By Sam Hyman
For all the talk about the dominant Giants pass rush and the Patriots improving defense, this Super Bowl has all the makings of a shootout—something that favors the Patriots. With Eli Manning and Tom Brady leading the way, both teams will come in with as prolific a passing game as you will find in the entire NFL. Even with below average running games and one-dimensional offenses, both teams can put points on the board with ease.
On the defensive side of the ball, neither team should really expect to have that much of an impact. Finishing the regular season with the 31st and 29th ranked passing defenses respectively, the Patriots and the Giants will be playing right into the hands of their opponents.
The primary advantage that the Patriots will use en route to victory will be the element of individuality. Simply put, no other team in the NFL plays like the Pats do with their dynamic dual tight end sets. In their first meeting (24-20 Giants victory in Week 9), Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 12 receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
If those numbers aren’t enough, both players have only gotten better since that meeting. In the Patriots’ past 10 games (including two playoff games), Gronkowski and Hernandez have accumulated an absurd 1661 yards and 17 touchdowns combined. By comparison, the only other receiving tandem in the league with more combined yards in that time is Giants wide-outs Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz—no combination was even close to the 17-touchdown mark though.
What makes the Patriots passing game even more special is that, as impressive as their tight ends have been, neither one is the team’s most productive receiver. Patriots slot receiver, and the league’s second leading pass-catcher, Wes Welker added to the equation with one of the most underappreciated and dominating seasons in recent league history. Welker led the league with 122 receptions, and, more importantly, 77 first downs.
As if the Patriots’ passing game needed any extra help, the Giants’ biggest weakness just happens to be the coverage ability of their linebackers and safeties. To think that Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips have much of a chance of containing Gronk and Hernandez would be foolish.
The Giants have won five straight must win games on their route to the Super Bowl. Along the way, in addition to their prolific passing game, a dominating pass rush has carried the team to victory. In a lot of ways, the pass-rush ability has made up for the coverage deficiencies. Unfortunately for New York, Tom Brady is arguably the best quarterback under pressure that the league has ever seen. This season, when put under pressure, Brady led the league with a laughable 135.6 quarterback rating.
It would be stupid to try to argue that the Patriots’ defense is going to cause trouble for Eli Manning and the Giants. It is likely that the combination of injuries, inexperience, and inefficiency is something that Bill Belichick’s crew will have trouble overcoming. That being said, the Giants present a very traditional offense that is unlikely to present any issues that the Pats are not used to. On the other hand, the Giants defense will be forced to deal with the unique look where the wide receivers are the chain-movers and the tight ends are the deep threats.
If there is any certainty for Super Bowl XLVI, it is that a large number of points will be put up. No matter the game plan, it is unlikely that either defense will pose much of a problem for their opponent. In the end, the Giants will be unable to contain tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez from having huge games, and the Patriots will walk away with an exciting 31-23 victory.