I have noticed the following subtle changes in the Giants defensive strategy under Bill Sheridan as opposed to the way DC Steve Spagnuolo used to call a game in the last two years. Spagnuolo would have a lot of unusual blitz packages, including a reliance on a fairly heavy dose of zone blitzes. Personally, I never liked the zone blitz, but I have to admit that if there is a team that has personnel to make it effective, it is the Giants. A zone blitz is when the defense lines extra guys up at the line of scrimmage, usually overloading one side and brings a few guys, usually DBs on a blitz and drops back a DE or two in coverage. The idea is to confuse the blocking patterns of the OL, make them miss an assignment, or blow by the OL before they can adjust and slid to the open space to pick up the unexpected blitzer, because they are not blocking the DL-man in front of them and they are not sure which of the extra guys will blitz. It can be really effective and with the Giants very fast, athletic DEs, they have a good chance to make it work. Kiwanuka, Tuck and Osi are all able to cover a TE or RB for a few yards before the pressure gets to the QB. The problem with the scheme is twofold, IMO. First, if you don't get to the QB, you're in big trouble. You might say that you're always in trouble when you bring extra people to blitz and don't get to the QB, because then you have single coverage all over the field and less help for a WR who beats his man. But it's particularly true with a zone blitz, because you have DEs dropping back in pass coverage and they are unable to track a fast receiver for more than a few yards. With a normal blitz, even if you are singled up in your coverage and at a disadvantage, at least you have DBs in the coverage and have a fighting chance. Second, you are not optimizing your personnel. You have pass rushers in coverage and pass defenders rushing. When zone blitzes first came into vogue and caught offenses by surprise, they were very effective. By now, OLs have learned how to deal with them, practice against a variety of these blitzes and it is not as much of a problem for OL's to deal with. Pass rushers should rush and pass defenders should defend. I see Sheridan using the zone blitzes less and relying on the more traditional blitz packages - bringing a LB or CB - when he goes to a pressure package. My friend Ray described it as follows: the defense uses less gimmicks now and relies more on the base personnel beating their man in traditional 1-on-1 battles to have the defense succeed. I think he's right. When you have outstanding personnel in the DL like the Giants do, why not rely on them beating their man. If you can generate pressure from 4 or 5 without blitzing 2 or 3, you are better protected on the back end.
Having said all of that, it is also possible that Sheridan treated the last 3 games like preseason. Giants were playing such inept, anemic offenses that Sheridan didn't need to open the playbook and could play much more conservative and vanilla, not exposing the entire defensive playbook to the rest of the league on game film. Perhaps when Giants play the tougher part of the schedule and the stronger offenses, Sheridan will get a little more creative and run some slightly more exotic schemes. I don't think so, but it's possible.
Another subtle change that I see is that it appears to me that the Giants DEs are taking slightly wider splits, lining up a bit wider than they did in the past, especially on passing downs. This makes sense for them, for several reasons. The Giants DEs are very fast, rather than big and powerful; setting up wider gives them an advantage over the potentially slower DEs and lets them use their speed. Giants use fewer straight bull rushes than they used to which also fits this scheme and pattern. Furthermore, lining the DEs up wider, gives more space in the middle of the DL and makes it less congested. This gives the opportunity to Tuck to play in more space when the Giants slide him in at DT on passing downs. One more point: IMHO,Kiwanuka seems to have surpassed Osi as the 2nd best DE on the team. On his stat sheet, I think he only has 2 sacks, but he seems to be pressuring the QB more and making plays in the running game as well. The Giants DL uses a lot of stunts and loops when rushing the passer which also plays to their strength of athleticism and speed.
Looking ahead to the Saints game, this may be the first game where the Giants really miss S Kenny Phillips. Your team needs really good S play against a great passing offense, especially one that has a dynamic, pass catching TE like Shockey. C.C. Brown has played a little better replacing Phillips than he did earlier, but he is still more of a run support safety than he is a speedy pass defender. The guy that the Giants signed from the Packers, Rouse, has the same reputation as someone who is better against the run and weak against the pass, which is why the Packers cut him, BTW. Phillips was so good, coming into his own as one of the top safeties in the game. Brees and the Saints offense will surely put lots of pressure on the Giants DB-field and will test the safeties in particular to see if they can stand up to the passing attack. Missing Boley against the Saints also weakens the defense; he was playing very well and has really good speed, playing well in space and an effective pass defender.
It will be really interesting to see how the Giants defense attacks this game. If they stick to their current defensive schemes, they will rely primarily on a pass rush from their DL sprinkled with conventional blitzes from LBs and DBs. Alternatively, they could take a page out of the Rex Ryan playbook and attack with all sorts of blitzes from every direction. The Jets defense was very effective at bothering and slowing down the Saints offense and the Giants could dial up a risky, aggressive game plan.
RANDOM CLOSING NOTES
Is there a safety on some NFL roster that fills the Giants need for speed at the position and can be had in a trade for Sinorice Moss?
Note to HC Coughlin and the ST coach Quinn: please get Hixon back there returning punts and sit down Moss.