Super Bowl XLVI Preview

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After Kyle Williams of the San Francisco 49ers handed Sunday’s game to the Giants, the stage is now set for a rematch of the historic 2007 Super Bowl. Both conference championship games were decided by somewhat fluky plays, which was rather disappointing considering the quality of both games up until those points. Ravens’ kicker Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yarder, which gives me an excuse to preach my theory that they should be able to declare a field goal anytime they make it past the opposing team’s 20-yard line.

The Patriots’ defense held Ray Rice to 67 yards on 21 carries and Tom Coughlin would be savvy to continue passing the ball as often as he did against the 49ers – 58 of the Giants’ 84 plays on Sunday were passes. The Patriots’ front seven looked good against the Ravens, but Joe Flacco threw for 306 yards with 8.5 yards per attempt, so their secondary can still be exploited. The Patriots face off against a much better quarterback in Eli Manning and a receiving core loaded with two No. 1 options in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Preventing those receivers from making big plays after the catch will be should be emphasized in the Patriots’ secondary.

The Giants’ defense will once again rely on their front four getting pressure on Tom Brady, so they can drop seven players into coverage to hide a suspect secondary. A good offensive balance for the Patriots that avoids clear passing situations will be key for the Patriots’ offense. The Giants should have a hard time committing enough players to stop the run while bracketing Gronkowski or Hernandez, so the threat of the run will be essential. The scarcity of athletes in the Giants’ linebacking core outside of Michael Boley means the Giants will often commit two to the tight end not covered by Boley. Hernandez and Gronkowski are matchup nightmares for teams without cover linebackers; I was excited at the prospect of seeing 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis match up against those tight ends.

I have the Giants winning 34-27 on the strength of their passing game and pass rush. I think the Patriots’ lack of skill in the secondary will be exposed by the Giants, the only quality passing team they’ll have faced in the playoffs. I expect the Patriots to move the ball against the Giants, but their lack of a deep threat will ultimately put too much pressure on Tom Brady being pinpoint over long, methodical drives. Big plays could be plentiful for the Giants as Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are simply better than the Patriots’ cover men.

Three things that could determine the outcome of the Super Bowl

 

1. The turnover margin

Earlier in the season when the Giants and Patriots squared off, Tom Brady threw two interceptions and the Patriots fumbled twice. The Giants only turned the ball over two times in the game. Eli Manning must continue to make good decisions and Tom Brady needs to protect the ball against a swarming Giants pass rush.

2. Sack margin

This remains constant with the 2007 Super Bowl. If the Patriots’ offensive line can keep Tom Brady upright then there’s a good chance he’ll find the open receiver. Like most quarterbacks, Tom Brady will play noticeably worse if you hit him consistently.

3. Limiting Brandon Jacobs to five or less carries

No, seriously, stop giving this guy the ball. The biggest difference between the 2007 Giants and this year’s version is the Giants’ offensive structure. The Giants once boasted an excellent run blocking line and two very effective running backs in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs that masked what was at times iffy quarterback play. Now the Giants have a subpar offensive line, one effective runner and a quarterback who arguably joined the NFL’s elite with his performance this season. Limiting Brandon Jacob’s carries, and the number of runs called in general, should give the the Giants their best chance.