SI.com's Don Banks talked to a veteran AFC insider about the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl matchup.
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People keep talking about the Patriots showing vulnerability, but vulnerability is kind of relative. They're still undefeated. They've still found a way to win every game they've played. They're still that 18-0 team that has gotten it done every time.
But as the season has worn on and the playoffs have unfolded, teams have found a way to capitalize on certain things against New England. It's just that we haven't seen one team put it all together on the same day against the Patriots. San Diego moved the ball pretty well all day, but had to settle for field goals. The Giants are going to give them a competitive game, and the Patriots aren't unbeatable. But it's a tall task. New York basically has to play a flawless game.
Tom Brady has a high ankle sprain, and that usually scares you because it weakens the ability of a player to be able to stick his foot in the ground. But at the quarterback position you may be able to get away with it more so than at other positions. Brady's not a great runner, but like Joe Montana, he does have the instinctive ability to slide up into the pocket or to make a few yards when he has to. He's more mobile than athletic outside of the pocket, and the ankle kind of takes away the threat of him being able to hurt the Giants that way. But if anybody can deal with it in a one-game situation -- just suck it up and do it -- it'd be Brady.
Something just tells me that Randy Moss is going to show up in this game. He's been quiet in the playoffs, but this is the one big stage he's wanted to play on for a long time. I'd be surprised if he doesn't go out there and make a huge play or two for them. This may be Moss' time.
I'm interested to see if New England can run the football enough to keep Giants defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan honest. I expect to see the Patriots to try to establish something in the running game. But they also could come out and spread the Giants defense out, maybe go to an empty set in the backfield, and pressure their coverage with their passing game. That would force the Giants defensive ends to win their matchups, because if they don't, the Patriots are going to make some big plays against that pass defense.
New England could also go with a one-back approach, and pop New York for some draws with Kevin Faulk, or keep hitting him out of the backfield as a safety valve. You want to do just enough of that to slow down that Giants' pass rush, so they're not pinning their ears back and just coming.
Defensively, I would think the Patriots will put Asante Samuel on Plaxico Burress most of the time. Samuel's their top cover guy and he will make big plays for you. He'll have to. Burress is a handful right now. You saw what he did to Al Harris at Green Bay. But the good thing for Samuel is that he practices against Moss every day. Moss is a tall, angular guy like Burress, but he's faster and more athletic. Burress could hurt them, and he'll make some plays, but it's not like they don't see a tougher matchup every day in practice.
New England knows it's going to have to prepare for plenty of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw as well. The Patriots have to account for that running game. But it's going to come down to what New England throws at Eli Manning. They'll mix it up as far as what they send at Eli. They'll give him similar looks defensively to what they did in Week 17, at least pre-snap, and then after the ball moves they're going to try and give him a new wrinkle off that look. It'll be a case of the Patriots mixing up their coverages and blitzes, as they try to get Manning to hold the ball and keep looking downfield.
You can't possibly bet against the Patriots when it comes to a one-game situation. Nobody is better when it's a one-game deal. That goes for their coach, their quarterback and their defense. In the end, no matter how close a game it is, they've been there more often and they'll be more focused on doing whatever it takes to win. They're the one team in the league that always seems to find the answer, no matter what the question is.