THE GIANTS HAVE STOPPED THE BESTBy Ohm Youngmisuk
They have come in all different shapes and sizes. Some with blazing speed, others with incredible athleticism, strength or hands.
But the Giants feel they can get the job done because they have faced so many elite tight ends, like New Orleans' Jimmy Graham.
During their five-game winning streak to the Super Bowl, the Giants had to cover San Francisco's Vernon Davis, Green Bay's Jermichael Finley, Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez, Dallas' Jason Witten and the Jets' Dustin Keller.
The only tight end to score against the Giants during the streak was Davis, who had two touchdowns of 73 and 28 yards against them in the NFC Championship Game. Outside of those two defensive breakdowns, Davis only had one other catch for 11 yards. The Giants neutralized Finley and Gonzalez in their first two playoff wins as the two tight ends combined for a grand total of just eight catches for 81 yards.
The Giants have been game planning against exceptional tight ends for much of the past two months. They believe they are equipped to handle elite tight ends with their trio of safeties: Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips and Deon Grant. They also have linebackers Michael Boley and speedy rookie Jacquian Williams, who has received valuable experience covering guys like Finley this season.
During their 24-20 win at New England in November, the Giants held Gronkowski and Hernandez mostly in check for three quarters before the two scored in the fourth. Gronkowski finished with eight receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown and Hernandez had four catches for 35 yards and a touchdown.
The Giants feel they are a better defense now, especially after all the tight ends they've faced. Now one final, gigantic tight end hurdle stands in their way to a Super Bowl trophy. If the Giants can hold the record-breaking Gronkowski, who has an ankle injury, and the wide receiver-like Hernandez to numbers similar to the ones they had in the November meeting, the Giants could be Super Bowl champs again.Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com.
GRONKOWSKI-HERNANDEZ DUO IS UNSTOPPABLE FORCE FOR PATRIOTSBy Mike Reiss
Would you agree that the Giants' defense couldn't ask for much more when analyzing its performance in the team's 24-20 victory over the Patriots on Nov. 6?
That's solid production, serving as a reminder that even when a defense brings a top-tier effort, containing the Patriots' dynamic tight ends is one of the more challenging assignments in the NFL. They are going to get theirs. And on days when their statistical production might be down, it probably means receiver Wes Welker's is up, because defenses can only devote so many resources to each Patriots weapon.
Maybe the most telling play from the Nov. 6 game was the one the Patriots had to have with 1:36 left, a fourth-and-9 from the Giants' 14 while trailing 17-13. If they didn't convert, it was game over. Quarterback Tom Brady, for the third straight play, looked in Gronkowski's direction and connected for a touchdown. Linebacker Michael Boley could only shake his head.
That's what the Gronkowski/Hernandez duo has been doing to opponents this season, hurting them in different ways. Gronkowski is the all-around option, equally as powerful as a blocker as he is a pass-catcher. He is coming off a left ankle injury and that's the wild card in this scenario, potentially evening the playing field. Meanwhile, Hernandez is more receiver-like, and now we can call him a running back-type with his work taking handoffs and pitches in the offensive backfield in recent weeks.
Yes, the Giants have personnel to match up better than most, with safeties Antrel Rolle, Deon Grant and Kenny Phillips. But as the Nov. 6 game proves, containing the two tight ends might still produce more than 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns. That's how high the bar has been set.
Here's another stat that shows how important the tight end duo is to the Patriots: Of 1,281 offensive plays charted by ESPNBoston.com this season (including penalties), 1,040 have come with two or more tight ends on the field (81 percent). The versatility of both Gronkowski and Hernandez gives the Patriots flexibility to do different things out of multiple-tight end packages.
No matter where they line up, they're tough to handle, as the Giants surely remember from early November.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.