Lessons from last Giants-Patriots game 0
New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez dodges a tackle by Baltimore Ravens strong safety Bernard Pollard on a catch and run play during first quarter of the NFL AFC Championship football game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Jan. 22, 2012. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)
Will Patriots quarterback Tom Brady get enough time to throw?
Many experts believe Super Bowl XLVI all comes down to that. I believe they're right.
A detailed analysis of the Nov. 6 regular-season game between the Pats and Giants not only confirms that theory, but underscores it.
The Giants won that sloppily played game 24-20 in Foxboro. Brady and Giants QB Eli Manning were terrible in the scoreless first half. But both eventually sizzled after halftime, firing completions like the Brady and Manning we've seen the past two months.
In analyzing the second half alone, when Brady dropped back to pass 29 times, I found the following:
- He was hurried eight times, by my count. He got off seven passes, completing only two for 37 yards and zero touchdowns - brutal numbers. On the other play he was hit hard and fumbled deep in Pats territory, which led to a quick Giants touchdown.
- On short, quick-pass plays - usually a good antidote for a heavy pass rush - Brady was only 2-of-6 for 16 measly yards and zero touchdowns - just as miserable.
- But when Brady had time to throw he glistened, completing 10 of 15 for 150 yards and two touchdowns. And three of the incompletions were to Chad Ochocinco, who appeared incapable of running the precision routes Brady wanted.
Sure, it was only one half of football. But after three disastrous possessions to open the third quarter, the Giants' pass rushers didn't bother Brady much. It's no coincidence that New England scored on its final four possessions (excluding two desperation throws in the final 12 seconds).
In so doing, the Pats offence shook off a mid-season slump, and has scored at least 30 points in all but two games in their 10-game win streak.
To win today, the Patriots must neutralize or overcome New York's strong pass rush, as they did on those final four drives in November. Here, then, are five lessons the Pats should take from that Nov. 6 game:
1. No lobbed balls to receivers on seam routes against man coverage. Brady got into trouble doing this on Nov. 6, including a bad pick on a go route to tight end Rob Gronkowski against man coverage; Gronk's trailing defender, Giants safety Deon Grant, merely turned around and intercepted. Brady stopped throwing such passes for the rest of the game.
2. Ins and outs instead. If the Giants again play mostly man coverage behind a variety of blitzes, the Patriots should do what they started to do late in the third quarter on Nov. 6 - mostly just look for the Welkers, Hernandezes, Gronks and Edelmans on simple in and out routes. For three reasons. First, these plays don't take long to develop. Second, Brady is magnificent at throwing accurately the moment his receiver cuts (and when he's accurate, it's practically impossible to prevent the completion, for even in tight man coverage the defender is always a step late in making his break, because he doesn't know which way the receiver might go). Third, the Pats receivers this season had the most yards-after-catch (2,500+) of any NFL team since at least 1992; individually, Wes Welker led the league in YAC. So short passes for the Pats often are long gains.
3. Possess the ball. Shortish gains move the chains, lengthen drives, keep Eli Manning and the Giants offence on the sidelines and, just as importantly, tire the Giants' pass rush. The longer the Nov. 6 game went, the less effective the Giants' pass rush became. On Brady's final 22 dropbacks, he was hurried only four times - and only once on his final 12 passes. The more snaps the Giants defenders play, the slower their pass rush will be.
4. Keep Ochocinco on the bench. His presence in the Nov. 6 game hurt the Patriots. After New England went up 13-10 with seven minutes left, despite two blown routes by Ochocinco, Fox's cameras showed an animated Brady discussing matters with his offensive coordinator, Bill O'Brien. When the Pats got the ball back, down 4 with 2:58 left, Brady never looked Ochocinco's way again - and drove the team 64 yards for the short-lived go-ahead TD with 1:36 left. The fact Ochocinco has zero catches in the playoffs further suggests that the pine, indeed, is where it's at for the former Mr. Johnson.
5. Hernandez, Hernandez, Hernandez. Brady loves his tight ends. Even if Gronkowski can play with his high ankle sprain, odds are he won't be as effective as he normally is. Brady must find his other star tight end, Aaron Hernandez, and often. If he can't, the Giants can focus on bottling up Welker, Brady's favourite wideout. On Nov.6, Gronkowski and Hernandez caught eight of Brady's 14 second-half completions, for 89 yards and both touchdowns.