'll start delving into the free agency pool and we'll have a look at some of the interesting names that come up. Till then, I'm off to enjoy the remains of the snow.