|By BARRY WILNER|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 25 January 2008 19:09|
Matchups for the Super Bowl between the New York Giants and New England Patriots on Feb. 3 at the University of Phoenix Stadium:
When the Giants have the ball
Having scored 35 points in their season-finale loss to New England, the Giants know they can move the ball on the Patriots. Moving the ball is not enough, though. Nor is kicking field goals. New York must reach the end zone several times, while also trying to use up the clock.
That means Brandon Jacobs (27) and Ahmad Bradshaw (44) running often. Both have been particularly effective down the stretch, with the rookie Bradshaw breaking some long runs. New England is most vulnerable in that area, although calling the Patriots' run defense a weakness would be an exaggeration.
Linebackers Tedy Bruschi (54), Mike Vrabel (50), Junior Seau (55) and Adalius Thomas (96) will be kept busy by those running backs. The Giants could be without left guard Rich Seubert (69), who hurt his knee, which won't help against the assortment of defensive linemen New England uses. The star is Richard Seymour (93), who missed half the season recovering from a knee injury and has not been particularly dynamic yet. But Ty Warren (94) and Vince Wilfork (75) certainly have been, and Jarvis Green (97) provides depth up front.
New York's blocking has been superb in the playoffs, providing ample protection for Eli Manning (10) and opening wide holes for the running backs. Tackle David Diehl (66) and guard Chris Snee (76) have been particularly impressive.
If Manning gets the same amount of time he's received recently, his hookups with WRs Plaxico Burress (17) and Amani Toomer (81), and rookies Steve Smith (12) and TE Kevin Boss (89) will give the Patriots plenty of trouble. Burress is not the deep threat the Patriots' Randy Moss (81) provides, but he's nearly as dangerous because of his size, good hands and athletic ability. Burress also has been at his healthiest recently, which makes him a matchup problem for Asante Samuel (22) and Ellis Hobbs (27).
Manning has been at his most accurate, playing the best football of his four-year career. His playoff numbers - particularly four touchdowns to no interceptions and a 99.2 rating - are worthy of brother Peyton, last year's Super Bowl MVP.
When the Patriots have the ball
Unquestionably, the key for New York is slowing Moss, who overwhelmed Giants cornerbacks and safeties in the last meeting. Moss had six receptions for 100 yards and two TDs as he broke Jerry Rice's NFL mark with 23 touchdown catches. While Corey Webster (23) has made some big plays in the postseason, he'll need help from Gibril Wilson (28) and the other safeties. The Giants must be aggressive in their approach against Moss.
Of course, that usually leaves Wes Welker (83) with single coverage, and Welker can be destructive on underneath routes. He had 11 catches for 122 yards in the season finale.
There's also Donte' Stallworth (18) and Jabar Gaffney (10) for New York cornerbacks Webster, Sam Madison (29), rookie Aaron Ross (31) and R.W. McQuarters (25) to deal with. The safeties have to handle tight end Benjamin Watson (84), who's extremely dangerous in the red zone.
Plus, there's RB Kevin Faulk (33) on screens, flares and other short passes he turns into decent gains, particularly on first down. Faulk also is terrific on third downs for the highest-scoring offense in league history.
Faulk won't do a lot of running with RB Laurence Maroney (39) now a focal point of the offense. Maroney has run for 244 yards and two TDs and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
Engineering it all is the league MVP, Tom Brady (12), who is 3-0 in Super Bowls, twice earning MVP honors. Unless the Giants get ample pressure on Brady with their standout linemen - Michael Strahan (92), Osi Umenyiora (72), Justin Tuck (91) and Fred Robbins (98) - and linebacker Antonio Pierce (58), Brady might get a third individual trophy.
Brady supposedly has a slight ankle injury. Or maybe coach Bill Belichick invented that to make his superb offensive line even stauncher in their protection. Tackle Matt Light (72), guard Logan Mankins (70) and center Dan Koppen (67) are the standouts.
Adam Vinatieri played a leading role in all three Patriots Super Bowl victories, and then won a title with Indianapolis last year. Now Stephen Gostkowski (3) does the placekicking, and he's money.
Lawrence Tynes (9) was inconsistent in his first year with the Giants, and he missed two potential winning field goals at frigid Green Bay in the title game. But he made a 47-yarder to send New York to the Super Bowl.
Patriots punter Chris Hanson (6) didn't get used much during the season, and his gross average in the playoffs is 38.0 yards, less than 20-year veteran Jeff Feagles' net. Feagles (18) is appearing in his first Super Bowl despite two decades in the league.
Neither team has dangerous threats on kick or punt returns, although Domenik Hixon (87) has given the Giants a late-season spark. Hobbs had a 108-yard kickoff return, but that was in the opener.
A matchup of former colleagues with the Giants under Bill Parcells. Belichick has won three titles with the Patriots and, given two weeks to prepare for a team, he is virtually unbeatable. Then again, his team has been totally unbeatable this season.
The 2007 Coach of the Year despite the Spygate scandal that cost him a $500,000 league fine, Belichick will come up with a variety of defensive schemes to confuse Manning. His offense will be full-throttle all game.
Coughlin's work this season has been very impressive, too. The Giants were 8-8 in 2006 and barely squeezed into the playoffs, where they lost in the first round. Another such performance might have led to his firing.
Instead, he's improved his relationship with the players and, during the postseason, he's developed solid game plans that the Giants have executed magnificently. Coughlin heads to his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a contract extension certain.
New York simply doesn't lose on the road, and the Giants are the designated away team at University of Phoenix Stadium. They've won 10 straight away games, and they have outplayed all three opponents in the playoffs on both sides of the ball.
Don't forget that they tested the Patriots on Dec. 29, even led by 12 points in the third quarter. And all the pressure is on New England.
Not that the Patriots care about pressure. They are the, uh, perfect example of a team that responds to whatever challenge. This is the best version of any of the Pats teams to make the Super Bowl this decade, and their undefeated record has placed them in a glaring spotlight for months.
New England is experienced, well-rounded and incredibly focused on this championship.