ESPN analysts pick key Super Bowl stat

The ESPN Stats & Information crew has been providing Super Bowl-related notes, nuggets and information to our talent covering the game in Indianapolis this week. The volume of material can get overwhelming, so we wanted to boil the game down to what matters most.

We asked our analysts what they think are the most important statistics in this Super Bowl.

Merril Hoge: First-Down Performance

Hoge felt that the game would be decided by which team performs better on first down.

The New England Patriots ranked fourth during the regular season, averaging 6.4 yards on first downs. This was due largely to their success at throwing. New England led the NFL with 2,380 first-down pass yards and ranked third with 8.9 yards per pass attempt.

The New York Giants' defense held Tom Brady in check on first down in their Week 9 meeting, limiting him to 12-for-21 passing.

Opposing QBs vs Giants
Last 2 Games On First Down

The Giants have been very good at holding opponents on first down during the postseason. Aaron Rodgers was 10-for-20 on first down, sacked twice, and held to just 4.1 yards-per attempt in the Giants' Divisional Round win at Green Bay.

The Giants offense has run the ball much more effectively on first down in the postseason (5.1 yards per carry compared to 3.6 during the regular season) and quarterback Eli Manning has thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions on first down in the playoffs.

The Patriots defense was very susceptible on first down in the regular season, allowing nearly 7 yards per play, worst in the NFL. But in the postseason, New England's defense has been the best unit at defending first down, yielding just 4 yards per play.

Herm Edwards: Third-Down Conversions

He cited the ability of third-down conversions in reducing opponents' possessions. He referred back to Super Bowl XLII and the Giants' first drive of the game, which spanned 16 plays and almost 10 minutes.

The Patriots' offense converted at a 46 percent rate on third down during the regular season, tied for fourth-best in the NFL, considerably better than the Giants' 37 percent rate.

However, Eli Manning averaged the most yards per passing attempt on third down (10.2) during the regular season and had 13 pass plays of at least 30 yards on third down. No one else had more than nine.

Lastly, the New York's defense is one that has previously stopped the Patriots on third down. The Giants held the Patriots to 5-for-15 on third down in Week 9.

Other analysts weigh in

Tedy Bruschi said "rushing yards" was the key stat, and in New England’s case a healthy Rob Gronkowski would be a boost to the Patriots' run blocking. On New York’s side, Bruschi said a solid ground game is "who the Giants are" and that it controls the clock.

Trent Dilfer cited "goal-to-go TD scoring," especially third-and-goal. Dilfer said the execution by either team -- whether it’s offense or defense -- in that situation will be as important as any in the game.

Cris Carter had two notions: Manning’s fourth-quarter numbers, and the number of times Gronkowski is targeted.

Mark Simon and Vince Masi contributed to this post.