The Patriots once again show up on the big stage boasting a historically proficient offense. While not quite the juggernaut of the 2007 team that set the NFL single-season scoring record, the 2011 version put up 513 points, tied with the 1984 Dolphins and 1961 Oilers for the 10th-most in NFL history (never mind that the ’61 Oilers did it in only 14 games).
For the Giants, the path to Indianapolis was paved much in the same way as its path to Glendale, Ariz. five seasons ago: Winning on the road. Dating to 2007, the Giants have won six straight playoff games away from home, which is the longest such streak in NFL history.
Although both teams reached the Super Bowl in similar fashions, what can we expect from the actual meeting itself? In other words: what's changed?
One key difference is how the Patriots deploy their personnel on offense, specifically with regards to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. This past season the Patriots deployed two tight ends on 81 percent of their plays, easily the highest percentage of any team in the NFL.
In Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots used two tight ends on just a third of their 69 plays. Of their 75 offensive plays against the Giants in their Week 9 meeting this season, the Patriots used two tight ends on 84 percent of plays and did not run a single play with no tight end (see chart).
Another change to look for is how Bill Belichick goes after Eli Manning. Belichick was aggressive in Super Bowl XLII, sending five or more pass rushers on 18 of Manning’s 37 dropbacks (48.6 percent), including the game-winning touchdown to Plaxico Burress.
Since then there has been a stark change in philosophy, as the Patriots have used such pressure 30.0 percent of the time and have not exceeded 46.0 percent in any game over the last two seasons. The Patriots blitzed just 27.6 percent of the time when the teams met in Week 9.
Perhaps the lack of blitzing will pay off against Eli Manning, who has a plus-36 touchdown-to-interception differential since Super Bowl XLII against five or more pass rushers (plus-16 vs four or fewer).
While the Patriots have changed their approach to Manning, don’t expect the Giants to switch things up against Tom Brady. The Giants have been relying heavily on their four-man rush, using such pressure 82 percent of the time in the postseason. In his last two meetings against the Giants, Brady put up similar numbers against the standard rush.
Watch out for how the Patriots attack that four-man rush. When Brady was under center in 2007, the Patriots dropped back to pass (including sacks and scrambles) 61 percent of the time. This season, the Patriots called passes 60 percent of the time with Brady under center.
The Patriots were pass-heavy in both meetings against the Giants in 2007 and Week 9 this season despite the three games being decided by a combined 10 points. In their last three meetings, the Patriots ran most often in the Week 17 win in 2007. In Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots dropped back to pass 77 percent of the time, the third-highest rate with Brady since the start of 2007.
This first appeared in the Stats & Info blog.