Giants-Patriots Super Bowl Then And Now: Defensive Lineup
(Editor's note: On Monday, Will took a look at the changes made to the offenses of the New England Patriots and New York Giants. Today, he examines how the new personnel on the defensive side for the two teams.)
Then – Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour (NE) vs. Michael Strahan/Justin Tuck, Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins and Osi Umenyiora (NYG)
The 3-4 line of the Pats was one of the best in the NFL, featuring three All-Pro-caliber linemen in Warren, Wilfork and Seymour. All three were menaces and could warrant double teams, freeing up the linebackers to rush the passer. Seymour played just nine games and missed the Super Bowl, allowing the mediocre Jarvis Green to fill in. Had Seymour played, maybe he sacks Manning on the now-legendary Tyree play. The world will never know.
Utilizing a 4-3 scheme, a team needs two good edge rushers so blitzing is not required: meet Strahan and Umenyiora. This was Strahan's last year, and while his powers had waned, Justin Tuck and Umenyiora picked up the slack. All three combined for 32 sacks, more than half of the league in 2007. This unit was the key in round one, disrupting the Patriots' offense and knocking down Brady regularly. The edge rushers kept the game a low-scoring slugfest.
Now – Sedrick Ellis, Kyle Love, Wilfork and Brandon Deadrick (NE) vs. Jason Pierre-Paul/Osi Umenyiora, Chris Canty, Linval Joseph and Justin Tuck (NYG)
Big changes occurred in four years for the Pats, who are now a shell of their former selves up front. Wilfork still plays at an elite level, but the other guys are average at best. Andre Carter was a beast at defensive end, but his season ended early due to a leg injury. Of all the positions, this is where the biggest disparity between both teams lies.
Jason Pierre-Paul is a monster. How else can a man so large (6-foot-5, 278 pounds) move so fast and hurt so many people? JPP opened a can of whoop-ass on the league, getting 16.5 sacks and blocking a field goal. If it were just him, the Pats' line would be in trouble. But with Tuck and Umenyiora rotating, keeping everyone fresh? New England will have their hands full stopping these guys, as San Francisco and Green Bay did the past two weeks.
Then – Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Adalius Thomas and Roosevelt Colvin (NE) vs. Kawika Mitchell, Antonio Pierce and Mathias Kiwanuka (NYG)
Vrabel and Bruschi were the stalwarts from the Patriots first dynastic run in the early 2000s, but the defense was not quite the same as they aged, and yet each were still highly productive (12.5 sacks and 93 tackles, respectively). Thomas and Colvin were nice pieces but never really fit in or produced at a high level. In 2007, this was the weakest aspect of the New England defense.
The Giants had a good linebacking corps, led by defensive captain Antonio Pierce. Mitchell was a solid contributor, getting 97 tackles in his only season with the Giants, but Kiwanuka was the young guy who showed promise. Sadly, he sustained an injury and only played ten games in 2007.
Now – Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich (NE) vs. Michael Boley, Chase Blackburn and Kiwanuka (NYG)
Slight edge goes to New England this time around. Mayo is one of the best young linebackers playing; Spikes is developing nicely; and Ninkovich is a jack-of-all trades, sometimes rushing the passer, sometimes stuffing the run and always adding to the odd names on the Pats roster. The crew will need to step up and help the weak front four stop the Giants running backs.
Though the Giants corps is weaker, they’re not bad. Michael Boley is a good player that racks up tackles, as is Kiwanuka. Blackburn is the surprise, who just a few short weeks ago, was trying to become a substitute teachers. As well as he has played during the playoffs, it's hard to believe someone this close to being a sub is that talented. Any questions will be answered on Feb. 5.
Then – Asante Samuel, Rodney Harrison, James Sanders and Ellis Hobbs (NE) vs. Aaron Ross, James Butler, Gibril Wilson and Sam Madison (NYG)
Samuel and Harrison were the standout guys from this group from either team, as each guy made some Pro Bowls back in the day. Samuel was in the zone as he made the first All-Pro team in 2007. Sanders was an average safety and Hobbs, height notwithstanding, was a good corner. Well, until you realize it's not a good idea to allow someone short to cover someone tall in the biggest game of the year.
Compared to New England, the Giants' secondary was a step down. Ross was just a rookie and Madison did not bring any special talent to the team. Wilson was the best defensive back, playing free safety, snatching four picks and recording over 90 tackles during 2007. Butler was a good strong safety and actually made the most tackles for the G-Men back in the Super Bowl, yet his career faltered after leaving New York.
Now – Kyle Arrington, Patrick Chung, James Ihedigbo and Devin McCourty (NE) vs. Corey Webster, Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle and Ross (NYG)
Chung missed most more than half of 2011, so the blame of the crappy New England secondary does not fall on him. Oh, McCourty, what happened to you? Last year you looked nearly like the cornerbacking equivalent of Leonardo DiCaprio. This year? More like Nic Cage during his current, inexplicable run of terrible movies. Ihedigbo has been solid but not much more than that, but Arrington actually tied the league lead in interceptions with seven (the number by itself does not make him great, as DeAngelo Hall had six last year and completely sucked, but still impressive).
Injuries have plagued the Giants secondary all year, but they still have a good group they feature. All four are good players in their own right and make up a good unit. Some of the scheming featured in the playoffs was puzzling, such as NOT double-teaming Vernon Davis constantly against San Francisco. They still won, but to not blanket a team's only receiving threat is dumbfounding. It sounds like something Norv Turner would try if he ran defenses.
Then – Stephen Gostkowski, Chris Hanson, Welker and Hobbs (NE) vs. Lawrence Tynes, Jeff Feagles, R.W. McQuarters and Bradshaw (NYG)
While each team was very close, finding the context of special teams' numbers is harder than other conventional stats. Thus, according to their numbers for the 2007 season, Football Outsiders had New England ranked 7th and the Giants ranked 19th. Gostkowski was better at kickoffs than Tynes and the return games for New England were better across the board. New York did hold the advantage in the punt game with Feagles over Hanson.
Now – Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Julian Edelman and Woodhead (NE) vs. Tynes, Steve Weatherford, Devin Thomas and Ross (NYG)
Just looking at raw numbers, the Pats kickers did much better than the Giants did – Gostkowski missed as many field goals as Tynes on nine more attempts and Mesko edged Weatherford in yards per attempt. But what Mesko has in an awesome name, Weatherford makes up for in candid moments. Just like '07, neither return game is particularly outstanding (for what it's worth, FBO has the Giants with markedly better special teams. So what do numbers mean anyway?).
Each team has significant differences from the 2007 version of itself. No matter how this game turns out, it will be memorable for one reason or another. Revenge matches often carry a certain weight. The excitement will only build up this week as the clock ticks to kickoff.