By Matt Bowen, National Football Post
As we get closer to kickoff on Sunday in Indy between the Giants and Patriots, let's talk matchups, personnel, plus some Xs and Os of Super Bowl XLVI. Here are five things I am looking for tomorrow.
1. Patriots' no huddle offense: On Thursday, I broke down how to limit the Giants' front four rush from an Xs and Os perspective, but don't forget about Brady when he increases the tempo on offense. The New England QB can work the underneath route tree, move the sticks and test the conditioning of Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. The no-huddle also impacts the Giants' ability to change personnel and consistently matchup to the Pats' multiple formation alignments.
2. Belichick vs. Manning: This is a great example of talent vs. scheme. I don't see the Patriots' secondary matching up to Manning or the overall skill set of Giants' WRs Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham. And because of that, watch for Belichick to show some new defensive install early in this game. We could see pressure, combination man-coverage inside of the numbers and some 2-deep looks to limit Manning from working the ball in the middle of the field or outside the numbers.
3. Gronkowski's ability to produce: I'm more curious to find out how the Pats will script their offense if Gronkowski can't separate in the route tree vs. a safety or block on the edge in the run game. New England leans on their Ace personnel (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB) with both Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. However, Brady and the offense could use more Posse personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) or an extra O-Lineman at the TE position if Gronkowski is limited. The Pats might have to bring two separate game plans to the stadium tomorrow in Indy based on what they see from Gronkowski early in the first quarter.
4. Red zone run game: Throwing this on the list because the field shrinks (as well as throwing lanes) inside of the 10-yard line. From a defensive perspective, playoff football has been about dropping seven, playing Cover 2 and using the back line to force the ball to the check down. In the AFC Championship, the Patriots ran the ball out of the gun to get the ball in the end zone. And with the Giants, we should expect to see both Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw in the two-back game power game. Even with Brady and Manning, running the ball with production in the red zone still sells.
5. Special teams: Think execution in the kicking game and coverage units when looking at special teams on the Super Bowl stage. Points could be crucial and giving up field position on an explosive play in the return game puts your defense in an adverse situation. Both clubs have to revert back to basics on special teams: tackling, coverage lane discipline and ball security. We all saw what happened in the NFC Championship game with the 49ers and turnovers. Put the ball on the ground tomorrow and you give away free points -- and possibly a ring.
Check back to the NFP on Sunday night for my complete breakdown of Super Bowl XLVI...
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