Editor's note: Big Blue View and NESN.com are teaming up for a Super Bowl edition of Across Enemy Lines. Jeff Howe of NESN.com answered my New England Patriots questions. In kind, I answered their questions about the New York Giants. Here is an excerpt of my Q&A with Jeff.
Q2. Tom Coughlin seemingly gets fired by the fans or media every season. Why does he get such a tough shake?
A2. The New York fans and media didn't just fire Coughlin. They had Perry Fewell and Kevin Gilbride six-feet under right next to him. New York can be a very unforgiving town. I think the expectations are quite high, considering the history of this team. The frustration level, since 2007, has been staggering. The talent has been on this team all along. The Giants had a tremendous season in 2008, only to lose in the first-round of the playoffs. In 2009, they got off to a 5-0 start, but finished 8-8. Last season, they had their destiny in their own hands and let it slip through their fingers. When you have a wealth of talent on a team and their performance is not up to snuff, the questions start to brew. The fingers start to point and the call for pink slips begin to get patched through. Luckily, the front office of the Giants organization have a little more insight. This New York team would not be where it is today, one win away from the Lombardi Trophy, if it weren't for this particular coaching staff.
For all of my Q&A with NESN.com, click here.
Read on for Jeff Howe's Q&A with us.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It's been a wild week here in Indy, but it has started to calm down the day before Super Bowl XLVI.
The Patriots have accomplished a lot, so much so that Bill Belichick canceled Saturday's walkthrough because they made enough progress throughout the course of the week. Now, it's just a matter of execution.
Q1. In Week 9, the Patriots and Giants met each other for the first time in the regular season since 2007. While New England's defense did have some success getting to the quarterback in that game, they could not record a sack. What kind of success in the pass rush do you think the Patriots will have on Sunday? Do you think that Vince Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich or any other member of the defense will be able to add an Eli Manning sack to their postseason stat sheet?
Howe: The pressure has been better in the postseason, and the Patriots have done an excellent job with their adjustments later in the season, which makes me think Bill Belichick will construct a solid plan of attack with the Week 9 game tape available for use. Wilfork has been the Patriots' best defensive player, and he probably played the best game of his eight-year career in the AFC Championship. I don't know if he'll record a sack, but he'll be tough for the Giants to contain.
The Patriots' best defensive front has involved Kyle Love at the nose, Wilfork and Brandon Deaderick as defensive ends and Mark Anderson as a rush linebacker. That group has been better of late, and I'm sure they'll cause problems for Manning.
Q2. Obviously, the big question this week has been whether or not Rob Gronkowski will play. With an injury such as the high ankle sprain, which can have long, lingering effects, is it reasonable to conclude that he will not be as effective as he has been throughout the playoffs and regular season, if in fact he plays? Has this offense been dramatically altered because of his injury?
Howe: Gronkowski will play, so it hasn't really been a question. The Patriots' concern will be his effectiveness, particularly since Tom Coughlin will have his front seven getting extra physical with Gronkowski at the line, both in run blocking and when he tries to release into a route. I'd expect him to have a good first half, but I wouldn't be surprised if he wore down in the second half.
The offense won't be dramatically altered because it's still going to revolve around Tom Brady and the passing game. Naturally, if Gronkowski is ineffective, it would be a huge blow to the Patriots' chances of winning, but Brady still has a lot of trust in Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Deion Branch. If Gronkowski is off, the Patriots will use even more three-tackle sets in the run game. While he's an elite pass catcher, it's overlooked how valuable he's been in the running game. Keep an eye on how often the Patriots run to his side Sunday, and if it's less than 50 percent of their runs, you'll know they're not confident with his health.
Q3. With Gronkowski's questionable status, Bill Belichick is likely to be making some adjustments to compensate, a "Plan B" if you will. Chad Ochocinco has been having a very quiet year. What is the likelihood of him becoming a major factor in the offensive game plan on Sunday? Will he be the "wild card" in Belichick's trick deck?
Howe: No chance. Ochocinco has been ineffective all season, and it's because Brady doesn't trust him to be in the right spot because Ochocinco doesn't read defenses well enough. This isn't going to suddenly come together in the two weeks of prep work for the Super Bowl.
Ochocinco hasn't caught more than two passes in a game all season, and his only touchdown came due to a horribly blown assignment in the Broncos' secondary. If Ochocinco produces in the Super Bowl, it won't be because he was being consciously hidden all season. Belichick deserves a lot of credit for a lot of things, but the theory that Ochocinco has been sidelined to save him for the Super Bowl doesn't hold any water.
Q4. Seven pass deflections, two interceptions, three quarterback hits and one sack. All of these helped add to the 57.5 QB Rating that Tom Brady put together against the Baltimore Ravens two weeks ago. Over the last three games, in the postseason, the New York Giants have only given up thirteen points per-game. Will Tom Brady be able to overcome the pressure of a fierce front four and find his receivers through a secondary who have been shadowing the opposition?
Howe: That's the area where the game will be won or lost. If the Giants pressure Brady consistently, he'll have a tough game, and I don't think the Patriots can win back-to-back games when Brady struggles. When Brady gets hit on a continuous basis, he gets a lot more erratic with his throws, and that was a huge issue during the Patriots' playoff loss to the Jets last year.
The Giants will get pressure on Brady, no doubt, but the Patriots' offensive line has to really step up and keep him comfortable. They've had a good season, and I'm sure they're ticked about hearing about the Giants' defensive front for two weeks. This is a show-me battle if there ever was one.
Q5. In your opinion, what area(s) of the New York Giants can the Patriots exploit in order to come out on top of this game? What are the weaknesses of the Giants? Will the Patriots win?
Howe: The knock on the Giants is their receivers will struggle when they're hit hard, and that can lead to some drops over the course of the game. The Patriots will definitely be physical in that area. Also, Manning has had a terrific season, but he can still be erratic, which was on display during a poor end-zone interception in Week 9. If the Patriots force the Giants to slowly work their way down the field, rather than giving up big chunks of yards, they'll hope Manning will make a costly mistake.
And while the Giants are playing better in their back seven, I still don't think they'll be able to contain the Patriots' passing attack if Brady can stay clean.
Lastly, I expect it to be a one-possession game, regardless of the victor. And in a close game, it's tough to pick against Brady. I'm taking the Patriots, 27-24.
Q5-b. Are Tom Brady's best days behind him?
Howe: Last season, he was the first unanimous MVP in NFL history. This season, he threw for the second most yards in league history and became the second quarterback to rack up a second season with 39 touchdown passes. So, in a word, no.