As we head into Super Bowl Week let's continue previewing the 2012 Super Bowl between the New York Giants and New England Patriots by comparing the defenses of the two teams. Statistically, neither team was impressive during the regular season but has improved in postseason play.
As we go through the position-by-position breakdowns perhaps we can find the reasons for the improvement, and get an idea whether or not that better play is sustainable in Super Bowl XLVI.
By The Numbers
Regular season: 411.1 yards per game (31st), 21.4 points per game (21st), 40 sacks (14th), 23 interceptions (2nd).
Postseason: 325 yards per game, 15 points per game.
The Patriots have been dramatically better, but have played less than tremendous offenses in Denver and Baltimore.
Regular season: 376.4 yards per game (27th), 25.0 points per game (25th), 48 sacks (3rd), 20 interception (6th).
Postseason: 321 yards per game (2nd), 13.0 points per game (1st), nine sacks (tied for 1st)
Now, let's get to our position-by-position comparisons. The Giants are a 4-3 team, while the Patriots play a 3-4 defense. That makes the roles of the linemen and linebackers on each team slightly different, but we can still compare productivity.
The Giants defense is built around their defensive line, and depends on it to control games. The Giants want to "kill the snake," meaning get pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and disrupt the New England offense, and it is the front four's job to do that. All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul, along with defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, are the primary pass rushers. They occasionally get help from Mathias Kiwanuka or Dave Tollefson. Defensive tackles Chris Canty, Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard have also played well.
The Patriots have massive nose tackle Vince Wilfork, and there is little doubt he can be a problem for New York. Andre Carter is a quality pass rusher coming from one of the end spots, as he had 10 sacks this season.
Advantage: Giants ... Is there really any doubt about this? The Giants, in a 4-3 geared around their linemen, are clearly better in this area.
The Giants have gotten good play in recent weeks out of what is largely a makeshift group. Michael Boley is a solid every-down player and the defensive signal-caller. Kiwanuka is excellent against the run, and rookie Jacquian Williams is solid in pass coverage. Chase Blackburn has done a nice job at middle linebacker since the Giants hauled him of the street mid-season. Yet, this group is nothing to get overly excited about.
The Patriots best linebackers are Jerod Mayo (95 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, two interceptions), Brandon Spikes (47 tackles) and Rob Ninkovich (74 tackles). It is an unspectacular group.
Advantage: Even ... Both teams are OK here. Neither team is special at this level of their defense.
The Patriots were second in the league this season with 23 interceptions. Cornerback Kyle Arrington (seven) was the team leader. Devin McCourty had two. The Patriots often use receiver Julian Edelman as a nickel cornerback, and he has done well in the role.
The Giants have Corey Webster (six INTs) and Aaron Ross as starters, with first-round pick Prince Amukamara in reserve. The Giants often move safety Antrel Rolle down into the slot in coverage situations.
Advantage: Even ... Both are good, neither is great.
The Giants have Kenny Phillips, Rolle and Deon Grant and they often use all three on the field together. The improved play of this trio has been a huge factor in the team's five-game winning streak. Phillips has not made a ton of huge plays, but has been solid. He could play a key role in defending Patriots' tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The Patriots have Patrick Chung and James Ihedigbo at safety, and occasionally swing McCourty back deep as well.
Advantage: Giants ... They just have more potential play-makers back in this spot.