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Scouting report

Patriots vs. Giants

By Jim McBride
Globe Staff / February 5, 2012
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Tonight, 6:20 p.m., Channel 7 (Patriots by 3)

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN

With New York’s ability to pressure the quarterback it’s never been more important for the Patriots to establish a running game to keep the monsters out of the backfield. Even if it doesn’t find early success it must keep pounding the ball and find some balance. New England will need all available legs in order to wear down the Giants’ front seven.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis has the running style and bulk to make hay. The 5-foot-11-inch, 215-pounder has good patience and vision. He gets to the hole quickly and will break tackles. He is by no means a speedster but he has adequate quickness, will find cutback lanes, and always falls forward. Green-Ellis, who is coming off one of his best games of the season, has good stamina and if he’s on the field in the fourth quarter it means the Patriots are nursing a lead.

Danny Woodhead will get a handful of carries and the 5-8, 195-pounder usually makes the most of them. A shifty player with good instincts, quickness, and athleticism, Woodhead can slip through the slightest creases and will wiggle, spin, and bounce off tackles. Durability will always be a major concern for a man his size but his toughness is unquestioned. Stevan Ridley’s late-season bout of fumblitis cost him a shot at playing in the AFC Championship game. The rookie’s fresh legs and boundless enthusiasm could be beneficial against the Giants. Ridley (5-11, 225 pounds) is good-sized back with above-average vision and power. He’s more quick than fast and isn’t shy about taking on defenders.

Kevin Faulk lacks the speed and quickness to be consistently effective and the only way Lousaka Polite touches the ball is if it’s first and goal from the 1-foot line.

New England’s rough and gruff interior three will have to be at its best. Center Dan Connolly (his switch from guard to center has been impressive), left tackle Logan Mankins (fiery competitor always plays on the edge and to the whistle), and right guard Brian Waters (he’s quick off the ball and has strong hands and powerful arms) have great communication and they will open holes.

Giants tackles Linval Joseph (he has super size — 6-4, 323 pounds — and strength) and Chris Canty (he’s amazingly athletic for a 6-7, 317-pound man) can clog lanes and make plays in the backfield.

EDGE: Patriots

Rushing yards per game (postseason):

New England offense: 121.0 (Sixth)

NY Giants defense: 120.3 (Sixth)

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS

Tom Brady is coming off one of the worst playoff performances of his brilliant career. Patriots fans are expecting a big bounce-back game. Count on it. The man known for his flawless mechanics and meticulous preparation will be under fire — but the 6-4, 225-pounder will be ready for it. Brady has excellent presnap recognition (nobody calls better audibles) and extraordinary field vision, allowing him to consistently find his second, third, and fourth options. He excels on screens and quick hits and is supremely accurate on intermediate routes. If Brady had anything remotely resembling a deep threat this offense would be downright lethal. Brady isn’t much of scrambler but he does have good footwork and can slide in the pocket to buy extra time. He’ll need that extra time because the Giants can create havoc from everywhere.

Pass rushers Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Paul-Pierre, and Mathias Kiwanuka all would have to classified as ‘’elite.’’ Wes Welker is almost always Option No. 1 for Brady. The league’s preeminent slotman, Welker (all 5-9, 185 pounds of him) uses his quick feet to get a clean break off the line. He runs superb routes and nearly always gets to his spot. He has strong hands and catches every thing thrown to him. He lacks speed and strength but is shifty enough to shake defenders in the open field.

Deion Branch is a quick, fluid receiver with deceptive speed. He runs excellent routes and is equally comfortable working the middle the field or hugging the sideline. He can lie in the weeds for long stretches before stunning defenders with his explosiveness. Branch is a proven big-game performer.

Julian Edelman has reliable hands and excels on short routes but lacks explosiveness and speed. Chad Ochocinco and Tiquan Underwood are just along for the ride.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski is New England’s most dangerous offensive weapon. The 6-6, 264-pounder has rare athleticism, impressive strength, and soft hands. He’s the very definition of a nightmare matchup and commands double teams. Fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez has extremely versatile and athletic. He will line up all over the field and is scary proposition for defenders with he’s on the line, in the slot, out wide, or in the backfield.

Giants corners Corey Webster and Aaron Ross have great mirror skills. Safeties Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle are rangy and smart.

EDGE: Patriots

Passing yards per game (postseason):

New England offense: 298.5 (Third)

NY Giants defense: 200.7 (Fourth)

WHEN THE GIANTS RUN

Ahmad Bradshaw is a compactly-built tailback with excellent patience, vision, and quickness. The muscular, 5-foot-10-inch, 214-pounder (he looks like a mini fullback) flashes good burst to the hole and employs a bevy of jukes and jives to make defenders miss. Bradshaw has good foot speed, runs with balance, and keeps his shoulders square. He’s not your prototypical bruiser but he won’t shy away from contact, either. He shows nifty acceleration in the open field and will explode into defensive backs. This is not a guy who will duck out of bounds to avoid a hit.

Brandon Jacobs is the backup, but this 6-4, 264-pound thumper doesn’t have to take a backseat to many. A strong runner who always keeps his legs churning, Jacobs finishes his runs by delivering a blow. He’s neither quick nor fast, but with his size he doesn’t need to be in order to move the chains. He’s a beast in short-yardage situations. Stamina (he lacks it) and motivation (he doesn’t always look interested in running) are the knocks on Jacobs and the main reasons why he is not the starter.

Center David Baas anchors an offensive line that struggled early but has really come on. Baas (6-4, 312 pounds) is quick off the snap, delivers a nice jolt, and will get to the second level. Right guard Chris Snee (6-3, 305 pounds) has good strength and deceptive quickness. He has the upperbody power to drive defenders back and the athleticism to pull and trap. He excels at picking off moving targets. Left guard Kevin Boothe (6-5, 320 pounds) is big and athletic but lacks strength and balance and can get overwhelmed.

The Giants’ interior three will face a Patriots front seven that is playing its best football. Vince Wilfork (6-2, 325 pounds) is massive and versatile. He’s extraordinarily athletic for a man his size (again, he’s 6-2, 325 pounds). Wilfork will line up at the nose and at end and is equally destructive at both spots. He has the strength to occupy multiple blockers and the quickness to shoot gaps and punish and/or redirect runners. Kyle Love (he’s big and quick) and Brandon Deaderick (ditto) have emerged as solid linemen. Instinctive linebackers Jerod Mayo (he’s always around the ball) and Brandon Spikes (his enthusiasm is infectious) hit with much force.

EDGE: Giants

Rushing yards per game (postseason)

NY Giants offense: 117.3 (Seventh)

New England defense: 130 (Seventh)

WHEN THE GIANTS PASS

The whole debate about whether Eli Manning is an elite NFL quarterback seems rather silly now, no? The 6-4, 218-pounder has proven this season he doesn’t have to take a backseat to anyone and if he engineers another win he may never again be known as Peyton’s kid brother. Manning’s smarts have never been questioned but this season he has developed a quiet confidence and great leadership skills — he is the unquestioned boss in the huddle. Manning has excellent mechanics. He sets up and delivers the ball quickly and accurately. He can make all the throws — he has a nice touch on the short stuff, delivers midrange lasers, and leads receivers well on deep routes. Oh, and nobody throws a better fade. He excels in the 2-minute offense and clutch throws are a specialty. He will get rattled at times (hey, who doesn’t?) and make poor throws. But keep in mind, in 10 postseason games, he’s 7-3 with 16 TDs and 8 INTs.

Hakeem Nicks leads a top-notch receiving corps. He is an excellent athlete with strong (and ginormous) hands. Nicks is fast, runs tight routes, and consistently finds soft spots. Victor Cruz is a superb athlete with impressive instincts. Cruz is fast and has tremendous field awareness. He adjusts to poorly thrown balls and has an uncanny knack for making spectacular catches look routine. Cruz uses his quickness and speed to consistently gain separation. He lacks the strength to break a lot of tackles. Mario Manningham is a fluid receiver who breaks in and out of his cuts without decelerating. He’s a demon on slant routes and has great open-field speed. He loves to talk but becomes a shrinking violet after a few well-timed shots.

Tight ends Travis Beckum (he’s athletic with good hands), Bear Pascoe (he’s an underrated blocker), and Jake Ballard (he has reliable hands) are solid.

New England pass rushers Mark Anderson (quick first-stepper has had a nice second half) and Rob Ninkovich (he’s relentless) will have to pressure Manning consistently to protect the secondary. Cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (he’s instinctive, quick, and agile) and Devin McCourty (speedy, smart player is regaining his confidence) will hold their own. It gets dicey when Sterling Moore and Julian Edelman have to play a lot. Safeties Patrick Chung (he’s rangy and smart) and James Ihedigbo (he always goes for the big hit) are steady.

EDGE: Giants

Passing yards per game (postseason):

NY Giants offense: 287.3 (Fourth)

New England defense: 195.0 (Third)

GIANTS KEY PLAYERS

Receiver Hakeem Nicks

An extraordinarily confident player, the 6-foot-1-inch, 208-pound receiver plays his best when the spotlight is on. Nicks is very competitive and very tough. He produces in the clutch and he has monster mitts.

How he beats you: With tremendous athletic skills. Nicks has exceptional body control and concentration — he’s good for two or three spectacular catches per game. He has deceptive speed, is fearless over the middle, and will battle defenders for every ball.

How to shut him down: By challenging him on every play. He lacks initial quickness, so it’s imperative to rough him up at the line and prevent him from getting into his routes. He is not particularly elusive after the catch and he will pout if doesn’t get his touches.

Running back Brandon Jacobs

He may not be the starting halfback (that’s Bradshaw’s job) but this lumbering behemoth will be needed to help wear down the Patriots defense, keep the clock ticking, and keep the ball out of Brady’s hands.

How he beats you: With size and strength. Jacobs is like a battering ram, slamming his 6-foot-4-inch, 264-pound frame into defenders with reckless abandon. He lacks first-step burst but he keeps his big legs churning and finishes his runs by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow.

How to shut him down: By hitting him before he hits you. It takes him a while to get a full head of steam, so you need to make contact before he reaches top speed (which isn’t that fast). Get your licks in early or he will methodically beat your defense down.

Defensive end Osi Umenyiora

He may not be Osi Umenyiora circa 2007, but he’s still pretty fantastic. He missed time early (holdout, knee surgery) and during the regular season (ankle and knee woes), but he appears to be playing with fresh legs and at full speed now. Sorry, Matt Light.

How he beats you: With an explosive first step and impressive closing speed. The 6-foot-3-inch, 255-pound defensive end uses impressive upper-body strength and powerful hands to knock blockers on their keisters and deliver jarring hits on the quarterback.

How to shut him down: By wearing him down. Umenyiora is small (comparatively speaking) for his position and will tire early, especially when teams run at him (count on that). He likes to yap, and if you yap back he can get distracted.

Linebacker Michael Boley

After six non-descript seasons (not surprising since his first four were in Atlanta), Boley emerged as a real leader this season. He has exceptional size (6-3, 230 pounds) for a linebacker and plays from snap to whistle.

How he beats you: With speed and range. Boley is an exceptional athlete who does a nice job dropping into coverage and covering tight ends. He’ll have his hands quite full chasing Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez all over the field.

How to shut him down: By taking the play to him. Boley is exceptional in pursuit, but if you bear down on him consistently he will get caught flat-footed and wear down. He lacks strength and will struggle to shed blockers.

GIANTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:

1. Causin’ a commotion: Take a page from the Super Bowl XLII book and pressure Brady from every angle — particularly right up the gut — from your base defenses. Sending extra blitzers plays right into his hands.

2. Lucky star: Eli Manning has had a superb season and has been particularly impressive in the postseason. He plays his best in the fourth quarter and that has to continue. He always seems to have luck on his side, too. That helps.

3. He’s a man: Rob Gronkowski has been a handful for opponents. The Giants have struggled against tight ends (see Vernon Davis in NFC Championship game). Have the superbly athletic Boley drape himself on Gronkowski and make him work for everything.

PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:

1. Into the groove: Pass rushers Mark Anderson and Rob Ninkovich have to get in Manning’s face early. If they can rattle him early he may revert to old habits: poor decisions, interceptions, holding on to the ball too long, and fumbles.

2. Vogue: Magazine model Gisele Bundchen had some good advice for her husband this week and we agree: ‘’Throw the ball quickly.’’ The longer Tom Brady stands in the pocket the more likely it is he will take a giant beating.

3. Like a prayer: The deep threat has been virtually nonexistent in the New England arsenal this season. It’s time to take a few shots down the field (clearly Chad Ochocinco has fresh legs) to keep the Giants safeties from cheating too close to the box.

PREDICTION: Patriots 31, Giants 30

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