Remember when the New York Giants and New England Patriots got together back February 2008 for Super Bowl XLII, and how that game wasn’t over until the Patriots last desperation/offensive drive of the game was ended by a pass deflection from a Giant defensive back named GIBRIL WILSON? Well, Super Bowl XLVI may not end exactly like that, but this edition could be just as interesting to watch. Below is an analysis of both teams as Super Bowl XLVI approaches.
QUARTERBACKS: TOM BRADY and ELI MANNING have been to this party before. They know how to perform in Super Bowls and both of them possess rings to prove it (Brady with three and Manning with one). Brady has been on a tear for the balance of the 2011 season as he has thrown for more passing yards (5,837 yards-including playoffs) in a single season than he ever has in his first-ballot Hall of Fame 12-year career. Brady arguably may be the best overall football player in Patriots history as he has won and done it consistently, without ever having a big-time running back(s) to hand off to. Since Brady was drafted in 2000, the Patriots have selected nine receivers (none were drafted in the first round) and only two of them panned out (the jury is still out on JULIAN EDELMAN but looks who he has to back up WES WELKER) or were able to put together three or more seasons of consistency, or were able to help the Patriots passing game. His best receivers in his entire career have been WELKER (four 110+ catch seasons), DEION BRANCH (312 catches for 4,152 yards and 24 scores), TROY BROWN (420 catches for 4,539 yards and 23 scores), and tight end AARON HERNANDEZ (124 catches for 1,473 yards and 13 scores).
As or the 2011 season, Brady has thrown for under 200 yards just once the entire season (18 total games) and his yards passing per game (327.2) was second only to DREW BREES in the entire league. Brady does not like to make mistakes – he is a perfectionist and a competitor, and the Patriots have benefited from that for the last 11 years. Yes, he is those things but he is also easy to get along with and he cares about his teammates. As for the Super Bowl, Brady has been on this grand stage before but now he has even more firepower offensively and that could spell trouble for the Giants and their 29th ranked defense versus the pass. Brady faced the Giants back in Week 9 of the season and he torched their defense for 342 yards and 2 touchdown passes, but he also threw 2 interceptions and the Pats lost the game 24-20. So this time he needs more than Welker (a team leading 142 yards receiving in that game) to step up. But that game was 85 days ago and this Patriots team will be more potent offensively and will know more of what time it is with the Giants on both sides of the ball than they did back then. BILL BELICHICK does not like to make mistakes, either, especially twice. And don’t think Belichick doesn’t remember Super Bowl XLII.
As for Manning he will have to beat the Patriots with his right arm, his feet, clock management, and his trademark laconic/unaffected demeanor. The Giants will need all those traits as they haven’t been able to really get their running game off the ground (no pun intended). Their 32nd ranked running game is partially due to the emergence of budding star wide receiver VICTOR CRUZ and the fact that running backs BRANDON JACOBS and AHMAD BRADSHAW have missed games due to assorted injuries and their own inconsistencies. The Super Bowl is partly about forgetting what a team did in the previous 17 or so games and get a fresh new start and the Giants need that football axiom in this game. ADVANTAGE: New England
RUNNING BACKS: Neither one of these teams are going to wow anyone with their collection of running backs. But as any Patriot fan can see, the Patriots have not gone 15-3 just because of their passing game although it may seem that way. The Patriots have annoyed and salted away with help from guys like BENJARVUS GREEN-ELLIS, DANNY WOODHEAD, and STEVAN RIDLEY. Even though those three have only one 100-yard game between them (136 yards by Green-Ellis in Week 5 versus the New York Jets) they have done their part and to be honest, it isn’t totally their faults that they aren’t have breakout or big-time seasons because this offense isn’t predicated on them being the breadwinners as far as attention or yardage goes. They are complementary/background backs who do what they’re told. That trio gained 1,459 yards rushing and scored 13 times during the 2011 regular season. Woodhead is the most exciting running back on this team and it would be nice if he got more touches, but his size (5-8 and 195 pounds) doesn’t call for more than about 100 carries or so per season. Green-Ellis is their most physical back and Ridley is a rookie but with talent. For the Giants, Jacobs and Bradshaw must forget about the regular season and parts of the playoffs and help Manning and the passing game. The Giants need more offensive balance and they will need it on this game because one gets the sense that both teams could be matching touchdowns all evening, if both offenses perform to their capabilities. ADVANTAGE: New England
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: While the Patriots have wowed the NFL with their distribution of passes to just about every player who is listed as a receiver on their active roster this year, the Giants have used mainly four receivers to get their passing game off the ground in VICTOR CRUZ, HAKEEM NICKS, MARIO MANNINGHAM, and tight end JAKE BALLARD. Those four combined for 235 catches for 3,855 yards, and 24 touchdown catches during the regular season. Every single one of them can hurt a team in the intermediate or deep passing game (especially Cruz and Nicks) and all of them have were blessed with good hands (especially Cruz). New England will have to account for every single one of them as those four have annoyed defenses, somehow someway, for most of the 2011 season. It would be nice but it may be wishful thinking to actually see CHAD OCHOCINCO be activated or have a breakout game in the Super Bowl, as he has been persona non grata in the Patriots passing game in 2011. Moving on, Welker and Branch are nursing knee problems but they should be ready for the Super Bowl as the Pats need both of them healthy (especially Welker) to help their passing game go. Hernandez and ROB GRONKOWSKI have combined for 2,237 yards on 169 receptions and 24 scores, and those two can run and block so the Giants defense is in double jeopardy with those two. But, another receiver needs to step up besides Welker as the No.2 or 3 receiver for their passing game to work because if those two tight ends are taken away for a spell or are hurt, a No.2/3 receiver must take advantage of the attention (read, double-team) that Welker will command. ADVANTAGE: New York
OFFENSIVE LINE: The Giants offensive line has got to be unhappy with having the 29th ranked running game in the league. Jacobs and Bradshaw are better than that, and so is the Giants offensive line. Also this line has allowed 36 sacks this year (including playoffs) or 2 sacks per game which isn’t that bad but it also isn’t anything to brag about. Those leaks must be rectified in this Super Bowl because if the Pats are able to hamstring both facets of the Giants offense it could be a long game for them. Manning (or any quarterback for that matter-look what happened to Drew Brees in the first round of the playoffs versus San Francisco and their relentless and annoying pass rush) can only do so much, and he was fortunate to get out of last week’s game (versus San Francisco) with a win and without an interception as he was sacked 6 times and the fact that it took a pair of KYLE WILLIAMS fumbles to help the Giants win that game. New England has been fortunate that their offensive line has stayed intact for most of the season and they have allowed the Pats to have a big-time passing game as well as a serviceable running game. Every single one of their starting five offensive linemen have started every game of the playoffs so far. It also helps that rookie right offensive tackle NATE SOLDER has played above his experience this year and the fact that the other four members of this line are veterans like MATT LIGHT, BRIAN WATERS, LOGAN MANKINS, and DAN CONNOLLY. Meanwhile, New England doesn’t have any big-time pass rushers on their defensive line but they are capable of creating pressure as evidenced by the 48 sacks they collected this year (including playoffs). Right defensive end ANDRE CARTER nabbed 10 of those sacks which tied for first on the team with fellow end MARK ANDERSON, but Carter has been sack-less in the playoffs and Anderson has just one sack in the playoffs (versus the Broncos in the first-round). ADVANTAGE: New England
DEFENSIVE LINE: Pro Bowler JASON PIERRE-PAUL and perennial stalwart JUSTIN TUCK are anchors of the Giants defensive line. They must create havoc for Brady and the Pats right and left tackles for the Giants to have a chance to stop the Patriots high-octane and multi-faceted offense. And even if these two have good games that may not be enough. The interior of the Giants defensive line needs to provide pressure and do solid gap-filling, but the caveat of that is that the Patriots like to run laterally more than they like to run up the middle. So Tuck and Pierre-Paul are in precarious positions for this game. For the Patriots as mentioned before, they must provide consistent pass rush and help take away the inside running game along with their interior defensive linemen. And taking advantage of the fact that the Giants will be starting a new left tackle for this game in TONY UGOH. Although, the Giants may opt to slide guard DAVID DIEHL to left tackle and start MITCH PETRUS at left guard. Manning shredded the 49ers a week ago for 316 yards passing and 2 scores even though he was under constant pressure. The Giants have the better defensive line but defensive tackle VINCE WILFORK of the Patriots is a better run defender than any defensive lineman the Giants have. ADVANTAGE: New York
LINEBACKERS: New England needs big games out of inside linebackers BRANDON SPIKES and/or DANE FLETCHER to aid in taking away the Giants inside running game which is one of their strengths offensively. Spikes is an active and high effort player who can be a grade-A nuisance at the point of attack when he wants to be. Outside linebackers JEROD MAYO and ROB NINKOVICH also have the stones and mentality to scoot inside and make running backs pay for coming up the middle (especially Mayo). As for the Giants MICHAEL BOLEY and MATHIAS KIWANUKA will have outside containment in this game which is where the Pats usually like to direct their running game. And both of them are athletes who can drop into coverage and/or play sideline to sideline. But Boley is the more physical and complete of the two. ADVANTAGE: New England
DEFENSIVE BACKS: The Giants possess an aggressive defensive backfield that gets it hands caught in the cookie jar often. The best part of their secondary is the left side of it with strong safety KENNY PHILLIPS and cornerback COREY WEBSTER. Phillips is on his way to being a complete safety after hearing so many thoughts from the outside that he was on his way to being a first round bust due to injuries and his slowed development. He and fellow Miami Hurricane and state of Florida native ANTREL ROLLE have teamed up to make a sort of unforgiving and punishing safety duo. AARON ROSS has had an up and down career but the Giants will need his cover skills and speed in this Super Bowl because there is a chance that he may not have just the Pats receivers to worry about but their tight ends as well. DEVIN MCCOURTY will be assigned Cruz and KYLE ARRINGTON will be assigned Nicks so both of them will have big jobs on their hands this coming Sunday. As both of those receivers possess speed, big-play talents, and maneuvering skills to shake free and gain yards after the catch or before the ball even touches their hands. PATRICK CHUNG and JAMES IHEDIGBO will help them in the deep game as well as help solve the Giants running game if it can get off the ground. ADVANTAGE: Even
SPECIAL TEAMS: if this game comes down to a field goal then both teams don’t really have much to worry about. STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI has one of the strongest legs in the business and he hasn’t missed an extra point since his rookie year of 2006. He was a star kicker at Memphis and the talents he showed at that school has carried over in the NFL. Just when Pats fans thought life was over placekicking-wise when ADAM VINATIERI left for the Indianapolis Colts after the 2005 season, in comes Gostkowski and his strong right leg. Giants kicker LAWRENCE TYNES, like MATT BAHR did in January 1991, sent the Giants to the Super Bowl with his right leg after a turnover committed by the San Francisco 49ers. Tynes has quietly (outside of New York) put together a beneficial season for himself (made 79.2 percent of his field goals and every one of his 43 extra point tries in the regular season). Woodhead and Edelman are opportunist players who try to find every yard they can get every time they return kicks (Edelman) or punts (Woodhead). So the Giants will have to worry about those two. The Giants are still trying to find the right guy(s) to return punts and kicks for them, but they do have options. If it came down to punts Hungarian-born ZOLTAN MESKO (he had a 46.5 yards per punt average in the regular season) has a powerful left leg and he he has been a star punter since high school. ADVANTAGE: New England