In Super Bowl XXV, Giants played the high powered, up tempo offense of the Buffalo Bills. The Giants and DC Bellichick came up with an interesting defensive strategy to stop the Bills that year and QB Jim Kelly. Instead of pouring everything into the pass rush and the front 7 to try and get to Kelly before he could release the ball, the Giants instead overloaded the back end of the defense and did not commit to getting Kelly. In fact, they often lined up with only two DL-men and kept a mixture of 4 LBs and 5 DBs (or 5 LBs and 4 DBs) to flood the passing zones and to hammer the Bills receivers after they caught the ball. Bills offense was predicated on running lots of crossing routes, so this strategy of having tight zone windows and always having a defender ready to hit a Bills WR right after the catch matched the Bills preferred offensive pass routes. The Giants were trying to take away the pass and dare the Bills to run the ball. The pregame thoughts were that if Bills RB Thruman Thomas runs for more than 100 yards, the Giants would win the game. If he did, the Bills passing game would be de-emphasized and Giants defense would have accomplished their strategic objective. Thomas did run for over 100 yards, scored a TD in the 4th quarter that put the Bills back in the lead (though I insist to this day that there was a clip by Andre Reed against Everson Walls that was not called) but despite Thomas' big game, Bills offense which had scored 50+ points the week before in their conference championship game route of the Dolphins, scored only 17 points (2 on a safety) against the Giants. You can't put that deflated score just on the defense, because the Giants offense held the ball for 40 minutes with lon time consuming drives, so the Bills offense had fewer opportunities than they normally would have had; nevertheless, it was interesting.
The reason I bring this up now is that I would not be surprised in Bellichick employs a similar strategy against the Giants this week. I don't think he will go to a 2-DL front, but he may go with lots of nickel and dime coverage, not over-commit to pressure packages and blitzes and instead try to confuse Eli and the Giants WRs with a host of 7 and even 8 man zone coverages. The reason he may doubly be attracted to this strategy is that Giants have not had a great running game this year. In 1990 Super Bowl, it was a creative strategy, but still somewhat risky because the Bills had a great running game also and could have (maybe should have) relied on their running game more than they actually did. The Giants this year have largely been a passing team with ineffective running game; therefore, without a running game to balance out the offense and hurt the opposition, this strategy of sitting back with lots of DBs might be more effective. This is what the 49ers did last week - rarely blitzing and keeping lots of guys in coverage. This strategy was effective for the 49ers for several reasons:
The field was slick and Giants WRs could not win on their routes and get open.
49ers have good DBs and are able to cover on the back end.
49ers have very good front 4 and were able to manufacture pressure on Eli with just 4 rushers.
If the Patriots go heavy in the DB-field, Giants have to hope that they can win with their routes anyway and get open. They have to be patient and not throw into coverage and perhaps take what the Patriots give and run the ball. If the Patriots go with nickel all the time, Giants should give them a heavier dosage of Jacobs. When the Patriots are in their 3-4 look, the RB has less east-west running that he has to do which favors Jacobs and with smaller DBs on the field in place of a bigger LB, he may be able to run over some people in the secondary.
Furthermore, if Bellichick employs this strategy, Giants should throw more early in the downs and get the advantage of passing against them when they are less expecting it and may not have set up a complex zone. Last week, Eli did throw for 300+ yards, but his yards per attempt were lower than usual, indicating that this 49er strategy was effective.
It will be interesting to see if Bellichick employs this defensive strategy and to see what the Giants offensive response is.