Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Super Bowl XLII Preview
I want no hitting below the belt, no cameras on the sidelines stealing defensive signals, and no Eli Manning jokes (he's earned a break). Let's get it on!
Giants (13-6) vs. Pats (18-0) II: The Tale of the Tape
It has been a signature year for Patriots signal-caller Tom Brady. During the regular season, he threw a record 50 touchdown passes (versus only 8 interceptions), led his club to the first 16-0 mark in league history, earned his first NFL MVP award, and was named Associated Press Athlete of the Year.
In the divisional round against the Jaguars, he completed 26 of 28 passes, or 92.9 percent, the highest rate in playoff history. He has a career 14-2 record in the postseason, including 3-0 in the Super Bowl, with two MVP trophies. No quarterback is more polished mechanically, no quarterback is more accurate, no quarterback is cooler under pressure, and no quarterback has banged more hot actresses/supermodels. Tom Brady is one for the ages, a man of his times.
Manning stands behind center for the Giants, and he is playing the best ball of his career. After a mediocre regular season (23 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 3300 yards, 56 % completion percentage), Manning has been nearly perfect (for him) during the playoffs: 53 of 85 (62%), 602 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, three consecutive road victories. Because of his lineage and his status as the the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft, many envisioned Manning as a future franchise quarterback, and his failure to live up to those expectations have made him the source of criticism. As he has proved this month, however, Manning is much better suited for the role of mistake-free game-manager than the role of Peyton - hopefully for him, everyone will adjust their expectations accordingly, and lay off the guy's ass a bit.
Advantage: Brady Say what you want about Eli, but he's a former No. 1 pick that made it to the Big Game by his fourth year. That's saying something. Of course, Tom Brady is the best quarterback to ever play the game - I'll explain in greater detail if/when he wins his fourth ring February 3rd.
Manning has the Ahmed Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs tandem at halfback, with the talented Plaxico Burress, veteran Amani Toomer, and rookie Steve Smith, who is getting time in place of the injured Sinorice Moss, at receiver. They are an effective bunch; Jacobs and Bradshaw give the Giants a thunder/lightning type backfield, Burress is a huge end-zone target, Toomer isn't the player he used to be but is still more than serviceable, and Smith had a couple of big catches against Green Bay last week.
Brady throws passes to wideout Randy Moss, who broke Jerry Rice's league record by catching 23 touchdown passes during the regular season and is unstoppable when single-covered. Slot receiver Wes Welker led the league in receptions with 112 and serves a Brady's security blanket; he was deserving of a Pro Bowl selection this year. Opposite Moss is Donte' Stallworth, who goes almost unnoticed but is there when you need him. Jabar Gaffney makes the occasional appearance as well.
Jacksonville double-downed on Moss, holding him to only a single catch for 14 yards. San Diego tried the same trick, and with the same results, Moss once again recording only a single reception, this time for 18 yards. In both instances, running back Laurence Maroney figured prominently - a combined 244 rushing yards on 47 carries. Used sparingly most of the year, he is fresh and has gained 100 or more yards in 4 of the last 5 games.
And what more can you say about Kevin Faulk? He's Robert Horry in shoulder pads.
Suffice it to say that New England has one of the best O-lines in the league - they allowed only 21 sacks this season, fifth in the league, and they've helped Maroney spring for some big games as of late. They remain unheralded after all these years, but they're as solid as ever. Now, enough about offensive lineman.
The Patriots typically operate out of a 3-4 base formation. DE Richard Seymour and NT Vince Wilfork are amongst the best at their positions. At the next level, the Pats employ and aged but crafty and very solid linebacking core: Mike Vrabel, who was named to his first Pro Bowl this year, and Tedy Bruschi are smart and big-game experienced. Seau, the future Hall-of-Famer, is the same. The youngest of the bunch, 30 year-old Adalius Thomas, brings needed athleticism in his first year with the club.
Only one team recorded more than the Patriots 47 sacks this season, and it was the Giants, who got to the quarterback 53 times and specialize in the pass rush. Pro Bowl DE Osi Umenyiora led the team with 13, followed by Justin Tuck with 10 and future-Cantoner Michael Strahan with 9. Linebackers Antonio Pierce, Kiwika Mitchell, and Reggie Torbor are not spectacular, but they get the job done.
New York's defensive backfield, highlighted by corner Sam Madison, has intercepted five passes this postseason, but as far as I'm concerned, they're just a'ight. New England's unit features All-Pro CB Asante Samuel, and dirty - oops, I mean cagey - safety Rodney Harrison. They are deep, tried and proven.
New England finished 5th and 11th in the league, respectively, in kick return and punt return average. New York finished 7th and 27th. The Pats were 12th in the league against the kick return and 2nd against the punt, as opposed to 18th and 5th for the Giants. NE kicker Stephen Gostkowski made 21 of 24 field goals during the season, NY's Lawrence 23 of 27. That's a wash, statistically, but we all saw how shaky Tynes looked last week.
Tom Coughlin deserves credit for what he's done as a lame-duck this year, but come on - Belichick is the best since Lombardi.
The Patriots defeated an extremely game Giants team in Week 17, 38-35. New England was playing for 16-0 - the G-Men, who's seeding was already locked, were playing for the pride of the league and their own place in history: the team that defeated the evil Patriots in the last game of the regular season to stop them from going undefeated. They actually led, 28-16, early in the third quarter, but as always, the Patriots refused to lose.
Giants defensive line versus Patriots offensive line. Something's gotta give. If the Giants can get to Brady, they've got a chance.
The Giants have been playing extremely well, but in the Coughlin era, they've come to be known as a Jekyl and Hyde team. Would it surprise anyone if the Giants, after playing New England so valiantly in a game they could've taken as meaningless, were to lay an egg in the most important game of them all?
Besides, the Patriots have been on a mission all season long, they've won big and small, and they've responded with heart and resiliency in every conceivable instance of adversity. Does anyone really think they're going to lose now? This team needs a defining game for everyone to remember their remarkable season by. This is it.
Patriots 42, Giants 10