Early storyline for the Super Bowl: Can the Patriots protect Tom Brady better in this Super Bowl against the Giants than they did the last time they played?
Conventional thinking says yes. Anytime Bill Belichick is presented with a problem, you expect him to be able to solve it. In the Super Bowl in 2007, the Giants held a New England team that averaged 32 points a game during the season to just 14. They did that by hounding Tom Brady all day. Brady was sacked five times in the game -- twice by Justin Tuck, who played all over the line, and once each by Jay Alford, Michael Strahan and Kawika Mitchell. But it wasn't just the sacking. It was the hitting. The Giants knocked Brady down eight times. They batted two passes down.
When I saw Paul Kruger, a middling edge rusher, beat right tackle Nate Solder in the AFC Championship Game for a sack of Brady, I thought it was the kind of vulnerability quick rushers on the Giants could exploit in the Super Bowl. Then again, the Ravens are a very good pressure team, and they finished the game with only that one sack and -- according to the tape study by ProFootballFocus.com -- just six quarterback pressures. That's a good job by the line. And the line will have its hands full against a very good Giants defensive line on Feb. 5.
According to ProFootballFocus, the Giants' front four players had 19 pressures of Alex Smith in the NFC title game. And that's continued a late-season trend that shows when the Giants D-line is healthy, which it is now, they are a huge handful.
You can bet each team in the endless hype of the game over the next 12 days will be saying, "We're not the same team as we were four years ago.'' Well, let's see. The two coaches are the same. The quarterbacks are the same. The left tackles are the same. For the Patriots, the left guard (Logan Mankins) and the offensive line coach (Dante Scarnecchia) are the same. For the Giants, though defensive coordinators have changed (Steve Spagnuolo then, Perry Fewell now), the design of the defense is the same: The front four is so good, let them create havoc in the opposing backfield, and let the back seven stay in Brady's passing lanes and make sure he sees lots of different coverage looks.
It'll be a great chess match. And in my opinion, regardless of what's said over the next week and a half, the same kind of chess match it was four years ago in Arizona.
Now onto your email:
GOOD QUESTION. "Is there any chance that the Competition Committee looks at the QB sneaks like the one Tom Brady scored on during the AFC Championship Game? From my perspective, I view these types of plays the same as when a runner/receiver reverses his direction and loses yards. In those situations, forward progress is not awarded. Why should a touchdown be awarded when a ball carrier INTENTIONALLY pulls the ball back into the field of play? I'm a Cowboys fan so I don't have anything for or against the Pats or Ravens, but it seems wrong that Lee Evans can have possession of the ball in the endzone longer than Tom Brady and not score a touchdown. Thanks for all the great information and your support for those in uniform.''-- Jason Cochran, of Stephenville, Texas
You're welcome. Jason, When Brady puts the ball over the imaginary plane and into the end zone, he has pierced the goal line with possession of the ball and it's automatically a touchdown. My problem is when it's done in the field of play, as Drew Brees did it this season against Detroit, and then pulled back quickly without being forced backward by a defender. When it's in the field of play, the ball should be played where it is when he is first pushed back by a defender. I do hope the Competition Committee looks at that this offseason.
I DO THINK CAM MAY BE ON THE HOT SEAT. "Huge fan of the column. I consider it required reading before my classes at the University of Maryland every Monday. I want to get your opinion on the offensive coordinator situation in Baltimore. Cam Cameron has taken a lot of heat from fans the past few years and with the AFC Championship Game coming down to the wire yesterday, there have been some hard looks at a few questionable play calls (despite most people heaping the blame on Evans and Cundiff). Is it finally time for Cameron to go and see what Joe Flacco can really do (which I think he showed a lot of yesterday) or is the controversy just being fueled by a tormented fan base?''-- Steve, of Baltimore
I think John Harbaugh is going to look hard at the apparent disconnect on offense, because the Ravens should be more productive than they are. It'll be interesting to see what decision he makes, because the offense clicked well against the Patriots, and if Lee Evans hung onto that ball, they'd likely be going to the Super Bowl. What Harbaugh has to measure is whether Cam Cameron is maximizing the talents of Joe Flacco, and if the team should switch either to a different offense, or to an offense that would be more multiple than the one Cameron runs.
NO. "I watched six playoff games the last two Sundays and only saw three offensive holding calls. Are refs told not to call them, are playoff teams just better, or am I just watching too many Raider games?''-- Brian Heimbecker, of San Mateo, Calif.
I have noticed overall that officials let more go than I usually see, particularly when players squared off against each other and did some pushing and shoving. How, exactly, was Michael Boley not given 15 yards for ripping Anthony Davis' helmet off in San Francisco? But I'm sure they were not told to make fewer holding calls.
YOU'RE ON IT. "Is there a good reason that the overtime period in playoff games is timed? The only good reason I can think of would be that the teams would switch sides after 15 minutes. With the new rules, it wouldn't matter if the first team to get possession slowly marched down the field in a clock-eating drive--the second team would still get full opportunity to match the score, regardless of how much time remained in the quarter. Correct?''-- Eric, of Grand Rapids, Mich.
That's right. At the end of the first overtime, if the score is tied, the teams switch sides and continue playing a sudden-death game.
I PILED ON KYLE WILLIAMS. "Wow Peter. Nothing like being the prisoner of the moment and piling onto Kyle Williams. Maybe if the 49ers had converted at least one of the 0 for 13 3rd downs during the game, we never would have heard the name Kyle Williams.''-- Shawn, of Montgomery Village, Somewhere
In a three-point game, when the winning team scores 20 points, how possibly could you not make a big deal out of a muffed punt that led to a 29-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, and then fumbling a punt in overtime that led to the winning chip-shot field goal in the NFC Championship Game? I don't work for Don'tPickOnTheGuyWhoCostHisTeamTheGame.com. I work for SI.com.
YOU'VE GOT A POINT THERE. "Thank you for another great column... you consistently provide one of the 2 or 3 must-read NFL columns every week. However, do you not believe that supporting Justin Smith's 'order' to his team that they play through injuries and the overall media celebration on the tough players who play hurt, put additional pressure on players to take painkillers like Toradol?''-- Brad, of Vancouver
I like your point. I really like it. Players are always going to feel pressure to play hurt, and I hope Andrea Kremer's report tonight on HBO "Real Sports'' is seen by players and coaches and NFL executives. It's a constant battle, to have players know exactly what that fine line is between playing hurt and not playing.