9 Mistakes New York Giants Cannot Make to Win Super Bowl XLVI
“We’re going to play our game and they’re going to play their game and it’s going to be all about who executes the best.” Appearing on Wednesday’s Inside the NFL, Justin Tuck was articulate, insightful—and relaxed.
Sounds simple. And it is. It’s just not easy.
In 2007, when I saw Michael Strahan’s trademark smile as he danced in his seat at media day, I thought—the Giants are going to win. They were the loose underdogs.
I don’t care what Vegas says, analysts think that New York has the better team. That doesn’t mean that they will be the new champs. Being expected to win can be a killer.
There are a handful of mistakes that can turn Sunday night into the “Bill and Tom Show.”
Believe Their Own Press
If anyone on the planet did not know about the Giants pass rush before this fortnight—they do now. Don’t mistake me; I believe the D-line is as much the key to victory as it was in 2007.
But if Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Dave Tollefson, Chris Canty and Linval Joseph forget for one minute how angry and embarrassed the Patriots offensive line has been, they might be in for a shock.
Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly Brian Waters and Nate Solder are going to be passionately dedicated to protecting Tom Terrific. They know it’s the ballgame, too.
Any reckless lack of focus or sloppiness due to overconfidence will lead directly to a touchdown pass by No. 12.
The Giants won in Week 9, but people seem to be fuzzy on how close that game was.
1. The teams had the same number of first downs, mostly through the air.
2. Third-down efficiency was comparable.
3. New England had more total plays and about 70 more yards.
4. Time of possession was within a minute.
5. Neither QB played particularly well until the fourth quarter—and then they both exploded.
6. And the Patriots did two things that you cannot count on to be repeated: They gave up four turnovers and Steven Gostkowski missed a field goal.
I know Tom Coughlin isn’t expecting either of those Patriots mistakes to re-occur. His team had better not be, either.
Play Sloppy Special Teams
You would think that the value of special teams would be seared into everyone’s mind after the NFC Championship game. And, in fact, I think that the New York coverage units will feel emboldened and downright cocky after their dominance two weeks ago.
But return specialists are not the trump cards in New York. Sorry, guys.
Further, Steve Weatherford let loose a couple of positively shaky kicks in San Francisco. Weatherford should have a better showing this week. He is usually a solid punter, averaging 45.7 per kick.
Besides, he is the true hero of the NFL game with that spectacularly sure-handed hold on a bad snap for the winning field goal. So, we'll cut him some slack. A little.
Let’s just all stay calm and focused, shall we?
Let the Linebackers Get Blitz-Happy
The Patriots running game "isn't in the same league" as that of the 49ers. That doesn’t mean BenJarvus Green-Ellis can be ignored. The last time these teams met, “The Law Firm” carried the ball only 12 times and had one reception.
The running game managed only five first downs.
I know that linebackers Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley are just dying to get their shot at Brady. Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell must keep those guys reined in.
If they leave the middle of the field open for a millisecond, Tom Brady will find Aaron Hernandez or Wes Welker (or Rob Gronkowski depending upon his mobility). And that’ll be a first down—if Big Blue is lucky.
Or it might be one of those 98-yard Brady touchdowns that is five yards pass and 93 yards Welker run. The guy may look like a short, slight, weird guy with serial-killer eyes, but he can scoot down a football field.
Kiwanuka and Boley led the team in tackles in that Week 9 win. Let’s hold that thought.
Remember, the New England quarterback will be uniquely motivated to get the ball out with alacrity. Brady will be doing his very best Dan Marino impression on the quick release. The short passing game got this team to the Super Bowl. Don’t expect them to abandon it now, just because one of the four potential targets has a bum ankle.
It’s not that I don’t have faith in the Giants safeties. I actually think that Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips will have big games, aided at times by Deon Grant and even Tyler Sash.
But let’s not tempt the devil here by leaving Chase Blackburn as the only linebacker patrolling on the second level.
Abandon the Run
I do not expect this to happen. Tom Coughlin is far too great a coach to take the short view.
But, just in case his ground-game resolve starts to waiver, I want all you Giants fans to concentrate real hard and telepathically remind him to "stay the course." Pretend you're the Voice: "If you build it..."
But by the fourth, no one is going to want any piece of trying to tackle Jacobs (well, maybe the DTs), and that’s also just about when Ahmad Bradshaw seems to turn into one of those superheroes who can slide through walls.
Eli Manning has enough to do in this game. Don’t make him throw the ball 60 times again.
Forget About Chad Ochocinco
I know you’re laughing at me with this one. I know he’s been a virtual outcast in the Pats offense.
But my theory is that No. 85’s confidence has been crushed. He was used to catching everything in a yard’s radius, and he has spent 2011 buried in a playbook too big to absorb, on a wide receiving “corps” of two—Chad and Deion Branch. That’s it.
There may not be any double coverage, but there is also no freelancing allowed. I’m not sure that you can take a free-spirited hawk and turn him into a Canadian goose, even when the geese are all migrating in the winning direction.
However, with the injury to Gronkowski, Brady may be looking for Ochocinco. If Ochocinco has any self-assurance left, it could be good for a score.
New York cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Corey Webster must remember who is on the field with them.
Assume That Eli Manning Is Gumby
Isn’t it inspirational how Eli just kept on getting up last week? I’m sure it was good for another five years on his Citizen watch contract.
It has been since the 70s that I have seen a quarterback hit the ground that many times and pull himself up to throw a laser into a window the size of a laptop. Of course, there weren't laptops in the 70s, but you know what I mean.
Wow—it’s great. It’s awesome. It’s also insanely dangerous.
The Giants QB has been sacked 36 times this season. And that doesn't even count all of the official hits and the unofficial "hurries" that turned into shoves.
Manning may be channeling Fran Tarkenton, but let’s remember that the Minnesota QB never won a Super Bowl and retired the instant that he was finally injured.
Newsflash! Eli Manning is not made of rubber. I’m not sure what his body is made of, actually. It certainly doesn’t appear to be muscle. I don’t know a great deal about baseball, but doesn’t Eli look like the solid singles hitter stuck on third base?
I’ve never seen a quarterback appear to care less that his chinstrap is on top of his helmet 15 times a game. But I cannot imagine how sore he was last Monday after 20-something hits and almost 60 passes.
I hope they swaddled him in ice and aspirin. Maybe he should get a Bayer endorsement deal, too.
Assume Brady Is Nervous
I agree with the notion that he is worried about getting hit. I think that the legend of the Giants D, the personal experience with the New York pass rush, the memory of losing an entire season to a serous injury and the recent pummeling by the Ravens D has indeed “gotten inside his head.”
How could it not?
I think he is angry. I think it’s possible that anger could tip over into cloudy thinking. But I wouldn’t count on it.
This would be the third straight loss to the Giants. And Brady doesn’t let that happen often.
Taking Vince Wilfork for Granted
Do not judge this force of nature by the size of his belly. The Boston defensive tackle is a household name. Quick—outside of Warren Sapp, name another defensive tackle. See?
In Week 9, Wilfork had four tackles. One of those was for a loss and two of them were hits on the QB. But that does not begin to cover the space he takes up in the middle, how quickly he can move in that space and how powerfully he can move you out of your space.
In his Hall of Fame speech, offensive lineman extraordinaire Russ Grimm said, “There is no greater feeling than moving a man from Point A to Point B—against his will.”
Mr. Wilfork achieves that feeling a lot.
By the way, he also has two interceptions this year.
The Giants offensive line has had its own challenges this season (see above Gumby point), and they need to handle Wilfork and take him out of this game for Eli to have a chance at making it to those fourth-quarter heroics.
Get out of Their Culture
Once upon a time, football teams were actually manned by locals—men who grew up in the area. The Chicago Bears were a bunch of immigrant-stock stevedores. The San Francisco 49ers were freewheeling Western sophisticates.
As soon as football became a successful business, the teams became mirrors of Americana.
But the local flavor is not entirely lost. The Bears defense still growls, the Chargers are still full of sun and finesse and the Saints are an offensively explosive party.
One of the reasons that the Patriots and the Giants are in this game is that they know who they are.
The Giants are a terrifying defensive line, an unflappable and clutch fourth-quarter QB and a well-balanced offensive attack.
The Patriots are one of the best, ice-cold, MVP, HOF quarterbacks to ever grace the gridiron, a decent short-passing game and an improving defense.
In a season without the surgically lethal Indianapolis signal-caller, the Colts turned into holograms.
In a season with a paper-thin defense and only three producing wide receivers (yes two of them are TEs but don’t distract me), Tom Brady became—Peyton Manning. Not so easy without a running game, Randy Moss or a defense is it, Tom?
But Tom Brady has turned in the kind of individual will-driven MVP leadership that reinforces historians’ belief in “The Great Man” theory. Franklin Roosevelt, Julius Caesar and John Kennedy all fit the bill.
“It has been said that history is nothing but stories of great men.”
For the purposes of giving Brady his due, I’m going to overlook the gender issue here. (Big of me, don’t you think?) I don’t buy this theory in every world-changing sequence of events, but there are some people who are made for the biggest stage.
Brady is one of them.
I do not care how much Brady and Belichick try to sell us on “we’re just a collection of team-first guys” we all know that this year it’s really about Brady. It’s Tom Terrific and a bunch of role-players. There is a big, big difference.
Conversely, despite the “elite Eli” hype, Big Blue is a team of stars. So far, the Giants have stayed true to their own identity. New York is a straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is city. As glitzy as the dropping ball may be on New Year’s Eve, New York is really a just-get-it-done kind of place.
New Yorkers have a foxhole mentality where each man takes a turn at being the hero. 9/11 proved it.
Eli Manning’s mantra has been that he simply tries to get better and better to be the best quarterback he can be—to help his team win. His public persona says, “Oh shucks, I’m just a working guy trying to make some plays.”
That’s sweet, but it masks a calm determination to “not get beat.” Anyone who takes more than 20 hits in a championship game and doesn’t throw a pick is a machine. A fourth-quarter touchdown-throwing machine.
Honestly, it’s almost Al Davis-esque. Keep hitting them by running the rock and then kill them with the vertical game. Combined with an old-school brand of bull-rush, physically-pounding defense, this type of team character can be devastating.
We hear a lot about culture in football. The Giants mirror the culture of their city: stars who are grounded enough to walk down Seventh Avenue without a posse. A bunch of hard-pounding, hard-working, take-no-prisoners teammates.
Remember that, gentlemen.