The big game is finally upon us and it’s time for our comprehensive, yet entertaining Super Bowl preview. We’re going to go into more detail than “the team that scores more will win,” but less detail than the ramifications of the Giants “heavy nickel package.” We are going to begin with the Patriots offense versus the Giants defense.
What Do They Do Best?
New England has an in-line passing game which exploits the opponents linebacking corps and safeties with their tremendously talent tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Quarterback Tom Brady loves throwing the deep seam and when opponents adjust to it, wide receiver Wes Welker is the best in football at clearing out the underneath.
New York has the most talented defensive line in football and there is nobody better at pressuring opposing quarterbacks. The Giants love to hit the quarterback early and then make him feel pressure for the rest of the game even if it sometimes isn’t there.
New England doesn’t have a legitimate deep threat receiver and they have trouble stretching the field. Teams that have had success against them have played press coverage against their receivers and dropped their linebackers while pressuring Brady with only four rushers.
When the Giants go to their “NASCAR package,” they are very small on the defensive line and are susceptible to the run. New York is very ordinary aside from Kenny Phillips in the secondary and they will give up some big plays and untimely penalties. Deon Grant has become a liability in coverage.
What’s Most Important?
Although third down conversions may be an official stat, first down could be the most important down in this matchup. If New England can get four yards or better on first downs, they will have the chains in their favor and can completely open up the playbook by executing the quick, short passing game to keep moving the chains.
If New York can be firm on the early downs, they can force New England into obvious passing situations which will play into the hands of that devastating pass rush.
What Can We Expect to See?
It shouldn’t be a secret that the New England Patriots are going to run plenty of no-huddle. The Pats will make the Giants pick a defense at the beginning of each possession and stay with it. This should let Tom Brady dictate favorable matchups and ultimately tire out the Giants pass rush.
What are the negatives of the no-huddle? If the Patriots have multiple three-and-outs, it will leave their defense vulnerable against an explosive Giants offense.
Expect to see the Patriots line up in plenty of two and sometimes 3-tight end sets. Bill Belichick isn’t an idiot and although he will never admit to it completely, he must be haunted from what happened in the Super Bowl four years ago. New England had plenty of empty, 5-wide receiver sets on that day and it invited the Giants rush which battered and bruised Tom Brady. Belichick will learn from his mistakes and change up the game plan.
Also expect to see New England run plenty of draws and screens. With a pass rush as fierce as New York’s, they will use their aggressiveness against them. In the Pats’ glory days there was no better offense in the league at executing the screen and expect them to move to a more conventional, throwback type of offense in this one as they can take control of the line of scrimmage and keep the clock running while keeping Eli Manning on the sideline.
The Giants defense will blitz Tom Brady as they’ve had success with that particular strategy before. In the Week 9 meeting between these two teams, New York blitzed on 31 percent of the downs. Although they only sacked Brady once, they did force him to go 5 for 16 on those other plays.
What is the risk of blitzing? Although the Patriots don’t have a legitimate deep threat receiver, a poor tackling New York secondary can turn a quick completion into a big play. It’s also dangerous to leave the Pats tight ends single covered by any Giants linebacker or safety.
Top Matchup To Watch:
Dan Connolly vs. Giants DT’s– The Giants will try to get a pass rush from up the middle to make Tom Brady slide left or right. Although Brady is very mobile in the pocket, he’s not as accurate when on the move. If Connolly can do a satisfactory job with his matchup, the Patriots will be able to move the ball.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie