It's hardly remarkable that the New England Patriots are playing in the Super Bowl, as Sunday marks the seventh trip to the NFL's ultimate contest for them, and their fifth with quarterback Tom Brady at the helm, tying an NFL-record.
What is somewhat amazing, however, is that the Patriots have been able to get this far with such a sorry excuse for a pass defense.
New England ranked 31st in the National Football League in pass defense in 2011, allowing nearly 294 yards a game through the air, and while some of that can be attributed to Brady and the prolific Patriots offense forcing teams into shootouts, it's also due in part to a patchwork secondary filled with guys who were either hurt, didn't play well, or a combination of the two.
Head coach Bill Belichick has tinkered with personnel in the defensive backfield all season long, including moving cornerback Devin McCourty to free safety late in the year, and the return of starting strong safety Patrick Chung to (relatively) full health is a big plus after Chung missed half the season due to various injuries.
These changes, at first glance, appear to have helped, as the Patriots rank third among teams in the postseason in pass defense, but it bears mentioning that their two games so far have come against the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens, who rank ninth and 10th among 12 teams, respectively, in the postseason in passing offense.
However, in Super Bowl XLVI the Patriots will be facing a New York Giants team that ranks fourth among postseason teams in that category and features an elite quarterback in Eli Manning, a rock-solid wide receiving corps of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham, and a capable pass-catching tight end in Jake Ballard.
Against that sort of firepower the likes of cornerback Kyle Arrington, who led the Patriots in interceptions in 2011, and Antwaun Molden are going to have play much better than they did for much of the year, or Super Bowl XLVI is going to end in the same sort of disappointment for New England and their fans that Super Bowl XLII did.
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