Super Bowl XLVI is almost upon us, but you know what the watch for? Brian Billick is here to let you in on all the matchup and storylines.
Bill Belichick, the coach, should be praised for his use of Julian Edelman in his nickel defense package. Bill Belichick, the GM, should be called on the carpet for not having a better defender for that spot given the slew of draft picks they have had the last few years. Either way, Edelman becomes a huge mismatch in the Giants favor. Victor Cruz has emerged as an elite slot player with 82 receptions on the year. Cruz is averaging 18.7 yards per catch and will test the abilities of Edelman as the inside defender.
With the threat of wideouts Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham, tight end Jake Ballard becomes the forgotten man. While he doesn’t have the athleticism of Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez, he is still a very capable threat on third downs and in the red zone. With the other three consuming the majority of the coverage, Ballard will most likely be locked up one-on-one all day with a Patriots linebacker and may very well be called upon at a critical point in the ball game. Ballard had only 38 catches on the year, but he could be the difference-maker on Sunday.
Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul
The entire defensive line of the New York Giants has the ability to create headaches for Tom Brady in the pocket, but in their Week 9 matchup, the line only accounted for one sack. Having said that, I think Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul will be best utilized as inside pass rushers in the Giants’ “NASCAR” package. When defensive coordinator Perry Fewell moves Tuck and JPP to the interior, if will give Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly and Brian Waters a rare speed rush that they haven’t faced all year.
Eli Manning/Tom Brady
With two former Super Bowl MVPs at the quarterback positions, there is naturally going to be pressure on both defensive secondaries. Both Tom Brady and Eli Manning are masters of checking to the plays and matchup they want. It is going to fall on Patriots safeties Patrick Chung and James Ihedigbo and the Giants’ Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips to hide their coverages. The idea being that this chess match will create pause for either QB and allow the pass rush an additional step. They better pick their battles though, because if any safety attempts to bait a throw, they will be taken advantage of by these elite quarterbacks.
Vince Wilfork dominated the interior line of the Baltimore Ravens and negated Joe Flacco’s ability to play-action fake. The Giants’ interior of Boothe, Baas and Snee will have their hands full on Sunday. The worst-case scenario for an offense is when the defense gets enough interior penetration to dictate when they can and cannot run the football. Wilfork has that type of game-changing ability, and he played up to that level in the Championship round against the Ravens. Question is … can he parlay that into another dominating effort on Sunday?
Rob Gronkowski's ankle
Thursday was Rob Gronkowski’s first day back at practice since his ankle injury two weeks ago in the Championship round of the playoffs. While he was still limited in that practice session, I can assure you that there is no way he will miss playing in this game. Still, he probably won’t be 100 percent and may not have the same level of explosiveness we have grown accustomed to seeing. Look for the Patriots to line him up off the ball or put him in pre-snap motion to make it more difficult for the Giants to jam him on the line. With a bum ankle, getting off of press coverage and into your route can often be the most difficult part of the entire play.
It has been a roller coaster ride for the Giants and Tom Coughlin this season, not unlike the Giants’ most recent Super Bowl team of 2007. With many fans calling for Coughlin’s head mid-season, all he has down is lead his team to wins in what were basically five straight single-elimination games. Now he finds himself on the doorstep of a second Super Bowl championship and a potential run at the Hall of Fame. Funny how this league works.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick
This will be Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s fifth Super Bowl appearance together, one more than Marv Levy and Jim Kelly, and one more than Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw. With a win, Tom Brady will tie Terry Bradshaw with four career Super Bowl championships and will easily make the case for the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. The Patriots are the class of the NFL that has every other team chasing in their footsteps.