Super Bowl 2012: 4 Key 'Then and Now' Changes Since Last Patriots/Giants Game
Don't let the media convince you. Though the New England Patriots and New York Giants met earlier this season—making this Super Bowl a sequel in more ways than one—the two teams aren't the same squads they were in November.
They're similar, of course, but two-and-a-half months is an eternity in the NFL. That Nov. 6 matchup feels like it was a whole season ago.
The Giants made some tweaks, the Patriots made some tweaks and obviously—seeing as they're the only teams with another football game on their schedules—they worked.
Here are some of the changes that have occurred in Foxborough since the Pats and G-Men last shared the field.
The Secondary's Been Shaken Up
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When the Patriots played the Giants in November, it was during the nadir of the pass defense's oft-criticized odyssey. The unit had just finished getting picked apart by Pittsburgh in a 25-17 loss, and Bill Belichick was trying to figure out a way to make things work.
Belichick took the whole season to figure things out, so as a result, the pass defense that the Giants saw was a lot different than what it is now. Back then, Devin McCourty never left the cornerback position, and he was sharing the other spot with either Philip Adams and Kyle Arrington. The safeties were Patrick Chung, Josh Barrett and James Ihedigbo, with Barrett and Ihedigbo splitting time.
Things are different now. Arrington now plays the most time at corner, as McCourty goes to safety in sub packages. Gone are Adams (released) and Barrett (injured reserve), and in are AFC championship hero Sterling Moore and Nate Jones.
The team also calls pretty readily on receiver Julian Edelman as a defensive back, while Antwaun Molden, considered to be in the doghouse when his awful performance against Pittsburgh resulted in zero snaps against the Giants, avoided the ax that got Adams and is still a sub package option for the Patriots.
The Pass Rush Comes from a Different Source
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When the Giants last squared off against the Patriots, they had to deal with the conditioning machine and pass-rushing menace that was Andre Carter.
Carter ended up having a Pro Bowl season, and the first Giants game came right during his peak, as he followed the loss up with a four-sack effort a week later against the New York Jets.
Carter's no longer in the cards, as a torn quad suffered in the regular-season victory over Denver landed the veteran, his huge arms and his 10 sacks on crutches and on injured reserve.
Carter's injury was (and is) a big loss, but the Patriots have managed to keep a healthy pass rush by relying more on a cast of contributors, rather than one ace.
Mark Anderson has been the direct recipient of Carter's time, as the former fifth-round pick has gone from a niche and late-game player, totaling only 19 snaps against the Giants, to being an every-down player at end and outside linebacker, playing 72 snaps in the AFC title game. Anderson has also been able to emulate Carter's production, totaling 10 sacks, including one against the Ravens.
As impressive as Anderson's been, the story has been how other members of the front seven picked up the slack. Rob Ninkovich notched five sacks in the final seven games of the season, including 1.5 against Denver in the divisional round, and Vince Wilfork has become a disruptive force during the playoffs.
The Patriots Gave Up on the Albert Haynesworth Experiment
The Giants won't find any lazy, unmotivated and selfish 350-pound tackles in Patriot blue on Super Sunday.
That's because the Patriots gave up on the Albert Haynesworth project. It was going nowhere. Haynesworth was still looking to knock off rust, while his teammates were focused on playing their best football and gearing up for the playoffs.
The Patriots kept him on the roster because the value of his high potential greatly outweighed his low cost of a fifth-round draft pick, but the Giants game on Nov. 6 proved the breaking point. Haynesworth showed little effort in getting pancaked on a Brandon Jacobs touchdown run, and after getting into a shouting match with defensive line coach Pepper Johnson, he was on his way out.
Since he's left, the interior of the defensive line has solidified. Kyle Love stepped in and proved to be a complimentary linemate with Vince Wilfork, while Gerard Warren has also played well in a depth role.
Haynesworth wasn't getting a ton of playing time (he was on the field for nine snaps against the Giants), but he was an attention-commanding presence who was hoped to be on the verge of a breakout. Instead, he was jettisoned, and the Patriots haven't looked back since.
Chad Ochocinco Has Been Phased out
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In their first game against the Giants, the Patriots were really trying with Chad Ochocinco.
The embattled receiver played 18 snaps Nov. 6 and was targeted five times. The Patriots were eager to get him into the offense, as Brady looked his way even while New England tried to rally back from a 10-0 deficit.
The Brady-to-Ocho connection struck out all five times, and the receiver appeared frustrated. NFL Films cameras showed an exasperated Ochocinco asking Brady for help.
"What else can I do?" Ocho asked the quarterback, before being assured he was on the right track.
There have been a few mini breakthroughs since then, including a 53-yard catch against the Jets and a 33-yard touchdown reception against the Broncos, but the Pats seem to have moved on from the Ocho project.
He's been on the field for only one snap through two playoff games. It's important to note that he missed the AFC championship game because of circumstances surrounding the loss of his father, but the fact that he was so under-utilized the week before against Denver is telling.
Some fans out there still hope that Ochocinco has been hidden by Bill Belichick and that he has a big day ahead of him in the Super Bowl, but there's little to base that on. His role was never crucial this year, and it's just getting smaller.