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Covering Cruz

The Giants, when they go three wide, put Cruz in the slot. The Pats, when they attempt to cover three wide, put Julian Edelman in the slot? Mismatch? Yeah.

But the Pats aren’t just going to let Cruz go wild. From the esteemed Greg Cosell:

In trying to get a handle on the Cruz matchup, I keep coming back to a concept Belichick has used effectively in the past.  I call it the “bullseye” approach.  Belichick targets a single player whom he feels is most critical to the success of the opposing offense, and he focuses his game plan on that specific player. The most celebrated illustration was Super Bowl 36, when Belichick zeroed in on Marshall Faulk and minimized his affect on the game.

I would not be surprised to see Belichick at times put the “bullseye” on Cruz in the 3 wide receiver personnel grouping. I have seen him align linebacker Rob Ninkovich over slot receivers to physically prevent them from getting off the line of scrimmage cleanly. That disrupts, even for a heartbeat, the timing of the passing game. The corollary point, and an important one: Ninkovich would then rush the quarterback. Because of his initial alignment over the slot, the offensive pass protection did not account for him.

Another factor compels the “bullseye” concept versus Cruz and the Giants.  By limiting the speed and efficiency with which Cruz can release off the line, it severely lessens his ability to be an immediate vertical threat. He cannot race into the secondary and force safeties to have to react quickly. The practical result is Cruz can then be played solely by the slot corner, without deep safety help over the top. Another body does not need to be allocated to defend him. That gives New England more coverage versatility with which to defend Nicks and Mario Manningham.

The bullseye approach is interesting. Cruz is not Faulk, but he is very dangerous. Putting the linebacker on him to jam him, similar to how the Giants cover tight ends, except with a defensive end. And while I agree that it might slow Cruz, I disagree with Cosell in that it will help stop Nicks and Manningham. Because someone is still going to be single covered, and our wideouts can beat that. So we’ll see. But if the Pats can’t stop Cruz, they’ll be in trouble.

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One Response to “Covering Cruz”

  1. Jason C. says:

    Yeah they did that the last time too, then David Tyree happened, threw off their game plan and Plax was able to break free for a touchdown. Gilbride isn’t exactly a genius, but even he can figure out how to thwart a weak strategy like that. I’m expecting a big game from Bradshaw, they dialed up more screens than usual last game but the talented 49er defense wasn’t going to have it, Patriots defense, not as talented.

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