Super Bowl 2012: 6 Biggest Changes for the Giants and Patriots Since 2007 Season
The Super Bowl XLII rematch and the (almost) undefeated season.
That's the storyline that will dominate for the next two weeks.
Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Bill Belichick are all certainly seeking revenge and some measure of redemption for their 17-14 loss to Eli Manning's Giants. They can't get the undefeated season back, but they can add to the franchise's dominance of the most recent era in professional football.
But the teams have also changed quite a bit in the last four years. 25 projected starters for this year weren't on the Super Bowl XLII rosters. How much will they be motivated by this young rivalry?
Here are the six biggest differences between the teams from Super Bowls XLVI and XLII.
6. The Law Firm
One of the biggest problems the Patriots faced in 2007 was the complete lack of a running game.
Laurence Maroney gathered only 36 yards and still had all but two of the team's 16 carries.
Running the ball was clearly never part of Belichick's strategy in that game, leaving the Pats offense too one-sided.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis ("The Law Firm") isn't a feature back by any stretch of the imagination and isn't much of a statistical upgrade over Maroney, but he should be a larger part of the game plan in this matchup. BJGE showed against the Ravens that he can be counted on to help control the ball and the clock.
RB/WR hybrids Julian Edelman and Danny Woodhead will probably also play an enlarged role in the game plan. Edelman has mostly been used on defense and special teams this year, but both he and Woodhead could be valuable options in the screen-passing game to take advantage of the Giants' aggressive pass rush.
5. Giants' Receiving Corps
None of the Giants' current receivers were even in the NFL the last time these teams met in the Super Bowl.
Back then, Victor Cruz's football resume was a single catch for 26 yards in his freshman season at the University of Massachusetts.
Times have certainly changed.
The past receiving corps may have had some great catches by David Tyree, Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress in Super Bowl XLII, but they couldn't really hold a candle to the speedy offense provided this year by Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
The Patriots had a tough enough time stopping Manning's receivers before. It's going to take a decisive team effort defensively to do anything about the power of the Giants' passing game this time.
4. The Patriots Defense
The 2007 Patriots defense—always in the shadow of that historic offense—featured a number of names that are famous in Foxborough: Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau, Asante Samuel, Rodney Harrison.
None of them are still on the team. Most are out of the NFL. And none of the Patriots' current defenders really look like they can individually fill any of those men's shoes.
That means New England's defense has to put together a very strong team effort on Super Bowl Sunday. They've also been employing a bend-but-don't-break philosophy that better pull through if they want to notch up a victory.
(Fans in New England might at least rejoice that the CB who allowed Plaxico Burress' SB-winning catch is also no longer with the team.)
3. No Randy Moss
Moss didn't leave New England, or any team for that matter, on the best terms, but his performance in the 2007 regular season was nothing short of legendary.
He set the NFL record with 23 TD receptions—on only 98 catches—and broke the Patriots' franchise record with 1,493 yards receiving.
But none of that mattered in the playoffs, with his only touchdown in the postseason coming late in the Super Bowl. That was the go-ahead score which would put the Pats up 14-10 before they were shocked by Manning's 83-yard drive in the last minutes of regulation.
This year, the Patriots don't sport a traditional deep-threat receiver, but their playbook is no longer designed around one either.
They've got something else—something potentially better—in mind...
2. Gronkowski and Hernandez
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez provide the biggest upgrades you could get over the previous TE unit in New England: Benjamin Watson and Kyle Brady.
And that might just be an understatement.
Watson and Kyle Brady couldn't reign in 500 yards between them.
The 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns Gronkowski and Hernandez combined for in the regular season might very well start a revolution at how the position is used.
The outcome of the game will come down to how well Brady can get the ball to Gronkowski and Hernandez. They've become absolutely central to the Patriots' offensive game plan.
Gronkowski worried Patriots fans after turning his ankle in Sunday's game against the Ravens, but he returned in that game and is expected to be fine for the Super Bowl.
1. Giants' Running Abilities
Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw remain in the backfield, but the Giants' run production has fallen considerably in the past four years.
The previous group rushed for 2,148 yards with a brutal combo that included Derrick Ward and Reuben Droughns.
Bradshaw wasn't much of a factor in his rookie campaign that year—rushing for only 190 yards—but he accounted for almost half of the Giants' rushing total in the Super Bowl.
This year, New York ranked last in the NFL in rushing with a meager 1,427 yards.
One of the Giants' greatest strengths has turned into their greatest weakness this year.
What accounts for the drop in production? Well, for one, RBs just don't hold their ability for long—especially with power backs. Jacobs' yards per carry have fallen from 5.0 in 2007 to 3.8 this year.
The winner of this game—and the season—will depend greatly on this matchup of the Giants' run defense against the Patriots' run defense. Perform like the old days and the hardware will likely be New York's. But if they fail to get the ball moving, look for the Lombardi Trophy to head to Foxborough.
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