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Upon closer review, it’s all on the line

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / February 5, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS - Despite the protests of fans, the Giants truly are a nightmare matchup for the Patriots in many respects.

New York is a much better team than it was in Super Bowl XLII; New England likely isn’t.

Defensively, the Giants can generate pressure - or at least the appearance of pressure - to disrupt Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. And the Giants can “spin the dial’’ in coverages to put doubt into Brady’s mind before the snap and after it.

“There is some man, some zone, some man-pressure, zone pressure, split-safety coverage, some post-safety zone coverage,’’ said Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. “It’s a spin-the-dial mentality and that’s really what’s been pretty effective against us in the past. It’s hard to lock in and say, ‘This is what they’re going to do.’ ’’

Both are key elements in making Brady play human and beating the Patriots. The Jets do it. Rob Ryan, in beating Brady with the Browns last season and giving him all he could handle with the Cowboys this season, did it. The Ravens did it in the AFC Championship game, and every time they play Brady.

Offensively, the Giants have the type of elite quarterback in Eli Manning, and a plethora of weapons - Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, Jake Ballard, Travis Beckum and Ahmad Bradshaw - to pressure the Patriots’ defense in all three areas of the field - short, medium, and long - especially in the secondary, where the Patriots have below-average talent, outside of safety Patrick Chung.

It’s exactly the type of offensive formula some have been pointing to as the death knell for the Patriots.

No one throws more deep passes than the Giants. The only Patriots’ opponent this season to come close to rivaling the Giants with skill players was the Steelers, who marched up and down the field when they beat the Patriots, 25-17, at Pittsburgh in Week 8.

A lot can go wrong in this game for the Patriots. They could get run off the field by the Giants - which is exactly what happened to the defending Super Bowl champion Packers, a team very similar in makeup to the Patriots.

And the Giants did that on the road.

But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think the Patriots are going to find a way to win.

Why?

When two good football teams match up, look closer to the ball - not away from it - to find the winner.

I think the Patriots will dominate both sides of the line. It’s been building to this.

We’ve heard all week how good the Giants’ defensive line has been playing, and how deep it is.

Both are true.

With ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Dave Tollefson and tackles Linval Joseph, Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard - along with situational rusher Mathias Kiwanuka - the Giants have more pass rushers than the Patriots have seen this season, and a group that is better than the Giants’ 2007 version.

But what no one is talking about is the Patriots’ offensive line is the finest group assistant head coach Dante Scarnecchia has produced. And they have played their best football, by far, in the playoffs.

Since the end of the first quarter against the Eagles, left tackle Matt Light has shut down just about every pass rusher he’s gone against - including some of the best in the league.

Left guard Logan Mankins, inconsistent most of the season, is back to his All-Pro form and manhandling people.

Center Dan Connolly, with his serious groin injury a distant memory, has proved a capable successor for the injured Dan Koppen and looks to be the Patriots’ starter at the position for the future and now.

Right guard Brian Waters has simply been the best offseason acquisition the Patriots made. He was an instant upgrade. Waters’s play slid at the end of the season as fatigue set in, but the bye week revived him for the Broncos and Ravens in the playoffs. Imagine what another week off did.

Right tackle is still a bit of an enigma. Sebastian Vollmer is suddenly back in the mix, and Nate Solder will have his rookie moments, but Scarnecchia never asks more of his players than what they are capable of.

The Patriots will be ready for the Giants, and the potential is there for New England to win that battle.

If the Patriots do that, stay balanced to make play-action work, and Brady trusts the protection - something he doesn’t always do - they should be able to move the ball with efficiency. And the Patriots’ match up very well with the Giants in the red zone - as long as they get there.

That means it will be on the Patriots’ defense to do their part.

It was one thing to beat the bad quarterbacks they faced to end the regular season, and Tim Tebow and a game Joe Flacco in the playoffs.

This is a decidedly different challenge. And if Manning is given time, the talent level in the Patriots’ secondary still isn’t good enough to slow down the Giants. It is the Achilles’ heel of this Patriots team.

But New England’s front seven is vastly improved. And that group will allow the Patriots to get the stops they need.

The Giants’ offensive line isn’t just bad, it’s terrible.

The Patriots should win every single matchup with left tackle David Diehl, left guard Kevin Boothe, center David Baas, right guard Chris Snee, and right tackle Kareem McKenzie.

Outside linebackers/ends Mark Anderson and Rob Ninkovich should whip the tackles with speed. Ninkovich has disappeared at times, but that’s when he’s run down because of all the Patriots ask of him. When Ninkovich gets rest, he’s a beast to block.

The keys will be to get Manning to the turf (he is extremely difficult to take down) and to keep him in the pocket so he and his receivers can’t break free on busted plays.

Belichick knows this. And he will have his troops drilled to carry out his orders.

So, in essence, the script of the 2007 Super Bowl will be flipped - with a little bit more scoring, especially in the second half.

It will be the Patriots’ pass rush that we’re talking about making a hot quarterback go cold.

It will be the Patriots’ making plays down the field to win the game at the end.

Throw in a miscue on special teams - Giants kick returner Jerrel Jernigan and punt returner Will Blackmon are prone to moments of jitters - and the Patriots should win in the end.

Patriots 30, Giants 27.

The dynasty marches on.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.

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