By Brandon Pemberton
Well, the biggest sporting event of the year is finally here, Super Bowl XLVI. The 46th installment will feature the Eli Manning-led New York Giants versus Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, who are looking for their 4th Super Bowl ring over the last eleven seasons. I will breakdown each phase of the game: Offense, Defense, Special Teams, for each team and give out my winner against the point spread afterwards.
Also be sure to catch Sports Trap Radio, Saturdays from 10am to 2pm live on http://ueradiolive.com/ , hosted by Brandon Pemberton (@BrandonOnSports) and Chris Marshall (@215_Sports_Guy). We will bring you the realness, each and every Saturday morning, no holds barred, no opinions withheld. Be sure to listen in and feel free to call in and join in on the conversation and debate.
Giants: Eli Manning has had the best season of his career, carrying this team on his back all season. The running game has been pretty non-existent for much of the season, being as though Ahmad Bradshaw missed four games due to a foot injury. Brandon Jacobs, who is one of the team’s emotional leaders, had a mediocre season, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry and compiling 571 yards in 14 games. But offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has done a great job calling plays by running the ball anyway, keeping teams honest and allowing the Giants offensive line to be physical and not retreat all game.
The Giants passing game has been its bread and butter all season and for them to win the game, they will need Manning to continue to play at the elite level that he’s been at over the last two months. People laughed at him during the preseason when he said he was one of the league’s elite, and up to this point he’s done nothing but prove everyone wrong. The trio of wide receivers: Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham are among the league’s best. Add in tight end Jake Ballard, who has been a pleasant surprise in the passing game and you have a deadly offense that can put up points fast.
Keys: The Giants will obviously need to protect Manning, not turn the ball over, and have some sort of running game to be an effective offensive unit and win the game.
Patriots: The Patriots offense is obviously driven by the future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, who is looking for his fourth title and revenge of the Pats’ loss in the title game four years ago. The Pats offense is very explosive, but in a rare way, a way that we’ve never seen in the NFL before to my recollection. The Patriots best offensive weapons are their super duo at tight end, Rob Gronkowski (90 rec, 1327 yards, 17 TD) and Aaron Hernandez (79 rec, 910 yards, 7 TD), but you can’t forget about Wes Welker (122 rec, 1569 yards, 9 TD) as well. Welker has kind of been forgotten because of the excellent play of the tight ends but he will be lined up in the slot against the 3rd corner or Antrel Rolle, who often plays corner in the slot as well. Gronkowski is nursing a high ankle sprain and practiced for the first time on Thursday, so we will see how effective he is during the game. He is Brady’s favorite red zone threat.
Four years ago, the Giants were able to get constant pressure on Brady with their front four defensively. The Pats’ offensive line must do a better job protecting Brady in this game. We all know when he is knocked around and has to move off of his spot and rush, he isn’t as effective. The Patriots don’t have much of a rushing game, but when given the chance, BenJarvus Green-Ellis can be effective. He is a big battering ram, who does well between the tackles, in short yardage situations and at the goal line, as he scored 11 TD’s during the regular season. Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley get their fair share of carries as well, and are used in the short passing game.
Keys: Offensive line must protect Brady well; allow him to get comfortable in the pocket, Gronkowski’s ankle: How effective will he be? How long will he be able to play? They will need some sort of deep threat (via Ochocinco or Slater) in the passing game. Also, be on the watch for the Patriots running screens to Woodhead and even Hernandez to slow down the Giants pass rush.
Giants: The Giants’ defense has gotten hot at the right time of the year, and is a big part of the reason why the Giants are playing in this game. The defensive line is putting supreme pressure on the opposing teams’ quarterbacks, and playing well against the run. The linebacker play was brutal the first 13 weeks of the season, but during the last 4 weeks and the playoffs, the linebackers have been great. Led by Micheal Boley and Chase Blackburn, who was on his way to retiring, the linebacker core has been solid against the run and pass. They will have their hands full dealing with the likes of Gronkowski, Hernandez, Welker, and Woodhead in the passing game though.
They might not get a lot of press, but cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Corey Webster are solid pros who don’t make many mistakes in coverage. They are also willing tacklers in the run game and against tight ends and backs out of the backfield. The Giants play three safeties on passing downs plenty, and Rolle, Dion Grant and Kenny Phillips are all good in coverage and devastating hitters as well. They look to separate the ball from receivers frequently.
Keys: They must get to Tom Brady early and often. Get him frustrated, make him rush and he might turn it over. Try to contain the tight ends, when they make catches, they must be tackled immediately.
Patriots: The Patriots defense coming into the playoffs was ranked 31st of 32 teams in yards given up per game. They were in the top half of the league as far as giving up points, ranked 15th as they have given up 21.4 points per game. But in two playoff games they are giving up 325 yards per game and only 15 points. They are doing a decent job right now getting a pass rush and it’s generated not only from the outside, but with a great push up the middle.
Early in the season the Pats were going with a 4-3 base defense and was unable to get any sort of pass rush, and it left the defensive backfield out to dry. Belichick has since gone back to the traditional 3-4, but he often mixes his fronts and personnel as well during games. Nose tackle Vincent Wilfork played out of his mind two weeks ago against the Baltimore Ravens. He was a force in the middle of the line and he dominated the line of scrimmage against the pass and the run. Outside linebackers Mark Anderson and Rob Ninkovich must get pressure on Eli Manning, knock him around, force a fumble, an interception, something. If they allow him to stand back there, he and the trio of receivers will tear this defense apart. The Patriots are solid versus the run and should have no problem stopping the Giants running attack.
The defensive backfield for the Pats will be tested on Sunday for sure. They will have to be at their best going up against the Giants passing game. Whether it’s Nicks down field, Cruz in the slot, or Manningham on the outside, they cannot afford to have any blown coverage, missed assignments, or missed tackles. Expect plenty of Cover 3 and man coverage with two safeties over the top to keep the Giants from making too many big plays down the field.
Keys: Get a pass rush and force Eli into mistakes. No blown coverage, eliminate the giants big plays downfield. Tackle the Giants WR’s after the catch.
Giants: Giants special teams play has been pretty solid all season. Devin Thomas is not only their kick returner, but also one of their best kick and punt coverage guys as well. Lawrence Tynes kicked the game winner two weeks ago, sending the Giants to the Super Bowl and Weatherford did a great job getting the snap down. Their return game is special, Thomas runs kicks and Ross fields the punts.
Patriots: The Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski made 28-33 FG’s during the regular season. He only attempted 2 outside of 50 yards and made one. Punter Zoltan Mesko is one of the NFL’s best and he does a good job putting punts down between the goal line and 20 yard line. Julian Edelman and Danny Woodhead split the kick return duties, while Edelman returns punts. Edelman has taken a punt back 72 yards for a TD this season.
My Prediction: This is going to be a great game to watch. The Patriots are a three point favorite in Vegas and if the line was a bit bigger I would be certain that they would win. But I don’t know how healthy Gronkowski is and I love the way the Giants are playing as a team right now. Eli Manning could win his 2nd title with a win on Sunday, putting him in the elite of the elite.
Giants 29 Patriots 27
Super Bowl MVP: Hakeem Nicks
Brandon Pemberton of Brandon on Sports and Sports Trap Radio, for War Room Sports