Patriots earn chance for redemption

Nadav Gov-Ari

At least the Patriots can rest easy knowing David Tyree is retired. Tyree’s ‘helmet catch’ is iconic of the Giants’ historic victory over the previously unbeaten Patriots. According to ESPN columnist and Pats fan Bill Simmons, it still haunts him at night.

“Super Bowl XLII- the Sequel” is a go. The New York Giants and New England Patriots will meet in the Super Bowl again, four years after the Giants upset the 18-0 Patriots in one of the most memorable Super Bowls ever.
The public will focus on the quarterback matchup, and justifiably so. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady commandeered an unstoppable offense, based on creating matchup issues with their two athletic tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The offense has led New England to 13 regular season and two playoff victories, including Sunday’s win over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game.
This season Eli Manning has erased any doubts as to whether or not he’s an ‘elite’ quarterback. He has emerged as an unquestioned leader, carrying his team to five straight victories and the Super Bowl after an embarrassing 23-10 home loss to the Washington Redskins.
Receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks have also developed into real threats, as the Giants’ offense really meshed to end the season. The Giants thrashed the top-seeded Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, and managed to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in overtime in the NFC championship game Sunday.
The quarterbacks and offenses are great matchups, but what will really decide the game in the end is defense. Both defenses were far below the NFL average in the regular season, with the Giants finishing 27th in the league with 376.4 total yards allowed per game and the Patriots finishing next-to-last at 31st with 411.1 total yards allowed per game.
To push them over the top in the playoffs, these types of teams need at least competent performances from their  usually incompetnent defenses. The defenses who step up (see: 2010 Packers, 2009 Saints, 2008 Cardinals, 2006 Colts) make the big game.
Since the start of the playoffs, both the Giants’ and Patriots’ defenses are playing much better. In the playoffs, the Patriots are allowing a total of 325 yards a game, while the Giants are allowing 321, improvements of 86 and 51 total yards per game respectively. If they had posted these numbers in the regular season, the defenses would have ranked seventh and eighth overall. Combine that with their juggernaut offenses, and both teams would have been hard to stop. With the improved defensive performance, the teams have won a combined 16 of their last 17 games. The Patriots alone own a 10-game winning streak.
The key for the 12-point underdog Giants’ defense was to be more physical than the 16-0 Patriots’ historical offense. The Giants did that with their defensive line. Unfortunately for the Pats, they get a rematch with a stronger, more experienced line this year.
The key to winning battles on defense is getting enough pressure on the quarterback to force a bad decision or throw, because given enough time, good quarterbacks will beat coverage, and elite quarterbacks will overwhelm it. However, blitzing more than five guys could spell trouble. These guys have to be removed from coverage, increasing the likelihood a receiver gets open downfield. Teams live and die by the blitz, but it’s a risky strategy to employ against an experienced quarterback.
The best defenses find ways to generate enough pressure with their front four defensive linemen so they don’t have to keep sending guys at the quarterback. This is where the Giants excel; they have a dominant front four, led by All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul, that can easily get to the quarterback without help from their secondary. That’s the formula they employed when they defeated the Patriots before and is certainly going to be the focus in this year’s matchup. The key for the Patriots will be to have backs and tight ends chip in on blocks, creating an extra second or two for the QB to throw. It can be the difference between completing a throw and a defensive victory.
The Patriots’ defense isn’t as strong as the Giants’. Their front four is marginal at best, better suited for stopping the run than the pass. In order to get pressure on the quarterback, they send linebackers and defensive backs in exotic blitz packages and show different schemes in the secondary, to compensate for the ‘lost’ defender(s). Against good quarterbacks, however, they struggle. But knowledge of the Giants’ tendencies and weaknesses may be all the defense needs to not become a major weakness, and as long as the defense isn’t a crutch, the Patriots offense will certainly keep them in the game.
It’s hard to predict exactly how this game will turn out. The last meeting, Week 6 of the regular season, resulted in a 23-20 Giants victory at New England. Since then, the Giants offense is much improved. Eli Manning’s performance all season has earned him the right to be mentioned as one of the elite quarterbacks in the league, along the likes of Peyton, Rodgers, and Brady himself. The Patriots have been surgically finding weaknesses in opposing defenses, led by Brady, Gronkowski and Hernandez. The matchup is highly anticipated. The offenses are elite and the defenses a deciding factor. It’s football. It’s the Super Bowl. Get pumped.

— Stats compiled from espn.go.com

and pro-football-reference.com

By Nadav Gov-Ari