Jan 262008
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Horst: Okay, Mr. Burns, you win. But beware. We Germans aren’t all smiles and sunshine.

Mr. Burns: Oooh, the Germans are mad at me. I’m so scared! Oooh, the Germans! Uh oh, the Germans are going to get me!

Horst: Stop it!

Mr. Burns: Don’t let the Germans come after me. Oh no, the Germans are coming after me.

Horst: Stop it! Stop it!

Mr. Burns: No! They’re so big and strong!

Horst: Stop it, Mr. Burns.

Mr. Burns: Oh, protect me from the Germans! The Germans!

Approach to the Game – Super Bowl XLII: Repeat after me…the New England Patriots are not invincible…the New England Patriots are not invincible…they will eventually lose a game…they will eventually lose a game…now is as good a time as any…now is as good a time as any.

Who are the Patriots?  Offensively, they are a finesse pass-oriented team that can adjust their game plan on the fly and be quite effective employing varying tactics.  Defensively, they are very solid but not as strong as previous Patriots’ teams that have won the Super Bowl.  They have good special teams.  Most importantly, they have this generation’s Joe Montana at quarterback and Vince Lombardi at head coach.  In my mind, it’s the latter two points are what makes them the most dangerous.

What these Patriots are not is the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1989 San Francisco 49ers, or the 1992 Dallas Cowboys.  The Patriots have beaten some good teams such as the Chargers, Cowboys, and Colts, but the bulk of their schedule was played against also-rans.  They were playing their best football before their bye week in early November.  Since that time, there were impressive victories against the Bills (56-10) and Steelers (34-13), but not-so-impressive wins against the Eagles (31-28), Ravens (27-24), Jets (20-10), and Giants (38-35).  In the playoffs, the Patriots have beaten the Jaguars (31-20) and a beat-up Chargers team (21-12).  Neither game made me sit up and say, “Wow!”

The Giants can beat this team.  I know it in my heart.  And I know it in my head.  But they have to come into this game with the right mindset, that is, not be intimidated by the setting or the opponent and play the same style of football that they have played for the last four games.  The good news is that as well as the Giants have played since their season-finale, I still do not think they have played their best football.  I hope the Giants actually do not think that they have to play “a perfect game” against the Patriots to win.  They don’t.  And they do not need the added internal pressure of thinking that they cannot make a mistake.

I love this game.  You couldn’t have written a better script leading up to the game.  Underdogs and trailing in all three of their previous playoff games on the road, the Giants have defied the experts.  The victories include two of the most memorable victories in Giants’ playoff history.  The Giants are not supposed to be in Arizona.  The Cowboys or Packers are supposed to be representing the NFC.  Now the Giants are being written off as merely New England’s last victim en route to perfection.

But what these experts don’t seem to recognize is that the Giants are playing their best football of the season while the Patriots are not.  While the Patriots’ offense is undoubtedly more explosive than the Giants’ offense, the Giants have better balance.  And while the Patriot’s defense is quite good, the Giants’ defense is better.  In all sports, defense matters a great deal in the post-season.

The pressure is on the Patriots, not the Giants.  If the Patriots lose, their 18-1 mark means jack squat.  If they lose, it would be considered one of the biggest upsets and choke jobs in all of sports history.

You want more good karma for the Giants?  The City of Boston is already planning the Super Bowl parade.  You can pre-order “19-0: The Historic Championship Season of New England’s Unbeatable Patriots,” published by the Boston Globe.  The gods tend to frown upon this type of arrogance.  If you ask me, this has “Dewey Defeats Truman” written all over it.

After the Patriots beat the Chargers in the AFC Championship, CBS interviewed Patriots’ linebacker Tedy Bruschi.  Bruschi talked about the Patriots overcoming so much adversity during the 2007 season.  I turned to my wife and said, “What the hell is he talking about?  Exactly what adversity did the Patriots experience this season?  Yeah, going 18-0 and blowing out many of your opponents is pretty tough.”

Get ready for some real adversity Tedy!

Giants on Offense: I don’t think the Giants should go into this game thinking that they need to score over 30 points.  Baby steps.  Keep the second and third downs in manageable yardage situations.  Pick up the first down.  Keep the chains and the clock moving.  Get into the red zone.  Score touchdowns when in the redzone.  Baby steps.  One play at a time.  The scoreboard will take care of itself.

What the Giants need to do, however, is be smart with the football.  The Giants simply can’t afford to lose the turnover battle.  Don’t give New England more scoring chances!

The game plan for the Giants is pretty simple.   Run the football with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.  Control the clock and the tempo of the football game.  But if New England brings up another defender in an effort to shut down the run, audible out of the run and hit the Patriots with the pass.  Remain balanced – like you have all year long – and take what the defense gives you.

The Giants also have to be ready – and they should be – for everything.  The Patriots did not blitz much during the regular season, but they did more blitzing in the post-season and will likely try to confuse Eli Manning and his blockers with a variety of looks.

Obviously, the match-ups up front are key.  The strength of the Patriots’ defense is their defensive line.  The Patriots operate a 3-4 defense and the Giants must get LDE Ty Warren, NT Vince Wilfork, and RDE Richard Seymour blocked.  The Wilfork-Shaun O’Hara battle is mismatch in the Patriots’ favor.  The more O’Hara needs help, the less one of the Giants’ guards will be able to engage those big linebackers.  Because of this, we may see the Giants attack the perimeter of the defense more.   This strategy would have the added benefit of potentially wearing out the older, bigger, less quick linebackers forced to pursue laterally.  I’m a big fan of Brandon Jacobs, but this is a game where it might be better to see a heavier dose of Ahmad Bradshaw.  If the Giants attack the edges more, the pulling guards, rookie tight ends, and/or fullback must get the outside linebackers blocked, specifically Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas.  The problem is that these two do a good job of holding the corners.  Still, this is where I would attack.

I also really like the idea of getting Bradshaw out on pass routes against the linebackers.  However, keep in mind that Bradshaw still is relatively inexperienced as a pass blocker and the Pats will likely test that phase of his game.

The Giants haven’t thrown much to Kevin Boss this post-season: only four catches for 45 yards.  I hope the Giants plan on at least doubling that figure in this game.  Again, I like the match-up of the younger player against the older linebackers and strong safety.

When Eli throws the ball deeper, the Pats’ best defensive back, Asante Samuel, likely will stay with the flanker (Amani Toomer) again.  I would assume Plaxico Burress sees double-coverage.  However, Plaxico caused all kinds of problems for the Patriots in the regular-season finale and I see no reason why to think differently this time around either.  The rest of the Patriots’ secondary is nothing to write home about.  Steve Smith is used to performing well in championship-level games and I expect him to step up and deliver in big way.

Does Eli have one more strong post-season game in him?  Can he lead the Giants to an upset of historic proportions?  Can he out-duel future Hall of Famer Tom Brady on the game’s biggest stage?  The odds say no, but we shall see.

Giants on Defense: Folks will think I’m crazy, but I don’t think the Giants should do anything different or special on defense against the Patriots.  For one, because the Patriots can adjust so quickly and play so many different styles of offense, I don’t think you really can adequately create a scheme advantage.  Secondly, with the defensive backfield healthier now than it has been in weeks, I think the Giants match up fairly well with New England.

I would rush my down four with occasional blitzes and play it straight up in the secondary with my nickel package (or dime if it is needed when the Patriots go 4- or 5-wide).  Obviously, the pressure will be on the defensive backs to cover Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, and Jabar Gaffney in one-on-one situations.  I think they can do it.  Before he got hurt against New England, Sam Madison was doing a nice job on Randy Moss.  Corey Webster is playing the best football of his professional career (and I could see him being matched up on Moss quite a bit).  Aaron Ross and Kevin Dockery are good athletes who can stay with Welker and Stallworth.  The safeties, obviously, have to play well.  James Butler has been limited by a hamstring injury.  Gibril Wilson needs to make some plays against pass.  Michael Johnson has showed that he can stick with a receiver.

The more heat the Giants can generate up front without blitzing heavily, the better.  The Patriots’ pass protection will be stronger this time around as they will have their right tackle back in the lineup.  The Patriots can run the football, but the Giants have to play the pass first and hope that the front seven or six can handle the run without too much help.  When Brady throws, Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan need to play lights out against tackles Matt Light and Nick Kaczur, respectively.  Justin Tuck will have to be disruptive inside, which he was in Week 17.

With all of the attention the Patriots get for making big plays, the Giants need to limit the damage that Kevin Faulk does out of the backfield as a receiver.  He keeps drives alive as does Welker running out of the slot.  Too often, against many different opponents, Welker has had too easy a release off of the line.  I hope Ross and/or Dockery play him more aggressively.

How can the Giants slow down this record-breaking offense?  Don’t try to out-scheme them.  Line up and outplay them.  Mano-a-mano.   I think they can do it.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants’ special teams have been a big factor all post-season in each of the wins.  The Giants need one more big effort from this group on Sunday.  Ellis Hobbs is very dangerous on kickoff returns.  Wes Welker is the punt returner and he can break a big play too.  Can the Giants manage another big return against the Patriots?

Prediction: It wouldn’t surprise me if Eli led the Giants back on a big 4th quarterback comeback to win the game.  But I don’t think it is going to be that close.  Look for the Giants to win by two scores.  Giants 31-Patriots 21.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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