What we learned from the Week 9 battle

January, 25, 2012
1/25/12
1:43
PM ET
Ten observations after reviewing the game tape of the Giants' 24-20 win over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Week 9:

1. The biggest thing the Giants can take out of the game is how they were able to win on the road without two of their best offensive players, RB Ahmad Bradshaw and WR Hakeem Nicks, both injured. The passing game was less explosive without Nicks and the running game was predictable without Bradshaw -- no perimeter threat -- resulting in a scoreless first half. They finished with a respectable 361 total yards, thanks to Eli Manning's fourth-quarter heroics.

2. The Patriots probably won't be able to use much from this game in their preparation for Super Bowl XLVI because, let's face it, that wasn't really the Giants as we now know them. Without Nicks and Bradshaw, they adjusted their approach by using more two-TE packages than usual. In fact, they employed a two-TE look on 36 of 68 plays, with TE Bear Pascoe often lining up in the backfield as a fullback. These days, the Giants are a wide-open passing attack, using three wide receivers as their base offense (48 percent of the snaps in the regular season, according to ESPN Stats & Information).

3. The Giants were conservative early in the game, trying to establish the run. Maybe it was because they didn't have Nicks, but they seemed reluctant to attack the Patriots' woeful pass defense, which finished 31st in the league. That won't be the case this time. Manning is on an all-time roll and, even though the Patriots have shown improvement in recent weeks, the Giants should have their choice of favorable matchups with the Patriots' secondary.

4. In terms of scheme and personnel, the Giants will see a different defense. In Week 9, the Patriots were in their 4-3 phase, which didn't work out so well for Bill Belichick. Fat Albert Haynesworth is gone (cut after the Giants game), DE Andre Carter is on injured reserve and Belichick is back to using a 3-4 as his base.

5. Manning didn't have his A-game in the first meeting (he threw a horrible interception in the red zone), but he came alive with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, including the game winner to TE Jake Ballard with 15 seconds left. Both scoring passes came against a DB blitz. Manning is vulnerable against DB blitzes … except in the fourth quarter, when nothing seems to bother him.

6. With C David Baas out with an injury, the Giants played with a makeshift offensive line that struggled on third down (4 for 13). These days, they're enjoying the benefits of continuity. The Giants' "A" line has been together for 204 of 215 snaps in the postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Info. In the regular season, the current starting five played together for only 186 of 1,027 snaps.

7. For three quarters, the Giants had QB Tom Brady absolutely befuddled. Brady threw two interceptions (it should've been three), losing his cool after the first pick. He went to the bench and fired a water bottle to the ground, a rare show of frustration. It was that kind of day. The Giants sacked him only twice, but they hit him 13 times. They created a strip sack with a six-man rush, but they relied mostly on their four-man rush. In fact, both interceptions came against a four-man rush. The Giants are one of the few teams that don't have to blitz to generate pressure, which is huge against Brady because it allows them to drop seven into coverage.

8. How good was the Giants' defense? It pitched a shutout in the first half, the first time since 2006 (a span of 74 games) that the Patriots failed to score before halftime. The Patriots came out trying to run the game, hoping to exploit a then-struggling Giants rush defense, but they gave up after a few series and returned to their usual attack. Even then, it wasn't easy. If it weren't for Aaron Ross' muffed punt, the Patriots probably would've been scoreless through three quarters.

9. All that said, Brady still passed for 342 yards and two touchdowns, but he couldn't crack the Giants' secondary for any big plays. His longest completion was 28 yards. The Giants mixed their coverages, especially on WR Wes Welker and TE Rob Gronkowski. They used S Antrel Rolle on Welker (in the slot), with S Deon Grant and LB Michael Boley splitting most of the work on Gronkowski. Welker and Gronkowski combined for 237 yards (Gronk beat Boley for a short TD), but they had to work for everything. That's the key against Brady & Co.: Don't give them any gifts. The Giants' three-safety nickel package matches up well with the Patriots' two-TE offense.

10. This game underscored the importance of protecting the football, as each team scored 10 points off turnovers. When they stopped giving it away, it turned into an entertaining fourth quarter with four lead changes.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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