Super Bowl XLVI Keys to the Game

Our experts provide the last word on the game, with matchups and keys that will decide Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI between the Patriots and Giants.


When the Giants run the ball: RB Ahmad Bradshaw is averaging just 4.3 yards per carry in the playoffs, but he's healthy and teaming with Brandon Jacobs to provide a consistent threat on the ground. Bradshaw stretches plays to the edge but can also hit the hole between the tackles, while Jacobs could be negated with Patriots NT Vince Wilfork clogging up the center-guard gaps. Jacobs is 6-4, 264 pounds, but he runs high and often struggles in short-yardage situations, although he did rip off 72 yards on 18 carries in the Week 9 meeting. EDGE: EVEN

When the Giants pass the ball: Victor Cruz's 142 receiving yards on 10 catches in the NFC Championship Game was the fifth-highest postseason total in franchise history. Hakeem Nicks is averaging 18.6 yards per catch this postseason, which would break Frank Gifford's franchise mark of 13.9. Throw in Mario Manningham, Bradshaw and a crew of capable tight ends, and the Patriots' 31st-ranked secondary from the secondary that regularly relies on WR Julian Edelman in dime packages certainly has its work cut out. EDGE: GIANTS

When the Patriots run the ball: New England's top three running backs have a combined 42 carries in the postseason, while Tom Brady has attempted 70 passes. Yes, the Patriots' ground game is an afterthought, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis does pick up the hard yards and even TE Aaron Hernandez has been filtered into the backfield mix. Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead combined to average 4.1 yards per carry in Week 9. EDGE: EVEN

When the Patriots pass the ball: If TE Rob Gronkowski is close to full strength, New England will work heavily between the hashes to stress the Giants' safeties and thwart the pass rush. Gronkowski and WR Wes Welker were targeted a combined 25 times out of QB Tom Brady's 49 pass attempts in the regular-season meeting. The Giants don't run deep at cornerback, so Brady will spread the field and look for mismatches. The Giants sacked Brady five times and hit him 13 in Super Bowl XLII. They got just three hits on him Nov. 6, but did come up with a pair of interceptions and Brady will be hard-pressed to do a lot of damage vertically to the outside. EDGE: PATRIOTS

Special teams: Neither team possesses a real game-breaking return man, although the kicking is very solid on both sides of the ball. Giants P Steve Weatherford helped control field position with 12 punts against San Francisco, while PK Lawrence Tynes knocked home his second career game-winner in an NFC Championship Game. Patriots P Zoltan Mesko is very solid, and PK Stephen Gostkowski is a former All-Pro with plenty of playoff experience. EDGE: EVEN

Coaching: Six weeks ago Tom Coughlin was believed to be on the firing line. Since then he has rallied the Giants to five straight wins and another Super Bowl berth. Few question Bill Belichick's Hall of Fame credentials, but this is one of his better coaching jobs considering the dearth of talent in New England's secondary. Both coaches have Super Bowl rings under their belts and are excellent at preparing their teams for the situation. EDGE: EVEN


Protect Brady: Given time, Tom Brady will be able to dissect the Giants' secondary with plenty of mismatches. That's a big "if." The Giants hit him 13 times in Super Bowl XLII, featuring a lot of pressure up the middle and disrupting Brady's ability to confidently step into passes. However, the Giants hit him just three times and sacked him once in Week 9 — although they did come up with a pair of interceptions.

Nicks of Trouble: Hakeem Nicks missed the regular-season meeting and Victor Cruz caught six passes for 91 yards. With both healthy and complemented by Mario Manningham, far better secondaries than New England's have been routinely torched with QB Eli Manning spreading the ball around. Mark Anderson, Rob Ninkovich ... whoever Bill Belichick tabs in the game plan, the Patriots must have someone step up in the pass rush.

Lean on Green-Ellis: New England' defense is going to but under duress from the Giants' first snap, while the Patriots' offense needs to protect Brady. They can at least maim two birds with one stone if RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis is involved in the gameplan — he had 52 yards on 12 carries in Week 9. The best way to chill the engines of Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora is to pound the rock a little.

Pull the Clutch: In the Nov. 6 game, the Giants and Patriots combined to convert just 9-of-29 third downs, a surprisingly low 31 percent between a pair of high-powered offenses run by a pair of cool and collected quarterbacks. Keeping drives alive — and punctuating them with touchdowns rather than field goals — will likely prove to be the difference in what should be a tight game.

Gronkowski's ankle: Rob Gronkowski's sprained ankle was micro -analyzed ad nauseum all week, and for good reason. If he's not close to 100 percent, the Giants will sniff it out early and be able to adjust their coverage scheme. Gronkowski is Brady's favorite target in the red zone, so watch "Gronk's" confidence in making cuts on the Patriots' first few possessions.

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