If you want to excel consistently, you have to have a team philosophy and know how to execute it year in and year out. That’s why teams like Pittsburgh and New England keep making it back to the Super Bowl.
The New York Giants are one of those teams. On offense everything revolves around clutch quarterback Eli Manning, and on defense it’s all about their front four. By putting pressure on the quarterback with their four down linemen, the Giants can neutralize quarterbacks like Tom Brady while other teams can barely slow him down.
With that backdrop, I was very impressed when the Giants were able to grab defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins in the second round and then Damontre Moore in the third round. This New York Giants fan blog has a great post breaking down both picks. Hankins in a beast who helps plug up the middle against the run, but Hankins is also very quick and mobile for a big defensive tackle. He reminds me of guys like Michael Dean Perry and Warren Sapp who were quick off the ball and could rush the passer up from the interior line position. On the Giants, where the defensive ends pose real problems in pass protection, Hankins will have even more opportunities to get sacks. He clearly has first-round talent so the Giants got great value here.
The value was even better when they were able to grab Moore in the third round. He dropped like a rock with poor performances at the combine and on his pro day, so there’s some risk here. But given his talent, Moore is a steal in the third round. And while the bright lights of New York City could be a problem for this guy, he’s going to the perfect team for his talents, and the guys in this locker room should keep him in line.
The NFC is loaded with media favorites San Francisco and Seattle, along with teams like Atlanta and Green Bay. The Giants slipped last year, but if these two guys pan out, you can bet the Giants will be in the mix for the NFC title.
Helmets of the New England Patriots and New York Giants rest on both sides of the Vince Lombardi Trophy before a press conference at the media center 2 days before the Giants and Patriots meet in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, IN on February 2, 2012. UPI /John Angelillo
1 – Number of Super Bowls that Eli Manning has won. Ironically, it’s also the same number of Super Bowls that Tom Brady has lost.
3 – The opening point spread at most sports books of this year’s Super Bowl. (Patriots –3, that is.)
3.5 – Number of sacks that Osi Umenyiora has compiled this postseason, which ties him for the most along with Houston’s J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed.
4 – Number of defensive ends that the Giants can lineup at the same time. (Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Dave Tollefson.)
9 – Combined number of Pro Bowls that Manning and Brady have appeared in.
12.5 – The number that the Patriots were favored by the last time they played the Giants in the Super Bowl.
16 – Number of top-seeded teams from the AFC that have made the Super Bowl since 1977. (Only four were crowned champions, although the Patriots were one of those four in 2003.)
18 – Number of touchdowns Rob Gronkowski compiled during the regular season, second only to Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy (20).
20 – Teams that fail to score 20 points in the Super Bowl are 1-22 since 1977. The only team since 1977 to score less than 20 points and still win? The 2008 Giants, who beat the Patriots, 17-14.
46 – Well, this one is pretty obvious…it’s the number of passes Brady attempted in the Patriots’ Week 16 win over the Dolphins.
55.5 – The total that most sports books opened at for this year’s Super Bowl.
75.4 – Brady’s passer rating against the Giants in the Patriots’ 24-20 loss in Week 9 of the regular season.
199 – The pick that the Patriots used to select Brady in 2000.
335 – Number of receiving yards Hakeem Nicks has compiled this postseason (best in the NFL).
3,982 – Average price, in dollars, of one Super Bowl ticket.
13,000 – Hotel rooms in Indianapolis. All are booked for the weekend and some at a 1,700% higher price than the conventional fee.
68,000 – Capacity at Lucas Oil Stadium after it was expanded from 63,000 for the big game.
3,500,000 – The cost of a 30-second commercial for this year’s Super Bowl.
50,000,000 – Estimated cases of beer consumed by fans on Super Bowl Sunday.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) throws against the New England Patriots third quarter at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on November 6, 2011. The Giants defeated the Patriots 24-20. UPI/Matthew Healey
On Thursday I’ll discuss the three keys for the Patriots to win Super Bowl XLVI but today, let’s take a look at the Giants.
1. Pressure Brady with their four down linemen.
If I’ve written it once I’ve written it one hundred times: The key to beating any elite quarterback whether it’s Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, is to pressure him with your four down linemen. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady’s completion percentage this season when blitzed is 62.6. That number rises to 67.3 percent when he isn’t blitzed and 70.6 when he receives no pressure at all. But when he’s under pressure, his completion percentage falls to 48.6 and his QB rating falls to 88.8 (compared to 110.1 when he’s not under pressure and 115.3 when he’s blitzed). Blitzing can be an effective tool for any defense, but top quarterbacks will burn teams that rely on the blitz as their sole means of creating pressure. That’s one of the reasons why the Giants have had success against Brady in the last two meetings between these two teams. New York uses four defensive ends in passing situations, which is an advantage that no other team in the league possesses. Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks), Justin Tuck (5 sacks), Osi Umenyiora (9 sacks in just nine games) and Dave Tollefson (five sacks) can line up at the same time because Pierre-Paul and Tuck have the ability to play inside. The Giants also have the option of playing a combination of three of those ends with Mathias Kiwanuka (3.5 sacks), who is a highly versatile role player. So while other keys will certainly factor into a New York victory on Sunday, perhaps nothing is more vital than the Giants’ ability to rush Brady with their four down linemen and drop everyone else back into coverage. New York’s defense was built to do one thing: Get after the quarterback. If the Giants don’t pressure Brady on Sunday, they’ll have a hell of a time beating the Patriots again.
2. Manning needs to avoid turnovers.
When it comes to the Giants, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to one stat: Turnovers, or more specifically, Eli Manning’s turnovers. When Manning didn’t turn the ball over this season, the Giants were 6-0. When he turned the ball over only once during a game, the Giants were 5-2. When he turned the ball over two or more times, the Giants were 0-5. Simply put, the Giants don’t lose when Eli protects the football. When he doesn’t, it’s hard for this team to carry him when he’s making mistake after mistake. (This is one of the many reasons why I keep saying that without Eli’s play this season, the Giants wouldn’t have even made the playoffs.) Sunday will be no different. If Manning makes good decisions and doesn’t give Brady and Co. opportunities to score with a short field (or, conversely, take away potential points for the Giants), New York has an outstanding chance of winning. When Eli is on point he can be as good as anyone in the league from an efficiency standpoint. When he starts turning the ball over it’s as if his entire game falls apart. He’s more careless, he starts throwing off his back foot and his pocket presence flies out the window. The Redskins’ 23-10 victory over the Giants in Week 15 of the regular season is a perfect example of how quickly things can go south for New York if Eli struggles.
3. Attack, attack, attack.
Kevin Gilbride deserves a lot of credit for developing the most underrated passing attack in the league. People love to wax poetically about New Orleans, New England and Green Bay’s passing games but what about New York’s? Thanks to Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham’s, I would put the Giants’ passing attack up against any other team’s in the league outside of maybe the aforementioned Saints, Patriots and Packers. That said, it wasn’t too long ago that New York fans were screaming for Gilbride’s head because the offensive coordinator was being too conservative when it came to his play calling and his approach inside the red zone. When the Giants would get inside the 20, Gilbride would often take his foot off the gas and New York’s offense would get bogged down. Thus, it’s important for Gilbride to continue to attack through the air. The Patriots have a slew of young defensive backs playing in their first Super Bowl, including a safety in Patrick Chung that struggled in pass coverage last week versus Baltimore. Although New England has played much better defensively over the past couple of weeks, the Giants have a huge edge when it comes to their receivers being matched up against the Patriots’ defensive backs. Now isn’t the time for Gilbride to rest on his laurels and hold his passing game back. New England’s front seven is good against the run, so the Giants need to dance with the date that brought them.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (L) scrambles for a first down against the New York Giants in the first half of their NFL football game in Foxborough, Massachusetts November 6, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
With kickoff of Super Bowl XLVI rapidly approaching, what are some of the bigger questions surrounding Sunday’s title game?
1. Can Brady shake out of his Giant funk?
There are just some teams that Tom Brady doesn’t play well against. Entering this year’s AFC championship game, Brady’s completion percentage in five career outings against the Ravens was 55.9, which was his lowest against any team in the league. So it wasn’t any wonder while he compiled a 57.5 QB rating in a lackluster 239-yard, two-interception performance versus Baltimore two Sundays ago. Now he faces a New York team that, again, for whatever reason, he’s had trouble beating. From a passer-rating standpoint, Brady had his worst performance of the season in a Week 9 home loss to the Giants. His quarterback rating of 75.4 in the 24-20 loss was only slightly worse than his 82.5 rating in Super Bowl XLII back in 2008. Save for his 356-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Giants in Week 17 of the ’07 regular season, Brady has struggled to beat this New York team. Following his poor performance, he reportedly told owner Robert Kraft in the locker room following the AFC title game that he would play better in Super Bowl XLVI. For a quarterback that has largely been viewed as cool, calm and collected, it’s not a stretch to think that Brady is feeling the pressure of potentially losing yet another game to the Giants.
2. Can the Patriots slow the Giants’ pass rush?
These two teams have met three times since December of 2007 and during that span the Giants have sacked Brady a total of eight times (including five times in their Super Bowl victory in February of ’08). New York uses four defensive ends in passing situations, which is something no other team can boast. Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks), Justin Tuck (5 sacks), Osi Umenyiora (9 sacks in just nine games) and Dave Tollefson (five sacks) can line up at the same time because Pierre-Paul and Tuck have the ability to play inside. The Giants also have the option of playing a combination of three of those ends with Mathias Kiwanuka (3.5 sacks), who is a highly versatile role player. It’s no coincidence that Brady struggled in New England’s 24-20 home loss to New York in Week 9 considering that was one of the games Umenyiora was healthy for. When the Giants can dress all five of their pass rushers they’re a completely different defense – a defense that the Patriots and their usually solid group of pass blockers has had trouble with in the past two meetings with New York.
3. Can the Pats’ defense slow down all of the Giants’ weapons?
The Giants’ offense doesn’t receive nearly enough attention for how explosive it is. In a lot of ways, that’s a direction reflection of how some view Eli Manning, who also doesn’t receive the recognition he deserves for being a quarterback that can put pressure on a defense with his playmaking ability. For all of the attention that the Giants’ pass rush has received lately, without Manning’s outstanding play the Giants wouldn’t have won nine games this season. They wouldn’t have made the playoffs, upset the Packers at Lambeau, or have an opportunity to make it two-for-two against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Granted, Manning has had help. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz have been outstanding for a New York passing attack that stacks up to any offense in the league outside of maybe New Orleans, New England and Green Bay. Mario Manningham is also a weapon in the vertical game because he can attack a defense along the seam, which is important seeing as how New York doesn’t have a Jimmy Graham-type at tight end. Throw in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs (who both have awoken from their season-long slumber) and yes, the Giants offense is that good. That said, New England’s red-zone defense has allowed just two touchdowns in seven opportunities throughout the playoffs, as Denver went 1-of-3 inside the 20 in the Divisional round and Baltimore went 1-of-4 in the AFC title game. Statically speaking the Patriots weren’t very good defensively this season. But they’re starting to come together on that side of the ball so it’ll be interesting to see who wins the Giants’ O vs. Patriots D matchup come Sunday.
4. Will Belichick continue to make sound second-half adjustments?
Baltimore has been the only team in the past seven weeks that has matched New England after halftime. The Ravens and Patriots each scored 10 points apiece in the second half of last Sunday’s AFC championship game, but other than that New England has killed teams in the final two quarters. The Pats have allowed an average of 5.7 second-half points in their last six games, which is an indication that Bill Belichick and his coaching staff are making sound in-game and halftime adjustments. In fact, New England has outscored opponents 111-34 in the second half over their past six games so it’ll be interesting to see how Sunday’s game plays out. If the Giants build a first-half lead, can they sustain it?
5. How effective will the “Gronk” be?
At this point the question isn’t whether Rob Gronkowsi will play but rather how effective will he be. This isn’t the same situation as last year with Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey, who never really had a realistic shot of playing in the Super Bowl after suffering a high ankle sprain in the AFC championship game, because Gronk is going to play. But remember two years ago when Colts’ defensive end Dwight Freeney tore a ligament in his right ankle late in the AFC title game versus the Jets, played in the Super Bowl but was largely ineffective? Will Gronk be the same player he was for the Pats during the regular season or will he serve as merely a decoy in passing situations? We already know that Gronkowski will likely need his left ankle scoped following Sunday’s game so it’s not unrealistic to believe he could be severely limited. Granted, the Pats do have Aaron Hernandez, who not unlike Gronkowski is a weapon from the slot or tight end position. But the “Gronk” was nearly unstoppable this season and is a major mismatch against defensive backs and linebackers. The Patriots need him to be as healthy as possible if their offense is going to fire on all cylinders.
The NFC was just chockfull of surprises in the Divisional round, as the defending Super Bowl champions fell on the same weekend as the high-powered Saints. Here are quick-hit reactions from the Giants’ highly impressive 37-20 victory over the Packers on Sunday.
New York Giants outside linebacker Michael Boley (59) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) for a 6-yard loss during the fourth quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff at Lambeau Field on January 15, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Giants won 37-20. UPI/Brian Kersey
– The Giants proved something back in 2008 when they beat the Patriots and reminded everyone of it again today: If you win the line of scrimmage, you can beat any opponent. It doesn’t matter how much offense a team has or how good the opposing quarterback is: If you win the line of scrimmage, you can win the game. The Giants’ defensive line absolutely took over this game, much like it’s done the past four weeks now. People who said that this New York defense is an entirely different unit when Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are all healthy were 100-percent right. It seems like such an obvious statement but consider how bad the Giants’ secondary has looked at times this season and yet Aaron Rodgers and the mighty Green Bay offense was out of sync the entire night. It’s not just the secondary that those three pass rushers help either: It’s the entire defense. Michael Boley is freed up to make plays. Rocky Bernard has a presence from the interior of the defensive line. Even Antrel Rolle makes plays. The Giants are one of the few teams that built their entire defense around one philosophy: Get to the quarterback and we’ll be successful. And once again they’re getting ready to play in another NFC title game despite all of their injuries and inconsistent play during the regular season.
– Of course, we can’t kneel down before the Giants’ defense without criticizing Ryan Grant and the Green Bay receiving corps. Grant looked like he was trying to hold onto a flaming pile of Jello and the Packer receivers dropped seven passes by my count. Rodgers wasn’t the razor sharp MVP we saw all season but this loss hardly falls at his feet. I thought the death shot for the Packers was when Jermichael Finley dropped that third-down pass early in the fourth quarter when Green Bay was only down by a touchdown. Once he let that pass hit the ground and Rodgers was sacked on Green Bay’s fourth-down attempt, you could feel the seed out doubt set in for the Packers. Of course, it didn’t help that Grant fumbled for the third time on their next possession, which set up an immediate touchdown for the Giants, but the Packers’ fate seemed sealed long before that. Simply put, Green Bay’s offense saved its worst performance for its biggest game.
– Man, talk about a complete 180; Tramon Williams was the defensive star for the Packers last postseason and today he got absolutely served by Hakeem Nicks. I haven’t seen a corner get beaten that badly by a receiver since Demaryius Thomas abused Ike Taylor all the way back to last Sunday. Nicks caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns, making Eli Manning’s stats all the more prettier by his run-after-the-catch ability and jump-ball skills. You could have heard a pin drop at Lambeau when he hauled in that Hail Mary pass right before halftime. What an absolute pain he was for Green Bay tonight.
– Green Bay’s defense did a pretty nice job with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, but they both saved their best runs for last. Bradshaw’s 24-yard scamper and Jacobs’ 14-yard touchdown run with just under three minutes remaining in the game were beautiful. Both runs should have been stopped the way they were designed, but both Bradshaw and Jacobs showed great vision bouncing the plays outside. Of course, they were aided by some poor tackling/angles by B.J. Raji and Charles Woodson.
– Packer fans likely want him tarred and feathered right now but I do feel bad for Grant. He just hasn’t been the same player after essentially missing the entire 2010 season. He was on the sidelines last season when the Packers won the Super Bowl and he was one of the key factors in why they won’t get back to the title game this year. Just 29, Grant’s burst is gone and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll return to Green Bay in 2012.
– I thought it was nauseating how the media in New York kept drawing comparisons between the 2007 Giants team that shocked the Patriots in the Super Bowl and this year’s squad. But I’m sold now. You got me, Giants. I’ll buy. You win. This team is so eerily similar to the one in ’07 that I honestly believe that they’re going to win this year’s Super Bowl. For realsies, no foolin’ – I honestly believe that the Giants are going to win the Super Bowl. It’s like they’re on some kind of quest from the land of hey-haven’t-I-already-watched-this-before?
– Looks like Rodgers and the Packers can now discount double-check their way to their couches. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)