Back in 2008, I made the incredibly dumb decision to go to my friend’s Super Bowl party. This kid was the kind of clown who watched the Super Bowl more for the commercials than anything else – not exactly the kind of person you’d want to watch one of the biggest games in NFL history with. But it was worse than that. Little did I know I was going to be the lone Pats fan in a room of about fifty Giants fans. See, the New York Capital District is a weird melting pot for professional sports fans. Its central location makes it such that Giants, Jets and Bills fans are represented relatively evenly. But on this night I had unexpectedly found myself left to my own devices square in enemy territory.
As much as I’ve tried to black out all memories of that game, I still don’t think I’ll ever forget the Tyree catch. I very well may have uttered a dozen obscenities after Eli eluded lineman after lineman only to drop to my knees once Tyree came down with it and the room erupted into absolute madness. And the second Tyree came down with that ball, it was over. Shortly, my phone would be ringing off the hook with “friends” calling me to congratulate me on an 18-1 season, something I’d be congratulated on about 100 times over the next week. Those were dark times.
As painful as it was, I recently went back into that footage of Super Bowl XLII to try to see what really happened that fateful night. Eli Manning was named the game’s MVP, but he really didn’t play a game to remember, other than that final drive. His stat line was 19/34 for 255 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT, which don’t qualify as big numbers by any stretch of the imagination. The real star of that game was the Giants’ defensive line that managed to rack up five sacks on Tom Brady and limit the Pats to 45 yards on the ground. Their ability to consistently get pressure on Brady prevented the Pats from ever getting the big plays down the field (their longest pass play was only 19 yards) that had been essential to their 18 prior wins. The Giants’ ability to turn that game into an ugly, grind-it-out game, took away the Patriots’ major strength and when the Pats needed their defense to make a stand, they didn’t get it done. It was as simple as that.
Though four years have passed, the two teams have surprisingly similar identities. This year’s Pats still thrive off an explosive pass offense and the Giants mask a very mediocre secondary with their ability to rush the front four. So why is it going to be any different this time around?
Undoubtedly, the key matchup remains the Patriots offensive line against the Giants front four. The only remnants of the 2008 team are the Patriots left side of LT Matt Light and LG Logan Mankins. That 2008 O-line was one of – if not the – best in the game, and this year’s line is only a slight step below that, bolstered by the additions of reliable veteran RG Brian Waters and standout rookie RT Nate Solder. The Pats are at their best when they don’t need to add extra protection up front and can spread out the defense with their tight ends and wideouts.
Similarly, the Giants succeed only when they can generate pressure. Quarterbacks who have been given time have had no trouble picking them apart. A prime example of this came back in Week 12, when the Saints put up 49 points on the G-men and Drew Brees threw for 363 yards and 4 TDs. How many sacks did the Giants have in that game? Zero. If the Patriots can win the battle in the trenches, they have far too many targets for the Giants to cover.
Unlike Tim Tebow, Tom Brady knows how to hit an open receiver in stride. Unfortunately for the Giants, the Patriots have so many targets to cover that if Tom Brady gets time, there is almost always someone open.
Everyone knows what the Patriots can do on offense, but one of the most overlooked things about the Patriots of late has been the relatively steady play of their defense, that quietly hasn’t allowed 30 points since Week 5. Though they haven’t been shutting anyone down (aside from Tebow), they don’t need to for the Patriots to win. Much of the criticism the Pats defense has taken has been fair, but it’s been overlooked now that they’re fully healthy and impact players like Pat Chung, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo have all made contributions on their return. With Vince Wilfork playing out of his mind, they’ve done a nice job creating pressure the last two weeks, putting up a sack more per game than the Giants in this postseason. If the Pats don’t need to blitz heavily to generate pressure on Eli, he might make some mistakes. He has shown that he doesn’t care too much about coverage. However, it can’t be overlooked that Eli has been playing on a high level over the last five weeks and Nicks and Cruz have become one of the most formidable duos in football. The edge is still very much in favor of the Giants’ offense, but certainly not as much as the Patriots offense gets the nod over the Giants D.
In 2008, this was David v. Goliath, but that is far from the case anymore, and it’s almost certainly going to be a close, physical game decided up front. However, if there’s one thing Pats fans like myself can take solace in, it’s that David Tyree will be hundreds, if not thousands of miles from the field come Sunday. Thank freaking God.
Contact Pete Koehler at [email protected]