This years Super Bowl has not been allowed to stand on it's own two feet because of history. What happened after the 2007 season when the heavily favored Patriots fell to the Giants for their first loss of the season will never be forgotten. So logically many people want to say this game is a rematch. This isn't quite the case, but yet at the same time it kind of is.
In the modern era of football the increased trade and free agency activity each year has made each team more of a stop along the way, rather than a home. Players just don't retire from the place they started in anymore. With that being said, it is not hard to understand just how different the personnel on these squads are. Randy Moss is not giving Brady a deep threat anymore than Michael Strahan is facing double teams.
But this game is still very much a rematch because the coaches and personnel departments of both teams are still in tact. Both coaches even still have their very distinct philosophies that remain unchanged at their core. Yeah the Giants throw more now than they ever did and the Patriots use power formations all over the field, but what does that mean?
The Giants core philosophy was always to play aggressive football in the front four, limiting the necessity to blitz other than in spot situations. Coughlin prefers to play it safe on the backend helping his men in coverage. His scheme has worked great, both in 2007 and now. Their front four has the best rotation in the league right now with Pierre-Paul, Umenyiora, Tuck, Tollefson, and Canty to name a few. They do a great job of rotating the guys in and out, keeping them fresh for the entire game. This I think is going to get most of the attention for this game as the top story line. It was the Giants defensive line that made life miserable for Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl 42, and many expect it to be the same this Sunday. However, when all is said and done, I don't think it will be the big story line coming out of the game.
On offense they still split the load and love to run the ball, but their offensive line and running backs are not as good right now as they were 4 years ago. Fortunately for New York, Eli has matured into an elite quarterback. That has nothing to do with the absence of Peyton Manning, but more about Eli and the fact that he has been surrounded by playmakers that are getting the job done. I will be the first to admit that I thought the Giants failure to lock in Steve Smith this offseason to be a huge mistake. Apparently there is a reason that I am not the Giants G.M.. Instead of them losing a perennial 90 ball receiver, they simply made room for an explosive young receiver to finally step out of the shadows and into stardom. Enter Mar.... yeah, that's what I thought too. I expected Mario Manningham to provide the big plays opposite Hakeem Nicks this year. But that's not what happened, instead second year Giant Victor Cruz burst onto the scene as perhaps the best young receiver in the NFC or perhaps the NFL. Cruz was so dominant that he was in the top 5 in the NFL in receptions, yards, average, touchdowns and first downs. This has allowed Eli to throw the ball all over the field this year as he has had his best season yet. This is going to be the biggest challenge for the Patriots, because they really have just two ways to face this. Pressure or scheme. As Belichick's defensive game-plan unfolds Sunday, we should see quickly which route they are taking for the Giants talented pass catchers.
Now let's talk about the Patriots for a moment. Defensively this team is still a work in progress and I feel they have actually done a good job, despite all the criticism they receiver. This defense was old and needed to be entirely rebuilt from the ground up and they have worked hard to do that. They have a lot of young players that should be a big part of that future for years to come, however injuries in their secondary this year have been devastating. The Giants are actually banged up just as bad in that department, but their pass rush compensates. The Patriots have not had that pass rush for most of the season, so the holes in the back end show up more. Andre Carter was their top pass rusher and he is gone for the year. With that being said, the Patriots have done a good job of finding ways to get more pressure on the quarterback in the last several weeks. Some of this is due to the slight change to the defense. Initially they started the season running some hybrid 4-3 schemes in over - under alignments. What that means is you essentially have some 3-4 appearances, but it is still a base 4-3 defense. What this does is it essentially causes confusion with the offense, because your defensive ends and linebackers are in a better position to make reads and drops into coverage if the play calls for it. This keeps the defense guessing more so than the Giants traditional four man rush. The Patriots were playing this rather vanilla early on though, and primarily hoping that despite the alignment, that their front could deliver the pressure needed. Even before Carter's injury, this wasn't really happening as much as they hoped. The free agent acquisitions of Ellis and Haynesworth were largely disappointments, failing to add the pass rush they were hoping to find. Now the Patriots have shifted to a more traditional 3-4 defense and they seem more confident in the front seven and are playing better. Despite them playing better, their personnel still hasn't changed with the exception of Carter's absence. So I expect this match up with the Giants offense to be won or lost with the scheme. I have no idea how they plan to play the three headed monster they will face in Nicks, Manningham, and Cruz but if anyone is up for the challenge it is the Hoodie.
Offensively the Patriots are not as explosive as the Giants. The biggest weakness for the Pats is their lack of a deep threat. Many still question why Randy Moss is gone, because if nothing else, at least he did do that very well still. Moss covered up for the Patriots inability to draft wide receivers. He is now gone, and it is becoming increasingly clear that they have not drafted this position well since, Deion Branch? Yeah, it's that bad. One area they have drafted well is tight end, and they Pats are excited to see Gronkowski finally practicing on Thursday. Even if he isn't 100%, he is still a lot better than most of the league. He is paired with Hernandez who is going to be inline for a huge game this week. Yet I think that a third tight end will have an even more important role this weekend. Nate Solder. Yep that's right, Nate Solder. Some may not know, but Solder played TE briefly in college before being moved to tackle. He is incredibly big and athletic and I think his versatility will allow the Pats to use him as a neutralizer this week. I would not at all be surprised to see the Pats use some multiple tight end sets that have solder on the end of the line in close. I do not expect to see him out in the routes much, but he could pull a Vrabel or two. More likely I expect him to do what Hernandez and Gronk are not used for, pass protection. I don't care how good JPP is, Solder and Light should be able to handle him.
Ultimately I feel that this game will not be about the G-Men getting to Brady, but more about the ability of the New England receivers to step up and make plays. I feel that despite the talent of the Giants pass rush, that the Patriots have the talent and personnel to match it if they are creative. I also am concerned that the Patriots will not find a way to slow down the Big Blue receivers enough. I think that this game could easily turn into a shootout, unlike Super Bowl 42 that we keep hearing about. This game is hard to pick. On paper I have to look at the Giants personnel and expect them to outpace the the Patriots, but I just feel like the Patriots defense is going to surprise people this weekend. My prediction is that the Patriots defense makes enough big plays to give Brady a chance to put the Giants away. The Patriots win their 4th Lombardi this weekend, 30-24.