NFL games can be very difficult to predict because any given Sunday, any team can beat the odds, but it's even tougher to make predictions in the Super Bowl when the two teams are similar. Despite this, my prediction for the winner of Super Bowl XLVI is the New England Patriots.
I expect the Patriots to be victorious in Indianapolis because they will turn to the Quarters coverage concept, pressure Eli Manning, and will have key matchup advantages that they will look to exploit. These weaknesses include safety Antrel Rolle and the group of linebackers in coverage and the interior offensive line of the Giants.
Quarters Coverage and Victor Cruz
Quarters coverage is one of the best defensive concepts in all of football because it is quality against the run and the pass as well as brings flexibility to the defense. It is a 3 under, 4 deep coverage that has many variations, ranging from the pure and traditional zone coverage to a combination of man and zone as well as matchup zone.
In the matchup zone concept, which is also known as "read", the safeties are reading run first and number 2 to the number 1 pass catcher in the formation. For the Giants, the number 2 pass catcher is often receiver Victor Cruz, who operates out of the slot many snaps and the Patriots will look to bracket (double) him this way.
New England can do this by having their play-side (to Cruz's side) linebacker "carry" Cruz by playing him in tight coverage before releasing him into the safeties when he goes vertical. If he doesn't go vertical, the aforementioned linebacker would cover him in man from the inside while the cornerback to the same side could drop down and cover from the outside, thus forming a double or "bracket" coverage.
The cornerback, in this concept, would cover the #1 receiver vertical until the #2 receiver threatened the flats.
There are many variations of Quarters coverage but matchup zone is one of my favorites and most effective. It is something I expect the Patriots to play some of in this game.
Finding Antrel Rolle and the Linebackers
The Giants defense played a lot of 1-high safety shells in the last meeting which means that the coverage concepts were mainly made up of Cover 1, Cover 3 and their variations.
In these concepts, Rolle often rotated down into the box and was a primary run defender on the outside while also being responsible for covering the Curl to Flat zones.
This means that he has to expand to the Flat from the Curl zone in coverage as the receiving threat develops into his route. This doesn't seem like a difficult task, but Rolle can sometimes make it be because of his lack of technique or stiffness in his hips.
Other times, he can be over-aggressive and it costs him because he'll bite too hard on the Flat route and then the pass catcher will turn it up-field, working the sideline for a big catch.
Furthermore, Rolle struggles turning and running down the field. This is something I expect the Patriots to take advantage of this when they have Rolle matched up in man coverage against the backs and tight ends. The Giants defensive back had issues in the NFC Conference championship game in man coverage, getting beaten deep by 49ers tight end Vernon Davis at one point.
This would be nothing new from the Patriots, who attacked Broncos safety Quinton Carter in coverage when he was matched up against tight end Aaron Hernandez in the regular season. Like Rolle, Carter has issues turning and running.
While Rolle is one of the weaknesses in the Giants pass coverage, he is not the only one. The linebackers also have issues in coverage, especially Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka. Both do not have great foot speed nor lateral agility to keep up with pass catchers.
Their issues in pass coverage were noticeable in the previous meeting, which took place in week 9. The Giants played man coverage on the tailbacks in the backfield with their linebackers and there were issues in coverage. Fortunately for them, the Patriots did not take advantage of this enough in my opinion.
Look for the Patriots to motion or align tight end Aaron Hernandez and receiver Wes Welker in the backfield and take advantage of the linebackers in coverage.
Moreover, the Patriots defense has been on shaky grounds this season. However, in the playoffs thus far, they have done better, largely due to the defensive line.
Led by nose tackle Vince Wilfork, the defensive line has dominated up front against the run as well as the pass. The group has done a good job of setting the edge against the run, forcing the ball-carrier back inside, as well as applying pressure up the interior to disrupt the pocket of quarterbacks.
An example of this was seen against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, where Wilfork abused the blockers in front of him, specifically guards Ben Grubbs and Marshall Yanda, who were walked back into the pocket on multiple occasions.
I expect Wilfork to have similar plays in the Super Bowl against the Giants interior offensive line, which has had issues this season.
Final Super Bowl XLVI Score Prediction: New England Patriots 20, New York Giants 17.
Super Bowls are always very interesting because it's uncertain how the game will play out. Will it be a quick-scoring start to the game or will it be slow and then explode later on?
I expect the latter in this one, with the defenses starting off well but later giving up points.
New England, in my opinion, will win this game because of their aforementioned pass rush and ability to identify and exploit the weaknesses in the opposition.