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Copycat League-Romeo Crennel’s Blueprints

We have often heard the phrase – “the NFL is a copycat league.”  After the Giants upset the Patriots in SB XLII, teams started copying the Giants game plan the following season to combat the Patriots offense.

As Pat Kirwan, of NFL.com, “wrapped up (his) summer’s NFL.com camp tour (in 2008), it was clear that teams throughout the league were developing packages similar to the Giants’ plan” versus the Patriots in SB XLII.  The only problem that “some teams face is that they (didn’t) have the critical components necessary to copy Spagnuolo’s strategy.”  The components mentioned in Kirwan’s article were: “Three versatile defensive ends and three-deep zone to implement the fire-man zone pressure scheme.”

And another interesting read which ties into Romeo Crennel is:  Giants cornerbacks coach Peter Giunta explained how the Giants stopped the Patriots offensive juggernaut. 

“We learned the most from watching this game. Romeo knew the (Patriots) group,” he said of Cleveland head coach Romeo Crennel, the former Patriots defensive coordinator. “The Browns played a two-deep (safety) scheme, mixing them up on third down, especially. Their players always put their hands on receivers at the line of scrimmage, especially on third down. It was the best we saw.

“Romeo didn’t want to get beat giving up the deep pass. It was similar to what you saw the Eagles and Ravens do,” said Giunta. “But the Browns did it better.”

The Browns were the first team that decided Moss, who had averaged 7.8 receptions for 126.3 yards and 1.8 TDs the first four games, was not going to beat them.

Moss finished the Cleveland game with three catches for 46 yards and no scores.

“They also got a little pressure on Brady,” said Giunta. “It was really the game that showed us the most.”

Even before teams started copying Spags’ packages, Spags developed his game plan by taking a page from other teams who had success against the Pats offense.  Kirwan pointed out that “people within the Patriots’ organization” believed that Spags game “plan got some of its substance from game plans used against them earlier in the (2007) season — specifically the Baltimore Ravens from Week 13 and the San Diego Chargers from the AFC Championship Game.”  More importantly, Crennel’s game plan helped the Giants defensive coaches unlock ways to slow down this prolific offense. 

Coincidentally, four years later, a Romeo Crennel defensive game plan stymied another potent offense.  This time, coaching for the Kansas City Chiefs, Crennel devised another defensive gem. His scheme against the Packers worked, as the Chiefs upset the undefeated Packers 19-14. Once again, Crennel’s schemes leads us to what the Giants can learn from him. On the NFLFilms blog, Greg Cosell broke down the Packers vs Chiefs match up.  

Some of the highlights and insights that Cosell takes from how the Chiefs combated the Packers are:

Chiefs utilized dime sub-package v. Packers “11” personnel, When they played man they matched corner Daniels on Finley. Daniels played nickel slot corner v. “20” personnel, when the Packers had no TE on the field. Packers aligned Finley at “x” iso at times, Chiefs matched up with outside corner Flowers or Carr or Daniels.

Chiefs played significant snaps of man coverage, In some “man free” concepts they had S Lewis matched on Driver inside with Daniels matched on Finley.

Interesting personnel and matchup for the Chiefs: Against “11” personnel with both Finley and Cobb in the game the Chiefs played dime with the 4th corner Arenas who matched up on Cobb. Chiefs also played dime when the Packers went “10” personnel, with 4 WR on the field.

Jones and Driver played outside more with Jennings out, and they both struggled to win v. man coverage – Loss of Jennings was significant.  Chiefs played almost no snaps of base 3-4, They played nickel and dime depending on Packers personnel.

Rodgers had his worst game of the season re: accuracy, His ball location was an issue – He missed a number of open receivers Chiefs played more “cover 2” on the Packers final TD drive, Made sense given they had a 19-7 lead. Rodgers again was a little tentative with his reads and throws, About the 4th consecutive game in which he was not as sharp mentally as he was earlier in the season.  Rodgers has not been as disciplined in the pocket in recent weeks as he was earlier in the season.

An interesting take from this is that the Crennel used 4 corners at times and clearly utilized at least 3 corners in the majority of his personnel packages.  This also can be traced back to a post on this site from earlier in the season on defending the spread.  You have to have “3 good corners to defend the spread” which leads us to believe that we could see a bit more of Prince Amukamara tomorrow.  Yes, we know that Fewell relies more on his nickel base with Grant as the 3rd safety. But will Fewell adapt some of the packages utilized by Crennel to combat a plethora of receiving talent the Packs have?  Will he bring more press?  Will the Pack likely use more no-huddle to combat the Giants from switching up these personnel packages?  Apparently, Fewell is taking a page from the Chiefs on the importance of being physical. As per his interview a lot of the players “have said (he) emphasized being more physical this week.”

A big credit goes to Glenn Warciski for his contribution to this article.