Patriots’ Running Backs vs. Giants’ Front Seven:
Because the Pats’ passing game has been so explosive and dependable all year, they haven’t run the ball as much as most other teams. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t run the ball well. Their running game can be as good as many of the top teams when they commit to it and when Laurence Maroney is healthy. The former Minnesota star battled injuries but got healthy in the second half of the season and went on a tear. Maroney is a one-cut type of running back who likes to hit the hole hard, try to make one guy miss, and then explode through the creases. He has very good speed, good power, and is an extremely hard runner who’s not afraid to lower his shoulder.
Maroney should get some nice chunks of yards but the key for the Giants will be stopping him in short-yardage situations like around the goal line and on key third downs. They also need to be careful not to let him break one.
The Giants have a pretty stout run defense and an athletic front seven. Their defensive ends specifically Michael Strahan are good at rushing the passer and stopping the run. The linebackers are led by Antonio Pierce and Kawika Mitchell. Both are versatile players who are good run stuffers. The Giants should be able to at least slow down Maroney and company but they should also be wary of the threat of the short pass to either Kevin Faulk or Maroney since the Patriots are a passing team first.
Giants’ Running Backs vs. Patriots’ Front Seven:
The Giants have played a lot of running backs this year, but Brandon Jacobs is the one who makes everything go. Just the threat of having a 6-foot-4, 260-pound monster in the backfield changes the way teams play the Giants on defense. Jacobs is also pretty quick for a guy his size. On top of Jacobs the Giants also have the fast, shifty Ahmad Bradshaw to use as a change-of-pace back.
The Patriots will counter with perhaps the best front seven in the entire NFL. It is a veteran group and the leaders are Richard Seymour at defensive end and Tedy Bruschi at middle linebacker. But really, everyone from Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren back to Mike Vrabel, Adalius Thomas, and Roosevelt Colvin is a playmaker. What makes them so good is the way coach Bill Belichick sets them loose and lets them play aggressive at all times. Because each player on the front seven has size, speed, and smarts, that aggressiveness is often too much for opposing teams to handle.
Expect the Patriots to at least hold the Giants in check a little bit in the Super Bowl. The most important thing will be to stop them on first down so that Eli Manning is put in difficult third-and-long situations. In those situations, Manning is prone to making mistakes. But if the Patriots allow Jacobs to get 4 or 5 yards on his first and second down carries, the Giants will be able to keep possession of the ball by converting third-and-shorts, keeping Tom Brady and company off the field.
Stopping the run is probably the most crucial thing the Patriots can do in this game but they should be up to the task for most of the evening.