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Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Curses! SI Super Bowl pick: Pats over Pack

By Tim Graham

If you believe in the Sports Illustrated jinx and don't like the New England Patriots, then I have some great news for you.

Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork
Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork's hard work usually does not show up on the stat sheet.
SI put Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork on this week's magazine cover and predicted the Patriots will defeat the Green Bay Packers 30-24 in the Super Bowl.

The issue contains a feature that I'm going to order certain Buffalo Bills fans to read. A lot of Bills fans have enjoyed arguing that defensive tackle Kyle Williams is superior to the likes of Wilfork, Haloti Ngata and Casey Hampton simply because Williams had more sacks than they did.

Williams deserves to be in the discussion. He is a great player -- but not because of sacks. And elite defenders such as Wilfork can't be evaluated because they have few sacks. Wilfork finished with two of them, both coming in a blowout victory over the Miami Dolphins in the regular-season finale.

As I've mentioned before, judging defensive tackles on sacks is like ranking inside linebackers on interceptions. SI senior writer Tim Layden explains what a prototypical defensive tackles means in "Attack of the Space Eaters."They're supposed to be the cornerstones of a solid run defense, and the Bills ranked dead last in the NFL. Williams, listed at 306 pounds, weighs about 20 or 30 or 40 pounds less than some of his top colleagues.

Layden writes:
Their goal is not necessarily to defeat opponents but to occupy them; not to chase down ballcarriers but to fill space that might otherwise be exploited by them; not to make plays but to absorb punishment so that teammates can make plays. In pursuit of these unglamorous goals they are required to carry massive (but not too massive) amounts of weight that they unabashedly lie about in public and promise to lose later in life. They are sensational athletes who look at first glance as if they should be contestants on "The Biggest Loser."

Wilfork describes his role in the story:
"It's not a glory position. I'm not a quarterback. I'm not a receiver. I'm not even a penetrating three-technique [tackle]. I'm at the bottom of the pile. Sometimes you see the running back get up before me. You just have to learn what plays you can make and what plays you can't make. If I'm getting double-teamed, there's a high probability that I'm not going to make that play."