Given the incredible success of Sam Monson’s piece telling everybody why the San Francisco 49ers couldn’t beat the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Playoffs, we’ve decided to draft in some help, hedge our bets, and take both sides of the Super Bowl.
While Sam may prove yet again to be wide of the mark, at least this way one of our analysts’ “guarantees” will prove correct. PFF’s Director of Analysis, Ben Stockwell, joins Sam in making cases for why each of the Super Bowl protagonists is fighting a losing battle on Sunday.
Here’s what they’ve determined to be the Achilles heels for the big game.
Why the Giants Won’t Win Super Bowl XLVI
By Ben Stockwell
Here at PFF we’ve been banging the drum about the Giants’ porous offensive line all week long and while it is poor, Eli Manning has proved on this run with his play under duress that it is not prohibitively so. In the last four seasons we’ve now seen the Giants, Steelers, and Cardinals reach the Super Bowl in spite of atrocious offensive line play, proving that if your QB is good enough under fire, the quality of your O-line is not an indicator for team success. Interestingly, though David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie provide the Giants with the worst 2011 tackle pairing in the league, they’re not the reason the Giants won’t win Super Bowl XLVI.
No, the reason the Giants won’t win this Sunday’s game is their inability to cover threats coming out of the slot.
The Giants invested heavily in Antrel Rolle to play safety and slot corner prior to the 2010 season and about the best thing you can say about him is that he isn’t C.C. Brown. In the regular season, only four defensive backs played more snaps in the slot than the Giant, but only one defender, Captain Munnerlyn, allowed a higher completion percentage on slot throws than Rolle’s mark of 76.2%. Rolle was also in the Top 10 in the league in letting catches go for larger gains, yielding an average of 5.2 yards after the catch on the 32 completions from slot coverage.
Against the kind of players that the Patriots can run from the slot, this is a huge worry. Tom Brady amassed 2,501 of his 5,235 passing yards targeting slot defenders, not even accounting for Rob Gronkowski’s and Aaron Hernandez’ catches from positions tight to the line.
In their first encounter, Rolle and the Giants’ other crucial defender covering the slots, three-down linebacker Michael Boley, combined to allow 160 receiving yards and a touchdown on 13 completions to five different receivers. The Giants’ other defensive backs fare little better against slot receivers. The only other Giants’ defensive back to play more than 100 slot snaps this year was Aaron Ross who gave up 13.3 yards per catch and two touchdowns on 15 catches. Corey Webster and Deon Grant have only played a combined 59 snaps there this year, but Webster has given up two catches for 71 yards on those plays and, in only four targets, Grant has allowed 45 yards and two touchdowns.
Simply put, the Giants struggle to man-up with slot receivers and in the Patriots offense the inside pass-catchers are the most deadly threats. If the offensive line can hold up and provide the protection it has all season, the Giants do not project to fare well with Patriots’ inside receivers and–even without Rob Gronkowski–the Patriots have the dangerous players to make the Giants pay for their sloppy slot coverage.
Why the Patriots Won’t Win Super Bowl XLVI
By Sam Monson
Tom Brady was, at one point in his career, forging a reputation as the second coming of Joe ‘Cool’ Montana. Seemingly unflappable in the pocket, able to ignore the barrage of defenders and always deliver the ball on time to the correct receiver as if this thing called pressure was really just a myth–or some kind of condition that afflicted mere mortal quarterbacks. Imagine how strange it is then to see Brady, suddenly very susceptible to pressure, and actually second-best of the starters when pressure is involved right now.
The reason the Patriots won’t win on Sunday is because the Giants will be able to re-create 2007 and apply enough pressure to force Brady off his game.
The Giants in 2007 stepped up to bring a fearsome level of pressure during their run to the Super Bowl, and peaked with a dominant performance in the title game itself to neutralize the potent New England offense and buy them just enough room to get the win. This season, the defensive line has again hit dominant form just at the right time. Brady has been pressured on just 13 dropbacks in the postseason so far, and sacked just once. The Giants have recorded 11 sacks in their postseason run and a massive 63 total pressures–averaging just under four sacks and 21 total pressures a game. If that level continues into the Super Bowl (and the Patriots average the same number of dropbacks), Brady would be facing pressure on 58.3% of his dropbacks, up from just 18.1% of his playoff drops to date.
So what might you be thinking? … Brady has seen pressure before, he’s dealt with it before, it’s no big deal. The problem is that right now Brady is buckling under the pressure he does face. Manning is currently completing over 50% of his passes under pressure in the postseason. Brady is completing just 33.3%, with only four completions in his playoff games while under pressure.
During the regular season Brady’s completion percentage dropped from 70.6% on plays where he faced no pressure at all to just 48.6% on plays where he felt heat. He loses 1.4 yards per attempt from his average and his QB rating plummets more than 20 points on those throws as well. Against the Ravens–maybe his sternest recent test in the face of the rush–he completed just a single pass when pressured and had a QB rating of just 39.6 on those throws.
In essence, Manning has faced so much pressure that he is playing as if that is his default position, but Brady seems to have become spoiled by an impressive pass-protecting unit and an offense that doesn’t require lots of long drops. When that breaks down and surrenders pressure, Brady is suddenly in an unfamiliar place and is struggling far more than he used to with it.
The Giants have the form and ability to bring a level of pressure that the Patriots have not had to deal with yet, and if they do, Brady will be flustered into mistakes. Mistakes in the Super Bowl loses the Super Bowl.