Super Bowl XLVI could end up featuring some lackluster pass defense. That’s because, despite having quality pass rushes, only two teams gave up as many passing yards during the regular season as the Giants and Patriots did. Including the playoffs, these two teams have given up 300 or more pass yards in 19 of the 37 games they’ve played in this year.
The Pats were beat for 20 or more yards through the air a league-high 79 times during the regular season. New York wasn’t far behind with 60 (fourth-worst in the NFL).
But there’s good news. Both units had a keen ability to make big plays — Giants’ DBs had 18 picks this year, while Pats’ DBs had 15 — and both have performed fairly well in the postseason. New England shut down Tim Tebow after his best game of his career, but they made Joe Flacco look like Joe Montana at times in the conference title game. New York’s coverage has been superb against Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith, but they were beat by two home runs against the Niners.
Overall, the Patriots are giving up almost 100 fewer yards through the air on a per-game basis than they did in the regular season, while the G-men have been more than 50 yards better.
Neither team has a truly good cover corner. Sure, New England’s Devin McCourty was an All-Pro as a rookie last year, but McCourty has been mediocre in coverage outside of an eight- or 10-game stretch in 2011 in which he was arguably the best corner in football. It’s been a rocky ride for McCourty this year, and although fellow corner Kyle Arrington made the Pro Bowl with seven interceptions, he’s been beaten time and again this year. Beyond that, it’s Antwaun Molden and Nate Jones, so depth is also an issue.
And at the safety position it’s been a revolving door all year long, starting in the preseason when the Pats cut both starters, Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders. That was a bold move that spelled B-e-l-i-c-h-i-c-k, and it has not paid off. Patrick Chung is a good young starter, but he missed nearly half the season with a foot injury. He’s back now, but with little support. James Ihedigbo, Sterling Moore and Julian Edelman (yeah, that Julian Edelman) have been forced into responsibilities beyond their means. That group has made some decent plays (Moore was a bit of a hero with two big pass breakups against the Ravens), but there’s been no consistency.
New York’s top corner, Corey Webster, has a tremendously high ceiling and has been an impact player in recent seasons. I can’t believe he hasn’t been to a Pro Bowl. He had some good moments this year, but got beat a lot too, suffering from a lack of support from the likes of Aaron Ross and rookie Prince Amukamara. The pass D has really missed Terrell Thomas, who went down in the preseason with a knee injury.
But at least they’re deeper than New England on the back end. Amukamara is still a quality contributor in coverage and Deon Grant is a versatile backup at safety, where starters Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle aren’t short on experience and talent. With help from Grant, those former first-round picks might be physical and talented enough to keep New England’s dangerous tight ends from exploding.
But does that patchwork New England secondary have the ability to keep up with a loaded group of Giant receivers? Remember what Eli Manning did to this defense in that regular-season matchup? Well that was before Victor Cruz became a superstar, and Hakeem Nicks didn’t even play in that game. This Pats D has been dominated all year by strong receiving groups, and they’re about to face the strongest one yet. It’s nice that they’re healthier now than they’ve been in a while, but they’re still quite susceptible in all spots and they’ve still been victimized by poor communication far too often.