INDIANAPOLIS -- When it comes to defending the no-huddle offense, the Giants have tried just about anything, including some well-timed injuries that left them looking like Al Czervik. But entering Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Patriots, New York defensive coordinator Perry Fewell feels pretty good about his team's chances when it comes to slowing down New England’s no-huddle offense.
“We were battle-tested as far as the no-huddle offense throughout the season, and I think that we improved as far as the season went on with our forms of communication,” Fewell said. “During the season, that was definitely a challenge for us. Right now, I think that’s become a part of who we are and what we do because we’ve faced it so much.”
However, the numbers tell a different story. The Giants defense faced a no-huddle offense on 83 of 1,072 snaps over the course of the regular season, a total of just 7.7 percent of the time. (That includes five regular-season games where it didn’t face any no-huddle snaps.) In its three playoff games, opponents have operated out of the no-huddle on 22 of 194 snaps, or only 11.3 percent of the time. Combining the two, the Giants have faced a no-huddle set on 105 of 1,266 snaps, or 8.3 percent of the time.
The one game when they did face a team that ran a lot of no-huddle was when they faced Seattle on Oct. 9 at MetLife Stadium. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told anyone who would listen that Seattle would go no-huddle against the Giants, but New York couldn’t stop it. In that game, with Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson sharing quarterbacking duties for the Seahawks (Whitehurst came in after Jackson left with a pectoral injury in the third quarter), the Seahawks utilized the no-huddle on 32 of their 76 plays from scrimmage on the way to a 36-25 win over the Giants. (The third-most no-huddle snaps they faced was against the Rams, when the New York defenders made a mockery of the game, faking injuries in hopes of derailing the St. Louis no-huddle. On that night, the Rams were in no-huddle for 10 of 67 offensive snaps. In the regular-season finale against Dallas, the Cowboys went no-huddle on 19 of the 59 snaps.)
“We knew it was coming, we prepared for it but we just didn’t have an answer for them today,” defensive end Osi Umenyiora told reporters after the game when asked about the Seahawks’ no-huddle. “We practiced for that all week. We knew it was coming. We just weren’t able to stop them.”
Meanwhile, the Patriots have used the no-huddle as a regular part of their offensive scheme all season long. Unlike most teams who only lean on it in end-of-half and end-of-game situations, New England went to it several times throughout the season. Overall, according to NFL gamebooks, the Patriots offense was in no-huddle on 242 of its 1,082 snaps during the regular season, a rate of 22 percent. That figure increases when you factor in the two postseason wins -- New England went no-huddle on 33 of the 64 snaps against Denver and 33 of 68 plays against the Ravens.
In all, including the two postseason wins, 308 of New England’s 1,214 plays from scrimmage have come in the no-huddle, or 25 percent.
“Anytime you talk about no-huddle, it’s definitely a challenge when it comes to your conditioning level,” said Giants defensive lineman Chris Canty. “You have to definitely push through it. But it comes down to being able to make plays, to make negative plays and slow the pace of that offense down. That’s what you have to put your focus on.”
Here are four other things we learned Thursday in Indianapolis:
TOM BRADY IS ENJOYING HIMSELF
Everyone has commented on how relaxed Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been over the course of Super Bowl week -- on Thursday, he fired off a couple of one-liners in the opening moments with the media. The coach was asked about coming across more relaxed and engaging over the last five days. “That’s different than it normally is?” he responded with a smile.
But at the same time, the quarterback has also appeared pretty content. He’s endured multiple sessions with media, even yielding the podium in the ballroom he has previously occupied for a smaller podium in a room with the rest of his teammates in another part of the hotel.
Brady has been genuinely reflective over the course of the week, talking frequently about how he’s grown and evolved as an individual. Whether it’s because of age or family or overall maturity, he’s presented a different face to the media this time around. It certainly sounds like he’s been far more appreciative of this Super Bowl visit than the ones he’s made in year’s past.
“It’s been a very fun week,” Brady said. “After not having been here for four years, I’m really enjoying the experience, and some of the fun aspects of the week. It’s much more tolerable when you become a veteran player. I had a great time at media day -- that was fun. Sunday night was cool. When we got in, I got to see Rodney [Harrison] over the stadium. I’ve spent a lot of time together with my teammates.
“Unlike the other playoff games where you’re not really sure how it’s going to go the following week, now we know how it’s going to go. We’re not going to see each other after Monday. You just enjoy the experience with those guys, and hopefully we have a lot of reasons to celebrate on Sunday night.”
ROB GRONKOWSKI ‘DID SOME THINGS’ THURSDAY
Gronkowski was on the field for the second half of the two-hour practice session the Patriots held Thursday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center (which for all the world sounds like something out of “Parks & Recreation”). While he was limited, the fact that he was simply on the practice field for the first time since prior to the AFC championship game is a positive note for the Patriots,
“He did some things. He didn’t do everything,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Gronkowski. “We’ll see how he is tomorrow. I think that will be the big key -- how he responds to this today.
“It was good. It was fine. We’ll see where he is tomorrow -- whether that set him back, whether it didn’t and whether he’s able to continue progress on a daily basis,” Belichick added. “But it was a good test for him, too, at least. At least he was out here and did some things to see how he feels. We’ll see how it goes.”
This is relatively new territory for Gronkowski, who had back issues while in college but has never been on the shelf for an extended stretch in his nearly two full seasons in the NFL. At the media session Thursday morning prior to practice, Gronkowski indicated that the final decision on his health would be made by him and the team’s training staff.
“It’s my body and I know how I feel the best,” Gronkowski said. “I just communicate with the trainers on how I feel, what they think, and we just put all our knowledge together so we can get the best possible situation.
“I will make the final call. I listen to the trainer’s advice, but it’s how I feel. I’m just trying to get better. The trainer has helped me to get to a place where I need to be,” Gronkowski added. “We have a couple of options to explore. I’m not even sure I’m going to wear anything. I’m taping it and testing things out every day to see how I feel. We just talk about it. We’re going to figure it out.”
While Gronkowski hasn’t been on the field, Brady has still managed to spend time working with the tight end when it comes to game planning for the week.
“We’re always communicating back and forth about his routes and the schemes that we have that are a little bit different for this game.” Brady said when asked about Gronkowski. “He’s a fast learner. He’s played every game; he’s practiced every single day this year [prior to his injury]. He has a pretty good understanding of what we’re doing. It’s not like he has to figure out how to play football again. Probably the break is good for him in a sense that he hasn’t been beat all week in practice. Hopefully, he can go out there and play.”
THE PATRIOTS AREN’T TAKING THE BAIT
In the wake of Chris Canty’s promise of a Tuesday parade in New York, the Patriots said to a man on Thursday that there’s not going to be any sort of back-and-forth in the media when it comes to a war of words.
“No I don’t care about what’s been said. They feel confident and we do, too,” Wilfork said. “The game is never won in the papers or through media. You always have to rely on the game on that Sunday, or whenever the game is. For us, that’s Sunday. We’ll do all our talking on Sunday. We don’t have to go out and say what we want to do and how we feel. I know we are very confident, they are very confident. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be in the position that they’re in. Both teams want to win, but it’s on game day. It’s not now, it’s on game day.”
Canty made the statement to a New York television station. When asked if he was worried about giving the Patriots bulletin board material, he said he didn’t care.
“Obviously, Tom Brady made a statement at their pep rally. Obviously, both teams are here to try to win a football game,” he said. “It just is what it is. I’m not trying to inflame anybody or anything like that. I want our fans to be excited about the game that’s coming up on Sunday. It’s going to be a great football game. It’s going to be a 60-minute game, and hopefully we can put ourselves in the best position to be successful.”
“I stand beside what Vince says,” said linebacker Jerod Mayo. “A good team will lose on Sunday -- hopefully, it’s not us. There are two good teams going at it. It’s good that he has that confidence.”
“I don’t blame him for saying that,” said offensive lineman Logan Mankins. “Hopefully, our fans are getting ready too. We want to win the game, they want to win the game. We know that only one team can, so, whichever teams wins is going to have a big party, and the other team will be very disappointed.”
“It’s his opinion. He’s entitled to his own opinion,” said defensive end Mark Anderson. “The best team will win Sunday night. All we’re going to do is continue to work, continue to prepare and do what we have to do and correct any mistakes so we can play at a high level on Sunday.”
Though Canty suggested that the comment was not the basis of a war of words, Patriots receiver Deion Branch -- when interviewed by the Mut & Merloni show on Thursday morning -- was clearly irked by Canty’s comments.
“Philadelphia said that, too,” Branch said of Canty’s parade boast, referring to an Eagles team that offered numerous boasts in the buildup to Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. “[At] 6:30, we’ll see Chris on the football field Sunday. ... We’ll be there. He can say they’ve got a parade and all that stuff. That’s cool.”
HE DOESN’T GET THE INK, BUT ROB NINKOVICH IS THE MOST IMPORTANT OF NEW ENGLAND’S VERSATILE DEFENDERS
The Patriots ask a lot of guys to do a lot of different things, and while the spotlight this season has been on Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater and their versatility, Rob Ninkovich has been the most integral of those players. The Purdue product has been asked to shuffle from defensive end to outside linebacker and back again as New England has continued to rotate between three- and four-man fronts.
“He’s handled it well. He puts in a lot of time in the film room and a lot of time in his playbook, and it shows on the field,” said linebacker Jerod Mayo. “They ask him to rush, they ask him to drop, they ask him to play zone, man-to-man. He does it all. That’s what makes him a good player.”
His responsibilities have changed -- and he appeared to struggle with some aspects of the change through the first half of the season -- but has really come on strong down the stretch. As colleague Kirk Minihane pointed out, Ninkovich was only one of two NFL defenders to finish the season with at least six sacks and two interceptions. (Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs was the other.) Ultimately, he finished second among linebackers with 62 tackles (46 solo) in the regular season with 6.5 sacks, 9 quarterback hits and two interceptions.
“Playing defensive end my whole career basically, it’s pretty easy to just put my hand down and rush,” Ninkovich said Thursday. “The more difficult things are learning the 4-3 scheme as a true linebacker, a SAM linebacker off the ball. That’s a little bit different, but I enjoyed learning every different aspect of the defense. It gives you a lot more knowledge of the game.
“Before, as strictly a defensive end, you don’t know all the ins and outs of defensive coverages, the things that defensive football is all about. I really enjoyed learning this year the different schemes we’ve run.”