Scramble: Super Bowl Fringe

| February 3, 2012

This being Friday of Super Bowl Week, you’ve surely encountered a healthy dose of matchups, breakdowns, and backstories for the two teams and their players by now. The necessary paces of proper previewing dictate certain topics get covered, and the customary angles get addressed, but that’s all a bit too rigid for the Scramble.

Instead of tacking on more about the head-to-head, this-guy-or-that battles (tough to add to what our analysis team has produced this week anyway), our four Scramblers were set loose to explore the fringes of this week’s big game. Free to trek down whatever random path caught their interest, they’ve returned to assemble a piece that’ll take you in four directions and round out your pregame prep.

So, as the meat marinates, the beverages chill, and the guacamole awaits its first chip, have a read and join in on the conversation in the comments section below.  

 

 

Value Found Round by Round

By Chris Benson

With Tom Brady (+41.8) one Super Bowl win away from tying Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana’s four championships, the former sixth-round pick has an opportunity to cement his place as a Top 3 All-Time quarterback, at worst. Brady may end up the finest example of a late round draft pick leaving his mark in the NFL, but he’s certainly not the only Super Bowl XLVI participant who was scorned in the draft.

While the revenge angle has been played to death, the truth is that these aren’t the same teams that played in Super Bowl XLII. Only 22 available players remain from Super Bowl XLII—seven Patriots and 15 Giants—and the one thing that tells you is that both of these teams know how to construct a roster. Sure, coaching plays a strong part but even the best coaches can’t reach a Super Bowl without some talent.

The Giants and the Patriots have done a better job than most finding talent—and value—throughout the draft and even beyond it with undrafted free agents. Consequently, they find themselves preparing for this “rematch” four years later despite the heavy roster turnover all teams deal with. So while Brady’s sixth-round status gets all the recognition, let’s turn our attention to some of the key players selected from other rounds, or not selected at all, and pick out the player from each round who can potentially have the biggest impact on the outcome of super Bowl XLVI.

First round

One of the few storylines rivaling Brady’s legacy as far exposure goes is the legacy of the other starting quarterback, Eli Manning (+35.1). Will he match his brother’s Super Bowl record or fulfill any little brother’s dream and one-up big brother Peyton? Either way, nobody will be laughing next offseason if Manning wants to proclaim his elite status after becoming only the nineteenth starting quarterback to make multiple Super Bowl appearances. The next step in Manning’s progression is being able to consistently reach the Playoffs year after year as an elite quarterback usually does. One key statistic: 69.4 Accuracy Percentage under pressure, first in NFL.

Second round

There will be quite a few second-round contributors, but the one I want to focus on is left tackle Matt Light (+9.6). It will come as no surprise to anyone if both teams air it out and Light will be responsible for protecting Brady’s blindside primarily from another second-rounder, Osi Umenyiora (+16.6 pass rush) who is the closest player to filling Michael Strahan’s role from the 2007 team. Light allowed pressure only twice, both to Umenyiora, in 52 pass-blocking snaps in Week 9. One key statistic: 95.5 Pass Blocking Efficiency rating, eighth-best among left tackles.

Third round

This round won’t be heavily represented, but it does boast the player who was arguably the real MVP of Super Bowl XLII, Justin Tuck (+5.1). Tuck isn’t the team’s premier pass rusher now, but we know from experience he has the heart to put on his best performance on the biggest stage. Tuck recorded two pressures and tipped a pass in Week 9. One key statistic: Hasn’t been penalized in 775 snaps, including the postseason.

Fourth round

With Rob Gronkowski potentially limited, Aaron Hernandez (+17.8) becomes that much more important in the passing game, though he’d be hard-pressed to replicate Gronkowski’s impact as a blocker. Hernandez has made plays from all over the field lined up against all sorts of defenders and it seems a disservice to call him merely a tight end. That kind of value is rare, especially coming from the fourth round of the draft. One key statistic: Fifth in the NFL among tight ends in Yards Per Route Run.

Fifth round

The fifth round includes three important starters: Mark Anderson (+17.7), Rob Ninkovich (+13.2), and Michael Boley. I’m going with Anderson as the impact player because he is the Patriots’ best chance to generate a consistent pass rush since Ninkovich will have to balance coverage responsibilities. He is comfortable rushing from both sides and could have success from either since the Giants’ starting tackles combined to allow 155 pressures through 19 games. One key statistic: 11.9 Pass Rushing Productivity, fifth-best among 4-3 defensive ends with at least 300 pass rush snaps.

Sixth round

With Jacquian Williams serving as the only competition, you knew this spot was reserved for Brady. The best sixth-round pick of all time didn’t get to where he is by wanting to be the best sixth-round pick; he did it by trying to be the best player in NFL history. With another ring or two, that goal isn’t out of reach. One key statistic: 93.45 PFF QB rating, third in NFL.

Seventh round

Honorable mention to fan-favorite Julian Edelman, but I don’t foresee him playing a whole lot of snaps on offense or defense in the Super Bowl. Instead, Ahmad Bradshaw (+17.2) gets the nod. The Patriots weaker pass defense and New York’s struggles running the ball in 2011 suggest the Giants won’t run much, but Bradshaw gives them a player who can make people miss and pick up decent chunks of yardage when they do go to the ground. One key statistic: Bradshaw ripped off at least one 10+ yard carry in 11 of the 15 games he’s played in.

Undrafted

It’s unlikely that either of these teams would be in the Super Bowl without the contributions of their undrafted free agents. Brian Waters, Jake Ballard, Kyle Arrington, Victor Cruz, and more all deserve recognition, but undrafted Wes Welker (+21.6) already has a few receiving records under his belt and might have a few more before he’s done. With Gronkowski possibly limited, the Patriots’ short passing game will rely heavily on Welker, especially on third-and-intermediate distance downs. One key statistic: 2.58 YPRR, fifth-best among wide receivers.

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Missing Gronkowski

By Rodney Hart

It’s obvious by his play–both on and off the field–Rob Gronkowski (+36.7) isn’t a guy anyone wants missing from anything; not a late fourth-quarter drive or the party after a win. Since we at PFF are always striving to bring you a unique look only we can provide (and since we don’t have any access to Gronk’s off-field stats, if you know what I mean), I set my sights on measuring what exactly the Patriots are with and withouthim.

This season, Gronkowski was only off the field for 49 non-penalty snaps (≈3% of New England’s offensive plays), how did their offensive performance compare without the highest-graded tight end in PFF’s four-year history? A statistics professor might not approve of me using such a small sample size, but I know you’re interested anyway.

In 49 snaps without Gronkowski, the Patriots attempted 30 passes and 19 rushes. In all but one facet (completion percentage) the Patriots were worse without Gronkowski. This shouldn’t be surprising given his talent in both route-running and blocking, but the two areas that jump out the most are that without him Brady was sacked more than twice his normal rate and intercepted by almost twice his normal rate. Yes, Professor Sample Size, it’s a small sample, but clearly it’s enough to see the size of his impact; it’s as big as he is.

Patriots Offense, With and Without Rob Gronkowski

 
Yds/Completion
Completion %
Dropbacks/Sack
Attempts/Int.
Yds/Carry
With Gronkowski13.265.1%23.346.74.0
Without Gronkowski11.985.2%10.027.03.1

The other interesting element to this game—maybe even more interesting than the numbers presented above—is who will make up for his snaps assuming he will be limited? During the season, this role was filled primarily by three guys: Chad Ochocinco (-0.2), Nate Solder (+1.0), and Julian Edelman (-5.2).

Ochocinco was brought in for extra-receiver packages in the earlier part of the season, notably in their first meeting against the Jets where he was on the field for the two-minute drill to end the first half. In that drive, he even had two consecutive receptions. That shouldn’t be noteworthy, but given it represents 13% of his production all season, it’s could almost be labeled miraculous.

Solder was another player who saw some playing time when Gronk was off the field. They came mostly during a midseason five-game stretch where Sebastian Vollmer (+8.4) was healthy, being used as a blocking tight end. Given their yards per carry and dropbacks per sack were worse with Gronk gone, it’s an option best going unused.

Last week, it was Edelman filling in when Gronkowski suffered the high ankle sprain. This was primarily driven by Ochocinco’s absence (and what’s seemed like a general absence all season) and that Vollmer was once again missing due to injury.

With Ochocinco scheduled to be present and Vollmer expected to finally return, who’s the best bet to play more snaps assuming Gronkowski is limited?

Looking at the Patriots’ stats without him and the list of available guys to fill his shoes (and they are big), Patriots’ fans are likely crossing their fingers he’ll be fine. Yet, if he’s limited substantially and the Patriots don’t go on to win their fourth Superbowl since 2001, then expect to see burning Bernard Pollard effigies for effectively ending their season on three separate occasions.

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Palazzolo Props

By Steve Palazzolo

There is nothing like being at a Super Bowl party and sitting next to the person who just bet on the length of the national anthem. He may not care who actually wins the game, but if Kelly Clarkson’s rendition exceeds 94 seconds, he’s made a worthwhile investment. So I’ve taken it upon myself to add to the fun by creating some additional prop bets for Sunday’s game based on PFF’s Signature Stats. Whether you’re looking to make a couple friendly wagers while watching the game, or if you want to watch the Super Bowl with a keen eye for the details, take a look at this year’s PFF Prop Bets.

 

Eli Manning’s Accuracy Percentage when pressured: Over/Under 65%

Over: -110
Under: +160

As we’ve documented here,  Pressure and the 2011 Quarterbacks, Eli Manning has been the best quarterback in the league when pressured with a +9.8 grade and 69% Accuracy Percentage (in the regular season). Perhaps even more impressive, his 244 pressured dropbacks are well above any other QB in the league. It puts into even greater perspective the type of year he is having.

Despite Manning’s greatness when facing the heat, he struggled mightily in similar situations during the Week 9 matchup with the Patriots. In that game, he completed only 5 of 17 passes for 68 yards and a -2.3 grade.  Granted, he was without both wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and running back Ahmad Bradshaw, but New England was able to rattle him more than most other teams. How will Manning fare when pressured on the biggest stage this weekend?

 

Giants Offensive Line: Total Pressures Surrendered

Over: 15 Pressures (-200)
Under: 15 Pressures (+240)

As mentioned above, no quarterback has seen as much pressure as Manning and the Giants offensive line is worst in the league with a 72.6 Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) rating.They’ve actually been worse during the playoffs and while the Patriots will not feature a pass rush as fearsome as the San Francisco 49ers, they did get to Manning on 18 of his 40 dropbacks in the Week 9 game. In the first game, Patriots defensive end Andre Carter provided eight total pressures by himself, but he has been on injured reserve since Week 15.

In the AFC Championship game, New England got monster games from defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and DE Mark Anderson, so they must continue to pick up the slack in Carter’s absence. New York does not feature one offensive lineman with a positive grade while pass blocking, with left tackle David Diehl the biggest culprit at -42.1. With all of the talk about the Giants’ front four, it may be the Patriots’ defensive line that steals the show on Sunday.

 

Higher Yards Per Route Run: Victor Cruz or Wes Welker?

Victor Cruz   -110
Wes Welker +120

Sunday’s game features the two most productive slot receivers in the game in Victor Cruz and Wes Welker. Both receivers are also in the Top 4 in our Signature Stat Yards Per Route Run (YPRR), with Cruz leading the league at 3.08. For that reason, I put Cruz as the favorite, and he is likely to have a favorable matchup against either WR/CB Julian Edelman or CB Nathan Jones (-1.3 coverage) in the slot. If Head Coach Bill Belichick really tries to take Cruz out of the game, we may see CB Kyle Arrington (-4.3 coverage) move into the slot in 3-WR formations.

In the first matchup, Welker caught nine of the 10 passes thrown his way for 136 yards, and he did so while matched up against six different defenders. Safety Antrel Rolle generally covers the slot for the Giants in their “Big Nickel” package and has also graded as their worst defender in coverage at -14.5. It should be a heated battle to win this prop bet, as both Cruz and Welker are sure to see a number of passes come their way.

 

More Missed Tackles Forced: Ahmad Bradshaw or Aaron Hernandez?

Bradshaw -110
Hernandez +130

Normally, this bet would be a huge mismatch with a running back competing against a tight end, but as we’ve documented here, Analysis Notebook: Using Hernandez , Aaron Hernandez is no ordinary tight end. His 27 Missed Tackles Forced are by far the most among non-running backs and it’s only five less Bradshaw’s 32 (including playoffs).

This bet may come down to how often Hernandez is used in the backfield, as the Patriots have expanded his role in recent weeks by giving him snaps as the running back in their no-huddle attack. Bradshaw is still the favorite, as he will have more guaranteed touches, but it’s hard to count out one of the most elusive players in the league in Hernandez.

So there you have it, a PFF version of Super Bowl XLVI prop bets. Where the smart money should be?

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X-Factors

By Gordon McGuinness

Some people disagree on what an X-Factor truly is. For some, it’s that player who plays on both sides of the ball like Julian Edelman. For others, it’s the quarterback who can run as well as pass. For me, however, an X-Factor is the type of player who doesn’t always get a lot of headlines, but plays well enough that you know, if the game is close in the closing minutes, he can make the play to secure the win.

In looking at the Super Bowl there were obviously plenty of candidates, but I settled on a defensive player from New York and an offensive player from New England. While neither will get the hype of the QBs or the Giants’ defensive line, I instantly thought on both of them when I started thinking on an X-Factor for the Super Bowl.

 

Kenny Phillips – Safety, New York Giants

While his partner at safety, Antrel Rolle (-19.7), has been hitting the headlines with guarantees about how far the Giants season was going to go, Kenny Phillips (+7.8) was quietly the best player in the Giants’ secondary. Earning a spot on the PFF NFC Pro Bowl roster, Phillips was our fifth-highest-graded safety against the run with a grade of +6.5. In coverage, he graded out ninth among all safeties; giving up one touchdown all season, in the NFC Championship Game.

For the year, he allowed 20 completions for 335 yards while hauling in four interceptions and breaking up six passes. Digging into our Signature Stats, you’ll see that he is our 10th-ranked safety for Tackling Efficiency, which shows the number of attempted tackles per missed tackle with an efficiency rating of 13.8. He also ranks highly in our Receptions per Coverage Snap Signature Stat, giving up a reception once every 40.3 plays in coverage–Phillips comes in at No. 4 among all safeties in that regard.

If those fearsome Giants’ defensive ends can pressure Tom Brady into making some uncharacteristic errors, I like Phillips to make him pay.

 

BenJarvus Green-Ellis – Running Back, New England Patriots

It’s dangerous to pick a Patriots’ running back as your X-Factor for the Super Bowl because it’s hard to predict what Bill Belichick will do and how much he’ll use each back. Green-Ellis (+13.9) had 34 carries in weeks 11 and 12 and then just 31 between Week 13 and the end of the regular season while being limited by a toe injury.

That being said, he comes into the game with the highest grade of all the Patriots’ running backs and is always a candidate to get the ball near the goal line, highlighted by his 11 touchdowns including one in the AFC Championship Game. His +1.5 grade as a blocker is also the best in the Patriots’ running back stable, which should help his case to be on the field more.

Looking back to the game between these two in the regular season, Green-Ellis had 63 total yards on 13 touches while forcing two missed tackles and amassing 29 of his 52 rushing yards after contact. Not someone you would expect to break a long run–his longest on 209 carries this season is just 18 yards–he is the very definition of a short-yardage back in today’s game. For that reason, I fully expect to see him in the end zone on Sunday night.

This is the Super Bowl, and someone you don’t expect always seems to step up and make a play. I’ve highlighted Phillips and Green-Ellis but I’m sure many of you have different picks–who’s your Super Bowl X-Factor?

 

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  • tom

    I expect the Pat’s OLine to step it up and keep Brady clean, resulting in a bunch of sustained marches and points. On the other hand, I expect the Giant’s OLine to continue to keep getting Manning pounded and Eli’s miracle play to run out against the Pat’s.

  • http://www.jesseorndorff.com/ Jesse Orndorff

    The Super Bowl this year was incredible to watch.

    • http://www.jesseorndorff.com/ Jesse Orndorff

      Also, I love the NY Giants.