Super Bowl XLII: David vs. Goliath

Mike Nanna and Matt Matsumura

NE Offense v. NYG Defense:

Tom Brady’s Points-per-Minutemen are more talented than the 1994 Niners, faster than the 1993 Cowboys and more versatile than the 1999 Rams. Quite frankly, the 2007 New York Giants defense has a task ahead of them that might make the 1985 Chicago Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens give pause. But even intergalactic travel is possible when you can pressure the quarterback, and the Giants might have the playmakers to do just that.

Where the Greek-derived word “plethora” is listed in the 2009 Webster’s Dictionary, a picture of a smug Tom Brady may appear accompanied by the definition-elucidating sentence, “Tom Brady has a plethora of options.” Plethora can be used to describe Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, Ben Watson, Jabar Gaffney, Bridget Moynahan and Giselle Bundchen. How has Tom Brady used them? Moss broke the receiving touchdown record, Welker has 112 receptions and Brady himself threw 50 touchdown passes and has a bouncing baby. Tom Brady is like a bigger kid at a candy store – he stuck with what worked. He piled on the candy corns and Chupa Chups while taking a few gummy worms and a couple Dove squares. It’s all good, but some are just tastier than others. Unfortunately, in the wake of the greatest passing attack ever unleashed, both Donte Stallworth and Ben Watson have been statistical afterthoughts.

Analysts are quick to credit Stallworth for being himself, but his measly three touchdowns and less than 700 yards indicates one of two things; either he is truly the forgotten child or he isn’t the type of player he was in Philadelphia. Watch Ben Watson and you know he’s got the speed and size to gut the deep middle of any defense. What is most interesting is that he hasn’t done much of that this season, even when there is a safety assigned to cover Moss on nearly every play. His red-zone success pleads to his ability to release off the line, so it is a mystery as to why he hasn’t become a big-play threat.

So what does this mean to an opposing defense? First, stop Moss. Jam him at the line and allow the corner to play aggressively with help up top from a safety. Moss hasn’t been nearly as effective when teams are physical with him. The Giants cornerbacks aren’t impressive but are aggressive and currently overachieving. Corey Webster is more than physical enough to hassle Moss. Wes Welker is far from the best receiver in the NFL, but he is so good running the shorter end of the route tree that he can be unstoppable. Whether it’s in’s, out’s, curls or hooks – Welker does it all with technical precision. The Giants will likely run zone coverage (outside of Moss) most of the time, allowing Welker to sneak into open areas. The Giants need to tackle Welker, limiting his yards-after-catch. The Giants could try to put an extra defensive back on the field on third downs to man-cover Welker in an otherwise zone scheme (the Moss treatment). Welker is that important to what the Patriots do. There aren’t many more resources in the Giants back seven to scheme especially for other Patriots receiving options. Donte Stallworth and Ben Watson may have the potential to snag 15 balls for more than 250 yards between them, but the Giants are just going to have to let Tom have the Dove squares.

While the Giants may be prepared to do all types of fancy things in the secondary to ground the air attack, a successful game for the Giants front seven may be enough to leave Glendale with the trophy. Led by Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, the ferocious Giants pass rush will have to test Tom Brady’s ankle many times before the final whistle for a positive result. If the Giants can get pressure on Brady with five rushers or less, the Giants have a chance. The Giants have to make it a high priority to stop the run, as the Patriots reminded the league they could still run the ball with their performance against the Jaguars. The Giants have little chance to win the game if they can’t stop the run, which means they must keep three linebackers on the field against Wes Welker.

The Patriots should explore the possibility of striking deep with Watson. Conceptually, it would be unstoppable. They should also run the ball, slowing down the Giants pass rush. The Giants’ task is a lot more clear-cut. Stop Moss, stop Welker, rush the passer and stop the run. Simple enough?

NE Defense vs. NYG Offense:

While the Patriots star-studded offense gets most of the attention, the Patriots defense features just as much firepower. With a defensive line that ranks among the top-five and playmakers spread throughout the linebacking core and secondary, this 3-4 group forms one of the best overall units in the league. They have a knack for doing enough to win and stepping up in big moments, but the Giants offense certainly will give this talented group a run for their money.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning has finally begun to live up to the lofty expectations and continues to show the testicular fortitude necessary to be a Super Bowl QB. While some writers and fans question the validity of the previous statement, Eli’s conquering of the frozen tundra last weekend seals the deal for me. Look for the Giants to pass on odd downs against the Pats; forcing their slow linebacking core into coverage while attempting to minimize pass rush chances for specialists Adalius Thomas and Mike Vrabel. By mixing in a heavy dose of Brandon Jacobs to wear down the interior and Ahmad Bradshaw to challenge the slower and sometimes overaggressive veterans on the outside, the Giants should be able to keep this game close.

Jacobs must be aware, however, of his fumble problems. The Pats will look to take advantage of his nerves, particularly hard-hitting Patriots safety, Rodney Harrison, who hands out more cheap shots on Sundays then most of us do on Saturdays. As such, don’t be surprised if Bradshaw is the preferred option. Look for the Giants to get a big play or two from wideout Plaxico Burress if he can get matched up against the shorter Ellis Hobbs. However, his battle with the Pats other cornerback, Asante Samuel, could be a trap if Manning tries to force the issue. The Giants will most likely choose their spots carefully to target Burress and try to get fellow receivers, Amani Toomer, Steve Smith and Kevin Boss more involved in the offense.

Meanwhile, the war in the trenches should get interesting with the Giants solid offensive linemen matched up with the Patriots interior behemoths. Both Kareem Mackenzie and Chris Snee have the size and strength to counteract the beastly Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork. Giants’ center Shaun O’Hara, guard Rich Seubert and tackle David Diehl will have a bit more trouble in the running game against the Pats big men so look for the Giants to run to the right side of the line more often than not.

The Giants’ defense will provide opportunities for their offense, so they must convert and avoid having to settle for field goals. If that means taking more chances, then that is what they must do to give themselves a chance at slaying Goliath. As long as the Giants avoid turnovers and exploit the Patriots lack of speed at linebacker, they have a shot at taking this game to the wire.

Special-Teams Matchup:

With so much firepower on both sides of the ball for each of these Super Bowl contenders, the game may conceivably be decided by special teams. The Patriots are a fundamentally solid team with kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Chris Hanson and their underappreciated coverage units. Larry Izzo has been a consistent performer on special teams and Kelley Washington has made many big plays downing punts. Their returners have also been reliable and sometimes explosive, with punt returner Wes Welker representing the most dangerous of the group. Gostkowski is the X-factor here, playing in his first Super Bowl.

The Giants special teams feature the greatest directional punter of all-time, Jeff Feagles and the best Scottish player in the NFL, kicker Lawrence Tynes. Feagles gives the Giants a weapon in the punting game, but Tynes is an inconsistent kicker. This of course was quickly forgotten once he nailed the game winner at Lambeau two weeks ago. David Tyree has emerged as a Pro-Bowl caliber coverage specialist. However, the man who could make the biggest difference in this game is Domenik Hixon, the Giants 23-year old return man. He struck once against the Pats in Week 17 for a 74-yard touchdown, and he could hit pay-dirt again in Glendale if the Pats aren’t careful.