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|Which defense will step up and force the opposing offense to be one dimensional?(Courtesy of NFL.com)|
The old adage says “defense wins championships.” Both the Patriots and Giants have strong parts to their defenses and both have relied on defense to make it to Super Bowl XLII. Here’s a look at how the defenses stack up heading into tomorrow’s game:
Secondary: Both teams have playmakers on their defense and must be able to control the opposing offense’s star receiver. Randy Moss and Plaxico Burress both torched the opposing secondaries in the Week 17 match up between these teams. Burress has been on fire in the playoffs, setting a franchise playoff record in the NFL Championship Game with 154 yards against the Packers. The Pats don’t have anyone who can match up physically against Burress but will surely double cover him, something the Packers were reluctant to do and paid for it.
Moss on the other hand has been very quiet in the playoffs. After catching an NFL record 23 touchdown catches during the regular season, Moss has been shut down in the playoffs with just a pair of catches. The Giants secondary cannot allow Moss to get behind them as he did in Week 17, but a lot will depend on how much time Brady has in the pocket. The Giants will most likely drop six or seven men in coverage, but if the front four can’t get pressure on Brady, the Pats receivers will have a field day. The experience of Rodney Harrison and the ball hawking and big play ability of Asante Samuel gives the Patriots a slight edge, though both teams will have trouble stopping the pass.
Linebackers: The Patriots will try to stop the run by stacking the box and forcing Eli Manning to beat them. The two headed monster of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have allowed Manning to pick his spots and not force throws. The Patriots linebackers must stuff the run early in the game and get pressure on Manning in passing situations. Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Dean Peas will disguise the coverage but dial up some blitzes to stop the run. The middle linebackers may be old for the Patriots, but Bruschi’s experience in big games and Seau’s desire for a title will give them a little extra bounce in their step.
For the Giants, pressure will need to be put on Brady but most feel it will have to come with the front four. The Patriots three or four wide receiver sets will keep the G-men in nickel or dime for much of the game. If the front four can create some pressure, the Giants linebackers led by Antonio Pierce must keep the Pats running game to a minimum. Laurence Maroney has been able to dominate defenses of late and the Giants need to control the running game if they want a shot. Again, experience gives the edge to the Patriots and the Giants will most likely be in the nickel or dime formation in order to cover all of the Pats receiving options
Defensive Line Most everyone agrees the key to the Giants defense is pressure from the front four. If the line can pressure Brady and allow seven defensive backs to patrol the secondary, the Giants can stifle the Pats passing attack and force the run. Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora are extremely good ends which have dominated in the playoffs so far. Pats LT Matt Light will need to protect Brady’s blindside early on because an early sack from the back could even shake the calmest of QBs. The only worry for the Giants has to be the health of Umenyiora, who is listed as questionable for the game due to a thigh injury. He did not practice on Friday.
The Patriots use a 3-4 formation but we may see a lot of Jarvis Green if the Giants are successful in running the ball early in the game. Ty Warren has had a quietly solid season and Vince Wilfork has really come into his own in 2007. The key will be Richard Seymour, who has been underwhelming so far, mostly because of missing nearly the entire first half of the season with a knee injury. He needs to come up with a big performance and keep the pressure off the linebackers. Pressure on Manning of course is important, but not nearly as important as stopping the Giants running attack. Wilfork must keep up the great work inside and force double teams so Seau and Bruschi can shoot the gaps and stop Jacobs and Bradshaw.
In the end, Seymour at 100% would put the Patriots over the top, but you just don’t know what you’re going to get out of him. I don’t see the Giants line succeeding in sustaining consistent pressure on Brady, but Strahan and Umenyiora (as long as he’s 100%) should give the Pats O-line all they can handle.