This past summer, with the NFL lockout still on in full force, it was unclear if this Sunday was going to actually be Super Bowl Sunday or just another ordinary Sabbath. Fortunately for the American public, the commissioner’s office and the players figured out the semantics in time to still give the fans a full season of what has been adopted by the majority of the country as a second religion.
The 2011 football season culminated with record ratings and now Super Sunday is nearly upon us. The game pits the New York Giants against the New England Patriots, which is the perfect recipe of big city, East Coast teams in America’s new pastime that the media coverage may make the world explode (and prove the Mayans right in the process).
When looking past the media hype and dissecting the two teams, it is odd how eerily similar Giants and the Patriots are.
Both of these teams have become known for their high-powered offenses, primarily their elite passing attacks (each team finished in the top-5 in passing yards during the regular season). Each star quarterback has exceptional weapons at their disposal, with Brady having the likes of Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski (bum ankle and all) and Aaron Hernandez, while Manning counters with Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham.
Neither team has an extraordinary ground game, but both do enough with their rushing attack to keep the opposing defense honest. The Giants duo of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs has more talent and game-breaking ability than those in the New England backfield, but I don’t see a decided edge here because of the Patriots’ ball security.
The Patriots secondary is comprised of no-names, underachievers and a converted wide receiver, which will surely have Eli Manning licking his chops when he gets to the line of scrimmage and surveys the numerous mismatches he has to exploit. Yet despite the deficiencies of New England’s defensive backs, the biggest weakness for New York is also their secondary. Just like the Patriots, the Giants pass defense ranked in the bottom five in the NFL.
Amazingly, neither team has a discernable edge in their run stuffing ability, either. The Patriots finished the year 17th against the run, closely followed by the Giants at 19. Both teams also allowed nearly identical yards per carry (NE: 4.6, NYG: 4.5) and each surrendered 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Which brings us to the main difference that should ultimately decide this game: pass rush. New York has the elite pass rushers that New England lacks, and their ability to get after the quarterback could prove to be the deciding factor in a game that pits two teams so evenly matched. When the Giants got defensive end Osi Umenyiora back in the middle of the season they created a trio of elite rushers that give offensive lines fits. Umenyiora gets to take advantage of interior lineman up the middle while Justin Tuck and breakout star Jason Pierre-Paul force double teams on the edges.
Now, the New England pass rush wasn’t as woeful as one might think, and they have played well in the teams two postseason games (eight sacks recorded), but talent-wise they don’t stack up. The Patriots were benefactors of facing mediocre opposing quarterbacks and weak supporting casts during their two-game production boom.
Manning has shown an improved ability this season of shifting in the pocket, very reminiscent of his older brother, to buy that little bit of extra time to get the pass off.
This brings us to the final verdict. New York is the team that caught fire late in the season and is now clicking on all cylinders, similar to the Packers last year or the 2007 Giants team. New York will play up on the New England receivers and try to take away Brady’s quick throws, while their superior pass rush will make it so the Patriots passing attack doesn’t have the time to get the ball down the field. With the way the rules are constructed now, defenses can’t win championships like they used to, but the Giants have the ability to get stops when they need it and I just don’t see that on New England’s end.
So though this Cowboys fan would like nothing more than to see Tom Coughlin’s face that soothing shade of bright red, and Manning hanging his head following their annihilation at the hands of the Patriots, I fear instead that I’ll be seeing Eli’s goofy mug hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.