In last season’s Superbowl, Peyton Manning knew that it wouldn’t be prudent to throw downfield too often against the turnover machine known as the Chicago Bears defense. Instead, he dinked and dunked, and called running plays at the line of scrimmage en route to a snoozer of a Superbowl victory. The Rex Grossman-lead Bears couldn’t muster much offense, and needed a special teams touchdown to keep the score close. For hardcore NFL fans, and for the many more casual football fans(who watch for the wacky commercials), I expect a more entertaining offensive display this time around.
Sure, the NFL is already looking into their database to properly size Tom Brady’s ring. The Pats will be heavily favored. But, at least we will see plenty of air under the ball in this year’s big show.
Multiple media analysts will warn Giants fans to expect a stingier defense than they faced in their week 17 contest, in which New England narrowly escaped with their perfect season still intact. Take Belichick’s genius, they will say, add in the extra media week for him to formulate his mad scientist game plan, and Eli Manning and crew will face a stingier Patriots defense this time around. Belichick has been known to make big adjustments to his defense in the postseason based on the match-up. With two weeks to dream up exotic schemes, he’ll be sure to show some different looks in an attempt to confuse both the young Giants quarterback and opposing offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. I remember Superbowl XXXIX, when Belichick wisely ignored the Philadelphia Eagles rushing attack and started the game with his nickel linebackers on the field in early downs against pass happy play-caller Andy Reid. Sometimes, the Patriots will switch to a four down lineman front after presenting predominantly a 3-4 alignment all season long. Safeties or corners will blitz. 300 Pound lineman will drop into coverage. Linebackers will line up at tight end or fullback and catch touchdown passes. I can’t remember whether or not he’s tried it yet, but an offensive goal line appearance for defensive tackle Vince Wilfork as either a rusher or extra blocker should surprise no one.
Despite Belichick’s antics, I don’t expect to see a dominant defensive effort from the Patriots. This year, there just isn’t the usual high number of defensive weapons in New England’s arsenal. Several of Belichick’s relatively unknown but cerebral linebackers from past Superbowls have been lost to age, free agency, and retirement. Free agent replacements Rosevelt Colvin and Adalius Thomas were supposed to fill the void. Instead, Colvin has lost big chunks of multiple seasons due to injury, and won’t be available for this upcoming contest. And Thomas hasn’t supplied the number of big plays management hoped for when they opened up the purse strings in order to steal the 270 pound man-beast from the Ravens. 34 Year old Teddy Bruschi can no longer rely on fellow middle linebacker Ted Johnson(retired early-concussions) to do the dirty work as a human battering ram. Neither Bruschi nor 38 year old Junior Seau can afford the luxury of recharging on the sideline while highly capable backups sub for them without a noticeable drop-off in the level of play. The Patriots pass rush has also become more predictable, as 32 year old outside linebacker Mike Vrabel must shoulder the blitzing load instead of dropping back into coverage. Willie McGinest(now with browns) and Colvin are no longer present to confuse offensive lineman and backfield blockers who try to anticipate from where the 4th and 5th pass rushers are attacking in the New England 3-4 alignment on obvious passing downs.
The Patriots defense does perform as a well disciplined unit, and they still possess their fare share of Superbowl caliber defenders. But I see a bend but don’t break defense, which over the past few years has lost some of it’s edge on 3rd down. With Manning(Eli this time) and the rest of the Giants offense performing at such a high level, we are likely to witness more downfield completions than we saw in last year’s big game. Obviously, with Brady and Randy Moss involved, we’ll see some fancy completions from the Patriots also. So as Terrell Owens would say, “Getcha popcorn ready!” This should be fun.