Did anyone notice something unusual late in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl Sunday night? Took a lot of people by surprise.
After the New York Giants had taken what turned out to be the final lead of the game and with the game still on the line, they unveiled something rarely seen in the National Football League.
The New England Patriots were three points away from a tie that would at least give them a shot to win in overtime. Three timeouts and 29 seconds left to travel about 45 yards for a chance to kick a field goal and keep a date with history.
And in Tom Brady, the Patriots had one of the best come-from-behind quarterbacks in NFL history. Twenty-nine seconds? Three timeouts? Piece of cake.
Except for that little surprise the Giants unleashed.
The non-prevent defense.
All game long, the Giants' four-man line and intricate blitz packages by the linebackers pestered and harassed Brady as no other team had done this season. Brady time and again found himself in a position that was foreign to him all season. On his back. Spent half the evening there.
Oftentimes, he wound up on his backside after delivering the ball. The Giants hit him more frequently than a piñata at a birthday party.
The strong New England offensive line, which had protected Brady all season as though he were a fine piece of china, looked inept and totally overmatched against a strong and absolutely relentless Giants pass rush.
So when it came down to the final half minute of the game and the Patriots a half a field away from the precipice of history, the Giants did what came naturally. They attacked.
Most other teams would have backed off at that point. Not the Giants. And that's what helped win the game.
Aggression defines terrific defenses. And that's what the 4-3 scheme provides. The ability to attack the quarterback is paramount.
Four defensive linemen remained on the field for the Giants during those final 29 seconds. The linebackers played within seven yards of the line of scrimmage at the snap, then dropped back into zones, taking away Brady's short- and medium-range game, forcing him to hold on to the ball a fraction of a second longer in order to have enough time to throw the deep ball.
And that slight sliver of time throws off the timing of a deep route. Brady either overthrew his man or wound upon on his backside.
What the Giants did against the Patriots seemingly went against the coaching manual, which states that in the final stages of a close game in which you take a lead, unveil the prevent defense and keep your fingers crossed.
A lot of teams do it. Why they do it has never been fully explained. The bend-don't-break approach results in way too many fractures.
Fans have another name for the prevent defense: The prevent-the-victory defense.
Instead of dancing with what got you there, most coaches develop a severe case of brain cramps and become Republicans in their thinking. They vote conservative.
Brady has been here before. He is no stranger to last-minute heroics in the Super Bowl.
In Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams in New Orleans in 2002, Brady, operating with no timeouts, drove the Patriots 53 yards to set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal as time expired.
The Rams has tied the game with 90 seconds left in regulation and most observers believed the Patriots would run out the clock and take their chances in overtime. The Rams dropped back into the prevent. It cost them their second title in three years.
The NFL is a notorious copycat league. So maybe after watching the Giants attack, rather than fall back, against the Pats in the final half minute, some teams will take notice and change their defensive strategy and attack.
Maybe they noticed that a strong pass rush can take the opposing offense's best player out of the game and give them a much better chance of winning.
Don't count the Browns among those teams. Unfortunately, coach Romeo Crennel is wedded to the 3-4 alignment. They are one of only six that employ that scheme.
So do the Patriots, but they were neutralized by the much stronger Giants offensive line.
The 3-4 is more sophisticated than the 4-3. You almost have to trick the offense with zone blitzes, safety blitzes, blitzes from anywhere on the field in order to be effective. Give the opposition one look and then bring another.
The 4-3 is much more simple and direct. Attack, attack, attack. My front four against your front five. Utilize the strength, speed and quickness of the defensive ends and the strength and quickness of the defensive tackles.
Pressure the quarterback. Disrupt his timing. Make him throw before he wants. And the Giants did that better than anyone this past season.
They didn't lead the NFL in sacks with nearly three and a half a game by accident. They doubled the Browns' total.
So until they hire a head coach who espouses the 4-3, get used to the Browns' annual lamenting of the lack of a pass rush.
Time to at least think about switching back to the 4-3.