Super Bowl 2012 Predictions: Projecting Top Trench Performances
There's an old saying: "Football games are won in the trenches."
That certainly will be true in Sunday's rematch of Super Bowl XLII between the New York Giants and New England Patriots.
I'm sure by now we are all aware of how gifted Tom Brady and Eli Manning are at the quarterback position. Both have very accurate arms, with each having thrown for 4,000-plus passing yards this season. And the Giants and Patriots also have quality depth at wide receiver.
However, how these quarterbacks fare on Sunday will depend just as much on which team is able to win the battle up front on both sides of the ball.
Here we look at both teams' offensive and defensive lines, as well as their running backs, and see who has the advantage.
Giants Offensive Line vs. Patriots Offensive Line
Giants: LT Wiilliam Beatty, LG David Diehl, RT Kareem McKenzie, RG Chris Snee, C.Dave Bass
Patriots: LT Matt Light, LG Logan Mankins, RT Nate Solder, RG Brian Waters, C Dan Connolly
The New England Patriots have the most-experienced offensive line in the postseason. During the regular season, they converted 63 percent of third- and fourth-down short-yardage plays.
In addition, the O-line has allowed opponents to sack Tom Brady just once this postseason.
The Giants, meanwhile, had their share of injuries on the offensive line during the regular season. Despite this, they allowed only 28 sacks, the seventh-fewest in the league. And in three postseason games, they allowed opponents to sack Eli Manning only eight times.
However, they had difficulty opening up space for their running backs, who rushed for the league's fewest yards, gaining just 1,427 yards on a league-low 3.5 yards per rush. In addition, 39 of their running plays went for negative yardage.
They had a league-low nine rushing plays of 10-plus yards and a 25 percent conversion rate on third- and fourth-down rushing plays.
Projection: Both teams are relatively even when it comes to protecting the quarterback. The Giants offensive line is helped by Eli Manning's ability to scramble and avoid incoming defenders.
However, though neither team has had an effective running game this season, the Patriots have a clear advantage when it comes to providing holes for guys like BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.
Though both teams have excellent quarterbacks, the game may come down to which team can best provide assistance for their running backs in the trenches.
Giants Defensive Line vs. Patriots Defensive Line
Giants: DE Justin Tuck, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Linval Joseph, DT Chris Canty
Patriots: DE Shaun Ellis, DE Mike Anderson, DT Kyle Love, DT Vince Wilfork
The last time these two teams faced each other—in Week 9 of the regular season— the Giants were able to sack Brady twice and force a fumble.
The Patriots weren't able to sack Eli Manning once in that game.
However, since then, the Patriots have vastly improved, sacking quarterbacks 33 times, plus another eight in the postseason.
Like their offensive line, their defensive line is mostly comprised of veteran players.
Shaun Ellis, the former long-time Jet, made the switch to New England this past offseason and has made his presence felt, particularly in the last half of the season.
Then, of course, there's Vince Wilfork, a staple of the Patriots defense since he was drafted in 2004. He posted a career-high in sacks (3.5), assisted tackles (23), and made the first two interceptions of his career.
However, don't think that the Giants have let up.
Like their offensive line, their defensive line has had its share of injuries, primarily Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
But the emergence of second-year player Jason-Pierre Paul provided comfortable relief...well, as comforting as a 278-pound defensive end crashing into your body like a freight train would feel, that is.
In his first full season, Pierre-Paul recorded 16.5 sacks, fourth-most in the league, and earned his first All-Pro selection.
Justin Tuck, despite injuries during the regular season, recorded five sacks.And in the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, he sacked Alex Smith twice.
Chris Canty, who had four sacks during the regular season, was a key tackler in the wild-card win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Projection: Though the Patriots have improved since their first encounter with the Giants, the threat of Pierre-Paul's speed and ability to find ways to sack (or at the very least, deliver pressure) quarterbacks makes this team even more dangerous. Add an all-around talented surrounding cast, including Tuck, Canty and Umenyiora, and it could be a tough game again for Tom Brady and crew.
Giants Running Backs vs. Patriots Running Backs
Giants: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, RB Brandon Jacobs, FB Henry Hynoski
Patriots: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB Danny Woodhead, FB Stevan Ridley
The Giants were the worst rushing team in the league. Led by Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, the Giants averaged just 89.2 yards per game. Once an effective two-back system, including during the 2007 season and Super Bowl XLII, Bradshaw and Jacobs are no longer an effective working unit.
Their fullback, Henry Hynoski, has not yet attempted a rush in his rookie season. Instead, he is used instead used as a blocker., although he did have 12 reception for 83 yards.
On the plus side, their rushing game did produce 352 yards in their three postseason games.
The Patriots' running backs fared better, but not by much. Barely in the top 20 in rushing yards per game, their tandem of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead has been inconsistent.
Green-Ellis, while has yet to fumble in his careerr, also hasn't had a 100-yard game since Week 5 against the New York Jets. In fact, until their AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens, he hadn't rushed for more than 50 yards in a game since Week 11 against the Kansas City Chiefs. He also was a non-factor in the divisional playoff win over the Denver Broncos.
Woodhead only scored one touchdown this season (Week 15 against the Broncos) and rushed for no more than 69 yards (Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins).
Projection: With both teams likely to utilize the passing game and have their respective quarterbacks throw 30-40 times a game, their running games—outside of red-zone situations— will likely be a non-factor.
I'm unsure whether Bradshaw and Jacobs are slowly returning to form based on their postseason performance, or if it's just been a fluke. The Patriots have the offensive line to create holes for Green-Ellis and Woodhead, but the Giants are capable of stopping running backs in their tracks.
So Who Wins?
Like in Super Bowl XLII, these two teams are evenly matched. Though the Patriots are once again considered the favorite and have an offensive line capable of protecting Brady and their running backs, the Giants have a dangerous defensive line that delivers pressure and stops running backs in their tracks.
Like the saying goes, "Defense Wins Championships."
Thus, my prediction is that the Giants will win once again.