Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Super Bowl Preview; Part 1: Why the Giants Will Win

The two-week period between the conclusion of the conference championship game and the beginning of the Super Bowl is an abyss of redundancy, over analysis, and anticipation.  Fans must listen to writers and the football maidens break down every centimeter of the upcoming game to the point of irrelevance.  By the end of the first week, every “meaningful” plot element will be covered.  We will know all about the player matchups, the history of the two teams, and, of course, the response to the most banal of all questions, “What is coach so-and-so doing to get his players ready for the game?”  By the end of the second week, the punditry will expand to topics as extraneous as when the players decide to arrive in Indianapolis, where they sit on the plane, the typical consistency of a pregame meal, and how the softness of hotel beds impact Tom Brady’s accuracy.  I can assure you that the endless rambling will be assuaged only with bi-hourly mentioning of Tim Tebow.  The regression and sidestepping can turn the minds of an otherwise sports-savvy individual to gelatinous mush. 

How am I going to placate this seemingly inevitable situation?  Well, the moments during this two-week period for which reaction, banter, and predictions are pleasurable and interesting are at the beginning and end.  Therefore, much like I did leading up to conference championship weekend, the Super Bowl coverage will come in three parts, only in this case there will be a strict, weeklong moratorium separating the second and third article during which the words Super Bowl will not be written. 

In order to develop a way of accurately selecting a winner, I have decided that I will devote an entire article explaining why the Giants will be victorious and another article detailing precisely why New England will not allow a Super Bowl 42 repeat.  Both outcomes seem equally plausible now.  My hope is that I will be able to devise an accurate prediction once both columns are written.

The 2011 season for the Giants was perhaps the most up and down season a Super Bowl team has ever had.  New York started the campaign by winning five of their first seven games.  Despite the 5-2 record, many wondered if the Giants were a legitimate contender since their two loses came against Washington and Seattle, two of the worst NFC teams at that point of the season.  However, New York’s week 9 victory at New England sparked what at first glance seemed like a turning point for both teams – New York on the rise and New England looking the most dire it ever has with Tom Brady.  But, as is often the case when people sense a dramatic change in the fabric of a given season, the New York victory did the exact opposite.  The G-Men proceeded to lose their next four games while New England began a winning streak that has carried all the way to the Super Bowl.  New York wrapped up the season winning three of their final four, have a five game winning streak of their own, and will defeat the Patriots for these four big reasons. 

1. Even third string wide receiver Mario Manningham is too good for any of New England’s defensive backs.  The trio of Giants wide outs, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Manningham, are the best wide receiving core in football.  They’re athletic, clutch, have great hands, and are sensational after the catch.  We have seen impressive receiver duos (or trios) emerge over the last few seasons, but none have been less flashy than New York’s committee.  Even when Nicks and Cruz turn twenty yard passes into 60+ yard touchdowns, they somehow manage to do it without slap-you-in-the-face athletic fanfare.  What I mean by this is that there’s no unnecessary flip into the end zone, dramatic spin move, or running over of the defensive back.  They simply move to the open space on the field and make opposing defenses look completely befuddled and out of position. 

Previous great wide receiver groups often come with different roles for each member.  When the Giants and Patriots met in the Super Bowl four years ago, Moss and Welker spent all season being matchup nightmares for defenses.  However, opposing teams knew what role the two would be fulfilling.  They didn’t really need to be concerned with Moss going over the middle of the field much like they could almost ignore the possibility of Welker going deep down the sidelines.

This is simply not how things work in New York.  It is often the case that the specific style a wide receiver adopts can be linked to his physique.  The three Giants wide receivers play and look so similarly it’s almost impossible to know who made the catch without seeing the name on the back of the jersey.  Just one inch and 28 pounds separate Nicks, Cruz, and Manningham, which help to explain their high versatility. 
While other receivers might do more to dazzle, the NY wideouts are
as talented as they come
The talent disparity between New York’s elite receivers and the stumbling mannequins that New England calls their defensive backs is simply too vast for Belichick, or anyone else, to create an effective way to take more than one of them out of the game, let alone all three.  The teams that have had success against the Patriots have been the ones that take shots deep throughout the entire game.  Baltimore tried this a few times this past Sunday, one of which worked to perfection in the first quarter of the game in which Flacco rolled to his right before heaving the ball downfield for 42 yards to a wide-open Torrey Smith.  New England also struggled defending Anquan Boldin who went for over 100 yards.  Boldin plays a similar style as the New York receivers in terms of his ability to catch balls anywhere on the field.  The Giants should look to throw the ball deep often and early.   

Nicks, Cruz, and Manningham have all shown the ability to make big catches, especially while covered.  Manning just needs to give them a chance.

2. As Hannah Montana says, the New York Giants, “Get the best of both worlds [thanks to Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck].”  Everybody knows that the key to New York’s success in Super Bowl 42 was the pass rush.  Everybody knows that what the Giants were able to do became a blueprint for other teams to follow against the Patriots.  Of course, just because the Giants showed the rest of the football world how to slow down Tom Brady, it does not mean doing so is an easy feat.  In fact, there is still no other team in the league that can get to Brady like the New York Giants and the reason for this is their superb defensive line. 

Few, if any, teams can generate the pass rush of the Giants using just their front four.  Pierre-Paul emerged as the teams best defensive player this season, earning AP all-pro defensive end honors.  He is now the third defensive end on the team to receive such honors.  Osi was named first team all-pro in 2005, Tuck earned the award in 2008, and both were named to the second team AP all-pro list in 2010.  There is simply no other defensive unit that can compete with the pass rushers of the Giants. 
This is an image the Giants must see more of if they want to
Aside from pressuring Brady, New York’s biggest task will be to devise a game plan that limits the New England tight ends.  As we have found out, and as I made perfectly clear as to why, this is a borderline impossible objective to fulfill, especially when you consider that the secondary is not the strong point of the Giants team.  However, since they rarely need to blitz to create pressure, they will be able to use all seven of their remaining defenders to achieve this goal.  Baltimore should be pleased with how well they contained Hernandez and Gronkowski in the AFC title game.  Do not expect the Giants to do quite as well, although if the two tight ends combine for less than 125 all purpose yards New York should feel they did about the best one could expect given the strengths and weaknesses of their defense.    

3. Eli Manning.  If Eli can play at a similar level as he has done the last three games, his 2011 postseason campaign could go down as one of the best ever.  He has thrown for 923 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception, good for a rating thus far of 103.1. 

There is really no reason why this type of high-level football should not continue into the Super Bowl.  The concept of pressure does not seem to be one by which Manning is negatively influenced.  His fourth quarter numbers this season are staggering.  He’s also throwing against one of the worst secondarys in football.  Perhaps it was too high of a finish, but I gave Eli my second place MVP vote at the conclusion of the season.  That doesn’t look so silly now.  Manning is playing consistently, confidently, and most importantly, gutsy.  You could have played a front 9 with all the grass shoved into his helmet this past Sunday.

Is it any coincidence that under Peyton Manning the Colts were able to produce a plethora of talented offensive threats like Harrison, Wayne, and Clark and now, with Eli doing all the good things he is doing, we have seen the same thing in New York?  Great quarterback play is the only way to develop young receivers. 

Say what you will about Brady, Rodgers, and Brees, but right now Eli Manning is the premier fourth quarter, clutch-situation quarterback in the league, bar none.  Ten quarterbacks have won multiple Super Bowls and, of those, Jim Plunkett is the only eligible one not to be in the Hall of Fame.  A second Super Bowl championship would at least put Manning into a HOF discussion although he has a long way to go make that legitimate.

4. The Giants are the ones who have the rematch.  Only seven players who played in Super Bowl 42 are still on New England’s roster. Seldom-used running back Kevin Faulk is one of them.  Wilfork is the only defensive player.  Compare that with the Giants who have 15 players who were a part of the first bout.

The Giants have veterans at major positions including running backs Jacobs and Bradshaw, defensive ends Umenyiora and Tuck, and cornerbacks Webster and Ross.  All those players participated in Super Bowl 42.  You could make an argument that if the Giants can win the battle at those three positions than they will come out on top.  I’ve always believed that past trends, “bulletin board material,” trash talking during the week, and pretty much everything other than the coaches’ game plan and players’ execution of it are all but irrelevant.  However, in a close game we cannot overlook the experience discrepancy of the two teams.

The Giants may not have made it to this Super Bowl were it not for the mistakes of an inexperienced team.  If the game goes down to the wire, which I am essentially assuming it will, you have to consider which team is more disastrous-mistake prone.  I don’t think it is the Giants.   


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