Sunday, January 29, 2012

Super Bowl Preview; Part 2: Why the Patriots Will Win

Last week, I told you why the Giants would win the Super Bowl.  Here’s why New England will do it.

1. Vince Wilfork is the quickest 323-pound man I have ever seen.  I hate writing articles in which I regurgitate the fads that are simultaneously circulating all of the sports airwaves, but in the case of Wilfork, who’s coming off a game in which he left no debate as to who is the league’s best defensive tackle, I must join the conversation.  Were it not for Wilfork’s complete domination of the Ravens offensive line this past Sunday, Patriot fans would be asking themselves whether the style of their team is one that is fit to win a Super Bowl.  Yet, here we are on the complete other side of that question. 

In my discussion of the Giants, I made absolutely no mention to their running game, which ranked dead last at the end of the regular season.  Granted, they were without Bradshaw for much of the year, but even with him I don’t see the Giants eclipsing the 85-yard mark on the ground against New England.  Say what you will about the Patriot’s porous defense, but they are actually respectable against the run.  They ranked 17th in run defense and that is due almost entirely to Wilfork’s ability to clog up the lanes for runners. 
No, that's not the planet Saturn. 
The interesting aspect of the Wilfork situation is that, like any great player, teams need to choose how he will impact the game, rather than try stop him all together.  Wilfork’s tenacious rejection of the run seems almost inevitable.  How can someone possibly expect to consistently get by a man that is the size of a grand piano but can also do all these things?  However, one of the most outcome-defining subplots will be the extent to which Wilfork can also disrupt the passing game.  Wilfork, as he did last Sunday, loves to come barreling through a guard-center-guard sandwich and throw the tree trunks that he calls his arms into the face of opposing quarterbacks.  This is the aspect of Wilfork’s game that the Giants must devote all week to eliminating, or at least reducing.  The problem is, they won’t be able to do it.   

Eli Manning was under major pressure in the Giants’ game with San Francisco.  New York’s offensive line has been somewhat unstable this season and it showed.  The 49ers run a 3-4 defensive scheme compared with New England, who incorporates both base defenses both but is slowly becoming exclusively 4-3.  In a 3-4 scheme, the three defensive linemen are usually larger and use their strength rather than quickness to pressure the quarterback and stuff the run.  Their approach is similar to that of defensive tackles in a 4-3.  Eli was sacked six times against San Francisco and 3.5 of those came from defensive tackles/interior linemen.  In other words, the guys that gave Eli the hardest time are the ones who attacked similar same spots on the line and with the same methods as will Vince Wilfork. 

Outside blitzers and edge rushers like, for example, the Giant’s Jason Pierre Paul, can be taken out of the game by having running backs and tight ends give quick crack blocks that are designed to take the player of his feet.  A strategy like this does not work against someone with the orbit-creating body mass of Wilfork.  This spells major trouble for the G-Men.  And as if the situation could not get bleaker, we should not forget that Wilfork is the only remaining player from the Super Bowl 42 defensive unit.  He’s hungry and you don’t want to be in Vince Wilfork’s way when he’s hungry.

2. Hernandez and Gronkowski are old news by now, but it’s still impossible to stop them both.  There really isn’t anything to be said about the tight end duo that I have not already addressed within the last two weeks.  What New England is doing right now with their tight ends is without precedent and, I contend, ahead of the times.  Gronkowski and Hernandez are matchup nightmares alone, but together, they’re Freddy Krueger.

Baltimore did a pretty exceptional job defending the two juggernauts in the championship game.  The tight ends combined for a mere 162 all-purpose yards.  That number may seem large (and it is), but consider how close Baltimore came to victory.  It seems that the 150-combined yardage mark is the borderline between victory and defeat. 

Unfortunately for New York, they will fall on the over side of it.  Defending against the tight end has been a struggle for much of the season.  The Giants allowed on average nearly 60 yards, five catches, and half a touchdown to the tight end per game.  All of these numbers rank in the bottom ten league-wide.  In the first meeting between the two teams, Hernandez and Gronk produced 136 yards and two scores.  The yardage total is relatively low, but the Giants won’t be able to get by again if they allow multiple touchdowns to the tight ends this time around. 

We’ve also seen the Giants struggle against the tight end recently.  After allegedly spending all week strategizing against Vernon Davis, the Giants allowed a huge 73-yard touchdown catch to him within the game’s first few plays.  Unlike San Francisco, New England will not let up once they get a lead.  Allowing something like that to either Gronkowski or Hernandez in the first quarter will be checkmate.

Gronkowski’s high ankle sprain might make him inactive or significantly less effective.  An injured Gronkowski would certainly take away some of the pressure, but I’d be very interested to see if Hernandez could take over the game on his own.  I believe he can and, if he needs to, will. 

3. Tom Brady is mad.  We have seen this before.  In the face of adversity, opponent overconfidence, and pressure, Brady transforms from the composed, consistent, quarterback into a raged, f-this-shit, nasty, ruthless killer.  After a poor showing in the conference championship round, you can be sure the Giants will have to deal with the latter. 

It’s impossible for a Super Bowl team to be undeserving of reaching the big game and to say anything other than talent and coaching got them there would be wrong.  This said, the 2011-2012 season has been an interesting one, especially in the AFC.  Peyton Manning’s injury completely flipped the pre-existing order in his division, which in turn altered the dynamic of the conference as a whole.  When you add in the effects of the lockout, which certainly disrupted the rhythm of previous AFC contenders (Chargers, Jets, Chiefs), the Patriots must feel pretty fortunate that they are the ones to emerge from the conference.  Brady knows this.
I don't get why Brady's so great. Sure, sure has has 3 SB rings,
2 MVP awards, and countless record, but that doesn't really
matter.  I mean, he doesn't even have a supermodel
wife or anything like that - oh, wait...
Brady spoke earlier in the week about what the Super Bowl means to him now as every season brings him closer to the end his prime.  He said he never took the Super Bowl for granted, but after being a part of tremendous success early in his career and then enduring a somewhat lengthy period of underachievement, Super Bowl 46 will be different.  He could very well never get there again.  This is his opportunity to create a legitimate claim to being the greatest quarterback of all time and an additional Super Bowl title later down the road would all but cement it.  

New England’s team is united in their claim that they are approaching this Super Bowl no different than any other.  They’re about as interested in the whole media-created revenge-rematch idea as I am in the Jersey Shore sans Vinny.  Maybe it’s getting hyped up too much, but you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to know what we’re hearing from New England’s camp and what the returning players are actually thinking are not one in the same.  Brady wanted to see the Giants again.  He wants to put an end to the Djokovic over Nadal type of domination that the Giants have had over New England as of late. 

So what does all of this mean in terms of game play?  The thing that makes angry Tom Brady so great is the genuine joy he seems to get from exploiting the opposing defenses biggest weaknesses. 

To go back to a the tennis analogy, as I watched the Australian Open semi-final Nadal vs. Federer match (I DVRed the 3:30 AM match and successfully managed to avoid discovering who won until 6:00 PM Thursday afternoon at which point I was able to complete the viewing myself), Patrick McEnroe explained that one reason Djokovic continues to beat Nadal, whereas Federer cannot, is that he has no problems with creating a somewhat one dimensional approach to winning.  Nadal’s biggest weakness is his backhand while his forehand is among the best ever.  So, Djokovic plays the ball to Nadal’s backhand side time and time again.  However, perhaps because he is so brilliant and has such a wide range of tennis strategies and talents, Federer mixes up where he puts the ball even though he knows putting it to Nadal’s backhand is the most effective way to go.  Ultimately, this diverse approach has been ineffective and helps to explain why Federer has struggled so mightily against Nadal.

Brady has the full-repertoire brilliance of Roger Federer but also the unabashed this-is-your-weakness-and-that’s-all-I-care-about strategy of Novak Djokovic.  As I write this, Brady is discovering all those weak points in the Giants.  Being a quarterback, Brady should be happy to know that pass defense is the Giants biggest weakness. 
If the Giants want any chance, they will
need Webster to be excellent. 
Cornerback Corey Webster is certainly the best player in New York’s secondary, but, as is the case even with someone like Darrelle Revis, opposing teams don’t really know what to do with their top coverage guy against the Patriots because the deep threat is coming from the inside tight ends and their best wide receiver, Welker, is really a slot-type wide out, a type of player guys like Webster and Revis rarely cover.  In games with the Patriots, Revis is able to make that transition pretty well, but it will be interesting to see if Webster is up for the task.  The Giants are going to need to devote at least half their coverage guys to preventing big plays from Gronk and Hernandez, which means it will be up to Webster to handle the Common Cold (Wes Welker), who may be the X-factor in this game for the Patriots offensively. 

I trust I’m not saying anything angry Brady doesn’t already know. 

4. There is still no question as to who is the league’s best head coach.  Naming anyone to this superlative other than Bill Belichick is simply wrong and, like Brady, Belichick is in a position to become revered among the game’s all-time great coaches with a win in Indianapolis.  New England’s commitment to winning and Brady’s game time hostility are all fabrications of a strategy Belichick has been devising since the second after Billy Cundiff’s shank heard ‘round the world.  

The Giants defeated New England earlier in the year, but since 2009, the Patriots have not been defeated by a team in consecutive meetings.  That is a testament to Belichick.  Even in 2008 without Brady, the Pats came within a wildcat introductory loss of making the playoffs.  There is no coach in the league that can match Belichick in essentially any regard.  He has maybe his youngest Super Bowl team of them all, but you can be sure they will be ready.  Coughlin, on the other hand, produces notoriously slow starts to games.  New England is going to come out firing and Belichick is going to strangle the Giants with his sordid hoodie at the first chance he gets. 

5. The Patriots have recorded all of the Giants' practices anyways.


No comments:

Post a Comment