Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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New respect for Nick Foles after another GWD. Also: four-minute blues for Browns, glory-hole day for Dallas, Jets seeing red and Bruce Arians' magic beans.

28 Jan 2008

Patriots vs. Giants: Week 17 Revisited

by Bill Moore

Before it became the game that launched a Super Bowl contender, the Week 17 game in the Meadowlands was completely meaningless for the Giants and solely for posterity's sake for the Patriots. The Giants, a 4-3 team since their bye week, were struggling to maintain a reputation as a playoff contender. Eli Manning had a 45 percent completion rate with four touchdowns and eight interceptions in his previous five games. Still, their playoff seed was locked up and a large contingency of Giants fans (as well as media figures) felt the best use of the players' energies was resting on the bench. Interest in the game by New York fans was minimal. Patriot fans were lining the Cross Bronx Expressway with tickets in hand they bought from New York season ticket holders on eBay. In fact, the hottest show in New Jersey that day was not even the football game, but rather the Hannah Montana show down the road. The common view, which is ironic with 20/20 hindsight, was the Giants could either play a game to stop history, or rest to win a playoff game. The fact that they had a chance at both was apparently implausible.

Tom Coughlin had other ideas. The much-maligned coach reminded anyone who would listen, "we will do what is best for our football team," and that meant play all out. As a show of dedication towards winning, wide receiver Plaxico Burress participated in practice despite his sore ankle for only the third time all year. The Giants treated this like a playoff game. Or did they?

New York did play an emotional game against the Patriots, but it was also a pressure-free encounter. Even Tom Coughlin acknowledged that by telling his players beforehand, "we have absolutely everything to gain, and absolutely nothing to lose."

The Patriots also had something to play for -- the record books -- but did not treat this game with 100 percent gravity either. The game was on a Saturday, leaving the team with a short week to prepare, but players still had both Monday and Tuesday off, and only one day of regular practice. The organization announced their departure time for New York for the first time all season, and players were seen joking around recording the trip on video cameras. They had a few goals for the week 17 game: set the record for most points scored, set the record for touchdowns by a team, set the record for touchdown passes by a quarterback, set the record for touchdown catches by a receiver, and, oh yes, win to accomplish an undefeated regular season. All those things are important, but this wasn't a playoff game for the Patriots either.

It wasn't the Super Bowl, but it's worth looking back (way, way back) to Week 17 to analyze what happened in the surprising Super Bowl preview.

Both teams attacked this game with a passing focus, but potentially for different reasons. The Patriots' weak link is unquestionably their secondary. Ellis Hobbs is in his third season, but he has not made major strides in coverage. Opposing quarterbacks often target Hobbs' side of the field. Asante Samuel made a name for himsel last year, leading the league in interceptions and proclaiming himself the best cornerback in the league. However, the Giants were well aware of Samuel's over-aggressiveness and eagerness to jump routes. In the safety position, Rodney Harrison is more of a rusher/run-stopper than coverage safety, and James Sanders (drafted one round after Hobbs) has matured into a capable safety, but can only do so much. The media consensus going into the game was that Giants would use their two-headed running attack to wear the Patriots down, but it was clearly the Patriots secondary that was the pre-game target.

On offense, the Patriots spread it out. The matchup of New England's multiple offensive weapons against the Giants' relatively ordinary secondary wasn't the only reason to spread the field. The Giants upfront rush was the biggest threat to the Patriots, and by spreading it out with three, four, or five receivers, they can force potential rushers to occupy themselves with coverage assignments. Nineteen times during the game, the Patriots used tight end Ben Watson in a standing position as a receiver. Almost 50 percent of their passing plays were from four- or five-wide sets (often including Watson as one of those receivers). In fact, 55 percent of all their rushing plays were run out of three- or more-receiver sets, compared to only 11 percent by the Giants. Part of this was personnel-related. Three integral elements of the Patriots rushing game were missing in Week 17: The entire right side of the offensive line, Nick Kaczur and Stephen Neal, as well as tight end Kyle Brady, a blocking specialist, were all inactive.

From a defensive perspective, the Giants were focused on getting pressure on Brady right from the get-go. They pressured him much like Philadelphia had done weeks earlier, and sacked him twice (including one negated by an illegal contact call), but the pressure was not particularly effective. On almost every play in which the Giants blitzed from the slot, New England hit the hot route. The Patriots scored on each of their four possessions of the first half; however, the Giants secondary coverage was successful at making the Patriots settle for field goals early on. That is what kept the game close. The Patriots, on the other hand, were more keyed on dropping guys into the secondary, and only turned on the rush late in the third quarter when they took the eventual lead. The fact that Eli Manning was so effective surely surprised the Patriots, and the in-game adjustment proved to rattle him. The Giants scored touchdowns on four of their first six possessions, giving them a twelve-point lead with nine minutes to go in the third quarter. Yet the next three possessions resulted in a punt, a punt, an interception, and 21 straight points by the Patriots offense.

On to the game, drive by drive:

Giants' first possession
Began: First quarter, 15:00, NYG 26.
Length: 4:01, 7 plays, 74 yards.
Result: Touchdown: Giants 7, Patriots 0.

Sore ankle or no sore ankle, practice makes perfect, and Plaxico Burress was the key to this Giants drive. The Giants started off running Jacobs with great pushes by tackle Kareem McKenzie (on Junior Seau) and fullback Madison Hedgecock (on Mike Vrabel). Surprisingly, that four-yard gain turned out to be Jacobs' longest running play of the half. On the next play, the Giants ran a play-action pass out of a two-tight end set that really fooled no one. Fortunately for the Giants, the Patriots were overloading the right side of the line, but the play was a stretch to the left. Manning, with lots of time and seven blockers, set the tone of the game. Ellis Hobbs, caught in one-on-one coverage on Burress' outside shoulder, had no chance on an inside post route for 52 yards. The aggressiveness continued as Manning threw into tight coverage to Steve Smith, who dropped the ball when he hit the ground. Hobbs was targeted again on a curl route to Burress for a first down, then a short crossing route to Jacobs over Adalius Thomas made the score 7-0, Giants. This drive defined the attitude of the Giants –- Game On!

Patriots' first possession
Began: First quarter, 10:59, NE 27.
Length: 5:40, 12 plays, 54 yards.
Result: Field goal: Giants 7, Patriots 3.

The Patriots opened with a two-tight end set, and the Giants immediately showed double-team coverage on Randy Moss. However, the safety on Moss' inside didnt' cover, he blitzed. Laurence Maroney did a good job with blitz pickup, and Moss started the game with a 14-yard completion. Linebacker Reggie Torbor faked a blitz on the second snap, and Wes Welker used that one-step fake to create a hole between Torbor and cornerback Sam Madison for another 14-yarder. After a run and a dropped screen pass by Watson, the man that everyone talks about not being talked about, Kevin Faulk, snuck out the backfield for another screen and eight yards on third-and-10. Too far from the end zone to kick a field goal, the Patriots went for it. Although end Justin Tuck schooled center Dan Koppen to take a free shot a Brady, the league's MVP stood tall and hit Randy Moss for a first down. Going five-wide (with Watson split right) and the Giants rushing four, Brady pumped Torbor out of position for a 12-yard gain to Welker. With New England five-wide again, defensive end Osi Umenyiora beat tackle Matt Light to the outside for what should have been a strip, but Brady somehow ducked under it without ever turning his head. Watson, however, dropped his second pass of the drive. The Giants countered the third-and-8 five-wide set with a nickel zone and rushed only three. Both primary receivers had doubl-coverage and Brady, despite having plenty of time, appeared to force one into Moss. The high pass sailed out of the end zone, and New England settled for a field goal.

Giants' second possession
Began: First quarter, 5:19, NYG 21.
Lasted: 1:43, three plays, -1 yard.
Result: Punt.

The Patriots put six on the line of scrimmage and eight in the box, and the Giants ran twice for an aggregate loss of one yard. On third down, the Patriots brought five but didn't get anywhere near Manning. Amani Toomer broke free of Randall Gay, but dropped the ball. New York punted.

Patriots' second possession
Began: First quarter, 3:36, midfield.
Lasted: 3:41, 8 plays, 50 yards.
Result: Touchdown: Patriots 10, Giants 7.

The Patriots started with a formation they used a lot this year, an I-formation, two-tight end set with Randy Moss as the sole receiver. Although this is a power set, the Patriots often passed from this formation, as they did here. The play didn't have time to develop since Giants nose tackle Barry Cofield swept past a stumbling Login Mankins, forcing Brady to throw it away. On the next play, nobody blocked Gerris Wilkinson (who had substituted for an injured Kawika Mitchell) in the A-gap, and he proceeded to drop Maroney for a loss. A Corey Webster illegal contact call negated a Brady sack, which had been initiated by a nice move by Jason Tuck. The Patriots spread the defense, and over the next five plays, they spread the ball around to two different running backs on draw plays and three different receivers, who each caught passes for more than 10 yards. Included in those receptions was a nice wide receiver screen where Welker beat Antonio Pierce after an excellent block of Sam Madison by Moss. The drive was capped off with the same one-receiver set the drive started with. Moss outjumped Aaron Ross in the end zone for the score. The touchdown was the tied records for Moss, Brady and the Patriots as a team. A dubious end zone celebration penalty pushed Stephen Gostkowski's kickoff to the 15-yard line, and New York would take full advantage of the bonus yardage.

Giants' third possession
Began: Second quarter, 14:55.
Lasted: 0:11, 0 plays (kickoff return).
Result: Touchdown: Giants 14, Patriots 10.

The Patriots kickoff coverage was a little overzealous in pursuit. It backfired as a number of coverage guys (including rookie Brandon Meriweather and, surprisingly, veteran specialist Larry Izzo) overpursued and broke their lanes. The Giants took seven to the house and retook the lead.

Patriots' third possession
Began: Second quarter, 14:44, NE 33.
Lasted: 4:45, 8 plays, 39 yards.
Result: Field goal: Giants 14, Patriots 13.

This Patriots' drive saw the game's first 10-plus-yard run as Brady saw something in the defensive scheme and changed the play. Good blocks by Mankins and guard Russ Hochstein freed up Maroney for a 13-yard scamper. As the Giants continued to double Moss, the Patriots countered with four short swing passes to either a split-wide Faulk left uncovered or a stacked Welker on the opposite side. Good backside pursuit by Cofield of stutter-stepping Maroney followed by a Welker stumble on a wide receiver screen put the Patriots in third-and-long. Lots of help deep leads to the final underneath swing pass to Faulk, and yet another field goal.

Giants' fourth possession
Began: Second quarter, 9:59, NYG 30.
Lasted: 2:19, 4 plays, 20 yards.
Result: Punt.

Manning started the drive with a nice play-action pass that drew in the linebackers and freed up tight end Kevin Boss for a 17-yard wide-open catch. However, the Giants continued to pound Jacobs into the line with no success. Manning sought out Boss again on third down, but Rodney Harrison read the route very well and was able to break up the pass. Giants punted.

Patriots' fourth possession
Began: Second quarter, 7:40, NE 20.
Lasted: 5:41, 11 plays, 61 yards.
Result: Field goal: Patriots 16, Giants 14.

The Patriot running game showed some signs of life on this drive, with five runs for 26 yards. The Giants had been getting significant push against the two replacement linemen, Hochstein and Ryan O'Callaghan. The Patriots used that to their advantage, allowing the defensive tackle the first step inside and then sealing him off. On the passing front, the Patriots began to hit both Moss and Welker with short passes underneath the Giants zone (including one hot blitz read). After their second first down of the drive, the Patriots again exploited the threat of Moss. No Giant defender covered Watson in the flat 19 yards downfield because three defenders followed Moss to the post. After a decent run by Maroney, and an excellent read of another wide receiver screen by Giants corner Aaron Ross, Brady blew a sure touchdown by underthrowing Moss in the back of the end zone. Moss was covered by Wilkinson, whose back was turned to the play. Rather than an easy jumping reception, the ball careened off an unaware Wilkinson's helmet. Patriots settled for their third field goal.

Giants' fifth possession
Began: Second quarter, 1:59, NYG 15.
Lasted: 1:46, 8 plays, 85 yards.
Result: Touchdown: Giants 21, Patriots 16.

Not content going to the locker room down by two, the Giants came out throwing from their own 15-yard line. A blitzing Harrison put enough pressure on Manning that he missed an open Toomer 10 yards out on first down. The Giants offensive line was bowled over on the next down, but somehow Manning avoided two would-be tacklers and on the run hit Kevin Boss for a toe-tapping, 23-yard sideline grab. In what could have easily been an "I told you so" moment, the Giants lost starting center Sean O'Hara on the play. Not to be outdone, Toomer made a bobbling circus catch near the left hashmarks for another 19 yards, and Brandon Jacobs slipped out of the backfield for a three-yard catch and a 14-yard follow-on run. On all three plays, the Patriots faked a blitz and Junior Seau had coverage responsibility. Seau furthered his questionable performance by sitting on Kevin Boss, drawing a five-yard delay-of-game penalty and stopping the clock with 31 seconds left. Manning smartly scrambled 11 yards on the next snap as the Patriots dropped eight into coverage. Manning capped off what might have been his most impressive drive of the year with a pump fake that juked Rodney Harrison, a step up and short toss to Boss in the end zone. Manning went five-for-seven for 69 yards, an 11-yard run and the go-ahead touchdown on that drive.

The Patriots ended the first half with a one-play kneeldown drive.

Patriots' fifth possession
Began: Third quarter, 15:00, NE 20.
Lasted: 1:38, 3 plays, 3 yards.
Result: Punt.

The second half started with the Giants faking out the Patriots by showing double-coverage on Moss, but Ross blitzed from the slot and Madison dropped off Moss to the hot route, holding Watson to a three-yard gain. After an uneventful draw, Brady and Moss almost showed why they are so dangerous. The Giants blitzed two to the left side of the line. Kevin Faulk, left alone by Matt Light to block both blitzers, turned the inside man, Torbor, loose. Torbor grabbed Brady by the jersey and hauled him down, but not before Brady heaved the ball 25 yards downfield to a returning Moss. In the midst of a would-be incredible throw and catch, the ball hit the turf for an incompletion. Three-and-out –- albeit an exciting one.

Giants' sixth possession
Began: Third quarter, 13:22, NYG 40.
Lasted: 4:10, 7 plays, 60 yards.
Result: Touchdown: Giants 28, Patriots 16.

The Giants, who had not employed much of a running attack all game, sought to establish it on this drive. Great blocks by Hedgecock, guard Rich Seubert, Boss, guard Grey Ruegamer and McKenzie freed up Jacobs for 16- and 15-yard runs. On third-and-9, Manning rolled to his right and pump faked. Asante Samuel inexplicably dropped off Burress to cover the already double-teamed underneath route. The move left Burress wide-open for a toe-dragging touchdown.

Patriots' sixth possession
Began: Third quarter, 9:12, NE 27.
Lasted: 5:12, 8 plays, 73 yards.
Result: Touchdown: Giants 28, Patriots 23.

On the first play of the New England drive, Wilkinson once again busted through the A-gap untouched and dropped Kevin Faulk for a two-yard loss. Following a short crossing route to Faulk, New England spread their only tight end, Ben Watson, outside the tackle for the next six plays. The doubling of the wide receivers again left Watson uncovered, and then Giants safety Gibril Wilson apparently missed the blitz call, leaving Welker uncovered when Ross blitzed from the slot. Welker was on the receiving end of the next two throws. The Giants were coming at Brady hard, even hitting him at times. However, he had time enough to make his reads and complete this passes. For the second time in the game, Wilkinson was somehow responsible for covering Randy Moss. This time he's not as lucky, drawing a pass interference penalty. The Patriots scored as Welker showed his versatility, throwing a great seal block that freed Maroney for the touchdown.

Giants' seventh possession
Began: Third quarter, 4:00, NYG 40.
Lasted: 3:30, 6 plays, 14 yards.
Result: Punt.

Although the Patriots had shown blitz previously, this marked the moment in the game when blitzing Manning became a staple of the game plan. At first Manning handled it well, putting the ball in his receivers' hands. However, after the fourth blitz of this drive -- only the second time the Patriots had sent six pass rushers all game -- Manning was sacked while backpeddling for a 14-yard loss. Technically, tackle David Diehl would be charged with a blown block on Thomas, but frankly, Junior Seau's pressure up the middle was the instigator of the play. Further pressure on third down by Harrison forced Manning into the hot read well short of the first down.

Patriots' seventh possession
Began: Third quarter, 0:30, NE 18.
Lasted: 0:30, 6 plays, 10 yards.
Result: Punt.

A few dumpoff and screen passes by the Patriots, but overall a very uneventful drive. Twice the Patriots looked to Moss, but double-coverage by Wilson on one play and Webster on another disrupted the New England attack.

Giants' eighth possession
Began: Fourth quarter, 12:46, NYG 30.
Lasted: 1:17, 3 plays, 3 yards.
Result: Punt.

The first time that the Giants truly missed O'Hara was when Ruegamer and Manning fumbled the snap exchange on first down. A tipped ball by Thomas and a blown wide receiver screen lead New York to punt.

Patriots' eighth possession
Began: Fourth quarter, 11:29, NE 35.
Lasted: 0:23, 3 plays, 65 yards.
Result: Touchdown: Patriots 31, Giants 28.

New England emerged on first down in a five-wide set, and the Giants continued to rush five. The pressure was successful, as Brady overthrew an open Welker. On second down, with Randy Moss as the only wide receiver on the field, the Patriots ran play-action and had plenty of time. Brady threw a bomb 49 yards downfield to Moss. Madison appeared to come up lame on the play (indeed, he pulled an abdominal muscle and would not return) and free safety Gibril Wilson fell down, but Brady didn't get enough on the ball. A completely open Moss had to turn and come back to the ball, and it went right through his hands. The next play "couldn't be more different," as Bill Belichick sternly pointed out in the postgame press conference, but had one similar feature. This time in a four-wide set, Moss blew past safety James Butler for a 43-yard completion, and with an additional 22 yards after catch, a touchdown and new records for himself, Brady, and the Patriots. The Patriots then converted for two with a Maroney run up the middle.

Giants' ninth possession
Began: Fourth quarter, 11:06, NYG 23.
Lasted: 1:13, 3 plays, 4 yards.
Result: Interception.

After two Jacobs runs and a 10-yard Toomer penalty, Manning made his first costly mistake of the game. The Giants lined up with three receivers, Burress in the left slot. The Patriots rushed four and failed to get any significant pressure. Harrison was the cover man on Burress and positioned himself three yards off the line to jam him. However, he basically whiffed. With Burress open by at least two yards, Manning tried to float the ball over Harrison, but got too much air under it, and it landed in the hands of cornerback Ellis Hobbs.

Patriots' ninth possession
Began: Fourth quarter, 9:53, NE 48.
Lasted: 5:17, 9 plays, 52 yards.
Result: Touchdown: Patriots 38, Giants 28.

New York continued to pressure O'Callaghan and Hochstein on the right side even when only rushing four. Brady barely avoided the rush and lobbed the ball to Stallworth, open in the flat. The next play, Hochstein wasn't as lucky as he allowed Torbor to rush up the middle untouched for the Giants' first official sack of the game. For the next two plays, the Giants brought pressure, but Brady found his men, including Kevin Faulk, who slipped a drive-ending Torbor tackle to find the first-down line. Finally, the Patriots caught the Giants in a fake blitz, which allowed Maroney to strut up the middle for a touchdown and a 10-point lead.

Giants' tenth possession
Began: Fourth quarter, 4:36, NYG 32.
Lasted: 3:32, 11 plays, 68 yards.
Result: Touchdown: Patriots 38, Giants 35.

The final drive by the Giants was marked by two things: the lack of urgency by the Giants offense and the pressure by the Patriots defense. New York ran the ball on three plays in the final drive and often struggled to manage the clock. New England was physically blitzing on every play. In passing plays, the Patriots brought six rushers four times and seven once. The Patriots secondary was willing to give the underneath route, but its not surprising that the defenders on those passes were Hobbs (three times), Randall Gay, Meriweather, Harrison and the man once known as Eugene Wilson. The bizarre disappearance this season of the once-feared Wilson is a story unto itself. However, the fact that he fell down, allowing a wide-open Burress to score the Giants final touchdown, was apropos.

There are few moral victories in sports. New Englands' recovery of the ensuing onside kick sealed the game, but the Giants truly achieved a moral victory. Trying to break the trend of mediocrity, they convinced themselves they were a contender.

In the end, Manning played what may end up as one of his career-defining games. He recorded a DPAR of 9.9, and the passing offense recorded a DVOA of 61.6%. However, in a head-to-head match up, the Patriots offense clearly outplayed them. Brady posted a DPAR of 16.7, and the Patriots offense generated a 98.1% DVOA. Interestingly, it was Welker, not Moss, as the most valuable receiver with a DPAR of 4.7, even though Moss scored two touchdowns. Hixon's kickoff return was a vital component of the Giants success, especially when one considers it was sandwiched between two ineffective drives for Big Blue.

The Giants brought lots of pressure, but mostly to no avail. Brady was able to make his reads for the most part, and was only sacked once. Punter Chris Hanson only took the field twice. To the extent the Giants were successful, it was in making the Patriots settle for three field goals in the first half. You could make an argument that Josh McDaniels was focused on getting Brady and Moss their records, and play calls were made to achieve that end. As such, the double coverage on Moss may have stifled them. When it became clear that that the outcome of the game was in jeopardy, they opened up the offense and became much more effective. Can such a defensive effort be replicated? Can Manning have a repeat performance? Can the Giants play a similar all-out game when the stakes are higher? We shall see.

Posted by: Bill Moore on 28 Jan 2008

67 comments, Last at 31 Jan 2008, 6:50pm by BDC

Comments

1
by Jimmy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 2:21pm

A dubious end zone celebration penalty pushed Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoff to the 15-yard line, and New York would take full advantage of the bonus yardage.

There was nothing dubious about the penalty. Moss was dancing and then Maroney joined in, then the ref threw the flag.

The rule is dumb but in this regard it is very clear - two or more guys dance and fifteen yards get tagged onto the kickoff.

2
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 2:25pm

Jimmy,

I'm not sure I'd call that ungainly looking hip-waggle thing Maroney did "dancing"... :-)

I think you can't overstate the impact that missing Kaczur and especially Neal and Brady had on this game. The Giants were consistently able to get pressure coming on that side, and they can't count on getting that again this Sunday. On the other hand, the Patriots knew the right side of their line would be weak, and had probably gameplanned to take that into account...if the Giants succeed in getting inside pressure again despite the health of the Pats O-line, the Pats may not be as well prepared to deal with it...

3
by starzero (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 2:44pm

that second "giants ninth possession" should probably "patriots ninth possession"

4
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 3:01pm

"There was nothing dubious about the penalty. Moss was dancing and then Maroney joined in, then the ref threw the flag."

If what Maroney did was not dubious, then the flag should be thrown on every single sack, stop on third down, TD, or otherwise big play.

5
by Chris (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 3:23pm

I don't think there's going to be that much more pressure on the Giants this time around. No one expects them to win. They have nothing to lose.

The fact that Patriots supposedly down played week 17 to me seems premeditated on the part of the coaching staff to try and take the pressure off the fact they were trying to go undefeated. I'm not sure they will be able to treat this as just any other Super Bowl.

6
by Herm? (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 3:39pm

Nice, a fantastic article analyzes a bigtime mismatch inside on the Patriots offensive line, especially on the right side, and the first 2 comments argue about a penalty rule. I'll bet that doesn't decide the Super Bowl.
If the Giants panties are as bunched about "cheap hits" or end zone celebrations as the haters, the Patriots will win by 6 TD's.
(shall we cue the youtube link with eye poking and pile pushing?)
Here's to hoping Koppen learned from the first matchup. It'll be very interesting to see if there's a gameplan solution for stopping Tuck. Even if it's quick swing passes and screens to the outside.

7
by slo-mo-joe (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 3:44pm

#4
I don’t think there’s going to be that much more pressure on the Giants this time around. No one expects them to win. They have nothing to lose.

The fact that Patriots supposedly down played week 17 to me seems premeditated on the part of the coaching staff to try and take the pressure off the fact they were trying to go undefeated. I’m not sure they will be able to treat this as just any other Super Bowl.

Not sure what you are trying to say. Of course, the pressure on the Giants will be much higher in this game (in which they have something to lose - the SB!) compared to last time, in which they were playing (and did so, valiantly) only for their honor and a chance of a minor mention in the NFL history books as the team which took the undefeated season away from the Pats. That said, this can work either way: they can rise to the challenge, and play better than in December, or fold under pressure. Honestly, it will probably work both ways, depending on the individual players and situations - it always does.

Also undoubtedly the pressure will be greater on the Pats, who I am sure would trade the undefeated regular season for a SB any day. I don't think they were "playing down" in week 17, other than clearly striving for the Brady/Moss records in the first part, and the defense tightening up in the 2nd half with the game on the line (as they have been doing several times this year, especially lately).

Basically, I don't see much swing in the psychological dynamics here.

8
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 4:30pm

Herm?

Technically, only the first comment was arguing about a penalty rule. My #2 comment only paused to make a snide comment with reference to that, and then spent its bulk seriously discussing the Patriots O-line.

Chris,

I have to admit, it's kind of nice being a fan of a team that has to worry about whether or not to treat this as "just another superbowl". :-)

OK, /snide comments

9
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 4:34pm

In general, while it's very instructive to analyze this past game, and while I really enjoyed this article, I would be surprised if the SB plays out the same way as Week 17.

Even if the personnell and situation were exactly the same, two games in the same season between rarely play out the same way, because both teams make adjustments and execute different gameplans than when last they faced.

Now add in the health difference for the two teams--Neal, Kaczur, and (Kyle) Brady healthy for the Pats, but (Tom) Brady possibly a little gimpy, and whatever injuries the Giants have different from last game.

Now add in the different pressures, and the different amount of time to gameplan.

It's going to be a completely different game.

10
by RickD (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 4:46pm

re: 6
I suspect people know that the Pats linemen who were injured Week 17 (Nick Kaczur and Stephen Neal) are healthy now and playing well. MJK is correct to point this out.
I suspect that the Pats will not have as many problems with pressure as they did in Week 17.

11
by Herm? (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 5:09pm

MJK - I accept your technicality! But do you share the sentiment that the loss of Kaczur was addition by subtraction? There were some points this year where he seemed more of a liability than an asset, albeit 1 or 2 games out of 15.

I mentioned in another thread, so I apologize for repeating, but I am most interested in Kyle Brady's effect against the Giants d-line. It should allow for some double teaming, and may provide Stallworth or Moss to break coverages and get across or down the field.

12
by Not saying (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 5:19pm

A very thorough article. Had a couple of points looking at the tape again. (Warning: It got a little long on me.)

Pats' 2nd: "Giants nose tackle Barry Cofield swept past a stumbling Login Mankins, forcing Brady to throw it away." It looked to me like that one was mostly Koppen's fault. He pushed Cofield with his arms, but didn't seem to adjust in time.

Pats' 6th: "Giants safety Gibril Wilson apparently missed the blitz call, leaving Welker uncovered" It looked to me (and Collinsworth, too) that it was Butler who missed the call. He was on Welker but then came down to the flat even though it looked like Madison had it covered.

Also thought it was interesting that the play before the TD on this drive featured Vrabel dropping a sure TD after not really being covered (though it would have been erased by a questionable penalty). And it was Butler who Welker just destroyed with his block.

Giants' 7th: Interesting that you say the blitzing began here and the first play was a screen pass. Perfect seeming call, decent throw by Manning, terrible drop by Jacobs.

Pats' 7th: "Twice the Patriots looked to Moss, but double-coverage by Wilson on one play and Webster on another disrupted the New England attack." I think you mean Butler on the second pass to Moss. I also think it was too high a pass and Moss could have caught it. 2nd guy came too late to make a difference.

Pats' 9th: "Hochstein wasn’t as lucky as he allowed Torbor to rush up the middle untouched." It's not clear to me that one's on Hochstein. He was blocking Robbins, while Koppen didn't really seem on anyone and Torbor came between them. Miscommunication, I suppose, but it's hard as an outside observer to know who's responsible.

Giants 10th: "New England was physically blitzing on every play." That was kind of surprising. Usually you see a prevent defense with at most 4 coming in that situation, but I don't think there were ever less than 5.

"the defenders on those passes were Hobbs (three times)" To be fair, one of those was a pass for a loss.

In general, the offensive line play was a bit worrying. Yeah, there were two replacements (and Hochstein did play like a replacement player, although O'Callaghan was better), but there were still problems on the left, too. Nice to see that the offense still can run even with that pressure.

13
by Dave (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 5:20pm

Can such a defensive effort be replicated?

I hope not. They gave up 38 points and seven scoring drives.

14
by Not saying (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 5:26pm

Re: 11 (regarding K. Brady)

I meant to add that it seemed that O'Callaghan seemed to be really helped out by Watson either chipping before releasing or faking it. This seemed to improve in the second half. Hochstein, on the other hand, was not helped by this at all.

I'm not certain how much difference Brady being there would be. It would take someone out of a route on passing downs, but it would help for heavy running.

I really think it's Neal that would make the most difference coming back for that line. Partly it's just having played together for a while and being able to communicate. But a large part of it is a talent gap.

15
by Purds (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 5:37pm

I don't get why the dancing penalty is being cited (not so much here, but elsewhere) as a Giants advantage in the subsequent kick-off return for a touchdown. I could see if NY got a 20-yard return, and because of the penalty and kickoff spot that ended up being the Giant 40 yard line, instead of the Giant 25, but when the returner takes it all the way, does it really matter where the kick began? I mean, yes, everyone started 15 yards closer to the NE goal line, but other than the markings on the field, nothing else was different -- they all had the same spaces, the same lane responsibilities, etc. The returner broke through and ran it for a TD. He would have scored if the play broke the same way, no matter where the kick began. Right?

16
by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 5:49pm

He would have scored if the play broke the same way, no matter where the kick began. Right?

An interesting ST stats question, I think. What's the relationship (if any) between the starting location of the kick and the length of the return?

One obvious difference is the probability of a touchback.

Yes, if all the players lined up and did exactly the same thing, the play ends up the same. But would they?

17
by Bill Moore (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 5:58pm

Not Saying,

Decent points. Couple things (and I'm doing this from memory):

"looked to me like that one was mostly Koppen’s " Pretty sure Mankins had that block, but stumbled at the snap.

"it was Butler who missed the call" Could have been. I wrote Webster, and knew it was wrong. Went back to the charting (not the video) which said Wilson.

"I also think it was too high a pass" I think it was too because there was double cover. IMO.

"t’s not clear to me that one’s on Hochstein. He was blocking Robbins" See, I saw it different. Looked to me like Hockstein doubled Robbins when we should have blocked Torbor.

"be fair, one of those was a pass for a loss." The point was more for who was being targeted than the effectiveness of the play.

18
by RickD (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 6:02pm

re: 15

Well, the special teams' players may have been more aggressive due to the poor kickoff location, which may have made it easier for Hixon to find gaps.

19
by Bill Moore (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 6:02pm

Purds,

IMO, the kickoff penalty helps the Giants. Here's why: As a kickoff cover guy, the urgency to protect field position becomes heightened. If I don't get him early, they have great field position. Pursuit can get over eager, and in this case, I think it was. Rather than holding their lanes, guys were too willing to over pursue to get the tackle.

20
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 6:07pm

"New England was physically blitzing..."

Sure they were. It's so much more effective than mentally blitzing. Nothing gets by that Belichick.

21
by SomeGuy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 6:17pm

#15, 16
Wouldn't it be different because the kicking team has far less real estate and time to work with in order to set up their lanes and coverage? The ball gets to the KR faster and the coverage team has 15 fewer yards of space to space out correctly and break down what is happening in front of them

22
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 6:45pm

21

One major difference I could see in a kickoff set back, is the height/hangtime of the kick. I would think a kicker would be more likely to try to kick a line drive and get extra distance than to try to put it up high and sacrifice field position.

23
by MarkB (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 6:48pm

re: 5 - the Giants have nothing to lose? How about the Super Bowl? The only way they play like they have nothing to lose is if they believe they have no real chance to win. "Nothing to lose" is media cliche-talk.

24
by JasonK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 6:51pm

#21:

Why would the ball get to the KR faster? Moving back the tee isn't going to make the kicker kick it any less hard. The time & distance between the kick point and where the returner fields the kick should be the same.

25
by GlennW (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 7:12pm

> IMO, the kickoff penalty helps the Giants. Here’s why: As a kickoff cover guy, the urgency to protect field position becomes heightened.

Probably so, but I think Purds makes a valid point that this shouldn't be used as an excuse for the kick coverage team and therefore *all* the attention or blame placed on Moss/Maroney and/or the official who made the call. Officially, the penalty is worth 15 yards, and that's about what the impact of the penalty should have been.

The "dubious" call I remember was the ticky-tack illegal contact call on Webster that directly contributed to the Patriots putting their first TD on the board, as Brady was sacked on the play with the Patriots otherwise forced to punt from reasonable field position for the Giants. I really hope we get a clean Super Bowl with regard to such calls.

26
by Ben (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 7:22pm

#21 I have no idea what you are talking about. Why would the ball get to the KR faster?

As to 18 and 19 I guess I can see point but I would think a team as disciplined as the Pats would know better than to think fundamentally unsound football will give them an advantage in field position.

27
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 7:32pm

Chris,

The fact that Patriots supposedly down played week 17 to me seems premeditated on the part of the coaching staff to try and take the pressure off the fact they were trying to go undefeated. I’m not sure they will be able to treat this as just any other Super Bowl.

A large percentage of NE players will be going for at least their third championship. Not a single one of them had ever played in a final game of an undefeated season. I think it is perfectly reasonable to assume that NE would handle the stress of a SB better than that of the final week in a 16-0 regular season.

NE most certainly can treat this like "just any other SB" when so many guys have been here before.

FYI - this sounds arrogant, but that is not the intention. These guys have played for championships before, but undefeated was new. That is all I am saying.

28
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 7:36pm

On the runback:

I think the effect of the penalty was minimal but not negligible. I have watched a lot of the Patriots over the last few years, and one near-constant is that they stay disciplined in their kick coverage lanes. For some reason, they did not on that runback, and the only difference between that kick and all the others this season was the starting field position. I don't know why, but I wouldn't be surprised if it had some effect.

Here's some possibilities of why: On a normal kickoff, the chance at a touchback gives the kicker incentive to drive the ball as far as possible. When 15 yards back, a touchback is pretty much impossible, and you're almost guaranteed to give the other team good field position, so maybe the kicker treats it more like a punt and tries to get more hang time, so that the coverage team can stop the runner with less of a runback. This is a more aggressive approach, and requries the coverage to play more aggressively, which may have backfired.

Also, with more field in front of him, the kicker has to be extra careful to kick straight, since an angled kick is far more likely to go out of bounds. Hence he can't pin the returner to one side as easily.

Finally, the returner doesn't have as far to run. This means that if he does break through the kick coverage, there's less chance of a speedy player catching up and keeping a long return from turning into a TD. I don't know if any NE player was close enough that 15 yards would have made a difference, but it is theoretically possible.

29
by Purds (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 7:40pm

I think you guys all covered what I would have said in response. One poster is right, that the coverage guys might have been too eager and blown lanes, but that is the fault of the player and only indirectly the fault of the penalty (and in either case not what you'd want disciplined guys to do).

I do think the penalty would have been a big deal if it went against the receiving team (kick would go out of the end zone), or they had returned for less than a TD.

30
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 7:43pm

On the line:

It's an interesting question of whether Neal to Hochstein is a bigger drop than Kaczur to O'Callaghan. I think it is.

On one hand, Hochstein is probably a better player at his position than either Kaczur or O'Callaghan at theirs (to be fair, it's probably easier to be a good guard than a good tackle). Hochstein is at worst an average to above average guard. But Neal is, in my opinion, probably one of the top ten guards playing right now. Maybe I'm getting carried away, but I've always been a big Stephen Neal fan. So missing Neal hurts a lot, even though his backup is competent.

On the other hand, as some people have indicated, Kaczur is not a great right tackle. I'm not ready to bash him in a Rich-Conley-ish manner, and think there are plenty of worse tackles starting in the league right now, but he is at best an average right tackle that sometimes struggles in run blocking and often needs help pass blocking when facing big, quick DE's and good linebackers. O'Callaghan is probably slightly worse at pass protection, and slightly better at run blocking, and so the drop from Kaczur to O'Callaghan is not that big (although it is a little bigger if you're in a pass-first mentality).

So I agree that having Neal healthy is probably the biggest difference on the O-line.

31
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 7:47pm

Just a few thoughts about this game:

* NE was missing their RG, RT and blocking TE. Because of this their OL was hampered, but just as much, NE lost the ability to go to a 3TE package, which is a key part of their personel.

* Yes, I realize that Bradshaw was missing, but you can have Bradshaw and Madison back. I'll take Neal, Kaczur and Brady (with O'Calghan available to come in as a third TD on a power set) back and feel like I made out better.

* Rewatching this game, it seemed that the guys going against the replacement right side were the most disruptive. I'm sure some of that is quality - Strahan lines up on the defensive left mostly, correct? - but much of that is lesser blocking. Even though NE ran mostly to the middle or left, guys coming from the backside were in the plays much more so than usual. And NE really didn't adjust that much, as they had Ben Watson doing K. Brady's typical work, which is a severe reduction.

* It is my belief that NE was surprised by NE's intensity and level of play. Frankly, it is also my belief that the NE game was NY's best the entire season, so it is understandable that NE would be caught off guard a bit. But, that said, NE saw their best and conquered it.

* Continuing on the above point, anecdotally, when one team sees the best the other has to offer I find it is beneficial to them in a rematch. I'll point to the 2004 Pitt/NE Halloween bloodbath as an example. NE faced Pitt at their apex and was better prepared to face them the second time. I think that NE has a similar advantage here.

* Lastly, NE also has 4 games of tape on NY's elevated play to break down. Another anecdotal example for this point is Indy of last year. Even though their defense improved in the playoffs, I felt that their opponents were thrown off by Indy's improvement and failed to adjust properly. Although they ultimtely lost, NE proved me correct that the cracks were still there if attacked properly.

32
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 7:58pm

Purds,

The starting field position for NY after NE's 4 non-TD KO's in the second half were 26, 21, 30, 15 (due to penalty, actually tackled around the 28 yard line). I think it is safe to say that the celebration penalty was a huge reason for the TD runback.

33
by zip (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 8:19pm

The starting field position for NY after NE’s 4 non-TD KO’s in the second half were 26, 21, 30, 15 (due to penalty, actually tackled around the 28 yard line). I think it is safe to say that the celebration penalty was a huge reason for the TD runback.

Um, the assertion in your second sentence is in no way backed up by the first sentence. Successfully covering a KO is the expected outcome of a kickoff, so you can pick any variable in a return TD and you'll likely find that when that variable is removed, there are no TDs -- because there are almost never return TDs in football, not because that variable is missing.

In other words, samples of size 1 (with penalty) and size 4 (without penalty) are hopelessly small to generate a "it's safe to say" type of conclusion.

34
by coldbikemessenger (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 9:06pm

"Lastly, NE also has 4 games of tape on NY’s elevated play to break down. Another anecdotal example for this point is Indy of last year. Even though their defense improved in the playoffs, I felt that their opponents were thrown off by Indy’s improvement and failed to adjust properly. Although they ultimtely lost, NE proved me correct that the cracks were still there if attacked properly."

And that to me is the game.
One assumption.
The running game will not matter that much.
Its been my belief that most games are won with effective passing, not the running game.
Its also my feeling that while the Giants secondary may be slightly better that the Colts of last year, its not a night and day thing.
On the other hand, this years Pats wr's are so much better than last years...
well it is a night and day thing.
I really hope the Giants can make a game of it, but I have no idea how they are going to keep up.
It is hard for me to imaging NE scoring less than 35-42 points.

35
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 9:33pm

zip,

In other words, samples of size 1 (with penalty) and size 4 (without penalty) are hopelessly small to generate a “it’s safe to say” type of conclusion.

It is absolutely safe to say once you realize that one return TD the entire year.

BTW, I meant to say first half starting field position, not second.

36
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 9:38pm

Aaaahhhhh!

My post above was supposed to say:

It is absolutely safe to say that the penalty had a major impact when you realize that NE only allowed one return TD all year.

37
by Purds (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 10:28pm

Oswlek:

I understand that you draw the seemingly obvious connection: one TD given up, and on that KO the only odd thing was the 15-yard change in KO position. However, that doesn't explain to me WHY the KO position caused the TD. I'm not disagreeing that the two might be connected, I am asking "Why?" Why, from a logical standpoint other than perhaps the coverage guys were too eager and broke discipline.

I suppose I could use your reasoning so far and say that NE should always return kicks that land 8 yards into their own end zone, because it's only happened once when they returned it, and Hobbes scored a TD. Thus, they should always hope the opponent kicks 8 yards deep in the end zone, and if they do, NE should always return it.

There has to be a better reason to connect the penalty to the return, other than the coincidence. I am willing to believe there is a logical connection, but I haven't yet been convinced.

38
by Not saying (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 10:40pm

Re: 17 / Bill Moore - Thanks for the response.

"Pretty sure Mankins had that block, but stumbled at the snap." Mankins did stumble at the snap, but Koppen seemed to have the same responsibilities as the play on the Pats' 9th possession. He should have been doubling. He and Cofield actually knocked facemasks, and then Koppen just watched him go by.

Either way, it's an example that the left side of the line wasn't perfect either. The Giants gave them all troubles.

"I think it was too because there was double cover. IMO." I disagree, but it's not a really answerable question.

"Looked to me like Hockstein doubled Robbins when we should have blocked Torbor." You very well could be right. It looks more that way now then it did before. It's just hard to tell from outside who should have been where. But it also is usually on the center to make the line calls, so it's on Koppen some.

39
by Digit (not verified) :: Mon, 01/28/2008 - 11:00pm

As I recall it, the Patriots were missing Willie Andrews and Kyle Eckel on special teams coverage, in addition to missing K. Brady, Kazcur, and Neal in that game as well, so special teams was missing -something-.

40
by Purds (not verified) :: Tue, 01/29/2008 - 2:33am

Digit:

I hear you. But, if those missing players had an impact on the return coverage, why only on the one with a 15-yard penalty before the kick? Why not on all the other NE kick offs?

I am asking this as a more abstract question, rather than a NE/NYG question. Why do so many make the assumption that a kick from the 15 instead of the 30 yard line is the reason for a more likely TD return? If the guy breaks free of the opponent, does it matter where the kick originated?

41
by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 01/29/2008 - 3:22am

Purds,

As I mentioned, it's 15 yards less that the coverage team has to catch the guy breaking free. Not all kickoff returns for TD's have the runner get by the first line and then have an easy 60 yard jaunt to the endzone. Frequently, there are other players to out-juke as you go.

But I'm not sure how much of an effect that has...I guess there aren't that many kickoff returns tackled inside the 15... My money would still be on the psuchology of the situation.

42
by Vern (not verified) :: Tue, 01/29/2008 - 11:56am

Re:41 etc.

One stat that might help show that is the average length of K returns for TDs, or something showing the distribution or median of such returns. I'd be surprised if there were no correlation at all.

We already know there is a strong correlation based on the kick metrics - hang time and distance can lead to "out kicking the coverage." So first off, a bad starting kick leads could lead to a change in kick strategy - increased risk of out kicking the coverage to compensate for field position. It doesn't have to be the "total breakdown" or "bad fundamentals" as suggested. Every coverage strategy has risk - from calling a blitz-6 to ST plays. You still take those risks from time to time if the situation warrants. I think strategy is the most under estimated part of football in discussions like this. Not just score and time left, but the "sense" of the game can lead to dialing up more or less risk on play calls.

But second, I think there is also a contribution from total yardage to defend as well, even for the same kick (hang time and distance metrics). While there may not be many guys caught at the 15, there are a lot of kick returns stopped around the 40s on either side because the coverage units could at least "stretch out" the coverage zone vertically and negate the "punch through the first line and gone" type of return.

Without that penalty but other things being equal there would be a decent (maybe 30%) chance the Giants just get great starting field position around the 50. Add in the strategy aspect of it all, and the ST play calls being different and who knows.

But in the end, I think the REAL correlation here is that the ONE time the Pats give up a kick return is when they were clearly letting their guard down after setting the record, taking the lead and just assuming the Giants were about to pull their starters and close up shop. You can see it on their faces "Oh, crap, are they going to make us actually have to earn this win?"

43
by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 01/29/2008 - 1:28pm

Vern,

Good points on the kicking strategy. You mean like a line drive versus a higher kick aimed at hangtime, right? Also, I would add kicking direction to the kicker strategy that depens on where you're kicking off from. If your kicks consistently come down at the 1-yard line, or (better) two yards deep in the endzone, the kicker can aim the kick at one of the sidelines, and if it goes out of bounds, it is likely to do so after entering the endzone and becoming a touchback.

But kicking from 15 yards further back, the kicker can't angle the ball as close to the sidelines, because, if the ball is going to bounce out of bounds, there is almost no chance of the ball going into the endzone first, and then you're giving them the ball at your own 45 yard line or so. So the kicker probably has to kick more to the center of the field when kicking from deeper.

I have read that angling the kick to one side or the other helps the coverage team and makes a long runback tougher. If the kicker doesn't dare angle it as much and lands it more in the center of the field, I bet that would increase the possibility of a runback. Thoughts on this? Does anyone remember how much Gostkowski angled the TD kick?

44
by GlennW (not verified) :: Tue, 01/29/2008 - 3:18pm

> Does anyone remember how much Gostkowski angled the TD kick?

The kick was right down the middle of the field...

45
by Thinker (not verified) :: Tue, 01/29/2008 - 3:30pm

Purds and others, interesting line of reasoning about kickoff position. Some thoughts:

In general, the coverage team has to cover a lot of ground (nearly the whole field) while starting further away from the ball carrier than in any other situation. This gives the return team time to set up a wedge and returners use this space to juke and select an opening.

If the kick-off is caught at about the 5, the extra 15 yards quarduples that space. Even from fielding at the 15 doubles the manuvering room.

Also, the 20 yard line is a huge psychological barrier for the returning team. Returners get slapped for being tackled at the 19, but can take risks at the 21 or beyond, and that penalty pushes the catch out past the 20 in most circmstances.

Similarly, coverage teams are hell bent on stopping the return inside the 30, which is a very tough challenge if the catch is made at the 20 or 25, so they may be more likely to play with less discipline.

Finally, the coverage team has a safety valve who is taught to settle in at the 35 or 40 and catch any disasters. IIRC, it looked to me like the safety valve ran to a spot instead of to an "offset" from the tee.

Of course, we shouldn't omit the fact that it was also a fine play by Hixon and the Giants return team, and there were some uncharacteristic errors by the Patriots coverage unit.

Ultimately the penalty helps, but execution on the actual play is far more important.

46
by Digit (not verified) :: Tue, 01/29/2008 - 4:24pm

Purds:

To be honest, I thought the Patriots were missing something on special teams all game, not just the one play you refer to. I do think, though, that the one play you refer to had a few players out of position. Why that is, I can't attribute to anything particular. Some want to attribute it to the penalty, but all I recall was that some players just weren't in the gaps they should've been.

47
by Weekly Journalist (not verified) :: Tue, 01/29/2008 - 4:31pm

How do we feel about a Giants/Patriots matchup with no Tom Brady?

48
by Purds (not verified) :: Tue, 01/29/2008 - 9:55pm

Thanks, gentlemen. Your ideas give me many more factors to consider than just the 15 yards, which the talking heads want to use in over-simplifying the possible effects.

I wonder if the percentage of TD returns increases with kicks from farther back, though I would guess that the sample size is tiny, so it wouldn't prove much.

49
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Tue, 01/29/2008 - 11:03pm

Despite all the grief the Patriots have taken this season for a variety of reasons, are there any non-Pats fans out there who appreciate their approach to upcoming games?

They always talk up their opponents, never talk any smack, but instead wait to figure it out between the lines. After games - in victory, the majority of the players are gracious, refusing to put down their opponents. In defeat, you don't typically hear them copping out and using the refs or injuries as excuses(some of their fans are another story, of course).

In some ways, they've taken the same approach as they did back in 2001, when they were the Little Team That Could. Just as they were the first team to be introduced as one back then, they're also the only current team whose Captains aren't singled out with a "C" on their uniforms.

In contrast, I find these Giants to be quite the opposite. They're talking plenty of smack about the Patriots, including Plaxico predicting victory, even being so bold as to predict the final score. After the Week 17 game, there were plenty of sour grapes coming from the Giants' locker room. Prior to that game there were comments from Osi and Antonio Pierce talking about "Golden Boy Brady" and making comparisons to "Jesus Christ and his twelve disciples."

Even this past week, Osi comes out in the media to call out Matt Light as a dirty player. He meant it, but he didn't, because he was trying to notify the refs to keep an eye on Light, only he wasn't (whatever all THAT meant?!?!).

If you listen to these guys speak, you'd think they are the overwhelming favorites who haven't lost a game. Shouldn't they shut their mouths until they actually win something in this league?

I bet if these Giants were facing just about any other team in the NFL, they wouldn't be the people's sentimental choice heading into this SB. Aren't they an unlikeable bunch, or I am crazy?

I will be the first to admit I'm biased, but are there any impartial fans that agree/disagree with my statements?

This post is not meant to be an attack. I'm really interested in what people think about this.

50
by Thomas (not verified) :: Tue, 01/29/2008 - 11:52pm

According to Jaws, Manning was 11-for-16 for 133 yards and a TD against the blitz in this game. Seems like the NE pressure didn't really rattle him all that much.

51
by B (not verified) :: Wed, 01/30/2008 - 12:00am

49: Not being a non-pats fan, I can't really answer that question, but generally people like an under-dog. Also, as much as I enjoy how the Patriots act off the field, it seems like du7ring the game, they're constantly smack-talking, and we've seen them imitate opponent's dances. Now, I think that's hilarious, but fans of other teams tend to see it differently.

52
by B (not verified) :: Wed, 01/30/2008 - 12:02am

50: Jaws uses Stats Inc, which measures blitzes differently than the FO game charting does. FO measures a blitz as any time five rushers cross the LOS, where as Stats Inc will also count zone blitzes. Of course, the TDZ column said the Patriots didn't use a zone blitz in the game.

53
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Wed, 01/30/2008 - 1:47am

For the record:

If the Giants win 23-17, Burress' call would beat the bag out of the Bambino and the shot he called.

54
by kevinNYC (not verified) :: Wed, 01/30/2008 - 4:08am

#49... The Giants are talkative and they have a chip the size of a California Redwood on their shoulders. It's not a great combination. I'm sure it will get bigger when they find out the City of Boston is already planning the victory parade.

I laugh that anyone takes the Plaxico Burress guarantee seriously or as anything to be angry about. When someone's response to how they came up with the score is, "I took my high school number and my Giants number", can anyone be upset by that? Watching the previous game between these 2 teams, the Pats don't exactly keep their mouths shut on the field. Heck, they've (#75) been known to put a finger in someone's eye.

55
by lyford (not verified) :: Wed, 01/30/2008 - 11:03am

If the Giants win 23-17, Burress’ call would beat the bag out of the Bambino and the shot he called.

I'll be utterly shocked if the Patriots don't have 17+ at half time...

56
by Bill Moore (not verified) :: Wed, 01/30/2008 - 11:36am

With my work for the charting project, I watch a lot of games and a lot of different teams. I think it is ridiculous for any fan to claim a certain team "talks a lot on the field." EVERY TEAM cries to the refs. EVERY TEAM bickers at opponents and scuffles after the whistle. EVERY TEAM has multiple guys who do "disrespectful" dances. EVERY TEAM has a laundy list of guys who talk smack.

57
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Wed, 01/30/2008 - 12:52pm

54 - #56 is right. They ALL talk on the field and engage in a little roughhousing. It's football after all.

I just think it looks pretty stupid when a team opens their mouth leading up to a game. What purpose does that serve? It just makes you look foolish if you lose.

I believe someone posted a pic on a prior thread of one of the Giants treating Wilfork's eyes like a bowling ball in that game, but it's funny that story didn't get much legs when it happened.

58
by GlennW (not verified) :: Wed, 01/30/2008 - 2:30pm

> They ALL talk on the field and engage in a little roughhousing. It’s football after all.

That's kind of the point though. The Patriots don't talk before the game because they're specifically instructed not to (upon pain of severe penalty from their head coach), then when the game starts they talk smack, taunt the opponent and commit intentional personal fouls just like everybody else. Which tells me that they're just well-schooled in this department (at best), not that personally they're of higher character as was suggested in the original proposition (always gracious in defeat-- what defeat?-- no complaining, etc.). That's the mythology of the Patriots, but a mythology which I think has largely faded, especially as compared to the 2001 team.

59
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Wed, 01/30/2008 - 6:58pm

But my point is - they shut their mouths and do their talking on the field. If any team deserves to talk prior to games, it's the teams that have actually won something.

Just a few weeks ago the Giants were an average team by just about all accounts. Now they're running their mouths like they're the favorites.

Give me a break.

They remind me of Clubber Lang.

If the Giants were going to play any team other than the Hatriots, America would not look so kindly upon them.

60
by BDC (not verified) :: Wed, 01/30/2008 - 9:18pm

57: "54 - #56 is right. They ALL talk on the field and engage in a little roughhousing. It’s football after all.

I just think it looks pretty stupid when a team opens their mouth leading up to a game. What purpose does that serve? It just makes you look foolish if you lose."

Well yea, but you look like a genius if you are correct. As exhibit A, I present Joe Nameth.

Anyways though, what exactly is a player supposed to do when a reporter asks him how he thinks his team will do in the game? "well gee bob, i'm glad you asked me that. personally, i think we are going to get destroyed. i think the game will be over by halftime.".

Come on.

61
by BDC (not verified) :: Wed, 01/30/2008 - 9:24pm

59:

"#But my point is - they shut their mouths and do their talking on the field. If any team deserves to talk prior to games, it’s the teams that have actually won something."

Well, to be fair, the Giants have won something, they won their conference championship correct?

62
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Thu, 01/31/2008 - 1:37am

You're missing my point BDC.

The Patriots get asked the same questions by reporters, but they'll say things along the lines of "The Giants are the best team we've faced so far" or "We've really got our work cut out for us" or "This will be our toughest game of the season."

They don't go making predictions and wearing black suits to their opponents' funeral.

And if you'd like to go down the road of "winning something," I suppose you're right - they've won something. 10 regular season games and a few playoff games.

As far as I'm concerned, a team doesn't really win something until they win the only thing. Without a SB championship, no, you haven't won anything. Even if the Pats lose the SB, they'll have won nothing this year either.

63
by duh (not verified) :: Thu, 01/31/2008 - 2:28am

Nick Pee.

As you said, you're biased. Don't bother to rationalize it. Live with it and move on.

It doesn't matter unless its between the lines.

64
by BDC (not verified) :: Thu, 01/31/2008 - 11:26am

62:

See, the problem is though, these get asked all sorts of questions, over and over again. If they keep their mouth shut and don't say anything, fans complain about them giving such non-committal answers as "no comment", etc. But then if they do answer the questions, fans complain about that too. They really can't win no matter what they do.

In this particular instance, the guy was obviously just messing around. He said flat out he picked that number from his high school basketball number.

" "Are predictions guarantees?" We want to win this game. It's OK to want to win, think big and dream. We're going to take this thing back to New York City."
-Burress

"I don't understand what the fuss is about, Nobody wants to lose."
-Burress

"All this is entertainment, It's sports, and sports are entertainment. So 23-17 is the prediction I made, but the game still has to be played."
-Burress

"It's sports, and sports are entertainment. So 23-17 is the prediction I made, but the game still has to be played."
-Burress

"I'm not taking anything away from what those guys accomplished". "They set all the records you could possibly imagine. They have a great quarterback, the MVP, who threw for a record (50) touchdowns. Randy set a TD record for catches. They had two receivers with over 100 catches.
The numbers don't lie about what they have done."
-Burress

Now, does that really sound like a guy who is trash talking his opponent?

65
by Nicky P (not verified) :: Thu, 01/31/2008 - 12:19pm

BDC,

Let me ask you some questions.

If Randy Moss had said the same exact quotes that Plaxico said, how would the country view that?

Would people be saying "well, ya know, reporters DO ask the same question again and again." Or "aren't they SUPPOSED to want to win?"

Or what if the entire Pats team dressed in black to attend the funeral of the Giants season? How would the media portray that?

How 'bout if Seau called Eli Manning "Golden Boy" or "Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples?"

I'm guessing there would be an uproar and the media would question the sportsmanship and class of the Pats (again).

What do you think?

66
by GlennW (not verified) :: Thu, 01/31/2008 - 1:23pm

> If Randy Moss had said the same exact quotes that Plaxico said, how would the country view that?

With the same gaping yawn that Plaxico Burress is generally receiving, I would hope. Burress's comments aren't even much of a story here in New England. Well, except maybe on FOX 25 News and the like, but that's just par for the course for the local news-- we're the good guys, they're the bad guys, rah rah rah. Eat it up if you must...

67
by BDC (not verified) :: Thu, 01/31/2008 - 6:50pm

65:

"BDC,

Let me ask you some questions.

If Randy Moss had said the same exact quotes that Plaxico said, how would the country view that?"

I can't claim to speak for the entire country, and so I can't say what the entire country would view it. I personally would view it as a player speaking optimistically about his team, and wouldn't think anything of it.

Let me ask YOU a question though. If it HAD been Moss who had said those things, would you attack him they way you attacked Burress, or would you defend him? Or would you not care one way or the other?