Sunday, February 5, 2012

3 Factors that Spell a Patriots Win

As game time approaches, I'm more and more confident that the Patriots will win. It goes without saying that in the NFL there are no guarantees, that any strange thing could happen to upset the predicted path. But even though this is a close match up, three things stand out that make me think the game will go New England's way:

Factor #1.  The Giants are a one-dimensional offensive team, and over the years the Patriots have proven very adept at stopping one-dimensional offenses.

Despite what I heard most of the week about New York's bruising running game, they were 32nd (i.e. dead fucking last) in the NFL with just 89.2 yards-per-game and only 3.5 yards-per-carry on the season. (Quite the turn-around from four years ago, when they ranked fourth with 134.2 YPG and third with 4.6 YPC.) They ran for 3.8 yards a rush in the November game against the Patriots, and there's no reason to think they'll do better with a healthy Brandon Spikes for (what we hope will be) the entire game.

The Giants' passing game is excellent; but the Patriots showed the ability to shut it down until the end of the fourth quarter. Prior to their two touchdown drives to end the game (which, by the way, totaled only 110 yards), New York had just one decent drive all day -- their first possession of the second half.

Not sure what Bill Belichick will have up his sleeve for the Super Bowl. But he won't have to worry about the Giants running attack, so it'll be a lot easier to focus on shutting down the pass.

Factor #2.  The Giants need to win the turnover battle, but Tom Brady is stingy in that department the game after a poor performance.

An underplayed fact about the first Pats/Giants game was that New York won the turnover battle 4-2, yet barely squeaked out a win with two touchdown drives at the end. The turnovers were legit, they forced them and could well have had at least one more interception. But if the teams are evenly matched, a 4-2 advantage would usually lead to an easier win, which it did not, indicating that the Giants aren't quite as good as the Patriots when all other things are equal.

But the bigger point is that New York is unlikely to win the turnover battle in the Super Bowl. Against the Ravens, Brady had his 15th career game with a QB rating under 60.0 (excluding the playoff loss to Baltimore in 2009, when they didn't play another game that season).
Here is Brady's average stat line the game after a sub-60.0 performance:
29 of 35, 236 yards, 2 TDs, 0.5 INTs, 95.3 rating.
Note that he tosses one interception about every two games. So the Giants might expect to get one pick, but probably shouldn't count on any more largess from TB12.

Given that the Patriots are not a fumbling team, that makes it difficult for the Giants to win the turnover battle unless they are extremely careful with the ball. And without a positive turnover ratio, they are in trouble. They built a +5 turnover margin in three playoff wins. And that includes +2 in the NFC Championship Game, where they needed overtime despite getting two gifts from Kyle Williams.
In contrast, the Patriots have two playoff wins despite a negative turnover margin in both games. So while the turnover margin is important to both teams, the Giants are the ones more dependent on posting a positive number in that column by 10:30 tonight.

Factor #3.  Defensive experimentation during the regular season should pay dividends today.

From a defensive standpoint, the Patriots tried more different things this year than any year since 2004 or 2005. Three-man fronts with single-gap responsibilities, four-man fronts with defensive ends dropping into coverage, the obvious two-way player moves (Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater), inside blitzes by James Ihedigbo and Jerod Mayo, secondary schemes that looked like zone but were really man, Devin McCourty's move to safety, Ihedigbo's move to linebacker, and most shocking of all, many more stunts and games up front than in past years.

After 16 games of experimentation, the Patriots coaching staff knows what works best against pass-first teams, so they should have a good idea of how to slow down the Giants. And if the first thing doesn't work, they have multiple different packages in their defensive arsenal. Manning is certainly playing well, but if he can't recognize the defense pre-snap, then it's advantage Patriots. And it's likely they'll confuse him at least 25% of the time.

One sub-point to this factor. In 2010, the Patriots beat the Colts 31-28. After the game, Patriots defenders said they faked zone coverage pre-snap and played man post-snap about 70% of the time.
However, the plan wasn't to confuse Peyton Manning, which they conceded was almost impossible. The plan was to confuse the wide receivers, and it worked like a charm. The Patriots picked off three Manning throws, the most against him since the 2003 playoffs (a span of nine games).

Given their success with that scheme, and Eli Manning's excellent play of late, it probably makes more sense to try to confuse Jake Ballard (2nd year), Victor Cruz (2nd year), and Hakeem Nicks (3rd year) rather than trying to confuse Manning.

That sub-point notwithstanding, the overall Patriots multiple defensive looks and schemes are an asset they did not possess in Super Bowl XLII, and one they hadn't fully developed in time for the November game.

So there you have it; the three factors that play to the Patriots favor in what looks like a relatively even matchup. If two of those three come to fruition this evening, then the Patriots should be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy once again. If not... well, the post-game bashing of Belichick should at least be entertaining :)

I hope you enjoyed your week everybody, and if it isn't a Patriots blowout, let's at least hope for a good game.
Keep the faith,
- Scott

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