Wednesday, February 01, 2012

This Isn't 2007

Well, technically, I should say this isn't 2008 when Super Bowl XLII was played. Then again, it still isn't 2007 either. It's 2012.

Anyway, this isn't the same Patriots team that lost that Super Bowl to the Giants. Nor is this the same Giants team. Some key figures have returned. Belichick and Coughlin. Brady and Manning. Welker, Tuck, and a few others. But only 7 Patriots from that 18-1 team are still on the roster. Only 15 Giants are still on their roster.

The team's are fundamentally similar to their 2007 versions. The Patriots have a high scoring, high flying, pass heavy offense. They had 5 offensive starters named to the Pro Bowl. The Giants have a ferocious pass rush, and a QB who is now recognized as clutch, if not as flashy as guys like Brees, Rodgers, and Brady.

So will we get the same kind of game? Will Brady have 0.2 seconds to get rid of the ball. Will there be a new David Tyree? Will Devin McCourty see a ball fly just over his fingertips?

I think the game will be just as close as Super Bowl XLII. But the Patriots are different. For one thing, they have BenJarvus Green-Ellis and not Laurence Maroney. Maroney's hesitation and dance moves in the backfield frequently led to negative plays in Super Bowl XLII. BJGE will at least get to the line of scrimmage, maybe a few yards past it, and maybe he can help set-up play-action, maybe force the Giants' line to respect the run, and maybe give Brady some time.

The Patriots' offense is more dynamic than it was in 2007. It isn't just vertical passes to Moss with Welker as the outlet. Now the Patriots throw underneath to their WRs, and deep to their tight-ends. In 2008, Wes Welker caught 11 of Brady's 30 completions. Brady didn't complete a single pass longer than 20 yards, thanks to the Giants' pressure.

The passing game is more diverse now. Brady completed 0 passes to his tight-ends in 2008. That's just slightly different from what the Pats have done in 2012. It's also why Rob Gronkowski's health is such a big story this week. If Gronkowski can help Brady as an outlet, especially if the Giants send all 4 linemen at Brady, and leave Gronk covered by linebackers without chipping him at the line, the Patriots can move the ball at will.

Cartoon by Larry Johnson

But while the Pats offense is now more flexible, their defense has gotten significantly worse since 2007. They were an old crew back then. Now they're young, riddled with injuries, and loaded with subpar talent.

There are playmakers like Wilfork and Spikes. Then there is Julian Edelman playing as a slot corner, and Matthew Slater as a safety. And Devin McCourty getting neck cramps as he watches balls fly over his head to the receiver who has just smoked him. His nickname should be Parliament Light he's smoked so easily.

The Giants are no longer a surprise success story. Eli Manning is being touted as one of the NFL's clutch QBs. And it's hard to argue against that. a 7-3 playoff record is a 7-3 playoff record. And 5 of those wins came on the road. How is it that Eli and the Giants have found such playoff success, while rarely being considered elite during the regular season?

Some might say that they're clutch. I'm going to say that they're inconsistent.

The Giants are capable of brilliant stretches, like their last 5 games (all wins), or their 6-2 start of the 2011 season, or their 2007 playoff run, or their 12-4 record in 2008. But they're also capable of some painfully frustrating stretches. They lost 4 straight this year, and 5 out of 6. They lost their playoff game in 2008, after their 12-4 record. They missed the playoffs in 2009 and 2010.

Eli Manning is 7-3 in playoff games. He's had some good ones. Some bad ones. He'll be up against a porous Patriots defense that will let him accumulate yards by the dozen. But I'm not quite convinced that he's Mr. February.

There's a significant psychological difference between this Super Bowl and Super Bowl XLII: The Patriots won't have the pressure of playing for 19-0. And this season they've been playing for something a bit more meaningful, and that's the memory of Myra Kraft.

These are not the same teams that met in 2008. The Patriots' offense is more versatile. But the defense is also more bendable. So maybe the game will be just as close, only with a few more points on the board.

And the result will be different.

Thomas Doesn't Mind Meeting Senators

There was some speculation that Thomas wouldn't start last night. This speculation came from the same "experts" who concocted the Thomas trade rumors. They thought that the Bruins were so perturbed at Thomas' snub of Barack Obama that the B's would trade the reigning Vezina and Conny Smythe winner. It's amazing how much power a media fabricated story can think it has.

It would be ludicrous for the Bruins to trade Thomas, and silly of them to not put him in net last night, especially considering his 16-3 record against the Senators. Ottawa haven't beaten the Bruins since November 2010 and Thomas has been a key reason.

Thomas wasn't stellar, but his teammates were in the 3rd period. Once again, the B's stole victory from the jaws of a shootout or defeat, thanks to their unwavering effort in the 3rd period.

The Bruins won battles in the 3rd. They didn't turn the puck over. They once again conquered the final period, and that's been the key difference between them and all the other top Eastern Conference teams.

Bruins host the Hurricanes Thursday night. They're 0-3 against Carolina, so this could be a good test.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo