|The G-Men's offensive attack is even more dangerous this time. (Getty Images)|
The Giants offense and Patriots defense have both elevated their play this postseason. But that doesn’t mean this matchup isn’t glaringly lopsided. Here’s the breakdown.
1. Relevance of rematch factor
The Super Bowl XLII film is worthless for analyzing Super Bowl XLVI. Vince Wilfork is the only Patriots defensive player left from the ’07 roster, while the ’07 Giants offense featured possession targets Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer at wide receiver and was built entirely around the run. What’s more, Eli Manning at the time was a 27-year-old glorified game-manager, not a 31-year-old superstar.
This year’s Week 9 matchup is almost equally irrelevant, for the simple reason that the Giants were without wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, running back Ahmad Bradshaw, fullback Henry Hynoski and center David Baas. Will Beatty was still at left tackle and David Diehl was still at left guard.
The Patriots were still using safety Devin McCourty at cornerback, Josh Barrett was playing safety, current Seahawk Phillip Adams was the nickelback and defensive end Andre Carter had not yet injured his quad.
The Giants are not the same offense without Nicks. Even so, the Patriots that day had trouble stopping the pass. With Nicks back, things might get real ugly for them.
2. The mismatch: Giants receivers vs. Patriots secondary
This matchup is what makes it hard to pick the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
Simply put, they don’t have one cornerback who can defend Nicks, Victor Cruz or even Mario Manningham. Starting corner Kyle Arrington matched up on Cruz with plenty of safety help last game and got torched. With Nicks healthy, Cruz slides back to the slot, where he could face Julian Edelman. That a wide receiver plays in the nickel package tells you everything about what Bill Belichick and his staff think of backup corners Nate Jones and Antwaun Molden.
On the other side, Sterling Moore will see plenty of Nicks. Moore has made great strides down the stretch, but we’re still talking about an undrafted rookie safety playing corner against an elite playmaking wideout.
Even if the Patriots commit fully to coverage and play two-man (which is man-to-man with two safeties helping over the top), they’re still vulnerable. None of their corners are great in man and none of their safeties, aside from Patrick Chung (who’s a better hitter than ball hawk) have proven themselves. True, those safeties have flourished this postseason, but that was against Denver and Baltimore, two of the worst man-beating offenses in football.
The Patriots don’t have a good enough pass-rush for their secondary to sustain man coverage anyway. Thus, expect Bill Belichick to do what he’s done most of this season: put his men in bend-but-don’t-break schemes and hope to compensate with red zone stops and turnovers.
The Giants will gladly go to work against cautious zone coverages. They’re a big-play offense – not with home runs so much as doubles and triples. Thanks to a solid pass-blocking O-line and coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s shrewd route combination designs, the Giants thrive on 15-25-yard completions, both strictly through the air or via the catch-and-run. This multidimensional potency stems from the brilliance of the quarterback.
We’ve trumpeted the younger Manning in virtually every Film Room post for the past two months, so admittedly, what you’re about to read is somewhat redundant. But with this being the Super Bowl, and in Peyton’s house, and amidst so much talk about both Mannings’ legacy, it’s appropriate to hammer home the point: Eli Manning is as good as any quarterback in the world right now.
His arm strength and accuracy are as good as any passer’s, which is why the Giants have so much success with the deep-outs:
|New York’s money play is the deep-out. Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham run this route (known on the route tree as the seven route) as effectively as any trio in the game. All have great footwork and are hands-catchers – two important elements near the sideline. A lot of teams don’t consistently run this pattern because it requires a quarterback with incredible arm strength and timing.|
His presnap and postsnap decision-making are as sharp as any player’s, his pocket mobility and improvisational abilities are as impressive as any quarterback’s and his moxie and leadership and all those other vague Tebow-like attributes are phenomenal.
This is another reason the Patriots will likely assume a conservative – if not passive – defensive approach. By being complex and aggressive, they make it about whether Manning can out-execute them. By being basic, they make it about Manning AND everyone else out-executing them. When you figure Manning is going to out-execute them anyway, it’s sensible that the Patriots would want to put the game in other skill players’ hands.
4. New York’s run game
Given what’s been written in this post thus far, it might seem the Giants would be doing the Patriots a favor by running the ball. Perhaps they would. But take a step back and understand that, all in all, the Giants offense is still built around balance. It has been ever since Tom Coughlin arrived.
Despite still having Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, the Giants run game is nowhere near what it was last time these teams met on a Super Bowl stage. It had a late-season surge, but at Green Bay and San Francisco, it looked a lot like the 32nd ranked rushing attack it was all year.
That said this rushing attack was actually able to pound the rock inside with Jacobs in Week 9. And the Patriots have yet to see Bradshaw. Having Brandon Spikes once again healthy has done wonders for New England’s front seven; he and Jerod Mayo are both excellent downhill thumpers. But given New York’s aerial acumen, it’s doubtful the Patriots will bring run-defending safeties Patrick Chung or James Ihedigbo into the box much this game. It will be on the defensive line to continue to be stout against the run.
5. New England’s saving grace…?
There is one area where the Patriots D has a clear advantage: up front inside. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork is a behemoth top-tier star coming off an otherworldly AFC Championship performance. On Sunday he’ll have the luxury of facing banged-up and highly-disappointing center David Baas.
The Patriots played a lot of 4-3 fronts in Week 9; it might be prudent to go more 3-4 this time just to ensure that Wilfork can line up directly over Baas. Wilfork is certainly capable of beating guards Kevin Boothe or Chris Snee, and on most plays he’s going to eventually draw a double-team no matter where he aligns.
But the Patriots have next to no chance at stopping this offense if they don’t get at least a few dominant penetrations from their best player. Putting him over Baas gives him the best chance for that.
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