This is where these previews become a little more difficult to produce every year. I can use lots of fancy and unfancy numbers to tell you why Eli Manning has been right there with Tom Brady and why the Giants might have a slight edge in the running game, while the Patriots have a similar edge when it comes to receiving options. But to analyze offensive lines, I’m forced to rely primarily on what I’ve seen with my own two eyes, as well as the eyes of colleagues and experts who cover the NFL.
The Giants line lacks the continuity of the unit that started together throughout their 2007 Super Bowl season. Gone are washed up interior linemen Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert. O’Hara’s replacement, David Baas, has struggled to stay healthy — and his backup, Kevin Boothe, had snapping problems throughout the year. David Diehl, who is not a natural left tackle, was thrust back into that role when Will Beaty went down at mid season. He has given up far too much pressure and is sometimes a big liability. The aging Kareem McKenzie is consistently mediocre at the other tackle position, while Chris Snee has also been good, not great.
But give the line credit, because after struggling to open up holes for the first two months of the season, the Giants running game improved drastically. After rushing for 100 yards or more just four times in their first 11 games, New York hit triple digits four times in their final five. While they’re coming off a rough outing against the San Francisco front seven (they gave up six sacks in the conference title game), they had only surrendered a total of two sacks in their first two playoff games and gave up just 28 in 16 regular-season games.
Of course, that’s not necessarily all on the line. It’s possible that Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs found their legs as the season wore on, and it should definitely be noted that Eli Manning has compensated with improved footwork.
On paper, New England’s line has been better than New York’s. They only gave up 32 sacks during the regular season and have surrendered just one sack in the postseason. Yeah, Tom Brady is very good at avoiding sacks, but Pro Football Focus claims that Brady was only pressured six total times in the AFC championship game…and that was against a defense that led the AFC in sacks this year. The Pats also averaged 4.0 yards per carry, which is below average but much stronger than the Giants’ final regular-season total of 3.5.
This was a year in which left-for-dead veterans rose up on the New England line, namely Brian Waters and Matt Light, both of whom had career years in their thirties. Waters probably outplayed fellow guard (and All-Pro) Logan Mankins, who had only a so-so season after signing a contract that made him the highest-paid interior offensive lineman in the league this summer. The monstrous Sebastian Vollmer has missed the last seven games due to injury, which could really hurt against the Giants’ pass rush because rookie Nate Solder is somewhat of a liability.
And then there’s the center position, which has been a revolving door. Dan Connolly relieved Dan Koppen after he went down in Week 1, but he’s also dealt with injury problems and has been serviceable, not exceptional. The good news is that Connolly is a veteran who probably won’t hurt them in the Super Bowl.
The Pats have faced two top-end pass rushes in these playoffs, and they’ve done more than just survive. They’ve thrived. They’re getting healthier now, too, and might have Vollmer back next Sunday. Regardless, they’ll have a clear advantage in the Super Bowl.