New England Patriots

Super Bowl XLVI Preview: Play It Again, Tom

Tom Brady can't win his fourth Super Bowl with this type of view on Sunday.

As much as I’d like to offer flowery prose without endlessly referencing Super Bowl XLII, it’s just not possible. Even though the characters are wildly different, the schematics and themes are very much similar.

When the New York Giants and New England Patriots meet on Sunday in Indianapolis, it will mark the NINTH meeting (including preseason) between the two since 2007. Suffice to say, Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin know each other and the other’s personnel quite well.

Despite being favored by 2.5 points, the Patriots enter Lucas Oil Stadium as somewhat of an underdog depending on your NFL media weapon of choice.

According to most pundits, this game boils down to one simple concept; the Patriots defense stinks and can’t stop the NFL’s Greatest Show on Field Turf at MetLife Stadium, the New York Giants.

Let’s unearth these topics and more:

KEY ITEMS TO LOOK FOR ON SUPER SUNDAY

Does this man have an answer for New York's passing game?

1. CRUZIN’: The first problem with wrapping your head around a New England win is not the defensive pressure issue. New York receivers Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and Victor Cruz pose a large problem for the Patriots, who lack significant depth at cornerback. Over the last five games, New York has outscored the opponent 141-67, in part due to their offensive playmakers.

During their first meeting in November, Nicks was out with an injury but Cruz tallied 91 yards while Manningham only caught three passes for 33 yards but grabbed a touchdown. The receiving trio has its collective sights set on one man across the field…receiver/cornerback Julian Edelman.

Both Manningham and Cruz made it clear that they feel Edelman can be easily exploited. During the AFC title game, Edelman checked Anquan Boldin throughout. Quiet for much of the game, Boldin finally came alive late to hit (101 yards receiving).

Oddly enough, despite the relative ineptitude of New England’s secondary (and having the last laugh), Eli Manning was 20 of 39 for 250 yards. Missing was the big-play element to the receivers, which has been a staple of their run over the last month. If that is Eli’s stat line on Sunday night at 10:45pm, I think Patriots fans and players will gladly sign up for it.

So how will Belichick setup their defensive look against Manning? Play the safeties back and dare them to run the ball? Since Ahmad Bradshaw is on a creaky foot and Brandon Jacobs isn’t Earl Campbell, I’m guessing he’ll aim to play the pass and kindly invite New York to run.

2. WHO’S GONNA BE THAT DUDE: Outside of the game’s A-listers, typically Super Bowls feature lesser-regarded players busting out to play important roles in the game’s outcome. Last year? Green Bay’s Nick Collins. Super Bowl XLIV saw Saints cornerback Tracy Porter pick-six Peyton Manning to seal a victory. Super Bowl XLIII saw Santonio Holmes emerge as one of the game’s premier big-game receivers. Then of course, Super Bowl XLII. Who serves the role this year? Chad Ochocinco? Kyle Arrington? Edelman? Manningham? Devin Thomas? Jake Ballard?

In case you're unsure, the Giants have numerous pass rushers including Jason Pierre-Paul

3. THE BEGINNING IS THE END: One of the main reasons Baltimore is not playing on Sunday instead of New England, is what they didn’t get done in the first quarter of the AFC title game. Their inability to set the tone of the game led to their demise. They went three and out on their first three possessions. If Baltimore joined the game earlier, then perhaps Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff would not have the opportunity to decide an AFC Championship.

During New York’s November win (and Super Bowl XLII), the Giants set a physical tone and tempo that made New England uncomfortable. It’s not a coincidence the Giants were victorious on both occasions. New England must be able to play the game on their terms early.

4. ABOUT THAT GIANTS PASS RUSH: We’ve heard so much this week about Super Bowl XLII, that people are becoming completely detached from the regular season game between the teams in November. When the Giants upset New England four years ago, they sacked Tom Brady five times and forced a fumble. That New England team was built on the deep ball to Randy Moss and underneath throws to Wes Welker. Simply put, Brady wasn’t afforded the time to find Moss or anyone else for that matter, deep downfield because of New York’s heat. Obviously, New England’s offensive personnel has changed much since.

Last November, New York sacked Brady twice but their pressure helped force him into two interceptions and a fumble. One would guess that a potential remedy to slow Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and company’s electric pass rush is to go Dan Marino on them.

In other words, Brady must able to make quicker decisions with the football than what he did in Week 9’s contest while facing a team compiled an NFL-best nine sacks during the playoffs.

That’s the only method of prolonged success for the Patriots on Sunday. Quick strikes, running, and a no-huddle attack is the way to a Lombardi for New England in my opinion.

This may not make much sense but the 2011 New England offense is in some ways better suited to handle a Giant pass rush than their 2007 predecessors. Brady has a more “dink and dunk offense” than four years ago, which should help alleviate a pass rush more than trying to play brass-knuckles football with big bombs.

In 2007, the Patriots had grown drunk on their power of whipping teams with big plays. Who could blame them though? They were 18-0. However, when the big play became less common late in the season and they were forced to do other things, they appeared far more human.

When Sunday rolls around, the Patriots must proceed with balance and efficiency. Otherwise, the Giants will do their thing and have a backfield party.

BONUS GRONK: Here’s what we know about Rob Gronkowski. Bibi Jones’ favorite Patriot has a reported high ankle sprain. What does that mean you ask? Let’s view the comments from the “Runnin’ Doc” Lewis G. Maharam from Monday’s New York Daily News:

A “sprain” by definition is a tear in a ligament. When the foot rolls inward as the instant replay showed, the ligaments can tear and you get an ankle sprain if you are lucky enough not to break any bones.If the inversion is severe, not only can ankle ligaments tear but so can the connective tissue that holds the two bones of the lower leg (tibia and fibula) together. This is called a “high” ankle sprain.

The length of time to recovery obviously depends on how much of the syndesmosis tears. With immobilization and some therapy I have seen high ankle sprains take months to recover so that the ankle feels normal to play on. I would guess that Mr. Gronkowski has the benefit of well-informed sports medicine specialists and probably got multiple platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections to get that connective tissue to heal more rapidly.

So Paul, my educated guess is that with top-notch care, Gronkowski will be ready to go Super Bowl day.

While he hasn’t practiced yet, I believe Gronkowski will try to give it a go. Even if he’s not his normal self, the Giants will need to account for him.

BONUS TURNOVER PARTY: The Giants have a +5 advantage in the turnover department. Conversely, New England has operated at a -3. If New England plays at a -3 rate on Sunday, they’ll lose and lose easily.

SUMMARY: This has been one of the more interesting Super Bowl weeks in recent memory. It appears as if no one is giving New England a chance, which is somewhat unheard of for a favorite.

Also, one of the reasons why this game is dramatically different in the setup versus four years ago lies in New York’s confidence. They have been very mouth this week. From Corey Webster proclaiming himself as the best corner in football to Mario Manningham’s words about Julian Edelman, the Giants aren’t afraid to let everyone know how good they are.

As for the game itself, as noted earlier, the Giants have a distinct advantage with their offense versus the second-worst passing defense in NFL history.

However, I believe New England can offset that to a degree by not going into throw, throw, throw, throw, mode on offense. They’ve got to run in this game to protect their defense. Not turning over the ball would greatly help matters too.

The Giants have been extremely hot over the last month but I think this two-week period will cool them off. Yes, New England’s secondary is rough but they can win in the red zone and that is one of the few areas on the field where they have succeeded.

Meanwhile, I’ve watched Vince Young, Tarvaris Jackson, and Rex Grossman (twice) figure out New York’s defense.

After having two weeks to review their last outing versus New York, I think New England will get it too.

THE PICK: NEW ENGLAND 30, NEW YORK 27

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