January 30, 2012
Patriots Must Protect Brady This Time
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
INDIANAPOLIS -- Four years ago, the big game was lost right here.
The offensive line simply got slaughtered. Other than the first offensive drive which resulted in a Laurence Maroney one-yard touchdown run, the Patriots did zilch on offense until late in the fourth quarter when the Giants defense got tired and the Patriots opened up the offense a bit. In between, Tom Brady was sacked five times and the Giant defensive front seven literally took over the game
In the 2011 regular season meeting, Brady was sacked only two times. But his offense was held to only 20 points, Brady was picked off twice, and it was Eli Manning who once again had the final game-winning drive, not Brady. The numbers were a little better, but Brady should not be on the sideline with Manning needing a touchdown drive to win the game, just like the November game and Super Bowl XLII were like.
You the Patriot fan must come to grips with the fact that when the Patriots play the Giants, both quarterbacks can deliver the goods in crunch time. What has to happen in Super Bowl XLVI is that Brady either gets the ball last, or Manning does not get into that position. The latter is the safer option, as Manning should not be in a one-score game with less than three minutes left in the game.
To prevent this, it is imperative that the Patriot offensive line play better than they did in the last Super Bowl, and give Brady the protection he needs. The offensive line also needs to help Brady dictate the pace of the game, and to keep Manning off the field as much as possible. The Giant offense has as much material to torch the Patriot defense as the Patriot offense has to torch the Giants. But the Giants do have a better pass rush than the Patriots, and it is up to the offensive line to come through and win the game for the Patriots.
The Giants do not have as good a run defense as the Patriots do. The Patriots can exploit this thanks to the emergence over the last two years of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is becoming one of the more underrated running backs in the league. Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead would also benefit from this, as all three backs can attack the Giants in their own way.
But this sort of attack has to be set up with Brady being able to run the pass attack at a normal level, with or without a healthy Rob Gronkowski. If Brady cannot get into a rhythm like four years ago, the Giants will be at a huge advantage, especially with a defense which gives up more passing yards than four years ago. But if the offensive line can man up and handle the four Giant down linemen, it is an in-game matchup that can spell victory for the Patriots.
One such matchup four years ago which the Giants won in a decisive manner was Logan Mankins versus Justin Tuck. Mankins is now established as one of the best, if not the best, guards in the league. Mankins may instead draw Chris Canty in this game, and this is a matchup he has to win. The All-Pro and former Fresno State guard cannot afford another adverse game like four years ago. Look for Mankins to come back with a vengeance and solidify the all-important middle, which is one area the Giants were able to attack Brady in 2008.
Matt Light will likely draw Tuck this year. Light was also there in 2008, and he has been vulnerable to speed rushers all throughout his career. Gronkowski did come back into the AFC Championship Game last week after sustaining his high ankle sprain; if he cannot run his usual pass routes but instead can help Light with pass blocking, that will be a nice benefit for the Patriots as Brady can look for his many other weapons.
Then there's the other side, and second-year star Jason Pierre-Paul. Rookie Nate Solder will perhaps draw this pass-rushing Tasmanian devil. Solder still needs to bulk up and get stronger, and has had his ups and downs this season. It may not be helpful to the Patriots if Solder also needs tight end help. Perhaps Faulk will see a good deal of action in pass packages, given his ability to pick up blitzes and buy Brady just a few more precious seconds to throw.
The wild card here may be Sebastian Vollmer. He has been hurt since November 27th against the Eagles, but word is that he is nearly ready to be cleared to play. He has more experience than Solder, and may be a more effective weapon against Pierre-Paul without a lot of help.
The real wild card will be offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. The one man who spans all seven Super Bowls, the affable Scarnecchia has been very successful at not only the development of the offensive lines, but in preparation and in understanding of blocking schemes. Scarnecchia was also there in 2008, and should be a major factor in helping the offensive line do what it has to do to win back control of the line of scrimmage when the Patriots have the ball.
Much will be made of the Patriot defensive backs and how they will fare against the potent wide receiver corps of the Giants. But this is a much more important matchup for the Patriots to win if they want to break through with a win against the Giants. Brady can perhaps put up north of 30 points with time to throw, as the Giant secondary isn't as dominating as their front seven is.
It might be foolhardy for the Patriots to hope that they get into a shootout with the Giants, unlike the grueling defensive battle in 2008. But it also may be the best chance for the Patriots to win. Brady can light up most any defense if given the time to throw, and can do a lot more if the run can set up the play-action, if the pass can be established at the outset.
So, guys like Light and Mankins need to do whatever they need to do and fire up and play the game of their lives. They need to remember how badly they were manhandled in 2008 and bring more energy and enthusiasm this time. Four years later, it is still astonishing that an 18-0 team was beaten the way they were from an energy standpoint. But the Giants took it to the Patriots, and the reverse has to happen in Super Bowl XLVI.
And sometime around mid-February, when the dust has settled, Bob and Jonathan Kraft may sit down and reflect upon what a good thing it was that they settled with Mankins and brought him back into the fold. It may turn out to be one of the best things they ever did.
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