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On Eli Manning: 'If you can force him out of the pocket, particularly to his left, I think you have a better chance forcing him into some bad throws or reads.' -- Eagles defensive coaching assistant Otis Smith
On Eli Manning: 'If you can force him out of the pocket, particularly to his left, I think you have a better chance forcing him into some bad throws or reads.' -- Eagles defensive coaching assistant Otis Smith (Al Bello / Getty Images Photo)
Email|Print| Text size + By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / January 23, 2008

When dissecting the matchup in Super Bowl XLII between the Patriots and Giants, former NFL coach Dan Reeves believes it starts with the recent-rematch dynamic. This marks only the second time in NFL history that two teams that met in the final week of the regular season square off for the championship, the other time coming in Super Bowl XII between the Cowboys and Broncos.

Former Steelers quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple agrees that the rematch creates a different wrinkle to the Super Bowl. From an offensive perspective, he feels the key factor will be whether the Giants can capitalize in the red zone. He believes the Patriots' ability to handle man blitzes - in which the Giants overload a side and attempt to outman a team - also will be crucial.

Former Patriots defensive back Otis Smith, now a defensive coaching assistant for the Eagles, helped formulate game

plans against both teams this season and believes a crucial part of the game will be the Giants' pass rush and ability to reroute Randy Moss. He also feels the Patriots must pressure quarterback Eli Manning and "move him off the spot."

Reeves expects Patriots coach Bill Belichick to attack the past with his players.

"The fact they've played each other so recently, that's a difficulty in and of itself, so I'd say the first hurdle that the New England Patriots have to overcome is that they beat them on their home field, and now the game is on a neutral field," Reeves said. "Some teams might think they have an advantage, but I think they have enough experience to not fall for that trap.

"I think that's a little bit of what happened to the Green Bay Packers, playing New York. They had beaten them [in New York] rather handily [in Week 2]. It's more difficult the second time, and I think the Patriots know that.

"That mental aspect of it is a big part of the matchup. You have to realize that game a few weeks ago doesn't mean anything. They're going to see a Giants team playing with a lot more confidence because of that game. They played with the best team in football and they had a chance in the fourth quarter.

"Now they've won three games on the road, and I think that would be the biggest concern Bill would have going into it."

From a pure personnel standpoint, Reeves likes the Patriots.

"I think they match up well with anybody offensively," he said. "Certainly the rush is going to be the thing, but I think the most impressive thing about the Patriots all year long has been their pass protection. Even when people come after them, [Tom] Brady usually has enough time to get the ball out.

"At the same time, I also think you have to give the Giants some credit. I think if you look at the second half of the games they've played in the playoffs, they really made adjustments and played much better in the second half. I see a chess match - a team in the Giants that adjusts on defense against a team that is multiple and adjusts on offense."

Reeves still gives the Patriots the edge, mainly because of the most important piece on the chessboard, Brady.

Whipple, speaking from an offensive mind-set, touched on what makes the Giants' defense a challenge to contend with.

"They're a pressure defense; they have a really good front four and front seven," he said. "So the first thing is that you have to be able to handle the pressure, and I thought they did a really good job against the Cowboys with third-down blitzes, and [Tony] Romo made some bad throws down in the red zone.

"In terms of scheme, they're a lot more man pressures than zone pressures, so you have to account for those guys trying to overload sides and trying to attack your protection."

As for what defines the Patriots' defense, Whipple believes it's a well-oiled unit that closes up weaknesses fast.

"I think the big thing is that they make you execute, they don't make the mistakes and don't beat themselves," he said. "It starts with their front guys on defense, the three linemen.

"Going back to last week, that red-zone defense was the whole key. They're happy to keep you to 3, because they know most of the time that Tom is so good in the red zone - last week's interception was rare - that they're going to make 7s. The Giants just can't kick field goals.

"That, to me, will be a big thing. I would think that will be a big part of game-planning."

When the Eagles were game-planning for both the Patriots and Giants, Smith said "pressure" was a buzzword for the defense.

"The Patriots have a scheme that whatever you give them, they're going to take it," he said. "If you have two or three guys playing Randy Moss, they're going to go to their other weapons underneath. If you decide you want to come up and play the shorter routes, and [Wes] Welker or any of those guys, that gives them the option to go deep with the vertical receivers.

"Then they have a good running game, with Laurence Maroney being healthy and powerful again, and another receiver/running back in Kevin Faulk. So it's danger all across the board, and you can include two tight ends in there.

"We play a pressure defense, and our mind-set was to slow down the big plays to Randy Moss and at the same time try to get to Tom Brady. We got to him early, I just don't think we got to him often enough. But I think we did a good job of focusing on their scheme across the board."

The Eagles often jammed Moss at the line of scrimmage, attempting to "reroute him off his initial stem" because, Smith said, "We thought it gave us a better chance than having him run free off the line."

The plan against the Giants was designed to pressure Manning, who all three coaches agree is playing with increased confidence.

"If you can force him out of the pocket, particularly to his left, I think you have a better chance forcing him into some bad throws or reads," Smith said.

In the special teams game, Reeves praised both kickers, New England's Stephen Gostkowski and New York's Lawrence Tynes.

"[Gostkowski] has done one heck of a job. I think he's been really clutch for them," Reeves said. "I know they score a lot of points and there is more pressure on you when you're in close games, but they have played some close games this year where he has come through.

"Kicking in last week's game, you have to give [Tynes] a lot of credit. He was struggling, missing two field goals and could have won the game, and then he had the chance in overtime and banged it through. I think both kickers are solid."

Elsewhere, Reeves sees the Patriots with the edge.

"I think New England has some dangerous, dangerous return guys," he said. "[New York's Domenik] Hixon is solid, but I don't think he's as explosive as [Ellis] Hobbs, and then you get Welker there on punt returns. Both coverage teams are solid, with good players who know what their jobs are. It's like a coordinated defense on the coverage teams."

In the end, Reeves comes back to the rematch angle. Because the teams are so familiar with each other's personnel, it puts added stress on coaching.

Reeves appreciates how the Patriots approach game plans as a staff.

"I do know that the Patriots offensively and defensively always come out with something," he said. "It's not going to be something you haven't seen, but they're going to have a plan to do the same thing with a little different package. I guess I'd say it's the same thing in the package, but they're going to wrap it a little differently. I think the Giants are a bit different."

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com

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