The moment of truth has arrived. It is time to pick the winner of Super Bowl 46.
This was a difficult film evaluation. I have greatly wavered over the last couple of weeks as I’ve studied 2011 game tape of both the Patriots and the Giants. In addition, I’ve looked back at games from previous seasons that I believed reflected tactical philosophies that would be applicable to this game. I even went back and again studied Super Bowl 42. It is always important to remember that coaches coach against coaches, not just players.
I want to make it clear that my decision is based solely on film study. I don’t speculate on things I can’t see. How Tom Brady feels about losing to the Giants in Super Bowl 42 is not relevant. That has no strategic usefulness on Sunday. If the Patriots win in Indianapolis, it won’t be because Brady was angry, and bent on revenge. My guess is the Giants also want to win badly.
I see two factors (not the only two, of course) as critical to the outcome of Super Bowl 46. The first focuses on the Patriots offense matched against the Giants pass rush. I am probably in the minority, but I don’t believe New York’s front four will be a game changer.
Here’s why. New England’s offense, as we all know, primarily features 2 tight end personnel with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. That’s a significant difference from 2007. That season the Patriots were predominantly a 3 wide receiver offense, with the defining features the vertical explosiveness of Randy Moss and the slot brilliance of Wes Welker.
In the Patriots 2007 scheme, all 3 wide receivers were detached from the formation. Welker, the slot receiver, was not part of the pass protection. Here’s the difference with the 2 tight end package this season. Gronkowski and Hernandez provide greater versatility to align closer to the formation. They will be utilized to chip or nudge the Giants defensive ends, or any outside blitzers. Then they will release into their pass routes. In the AFC Championship, Gronkowski drilled Terrell Suggs, eliminated him as a pass rusher and then ran his route.
It’s all about numbers. You add 1, or 2 pass protectors into the equation without removing them as receivers, and you gain a tactical advantage. In addition, it allows more flexibility with your offensive line protection concepts. For those who may have forgotten Super Bowl 42, the halftime adjustment the Patriots made was to change base personnel from 3 wide receivers to 2 wide receivers and 2 tight ends. Despite the loss, New England’s offense was much more efficient and productive in the second half. It calmed down the Giants pass rush.
Here’s the second factor I believe will most influence the outcome of Super Bowl 46: the Giants 3 wide receiver personnel package, with Victor Cruz in the slot. I can’t diminish the reality of what I see on film. The Patriots do not have a very good secondary from a personnel standpoint. Bill Belichick knows that. He will construct schemes to camouflage these limitations as well as can be done. I talked about the “bullseye” concept on Cruz in a previous post, and I am certain you will see it at times, but I just don’t think Belichick can compensate for the overall weakness play after play.
The Patriots are clearly in Super Bowl 46 on merit, but their road to Indianapolis was fortuitous. They played a Broncos offense that did not have an NFL passer or passing game, and then a Ravens team that did not have much quality at wide receiver. That’s not New England’s fault. You play, and must beat, who’s in front of you. But the NFL game is about matchups, and the Giants passing game is an extremely tough assignment.
It could certainly change with 2 weeks to prepare, but the Patriots played down the stretch with Kyle Arrington and Sterling Moore on the outside in their nickel sub-package. There are times either Moore or Arrington, or perhaps a different corner, will be matched man-to-man on Hakeem Nicks. I struggle with that. There will be plays to be made.
The corollary to the coverage issue is the Patriots do not have a strong nickel pass rush to compensate. It’s likely that Eli Manning, one of the NFL’s best progression readers, will be comfortable and confident in the pocket. That does not bode well for New England.
When you evaluate tape, there are so many factors and variables that can be analyzed, too many to discuss at length. After careful consideration, I believe the Giants more explosive passing game will be the difference in a close, tense game that will be competitive through the fourth quarter. I picked the Giants to upset New England in Super Bowl 42, and I see the same result this Sunday. Only this time, it would not be an upset.