Things to watch in Sundays Patriots-Giants Super Bowl match-up in Indianapolis (plus a prediction):
New England should try to negate the Giants early pass-rushing burst by running a no-huddle. When the Patriots went hurry-up against the Redskins in early December, it prevented Jim Haslett from substituting his defensive linemen and they eventually got gassed. The Giants first goal should be surviving the first quarter theyve outscored their opponents, 27-9, in the second quarter during the playoffs.
The biggest story during the week has been Rob Gronkowskis status. He sustained a high ankle sprain in the Patriots win over Baltimore and arrived in Indianapolis fitted with a walking boot. The Gronk played more snaps than any other NFL tight end this year and has 106 catches and 20 touchdowns in 18 games this year. The Giants should be physical with The Gronk early in the game to see where hes at physically. If replays show him rounding off his routes instead of cutting into his breaks, well know hes really limited.
Julian Edelman was a college quarterback and converted into an NFL receiver. And now hes become a nickel cornerback for the Patriots. He usually covers the slot position, but that could be a benefit for the Giants. Victor Cruz (17 catches in playoffs) is the Giants best target, and he will eat up Edelman in that match-up. Look for Belichick to try Devin McCourty at the slot position and Kyle Arrington on Hakeem Nicks (16 catches, four touchdowns in playoffs).
The Giants defense has nine sacks in three playoff games. Their pass rush was a prime reason they pulled the upset four years ago over New England. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has implemented a unique personnel package using four defensive ends Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Dave Tollefson along the line on passing downs.
To combat that, look for the Patriots to call a couple of screen passes. Even if they dont gain a ton of yards, it will make the Giants pass rushers at least be aware of their other responsibility.
Patriots receiver Deion Branch could have a big impact. I expect Gronkowski to play but be limited. Therefore, that limits the amount of two-tight end sets New England can use, which has basically been its base personnel grouping. Branch caught 51 passes and five touchdowns in the regular season could take advantage in three-receiver formations.
The Giants had the NFLs worst rushing game in the regular season, but it has improved during the postseason, a byproduct of playing with the lead against Atlanta and Green Bay. Look for "heavy" formations early in the game to see if Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs can gain traction, allowing the Giants to keep Tom Brady off the field.
On the other hand, maybe New England does the same thing. On 18 plays in the teams first meeting, the Patriots had six offensive linemen on the field, an obvious nod to controlling possession.
Everybody wants a close game so we talk about the commercials, the halftime show AND the game itself. And Id be surprised if this game got out of hand. Brady knows he has only a few more kicks at the can, so hell make a play to give New England its fourth Lombardi Trophy.
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