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DON'T CALL IT A WARMUP

Dec. 01, 2014
Dec. 01, 2014

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Dec. 1, 2014

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DON'T CALL IT A WARMUP

FORECASTS CALL FOR LOW TEMPS AND A HIGH SCORE WHEN VEGAS'S SUPER BOWL FAVORITES MEET ON SUNDAY. THEMMQB'S ANDY BENOIT PREVIEWS PATS-PACKERS

This is an article from the Dec. 1, 2014 issue

DYNAMIC AS their offense has been since Rob Gronkowski's return to full force, the Patriots are a Super Bowl front-runner largely because they can play man coverage against elite receivers like Jordy Nelson. They signed five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis (below) for assignments just like this—though that doesn't necessarily mean he will shadow Nelson. Coach Bill Belichick has occasionally used Revis to take away a No. 2 or 3 receiver, then had other DBs double the top threat.

At other times, imposing boundary corner Brandon Browner has allowed Revis to stick solely to one side of the field. But even if that happens in Green Bay, you can still expect New England to play predominantly in man coverage, as corners Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington have proved very capable, particularly inside. Whichever way the matchups shake out—and it's impossible to guess with Belichick, who on Sunday benched a back one week after he rushed for 201 yards—the Pats will almost always have two safeties in help coverage, either with both over the top or with one in centerfield and the other lurking underneath. This is a viable strategy against Aaron Rodgers, who thrives on moving to create new throwing angles.

But a coverage-centric approach by New England could also allow Rodgers to extend plays, which is when he's most dangerous. That's why you're likely to see the occasional blitz, which linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower have been doing more frequently and effectively of late.

The Packers have vibrant blitzers, too, especially with Clay Matthews getting more snaps at inside 'backer. And, like New England, they can play man-to-man across the board. That schematic flexibility, combined with home field and a superior array of receivers, is enough to make the Pack the pick on Sunday.

Packers 34, Patriots 28

PHOTOCARLOS M. SAAVEDRA FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (REVIS)