Word of Muth: Super Bowl Preview

Word of Muth: Super Bowl Preview
Word of Muth: Super Bowl Preview
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

I apologize for last week’s non-existent column. I didn’t really get enough questions for a full Q and A, so I answered as many as I could in the comments section of the last article instead. Sorry for the bait and switch.

I previewed the Super Bowl lines last year, but it was much easier because I had been covering one of the teams, the Steelers, for half the year. I had a good feel for them already, which allowed me to watch a lot of the Packers defense and a decent amount of the Packers offensive line. This year, because I didn’t have much of a feel for either team, I focused only on their offensive lines.

Statistically, both units have been strong in pass protection. New York finished sixth in adjusted sack rate and New England finished eighth. New England’s unit has been much better on the ground. The Patriots finished the year second in adjusted line yards with 4.53, while the Giants were the near the bottom with 3.88. That matches with what I’ve seen in the playoffs: The Patriots have run the ball more effectively than New York has in January.

I think the biggest reason for the huge gap in running game production is the guards. Logan Mankins and Brian Waters are a really good tandem of guards -- they’re not Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, but they may be the best duo in the AFC. Mankins is probably a tick better than Waters, but both are good players.

If had to point out two reasons that Mankins is so effective, it would be his mean streak and his ability to pull. The Patriots had a ton of success against Baltimore with a single-back power play, especially when they ran it to the right. That’s because Mankins was the one pulling on those plays. He has a gift for absorbing the initial blow of the linebackers, and then restarting his feet to root the linebacker out of the hole. The mean streak is pretty obvious to anyone who has watched the Pats play over the better part of the last decade: I imagine it’s even more frustrating and exhausting for defenders when the Patriots are going without a huddle. You’re sucking wind and this 315-pounder is playing through and sometimes after the whistle.

Waters isn’t anywhere near as good on pulls, but that's doing a disservice to his actual skill set. He moves well in pass protection, and is very active as a result. Against the Ravens, Waters was uncovered a lot, which meant he was the guy that would help other blockers. He does a nice job of helping with his hands and body while looking elsewhere with his eyes. That allows him to come off on late blitzes, and to help outside if the defensive end starts beating rookie tackle Nate Solder.

I actually like Kevin Boothe and Chris Snee too, especially as pass blockers, but they just haven’t been moving anybody in the run game (note: I didn’t study the Atlanta game). The tackles could do more in run blocking too, but the guards have to take a big share of the blame for New York’s anemic running game this year.

One thing that the Giants are great at is passing off twists and games by defensive linemen. The basic twist involves one penetrator and one looper. If it’s an E.T. stunt, the "E," or end slants, down hard inside and tries to blow up the hip of the guard. The "T," or tackle, half-heartedly rushes the guard to divert his attention and loops outside to keep contain and pressure the quarterback's upfield shoulder. You can run a lot of variations with different players, but you always need at least one penetrator and one looper.

The key to stopping a twist is flattening out the penetrator. If you can do that, he can’t reach the hip of the man he wants, and that makes it roughly 427 times easier to pick up the stunt. The other thing you need to be able to do is have the awareness to discern whether the guy rushing you is actually going for the quarterback or just feathering you until it’s time for him to go get contain. It’s hard to explain in words -- it really is just something you have to feel. NFL defensive linemen rush the passer with a certain tempo, and if you can’t feel a sense of urgency from them, something is probably up. Or you're playing in the Pro Bowl.

The 49ers are one of the better defenses in the league at these kind of stunts, and the Giants did a really nice job of blunting penetrators and picking up loopers all game, though they did give up one sack on one of these twists in the second half. The Giants line has played together a lot, and have had the same offensive line coach for a while. Everyone is on the same page. One indicator of this is that J.J. Cooper only has them down for four quarterback/play call sacks all year. That means that they don’t let free rushers through very often, and the root cause of that is a bunch of guys that feel comfortable with the system and the guys they are running it with.

One thing I’ll be interested in seeing is how many twists the Giants run on defense against New England. New England slid towards right tackle Nate Solder a ton in the Baltimore game (especially early) and that means you are going to get a lot of man protection on the left side. Defenses prefer to run twists against man blocking because they are much harder to pass off when you are focused on a man and not a gap. I expect to see a lot of games on the left side of the Patriots offensive line, and if they run interior twists (involving the two defensive tackles) I expect the looper to be working towards New England’s left.

Speaking of Solder, he, along with David Diehl, are the two offensive linemen I’d be most nervous about. Which is funny, because they have such different weaknesses. Diehl had been the Giants left tackle for a couple of years pre-2011, but New York tried to move him inside and hand the job to William Beatty. However, after Beatty was lost for the year, Diehl was moved back outside and has looked decent enough. He uses his hands really well out there. He has a strong punch, and he keeps his hands inside very well. He’s also the best run blocker for his position the Giants have. The problem for Diehl is change of direction. He has a hard time mirroring defenders when they start to give him a little wiggle. Thankfully for New York, I’m not sure New England has a pass rusher that can give Diehl that look.

Solder, on the other hand, is a great athlete. He has a nice set (though he does open his hips a little too quickly) and moves well out of it. The rookie’s biggest problem is his hands: he doesn’t use them half the time, and the other half of the time, he’s a clamper. Solder has a bad habit of leading with his head, and you can also catch him leaning on rushers in pass blocking at times. This works great against bull rushers and guys that are just trying to run the hoop, but it also leads to really bad sacks (like the one Paul Kruger had) against guys that are good with their hands.

Let me explain what I mean when I call Solder a clamper: he brings his hands out wide and tries to lock onto his defender's shoulder pads. This can lead to a couple different scenarios that mean trouble for an offensive lineman. First, it’s slow -- it’s like having a hitch in your throwing motion as a quarterback. When you bring your hands wide, it’s a natural looping motion that gives the defender time to knock your hands down. The other problem is that it opens up your chest for a bull rush. The Giants’ defensive ends are athletic guys that use their hands well, so I expect the Pats to send a lot of help for Solder. If they don't, the rookie could be in for a long night. Solder is a decent prospect: a good athlete, really patient for a young guy, and he should get better.

As far as the other offensive linemen in the game go, they range from good ( Matt Light ) to average (both centers). Maybe Kareem McKenzie has a rough game or Light gives up some hits on twists, but I think both will play well. I only watched the last two games for each team, and centers are so hard to get a read on in just a couple of games I can’t really make a prediction of how either of them will play. I think the Pats offensive line is better, but the Giants defensive line is much better, so that cancels out. Really, to me this game is a tossup. But, since I hate when guys don’t make a pick, I’ll go with New England to cover.

That wraps it up for this week. The plan right now is to take two weeks off after the Super Bowl and then start doing offseason personnel breakdowns of individual NFL teams. Follow me on Twitter for updates on when columns are coming.


119 comments, Last at 03 Feb 2012, 11:15pm

#1 by RickD // Jan 31, 2012 - 10:24am

Great article. Any thoughts about the possible return of Sebastian Vollmer?

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#9 by dryheat // Jan 31, 2012 - 11:58am

I think the possible return of Vollmer is huge. If he's able to play close to 90% and the Pats have the option to use Solder as a 3rd TE, it could be a game-changer.

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#20 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:21pm

According to Scar, it is the *definite* return of Herr Vollmer.

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#32 by Ben Muth // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:15pm

He didn't play in any of the games I studied so it's tough for me to tell. If he's healthy he should be an upgrade though.

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#2 by Dean // Jan 31, 2012 - 11:27am

Knowing how Belichick loves to attack backups who enter the game due to injury, I almost expect him to have something lined up to specifically attack Deihl and Boothe. If he can do that and get ultra-physical play on Victor Cruz, it could make tough sledding for the Giants Offense.

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#3 by Stat Guy (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 11:36am

If you're the Pats, why wouldn't you consider (if you're not trailing by too much) a heavy run emphasis in the first half? Let Mankins do his thing, slide towards Solder, lower the downside of leaving Light out there on an island, and hopefully, tire out the Giants' front four. Then come back to a heavier passing game in the second half.

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#5 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 11:43am

For the third game in a row, I think the Giants have the most to benefit from by being extremely aggressive on offense in the first quarter. Identify Edelman's use and go after him hard, this time with a qb playing at an MVP level, and good receivers.

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#10 by Independent George // Jan 31, 2012 - 12:24pm

And for the 3rd game in a row, I think the Giants would be better off not trying to 'establish' the run, and come out gunning the ball. Put the defense back on their heels and run it on 3rd and 2 instead of asking Eli to throw on 3rd and 8 all the time.

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#11 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 1:08pm

Yeah, they oughta', in my view, come out in the first quarter like it was the third, and they were down by 17 points.

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#12 by RickD // Jan 31, 2012 - 1:33pm

"a QB playing at an MVP level"

But the Giants don't have one of those.

Look, Eli's had a good season. But he's still well below the Brees-Rodgers debate. According to FO's Quick Reads, he was the 3rd best QB last weekend.

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#15 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:02pm

But he's so far above the Tebow-Flacco-Sanchez-Palko caliber that it's a joke.

The Pats are 13-1 against QBs who suck and 2-2 against QBs who don't. Eli doesn't suck.

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#19 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:20pm

Who are the two good ones?

FWIW, Brady was playing with a significant elbow injury when the two teams met earlier in the year. It will take a far superior defensive effort from NY to hold NE to 20 or less points this time around.

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#24 by apbadogs // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:38pm

"We're only gonna score 17 points? OK." Remember that? I like the Patriots (if I had to pick my favorite NFL team) but I really think the Giants might do a number on them.

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#26 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:44pm

Of course I remember that. Not sure what it has to do with this matchup, though.

Frankly, if anything, NY's performance in that game (and perhaps NE taking them too lightly) is *why* it won't happen again.

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#27 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:46pm

Of course I remember it, though I don't see what is has to do with this matchup.

If anything, NY's performance that day (and perhaps NE taking them too lightly) is *why* it won't happen again.

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#29 by dryheat // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:07pm

I'm guessing Rivers, Romo, Manning, and Roethlisberger.

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#31 by RickD // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:14pm

That's a bit unfair to Jason Campbell, Ryan Fitzpatrick (at least early in the season) and Joe Flacco.

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#100 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 01, 2012 - 1:05pm

That group is not necessarily awful, but also a long ways from good.

Those guys would be the 4th best QBs in the NFC East or North, and maybe in the AFC South in a normal year.

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#114 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 02, 2012 - 10:26am

Indeed, life is unfair.

If they started for the Pats, would you be happy with them, or would you think they sucked?

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#99 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 01, 2012 - 1:03pm



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#17 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:14pm

Just because he's not producing at an MVP level doesn't mean he's not playing at that level.

I don't think I've ever seen a QB take a battering like Eli did against the 49ers and still give such a good effort.

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#33 by RickD // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:16pm

Just because he's not producing at an MVP level doesn't mean he's not playing at that level.

It's unfair to try to make my head explode.

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#44 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:04pm

Imagine a QB who always makes the right read, and delivers a perfectly accurate ball. However, his receiver is Bobby Wade who only catches 40% of the perfect passes, drops 30%, and tips another 30% of the passes straight to a defender who picks it off.

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#64 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:53pm

For Bobby Wade, the correct percentages are 30,35, and 35.

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#65 by Alternator // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:54pm

It's not the right read to pass to a terrible receiver like that, though. If a receiver cannot produce, and there is ANYONE on the roster who can, the QB needs to avoid him like the plague.

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#68 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:57pm

It's just a hypothetical to illustrate how a QB can play well but not produce.

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#78 by Boo-urns (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 8:14pm

are you kidding? The Giants put up 20 points in that game. And 10 of those were gifted from Kyle Williams. How is that MVP level?

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#79 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 8:39pm

Do you understand that there are 44 starters in a football game, excluding special teams? That Joe Montana had a playoff game once where he was about 11 for 25, and 120 yards? Another where the 49ers scored 3 points? That Aaron Rodgers, probable MVP this year, had a bad game two and a half weeks ago? That the results of one playoff game does not determine how well the qb is playing at this time?

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#81 by RickD // Jan 31, 2012 - 10:02pm

By no measure was Eli anywhere close to the MVP this year.

There have been some superlative QB performances during this playoff season. Brady had one. Brees had one, perhaps two. Eli? He's been the 3rd best QB every weekend, according to the Quick Reads measurements.

Exactly when was he playing at an MVP level? Surely not during the first two weeks, when Brees was far ahead of him. And really, none of the QBs was anywhere near an MVP level during the championship games.

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#87 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 11:04pm

For the last time, when I employ the term "MVP level", I do not refer to one, two, or three games, because looking at tiny sample sizes doesn't illuminate much. Manning played behind a far lesser offensive line than either Brees or Brady, and played extremely well. No his numbers are not as good as some other guys, but, no, the numbers don't fully account for the other 43 starters in a football game. Manning had a great year, and it would not surprise anyone paying attention if he were to outplay Brady on Sunday.

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#23 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:34pm

We entirely, hugely, overrate our ability to make delineations among well above average players, even at the position that best lends itself to advanced statistical analysis, in a game which has 22 starters on the field at any time, and 44 in total, ignoring the importance of special teams. That is why almost all "Player x is better than player y" debates are so pointless. Let's not even address the utility of loooking at one week's Quick Reads to give us insight into the matter.

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#35 by RickD // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:20pm

I'm just trying to pour a little water on what seems to be the consensus opinion that Eli was brilliant against the 49ers. Twice during that game he threw passes that could have been picked off, but were not picked off solely because too many 49ers had angles at the ball. Twice! Unbelievably lucky.
Brady didn't have a good game that Sunday, but none of the QBs did.
MVP level? Not even close.

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#37 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:38pm

It is not "unbelievably lucky" to have two passes, that could easily have been caught by defensive backs, not caught by defensive backs, unless "unbelievably lucky" has become synonymous with "happens not infrequently". This stuff doesn't get charted well or quickly, so we don't really remember the phenomena clearly, but, for instance, MVP Brees threw three such passes, at home, in the conference championship game two years ago. They were dropped, and the Saints won, so MVP Brees is still thought of as MVP Brees. In other words, confirmation bias remains King.

Manning threw 60 passes under frequent heavy pressure. It's a shock that he didn't throw two interceptions. It was a good performance. I'm using the term "MVP" in regards to the body of work over the entire season. Eli Manning was extremely, extremely, good this year.

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#43 by dryheat // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:04pm

Well, in the NFCC, Dashon Golston twice delivered brutal blows to teammates that were in the process of intercepting the ball, jarring it loose in an attempt to get the INT himself. If he wasn't so damn greedy (kidding!), we would be talking about an Eli choke job in the NFCC. Say La Vee.

Between those two non-INTs, and the hideous day of Kyle Williams, the Giants were very fortunate to get out of SF with the W -- not that they don't deserve to be here.

I think a Patriots/49ers matchup would be a lot like the Patriots/Ravens matchup, so although I think that game would be more conducive to a Pats victory, it also would be a fairly boring game for stretches.

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#56 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:23pm

Yeah, and people who would talk about a qb "choking", because he threw two easy interceptions, when throwing 60-plus passes, in the wind, with a wet ball, while being constantly pressured, would just be worshipping King Confirmation Bias, as usual. Yes, the Giants were fortunate to win. They, on the whole, lost on the line of scrimmage, and ten of their points, in a very close game, occurred because the Niners backup punt returner looked like a blind man chasing a chicken. Manning still played well.

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#42 by Dales // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:03pm

And let's not leave out the fact that the game was played in the rain and wind. Not exactly conditions that make gripping a football and throwing it accurately easy.

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#45 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:05pm

I don't disagree with most of your points, Will, but interceptions being defensed solely because it was so terrible that was easy pickin's for two seperate players does not happen all the time. Dropped interceptions, sure, but defensed by the defense, not so.

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#50 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:11pm

Don't get Will Allen started on dropped interceptions. It's a dark path to go down.

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#58 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:31pm

Yeah, the exact mechanism is unusual, but the general phenomena, the easy interception that ends up on the ground, is a pretty frequent occurence.

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#82 by RickD // Jan 31, 2012 - 10:14pm

"It is not "unbelievably lucky" to have two passes, that could easily have been caught by defensive backs, not caught by defensive backs, unless "unbelievably lucky" has become synonymous with "happens not infrequently".

No, what's "unbelievably lucky" is what I said was "unbelievably lucky." When you throw two separate passes that could have been picked, and both times two defenders crash into each other and no pick happens, that's "unbelievably lucky." The language you are using to describe the actual situations that actually happened in the game is woefully inadequate.

Unless by "happens not infrequently" is something that you think is an adequate description of the frequency of the events I saw in that game. In which case you are simply lying. It certainly is infrequent to have two defenders crash into each other going for an open ball, when either alone would have caught it.

Eli Manning was extremely, extremely good this year.

No, he wasn't. He was 6th best in DYAR and 8th best in DVOA. He was clearly a notch behind Brees, Brady, and Rodgers. You are badly abusing the word "extremely" to use it to describe Eli's level of performance this year. The fact that you use it twice makes me wonder just how badly this derangement has hit you. He had a 1396 DYAR. Rodgers was at 2544. Brady in 2007 was at 2788. Eli's not close that level.

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#88 by Mr Shush // Feb 01, 2012 - 6:33am

If you're not willing to address the distinction between performance and production that Will's argument is based on, you're not going to have a very productive discussion. You need to either explain why he's wrong to think that they are two different phenomena, or explain why you believe that the production gap between Manning and the players you mention was primarily the result of differences in quarterback play, rather than differences in team-mate quality, stadium conditions and so on.

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#90 by Will Allen // Feb 01, 2012 - 8:57am

Ya' know, ya' have to be kind of a jerk, to hypothesize that someone, with whom you are discussing something as crucial NFL qb performance, is "lying", with regard to how to more accurately describe the outcome of two passes, instead of simply disagreeing with you. Howza'bout reassessing how you engage with others?

Yes, the mechanism by which the two easily interceptable balls were not caught was very unusual. No, the fact that two easily interceptable balls were not caught is not unusual at all. Since we are discussing the quality of Manning's performance relative to others, the latter point is relevant, the former point is not. If a kicker makes a field goal that caroms off the crossbar, instead of the goal post, the fact the latter is rather more common than the former doesn't mean much.

Finally, you falsely imply a precision to DYAR, as far as measuring individual performance, that simply does not exist. Yes, DYAR is better than conventional stats. No, they don't offer the precision you seem to believe they do. Yes, it would have been very surprising to see Tebow out perform Brady. No, it will not be at all to see Manning outperform Brady.

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#28 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:49pm

To add on, anybody who says with confidence that, if these two teams switched qbs, the Giants would be improved, and the Patriots would be made worse, has really entirely overrated their ability to account for player interdependdence. It might very easily be the case that Brady, playing behind the lesser offensive line, would be significantly less productive than Eli Manning has been. Am I saying Eli Manning is better? No, of course not. I'm just saying that confident pronouncements of one really good player being better than another don't have much reason for such confidence.

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#46 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:07pm

I think there is a good chance both these teams would be worse if you swapped QBs.

I think Eli is not as accurate on the short throws for YAC that Brady and Welker live off, while I think Brady would struggle more with the increased pressure from a weaker offensive line.

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#73 by RichC (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 6:37pm

Brady might have a better line, but Manning has drastically better WRs. The patriots #2 WR wouldn't make the giants roster.

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#76 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 7:07pm

While it is true that NY has significantly better WRs, your point about Deion not making the Giant roster is complete hyperbole.

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#80 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 8:44pm

Brady has vastly better tight ends. I guess I'd give the Giants a slight edge in receivers.

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#83 by RickD // Jan 31, 2012 - 10:17pm

I challenged you on this before, Rich, and I didn't see the answer.

How can you possibly argue that Deion Branch "wouldn't make the Giants' roster"? They carry six WRs!

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#91 by dryheat // Feb 01, 2012 - 9:29am

You could make the argument very easily. At best, he'd be number four, has no upside remaining, and doesn't play special teams. Ditto Ochocinco.

I think Branch is clearly better than guys like Hixon, but he probably wouldn't make the team over him.

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#104 by Mark S. (not verified) // Feb 01, 2012 - 3:33pm

Welker is as good (or near enough as makes no difference) as any of the Giants' wideouts. The Giants have a big edge in the #2 and #3 WR spots (their #4 is Ramses Barden, so that is about as far as any edge goes). The Pats have a big edge at both TE positions. Seems like a wash, or damn close to it, to me.

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#113 by PatsFan // Feb 02, 2012 - 9:13am

Maybe a wash in terms of ability, but not offensive versatility. The Pats have no deep threats.

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#117 by Will Allen // Feb 02, 2012 - 11:25am

I'll make this bold prediction; if Gronk is a mediocre tight end on Sunday, due to injury, then the Giants gain a significant edge, because Hernandez can then be taken away without sacrificing a lot elsewhere. I would have loved to see the Giants' defensive staff develop their game plan, to see what contingencies they discussed.

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#89 by DiscountDoubleCheck (not verified) // Feb 01, 2012 - 7:31am

I doubt either of the coaches would want to see this turn into a shootout ... when it turns into a shootout, turnovers will decide the game, and even though forcing turnovers is kind of a skill, less luck, forcing turnovers is a factor which is hard to control.

I believe we will see a lot of punts in this game, lots of ball control offense, Patriots trying to run it, and many more FGs than TDs.

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#118 by Will Allen // Feb 02, 2012 - 11:28am

I don't strongly disagree, except in that I think the Giants risk/reward ratio is pretty favorable if they are extremely aggressive offensively, in the first 20 minutes of the game.

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#6 by dryheat // Jan 31, 2012 - 11:56am

I would love to see a run-heavy attack to start the game...preferably from the no-huddle. I have to believe the Giants are going to try a 4-man rush, probably with twists on both sides at times, and drop 7 to cover the short zones. If they dare New England to run, I think the Pats will be in good shape.

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#4 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 11:37am

Yeah, I'd say it's a pickem' on the line of scrimmage, along with qb, and receivers, pending Gronk's ankle. The Giants are a little better at rb, but the Pats' unit is a little underrated, I think. It seems to me that whichever defensive backfield plays better wins. The Giants are the first above average qb/receiver group the Pats have played in a while, so absent a big special teams performance disparity, and subject to all randomness, of course, I pick the Giants in a close game.

My favorite piece of the year. Thanks.

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#8 by dryheat // Jan 31, 2012 - 11:57am

My favorite piece of the year. Thanks

It's certainly the best Super Bowl preview I expect to read.

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#7 by nasmaster007 // Jan 31, 2012 - 11:56am

Love the article, wish they gave you more words. What sticks out with the Giants on defense this year is how much they've rushed 5 or 6. Does this affect the Pats offensive line (Waters in more man situations instead of as help and Soldier by himself) or does it affect the RBs and TEs more since those are the guys blocking the blitzers?

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#13 by MJK // Jan 31, 2012 - 1:43pm

The Patriots center is worrisome. In 2007, it seemed to me that one of the reasons why the Giants got so much pressure on Brady is that Dan Koppen isn't good at handling athletic speed rushers when they loop inside. Since the Giants had four fast guys they could rush from all over, this was an issue.

Koppen is obviously out, but the Pats are using a converted backup guard (Connolly) at center.

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#14 by RickD // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:01pm

Connolly is bigger and stronger than Koppen. The possible downside is that he's obviously far less experienced at center than Koppen, but he's done a reasonable job this season.
In Super Bowl XLII, a lot of the problems started when Neal went out. I forget who took his place, but between the sub and Kaczur on the right side, the line was very weak. Having said that, it's worth saying that most of the damage done by the Giants' D-line was done in the first half. Actually, most of it was done in the 2nd quarter. The Giants sacked Brady 3 times in the second quarter (including twice on consecutive plays) but only sacked him twice in the second half.
Of course, that's not counting pressures, hurries, knock-downs, etc.

The Pats have had pretty good pass protection this year. I should think they'll do a better job this time around.

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#18 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:18pm

From the Philly game on in 2007, Brady was under near constant heat. I can remember the Miami game at the end when they smacked him around, thinking that NE was keeping stuff under wraps for the playoff run. Clearly I was wrong, with both SD and NY winning the battle at the LOS on passing downs. Jax might have as well, if they actually tried.

This year's team, even with Solder starting, is much better. They've allowed one sack in the playoffs and only a couple hits. It seems most people think we'll see a replay of 2007, but I wouldn't be so sure about that. NY's DL isn't as good as it was then and NE's OL is much better. Plenty of other factors favor NE as well, including dramatically better TE protection, Brady not playing on an injured ankle and better health at RB in case they need a protector in the backfield.

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#74 by John Doe (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 6:49pm

While I'm certainly not sure of it, this years incarnation of the Giants beat this years incarnation of the Patriots 24-20 during the regular season and the Giants have only improved since then. They only sacked Brady twice that game, but he threw two picks. The game is pretty much a tossup. NE is the better all purpose team, but the Giants strengths match up fairly well with NEs few weaknesses.

As for the defensive line being better in 2007, that is mostly due to Tuck being injured (and far less effective as a result) most of the season, and Osi missing a ton of game. All of the Giants crazy athletic pass rushers are healthy now. Of course, none of that will really matter if the officials continue the postseason ban on holding calls.

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#75 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 7:05pm

I rewatched that game this past week and, I have to admit, I came away feeling like NE was more responsible for their lack of success than NY was. Brady played a terrible game, reacting to pressure that wasn't even there and making hurried, panicked throws without taking the time to even be sure the guy was really open.

He did this on both interceptions, on one he was trying to look off the safety for Gronk, and had made up his mind to toss it before realizing the LB had stuck with him. On the other he saw Deion flash open in the middle of the field and just threw it in his direction without recognizing the LB in zone.

Obviously you could make the case that NY's pressure got to him and forced the mistakes, which is perfectly reasonable. The problem with that line of reasoning, for me, is that Brady was skittish from the outset, before anyone even laid a finger on him. More importantly, once he realized his OL was holding his own and stopped tapdancing into rushers, there were open receivers everywhere. From about halfway through the 3rd quarter, NY was able to get one single pressure on about 25 plays from scrimage.

I see NY having more advantages on the offensive side of the ball than defensive.

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#86 by MJK // Jan 31, 2012 - 10:31pm

Everyone keeps bringing this Giants win over the Patiots up, but frankly, a four point game is essentially a push in today's NFL. Unless one team wins by more than a TD, you can make a pretty good argument that the teams played more or less dead even and the one that won is the one that had one more bounce of the ball go their way.

That's even more true of the Patriots-Giants game this year. New England was leading in the final minutes...until the Giants scored a go-ahead TD in the waning seconds. When that happens, you really can't say one team played any better than the other. In fact, by Win Probability, the probable winner changed four times in the 4th quarter. The two teams were dead even. You're right when you say that this game was pretty much a tossup.

Also, you mention that the Giants have only improved since then. The same can be said of the Patriots. That was pretty much the low point of the Patriots season...they were coming off a bad road loss to Pittsburgh, their defense was still being shuffled and trying to gel. It's worth noting that this game was the last time the Pats lost all year...

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#34 by dryheat // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:17pm

In Super Bowl XLII, a lot of the problems started when Neal went out. I forget who took his place

I believe that performance was the end of Russ Hochstein in Foxboro.

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#47 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:08pm

In addition to that performance, which forced Koppen to help right constantly, NE also lost their blocking TE and best pass protecting RB all while Brady was playing on a severely injured ankle.

I don't think people understand how many factors had to break right for NY to dominate the LOS like they did.

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#53 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:14pm

If I had a rooting interest, the factor that would concern me the most is whether Gronk is going to be able to block effectively in a scrum without quickly aggravating the ankle injury.

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#67 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:55pm

This is where Vollmer's health might have the biggest impact. If he can provide some valuable snaps, that allows NE to move Solder out to blocking TE taking that responsibility away from Gronk.

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#16 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:12pm

You say that as if Koppen just got hurt a few weeks ago. Connolly has been in there long enough to use his quality of play rather than his position history as a judge. Is there something in his performance throughout the year that concerns you?

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#21 by Snagglepuss (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:24pm

Hey now,
I believe Eli's statistics (and Sanchez's statistics) were eerily similar after year 3.

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#22 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:28pm

Reading this article, it seems as if you feel NY's OL performed well against SF, but I have to admit I thought NY was thoroughly thrashed. Am I missing something, or perhaps misinterpreting your writeup?

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#30 by Ben Muth // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:13pm

I think the Giants are a slightly above average line who played against an elite defensive front. I think SF's front seven beat them up a little, but they beat everyone up. I think the Saints have the best o-line in football, and the 49ers gave them a lot of problems too. Basically, the Giants will play much better against the Pats because the Pats fronts seven isn't in the same league as SF's.

Points: 0

#36 by nat // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:37pm

I usually defer to you on this topic, Ben. But the DLine stats show SF as below average at getting at the QB, while being strong against the run. I'm not sure that combinations makes them elite. Not with eleven or so defensive lines managing to be top half of the league in both categories.

The 49ers DL could well be better than their FO line stats. But I don't think you can say they "beat everybody up" except on running plays. In today's pass-happy game, that's not what it takes to be elite.

Points: 0

#40 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:50pm

I appreciate FO trying to quantify line play, but I've seen too many instances of line stats indicating precisley the opposite of what happened on the field to put much credence on them alone. I didn't see the Niners play enough to have a strong opinion of it, and perhaps you have, but unless somebody watched them closely for at least 12 games, it is hard to render a strong opinion.

Points: 0

#92 by nat // Feb 01, 2012 - 9:55am

I haven't seen them much and don't have a strong opinion. I have a little more trust in the DL stats than you do. I especially trust the pass rush stats - although they are limited by considering only sacks. They at least take situations and opponents into account, making them better than raw sack counts or raw sack rates.

A defensive line that "beats everybody up" should be getting a high adjusted sack rate, unless their team's secondary is bad or the line has a singular inability to actually tackle the quarterback. I've heard neither of those ideas put forward. In their absence, I'll follow the stats.

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#106 by Karl Cuba // Feb 01, 2012 - 4:48pm

What if the defensive line was getting good pressure with a four man rush, would you expect that to possibly translate to more interceptions? Like Goldson, Brown and Rogers having career years for picks...

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#107 by Will Allen // Feb 01, 2012 - 6:10pm

Considering only sacks makes the metric of extremely limited value. A defensive line can be very effective while not racking up a lot of sacks, especially over what is still a pretty small sample of a season's worth of plays.

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#52 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:14pm

I don't disagree that SF's DL is superior to NE's, but NY was so overwhelmed that it is hard to simply credit the 49ers. Weaknesses on the Giant OL were definitely a factor.

Interestingly enough, NY might get all the pub, but NE has put up similar sack/hit numbers in the playoffs in one less game, 9/18 vs. 8/15. I'm not sure it is that obvious who has the best matchup here.

Points: 0

#95 by Independent George // Feb 01, 2012 - 11:28am

Pro Football Focus has an interesting writeup on the Giants' OL problems. I know SF's DL is excellent, but that was one of the worst OL performances I've ever seen. If you're being compared negatively with J'marcus Webb, you've got a problem.

I know the Pats DL is not as good as San Francisco's, but Wilfork has been playing out of his mind. For all the comparisons to 2007, there's a very real chance that the Pats DL can do to the Giants exactly happened to them 4 years ago. They don't have to be great, but if the OL stinks up the joint, the Pats weak secondary won't matter. Though I suppose that applies to both team equally.

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#96 by AnonymousBoob (not verified) // Feb 01, 2012 - 11:51am

Hmmm...worst you've ever seen yet Ben isn't at all negative about their performance. Now which opinion should I weigh more heavily? Hmmmmm....

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#97 by Independent George // Feb 01, 2012 - 11:56am

Don't mind me. I'm just a Giants fan trying to reverse-FOMBC my team to victory. By Friday, I'm sure I'll be convinced Hakeem Nicks is going to shoot himself in the thigh.

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#98 by Will Allen // Feb 01, 2012 - 12:44pm

How the Giants scheme for Wilfork is one of the most interesting aspects of this game, and to me this is an extremely interesting matchup.

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#109 by BroncosGuyAgain // Feb 01, 2012 - 7:34pm

Agreed. When the Giants have the ball, I will be watching Wilfork. When the Pats have the ball, consistent with Ben's take, I will be watching Solder. Well, also Gronk.

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#105 by Mark S. (not verified) // Feb 01, 2012 - 3:59pm

Love Ben's columns, repect the hell out of his opinion, but I tend to agree with Pro Football Focus on this one. That was an absolute thrashing the 9ers front-7 gave the Giants' OL in the CCG. We have pretty good evidence (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/under-pressure/2012/under-pressure-playoff-log) that Eli is a QB who gets rid of the ball very quickly and is great at avoiding sacks. Yet the 9ers sacked him six times and hit him another 18 or so in that game. That's a whuppin'.

Per that article - PFF also says Eli faced more pressure than any other QB this year (according to their game charting). Having watched every Giants game, that rings true to me. The NFC East is a tough pass rushing division, granted, but when you couple that with the fact that NYG had a very poor running game this year (last in yardage, 24th in DVOA), despite having a pretty good RB tandem, I think what that means is that the OL stunk. Certainly, to the casual eye, it seemed like there were defenders living in our backfield all year.

They were a good unit a couple years ago, and an elite unit 3-4 years ago. But age, injuries, and turnovers have eroded their ability very quickly the last two seasons.

Points: 0

#116 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 02, 2012 - 10:33am

I thought Cutler was under more pressure in the Monday night game against Detroit, but that might be colored by their 9 false starts.

Perhaps a worse overall line performance, but less overall QB pressure.

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#25 by TomC // Jan 31, 2012 - 2:44pm

But what do you think about the halftime show?!

(I.e., great, great stuff, particularly in the wasteland that is Day 8 of Super Bowl coverage.)

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#38 by Dean // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:40pm

"what do you think about the halftime show?!"

Don't even get me started on that klusterfuck. Who in their right mind thought it would be a good idea to see some plastic, 50-something-years-old lich (or is that 500?) lip-synching in a desperate attempt to be some combination of relevant and provocative? As someone who grew up in the 80s, she sucked then, too. At least the washed up rockers they usually trot out were at least good at some point in the past.

I’m thinking if I stop taking a dump today and hold it for the rest of the week, that ought to give me something to do during halftime that is guaranteed to be more fun than actually watching the “performance.” If you can call it that.

I'm sure the e channel, Peter King, and people magazine are very excited.

Points: 0

#93 by Kevin from Philly // Feb 01, 2012 - 9:58am

They rebroadcast the first Giants/Pats Super Bowl last night - I forgot that that was the halftime show with the dried out corpse of Tom Petty. If Madonna is worse than that, they may end the halftime show entirely. Wouldn't that be great?

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#39 by PatsFan // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:47pm

NFL.com and NESN reports say that Matt Light missed practice Monday and Media Day today with "stomach flu". NESN also says Vollmer has "illness". The NFL.com report doesn't mention any other players but does say that other "team personnel" have "fallen sick".

I bet it's the rather incredibly contagious norovirus, given that norovirus has been going like gangbusters here in MA lately.

I sense the 2006 AFCCG all over again :(.

Points: 0

#51 by Independent George // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:12pm

Norv might not be the greatest coach in the world, but I think it's taking it a little far to call him a virus, and I fail to see what he has to do with the Pats.

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#55 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:22pm

Last time they were coming immediately off a game and the illness reports were coming out on Thursday. Better odds this time around, particularly that the temp isn't going to be raised to 85 degrees.

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#94 by Kevin from Philly // Feb 01, 2012 - 10:03am

No, Peyton will be in the Buffalo Wild Wings control room manning (see what I did there?) the environmental controls and the pumped in crowd noise machine.

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#41 by Dales // Jan 31, 2012 - 3:58pm

It's fun reading this right after reading Gregg Easterbrook name Diehl the non-QB non-RB NFL MVP.


It has felt to me, throughout this year, that none of the Giants' offensive line has played particularly well-- that their good ASR is due to Eli getting rid of the ball fast more than anything else.

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#48 by Independent George // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:09pm

I'm not an Easterbrook hater, but my jaw dropped when I read that. I respect David Diehl as a hard worker who's done his best to help the team no matter the situation, but he's been a liability all season, and got absolutely abused in San Francisco.

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#49 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:10pm

The funny thing is that Easterbrook makes a big deal out of telling us that he actually watches the players who aren't holding the ball, and pompously tells his readers that they should emulate him. Then he selects Diehl, as opposed to, oh, I dunno, the rhino having a three hour temper tantrum, that whipped Diehl's ass 10 days ago, Justin Smith.

First time I've clicked on a TMQ link in two years. I'll now see if I can make it five.

Points: 0

#69 by Anonymous2 (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 5:27pm

I hadn't read much TMQ in the past few years either. Suffice it to say, I was shocked at how terrible it was. So much arrogance with such little knowledge.

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#85 by RickD // Jan 31, 2012 - 10:22pm

So much arrogance with such little knowledge.

He lives in Bethesda. It's a common problem there.

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#108 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Feb 01, 2012 - 7:31pm

He was much better to read before he sold out to ESPN.

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#111 by Independent George // Feb 01, 2012 - 10:12pm

I have to disagree; I think he was just much better to read before I started to understand football better.

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#59 by ClavisRa // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:34pm

Both the Pats' defensive and offensive lines were fading hard in the playoffs in 2007. The opposite is true this year. They are at their healthiest and strongest heading into the Superbowl, and that will be the difference in the game. Also, the Patriots' coaching was very poor at making adjustments that year; this year, again, is the opposite, as they have been very quick to adjust on both sides of the ball.

The Giant's strength is being a very dynamic team. Frenzied pass rush on defense, deep passes on offense, and they are well coached, and play to their strengths. If the Patriots simply focus on neutralizing these elements, they should win handily. When it comes to play-to-play execution they are much more consistent and productive. Sure, the Pats will get burned for some big play passes, but they will also get sacks, fumbles and picks. If they stay patient and execute consistently on offense, they will blow out the Giants.

Oh, and Chad85 will have a big game.

Points: 0

#61 by Will Allen // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:49pm

The 2007 comparisons, no matter how they are constructed, really don't illuminate anything.

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#60 by Uncle Rico (not verified) // Jan 31, 2012 - 4:46pm

How is the Giants nickel D configured? Who comes off? Thought the AFCC game was interesting. Nickel runs were big for NE. Noticed they had Solder pull to the inside quite a bit, something you don't see often. An unprotected Ray Lewis wanted no part of that.

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#72 by commissionerleaf // Jan 31, 2012 - 6:33pm

The Giants' nickel is usually Deon Grant for whichever linebacker they're most worried about (which has rotated throughout the year because the linebackers have been in and out with injuries). At this point, I would imagine Kiwanuka probably comes off and Goff/Boley will play passing downs, since Kiwa may play on the line a bit, but I am just guessing.

Grant is a safety, not a cornerback, so he might have problems hanging with NE's wideouts - or would if NE had any wideouts that were, you know, fast - but he should be better than most on Gronk and Hernandez because he's bigger than almost all corners. Antrelle Rolle is sort of the same way.

Unfortunately, none of the backfield are actually terribly -good at football- so we shall see.

I just hope Herzlich stays off the field. I have never seen a linebacker looks as lost in coverage as that guy.

Points: 0

#77 by Independent George // Jan 31, 2012 - 8:08pm

I think Corey Webster is a very good cornerback, and Kenny Phillips is above average at safety, but yes, everyone else has been uniformly terrible.

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#110 by BroncosGuyAgain // Feb 01, 2012 - 7:45pm

Nice job, Ben; I enjoyed reading this. It will be very interesting to see how the Pats set there blocking schemes, as well as the frequency and type of games the Giants run. I've always thought that Solder's height led to some poor technique, but (in very limited viewing) he's looked good-but-flawed to me.

Will you be doing an evaluation piece after the game? Yours is definitely a voice worth hearing on the proverbial battle in the trenches.

Points: 0

#119 by Dean // Feb 03, 2012 - 11:15pm

Ben, I just had an interesting thought about the offseason and I thought I'd throw it your way and see if it sticks.

What if you were to do a column on specific offensive line coaches throughout history? Even better yet, if you were able to interview those coaches as part of the story.

I can't speak for everybody, but I know I'd love to read John Sandusky talking about keeping Marino upright; Jim Hanifan talking about Dirt Dobler and Dan Dierdorf; Joe Bugel talking about the hogs. Howard Mudd's career spans from Anthony Munoz to Andy Reid - I'm sure he'd be a fascenating topic. Maybe go back to a guy like Bill Yeoman and talk about zone blocking, or find one of the line coaches for a Darrol Royal and talk about old school blocking in the Veer Option attack. A guy like Larry Beightol coached for 8 different organizations and would probably be a fountain of information if someone were merely to ask. Even among present day coaches, imagine the coup of talking about how to evaluate line play straight from the mouth of Dante Scarnecchia or Alex Gibbs?

Whether it be strategy, reminiscing about the great players they coached, or even attempts to statistically quantify linemen (this is FO after all), whatever you think would make a good column.

Anyway, it's a thought. Take it and run if you like it. Either way, count me among the many that look forward to Word of Muth each week.

Points: 0

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