Giants-Patriots: Four Matchups To Watch In Super Bowl XLVI
So what should you be watching for when you flip on NBC for the New York Giants and New England Patriots? Andie Hagemann (Patriots) and Jacob Freedman (Giants) break down the four matchups to keep an eye on. Each matchup has the potential to turn the game either way.
Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Giants Pass Rush
Hagemann: There is a reason why Tom Brady (along with his childhood idol Joe Montana) is one of two players to win both the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award and the NFL MVP award multiple times. In 2011, Brady accumulated 5,235 total yards, a 65.6-percent completion rate, 39 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 105.6.
Though able to consistently shred his opponents, Brady only boasted a completion rating of 57.1 percent against the Giants in their lasting meeting on November 6 (a 24-20 Patriots loss). Since then, Brady has averaged 316.5 yards in the regular season. Expect Brady to take advantage of his offensive arsenal with loss passes for big gains. The Patriots' offense knows what to expect out of the Giants passing defense, no surprises here.
Freedman: The stars of the pass rush that sacked Brady five times, forced a fumble, and rattled his psyche in their last Super Bowl matchup are all back (excluding Michael Strahan). Luckily, a new player has more than filled the Strahan void. Jason Pierre-Paul, a 23-year-old speed demon of a defensive end, has taken a gigantic leap in his second season and is sure to terrorize Brady the entire game with his mix of speed and power.
Unfortunately for Brady, the intimidating duo of defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are playing their best football at the best time. Even scarier, the Giants' defensive front goes eight-deep, while linebackers Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka attack ferociously on the blitz. Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell rotates constantly, meaning the Patriots offensive line is bound to be dazed and confused, especially as fatigue takes a hold in the final quarter.
Patriots' TEs Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez vs. Giants Pass Defense
Hagemann: The biggest question mark for the Patriots' offense is whether tight end Rob Gronkowski will play on Sunday. Gronkowski is questionable for the game, but Belichick says "We'll see where he's at on Sunday." Gronkowski, who totaled 90 receptions for 1,327 yards in the 2011 regular season, scored 17 touchdowns for the Patriots and is a 6-foot-6-inch beast to contain. Without a doubt, if he is cleared to play, the Patriots can start sizing for their rings.
Fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez is another key factor for the Patriots if they want to defeat the Giants on Sunday. Hernandez has totaled 910 yards in the regular season, and racked up 121 yards in the postseason (against Denver and Baltimore). Both players are crucial and must be utilized against the difficult Giants passing defense.
Freedman: Though the Giants don’t lack in confidence, it will take more than belief to stop possibly the deadliest tight end combo the NFL has ever seen. It all depends on getting those tasked with covering Gronkowski stepping up to the challenge. Even with Gronkowski's injured left foot, double coverage is not a luxury, it is necessary. The Giants safeties have the size to knock "Gronk" around, but either Boley or Kiwanuka must limit Gronkowski in middle coverage, or Brady will slice and dice the ball with ease.
As for Hernandez, the same strategy should apply. Covering him with a linebacker, and then either Kenny Phillips or Antrel Rolle, is imperative. Both tight ends finished in the top 10 for receiving yards after the catch this season, so the safeties need to use their size again to take down both players before short gains turn into confidence-killers for the G-Men.
Patriots Secondary vs. Giants Receivers
Hagemann: New England's secondary, a motley bunch, is probably one of the most nonsensical of any of the NFL rosters. Comprised of free-agents and late-round draft picks, it seems to pose no threat to any receiver or passing offense.
Not so fast: that's exactly what they want you believe. The secondary may not be comprised of the best players and lacks a "star," but they are the hardest working today in the league. Led by signed free agent cornerback Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore and Julian Edelman, among others, the Patriots defense is feisty and has allowed 58 fewer points than the Giants this season. As the popular mantra states, "Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships." The championship rests in the inexperienced hands of the Patriots' secondary.
Freedman: The Giants' receiving corps has been a three-pronged aerial assault, so take a short glance at what makes up arguably the best receiving trio in football.
Victor Cruz - Cruz is the x-factor of the Giants offense. He has the sure hands to the play the slot and be a possession receiver, yet also has the speed to blow by cornerbacks and catch the deep ball from Manning.
Hakeem Nicks - The star receiver of the team, Nicks has come on strong of late. His size and ability to catch anything thrown into his area code gives Manning a reliable threat, and will give Bill Belichick a major headache scheming how to stop him.
Mario Manningham - A speed demon, Manningham will take advantage of the Patriots' sure focus on the other two receivers and use his incredible quickness to give Manning a downfield option throughout the game.
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick vs. Giants Coach Tom Coughlin
Hagemann: Since arriving at New England over a decade ago, Bill Belichick has epitomized everything that a NFL coach should be. Although he's not a media favorite - or a fan favorite for that matter - especially with his sloppy clothes and chopped sweatshirts, Belichick clearly knows what it takes to lead a team to the ultimate game-the Super Bowl.
After being named head coach of the New England Patriots in 2000, Belichick led the Patriots to five conference championships (2001, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2011) and three Super Bowl victories (2001, 2003 and 2004). Not to mention the Patriots finishing their seasons consistently in the top of the pack. Don't let appearances fool you. Bill Belichick is a football genius. He knows what it takes for a team to achieve greatness. He has done it before and especially now, Belichick and the Patriots are out for blood.
Freedman: As the Giants have caught fire, Tom Coughlin's own hot seat has frozen over. Though partially out of necessity, Coughlin has let the reigns loose on Eli Manning and watched his quarterback shred through the NFL's top defenses. Coughlin's background as a wide receivers coach has shown as Hakeem Nicks has re-emerged, teaming with world-beater Victor Cruz to give the Giants an even more lethal passing attack.
Most importantly, Coughlin has the control and belief of his players. When dissention and criticism in Coughlin's tenure in New York reached an all-time high following a terrible late-season loss to the Redskins, the Giants could have crumbled and possibly cost Coughlin his job. Instead, his emotional and no-nonsense coaching style finally reached his players, and now has the whole team playing as a motivated and spirited unit.