PHOENIX - The Super Bowl is only four days away and the Patriots have two practices remaining - on Thursday and Friday. The team appears to be confident and relaxed. There will be no more media access to the players, while Bill Belichick will wrap up his pre-game media responsibilities with a Friday morning press conference.
Some of the NFL's brightest stars are coming to town and one of them, Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, talked about how much he'd enjoy playing for the Patriots. That's where we'll start today's mini-mailbag.
Thanks for your great work and daily mailbags. Very nice article on Chad Johnson. If we were to pull off that trade (#7 overall pick for Chad), sign Moss for another 3-4 years, I think we'd be breaking our own records every year with Moss and Johnson on the outside, Welker in the slot. It would be a defensive coordinator's nightmare. If you're Josh McDaniels, what's your first play from scrimmage? Test it deep with Moss, establish Maroney, screen to Faulk?
A: I think my first play would be a quarterback sneak, Bill. Just kidding, just kidding. I'd send both Moss and Johnson down the field and threaten the opposing secondary right away, letting them know they're in for a long day. And I'd trust that Tom Brady would make the right decision on throwing to the open guy. Based on the skills of the receivers, the only problem might deciding which open target gets the ball.
Mike, can you explain the "pool reporter" role? I find it interesting that Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune seems to have more access then you, in some cases. Is that something the NFL designates?
A: The pool reporter is assigned by the NFL through the Pro Football Writers Association. It is an honor to hold that role and it usually goes to someone who has an abundance of experience. This is how it is explained in the Super Bowl media information packet: "Practices are closed to all print media except the pool reporters, who file a daily report concerning the physical condition of the players and a general description of the daily work schedule."
Mike, Why do you always see these analysts comparing teams on a position by position basis to determine the edge? Patriots offensive line vs. Giants offensive line, Patriots receivers vs. Giants receivers, etc. That information is irrelevant. It really depends on the edge that unit has against the one it plays against on the field such as Patriots offensive line vs. Giants defensive line, Patriots quarterback vs. Giants secondary, etc. One team might have a better group of position players than the other, but it's really how much of an advantage that group has that is important. Your thoughts?
Paul Justin, Andover
A: I think you've hit on a great point, Paul. I had to write similar matchups for our Boston Globe Super Bowl section and I was thinking the same thing, although I wouldn't go as far as to call them irrelevant. When you compare one team's offensive line to another team's offensive line, I think there can be some value in that when placed in the proper context. It doesn't help when analyzing the specific matchup that will take place in Super Bowl XLII, but mainly, I view it as a player rating as to which team has the better personnel. Here is where I think the wrinkle comes in: As we know, having better personnel doesn't ensure victory. It's how that personnel matches up against the other team. There are so many layers to that. I think even looking at one team's offensive line against another team's defensive line is not a complete analysis, because those linemen are going to have to block linebackers as well.
What is the ratio of Pats fans versus Giants fans in Phoenix? Can we expect more Pats in the stands?
Aroon Acharekar, Orlando, Fla.
A: It's early yet, and the families of Patriots players are arriving today. As of right now, I'd call it a 50-50 split.
I think one of the biggest factors in Sunday's game will be what I call the Bill Belichick "2nd time's a charm" theory. Over the past few years, we've seen what happens when he gets a second crack at a team within the same season, fixing lapses from the earlier game as well as out game planning the other coach. Do you agree?
Al Struthers, Peterborough, N.H.
A: I do think the recent-rematch angle is one of the intriguing aspects of this Super Bowl. As some of the coaches said earlier in the week, a key in this game will be the ability to make adjustments. Both teams expect to see new wrinkles from the other, and how the teams respond to that will be a significant factor in the outcome. I've been particularly impressed with the team's ability to make adjustments, and I think Belichick is obviously one of the top coaches, if not the top coach, in the game.
Mike, it is often said the Patriots take away way you do best. Having said that do you think the Pats take away the run or take away the pass vs. the Giants?
A: I would say it's the run. I like the idea of limiting the production of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw and trying to set up obvious passing situations. That would allow the Patriots to present more exotic and different schemes at Eli Manning and the passing game.
Great work. Any chance the Pats try to establish the line of scrimmage early by using the 3 TE set that they used so effectively against the Chargers? Everyone seems to think that extending the field is the first priority. I would think that if they could wear down Umenyiora, Strahan, and Tuck it could open up the field as the game progresses. Zig when they are expecting Zag, as it were. Your thoughts?
Shawn O., Foxboro
A: It's an interesting thought, Shawn, and as we know the Patriots have every possibility in their playbook. That is what makes them so difficult to defend. The Patriots did not have three healthy tight ends in the season finale so they didn't call on that "13" personnel, but they should have three healthy tight ends available for Super Bowl XLII. But I wouldn't expect this early, as the Giants have proven to be tough against the run, finishing the regular season with a No. 9 ranking in yards allowed per carry (3.8).
How do you think Patriots will deal with weak side defensive pursuit in the running game? I heard the announcers pointing out the few occasions when Strahan caught Maroney while pursuing from the weak side of the field. It seems to me that that kind of speed will be tough to neutralize. Should they sprinkle in some reverses or double reverses?
Alvin Gayles, Boston
A: When I think of the weakside pursuit, Alvin, I think it comes down to the running play developing at a quicker rate. I remember one run in the season finale in which Gerris Wilkinson, a backup linebacker, made the tackle when surging through the line from the weakside. So more than any specific play like a reverse or double reverse, I think it will come down to having an increased urgency on all running plays. The Giants are coming, so punch it up in there with decisiveness.
I would love to know why I haven't heard anyone talk about the real reason that the Pats/Giants game was decided by 3 points. From where I was sitting, I watched the Pats let the Giants run down the MIDDLE of the field while at the same time running the clock out. What do you think?
A: I agree, the 38-35 score included a late touchdown, as well as a touchdown at the end of the first half. The final touchdown, in particular, made the score seem a bit closer than it was. I still thought it was a close game, but it wasn't a "pure" three-point contest.
Mike, what can the Patriots do to get Randy Moss open in the Super Bowl? Would switching him from the outside to the slot position confuse the Giants' defense?
Tim Curran, Wethersfield, Conn.
A: There are certain things any team can do to give a receiver a free release off the line - such as put him in motion - but ultimately it comes down to the receiver himself to get open. Does he run a crisp route? Can he create separation from the defender? I felt Moss was outplayed in the Chargers game.