I’m not talking about your Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rob Gronkowski-type of difference makers, but rather those under-the-radar guys who will leave an indelible mark on Super Bowl XLVI.
Similar to Mike Vrabel in Super Bowl XXXVIII or Dexter Jackson in Super Bowl XXXVII, these players will play crucial roles no matter who wins this year’s clash between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants.
With so much attention being called to the dynamic receiving duo of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, it’s easy to forget that Mario Manningham is the third option in Eli Manning’s arsenal.
In the postseason, Manningham caught eight balls for 116 yards and three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score midway through the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship game.
In the first meeting between the Giants and the Patriots, Manningham hauled in three catches for 33 yards and a touchdown in New York’s 24-20 win in New England.
Playing against an already weak Patriots secondary that gives up 300 yards per game through the air, he will certainly get his opportunities and with most of the attention being placed upon Nicks and Cruz, it could certainly be Mario Manningham’s time to shine.
The New England Patriots’ offense is not known for their prowess in the run game and in fact, they rank in the bottom half of the NFL with only 110.3 yards per game.
If the Patriots want to win yet another Super Bowl, they are going to need their run game to be present and with that, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is going to need to be effective.
The Giants have a stellar pass rush and will feed off of that all game long if the Patriots are unable to find some balance in their offense.
In the two teams’ previous meeting, Green-Ellis rushed for 52 yards total, but if not for an 18-yard scamper on one play, his stat line only reads 34 yards on 11 carries. In that game, Tom Brady threw the ball 49 times, including two interceptions. He was sacked twice in the process.
If the Patriots are going to be successful on offense, Tom the Terrific can’t do everything. He’s going to need his lead back to show up and keep the Giants defensive front honest.
I list Antrel Rolle here, but he is really just one name that stands for the entire New York Giants’ secondary, and whoever gets the task of guarding the Patriots’ tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
The Giants’ defense is battle-tested against opposing tight ends in the playoffs—facing the likes of Tony Gonzalez, Jermichael Finley and Vernon Davis in three consecutive weeks and having relative success against them. They experienced success against Gonzalez and Finley—holding the two to a combined eight catches for 81 yards—but neither of those guys are true deep threat tight ends that will stretch the field.
Against Vernon Davis and the 49ers, they were able to devise a plan to stretch the secondary and burned the Giants’ deep twice for touchdowns.
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez fit the mold of a Vernon Davis more than the other two tight ends, and if the Giants’ are going to want to win, they will need to find a way to limit the duo’s opportunity.
In the Giants and Patriots first meeting, Gronkowski and Hernandez combined for 12 catches, 136 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots ended up losing that game, but that’s still too many opportunities for a pair as dangerous as them.
The Giants defense, and Antrel Rolle in particular, will need to be in top form come Super Bowl Sunday if they hope to slow down the Patriots’ dynamic tight end duo.
Mark Anderson is going to need to have himself a huge game in the pass rush if the Patriots want to have any chance of staying relevant on defense in this game.
On the season, Anderson was tied for the team lead in sacks with 10. He also added one in the playoffs, and with Andre Carter out for the season, he’s really the only true pass-rusher the Patriots employ.
If Eli Manning has the ability to sit back in the pocket and go through progressions, it will be a long night for New England’s secondary, meaning they will need Anderson to put immense pressure on the Giants quarterback, force him to move the pocket and settle for his fourth and fifth options.
It’s going to be a team effort, but it starts and ends with Mark Anderson.
I mean, we saw Lawrence Tynes play hero by sending the New York Giants to the Super Bowl with his game-winning 31-yard field goal. On the other side, the Patriots got a bit lucky when Ravens’ kicker Billy Cundiff botched a 32-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.
Think field-goal kicking won’t matter in this game?
If it comes down to the final seconds, I have full confidence both of these guys can get the job done when the pressure is on.
The only question is: Which guy will get the shot to become the next Adam Vinatieri?