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Saturday, February 4, 2012
Get smart: Inside the Xs and Os

By Rich Cimini

INDIANAPOLIS -- Super Bowl XLVI will be a fascinating chess match between two terrific coaches, Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin. Also, there are a number of key matchups and aspects to the game that will swing the outcome.

Let's go inside the game, with help from ESPN Stats & Information:

JUST TACKLE, BABY: It's one of the most fundamental aspects of football -- tackling. But it will be critical in this game because both teams have players that are exceptional in breaking tackles.

In fact, the Patriots' receivers picked up a league-high 922 yards after contact, while the Giants ranked second with 694 yards. We're talking after contact here, not your basic yards-after-catch (YAC).

Most Receiving Yards After Contact, 2011 Regular Season

Rob Gronkowski, NE ..... 290
Victor Cruz, NY ................ 245
Wes Welker , NE ............ 242
Aaron Hernandez, NE .. 231

FRONT FOUR VS. BRADY: The Giants have been relying on their four-man rush more than ever recently, a total of 82 percent in the postseason. Statistically, that's the best way to attack QB Tom Brady. Why? Because it allows you to drop seven defenders into coverage, crowding the middle of the field -- Brady's favorite place to throw. In their last two meetings against Brady, the Giants' four-man rush has been effective.

Brady Facing 4 or Fewer Rushers, Last 2 Meetings vs. Giants

Category ---- SB XLII -- Week 9 2011

Pressure pct .... 73.6 ..... 67.3
Comp-Att ........ 21-35 ... 21-34
Yards ............... 201 ....... 231
TD-Int ............. 1-0 ........ 2-2
Sacks .............. 4 ............. 1

BRADY-UP: One of the underplayed stories this week was the Patriots' no-huddle attack. You can bet Brady & Co. will try to go no-huddle, especially when the Giants go to their "NASCAR" defensive line -- four defensive ends. When Brady sees that pass-rushing alignment, he can go to no-huddle, so the Giants can't substitute, and call a running play against the undersized front.

The Patriots have used no-huddle 73 times this postseason, sparking the running game. The Patriots are averaging 5.6 yards per rush when going no-huddle this postseason, compared to 3.1 yards per rush with a huddle.

Patriots’ Designed Rushing, 2011 Postseason

Cat. --- No Huddle --- Huddle

Rush ........... 27 ......... 28
Yards ........ 150 ........ 88
Yds/Rush ... 5.6 ....... 3.1
1st downs .. 12 ....... 4

NICKEL NIGHTMARE: This will be an enormous key to the game -- the Giants' 3 WRs vs. the Patriots' beleaguered nickel defense. The Patriots' secondary has been a revolving door; 13 players have played at least 100 snaps -- a stunning indication of the upheaval. (By contrast, the Giants have only six players with 100+ snaps.)

Against Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, the Patriots will have to play a lot of nickel. And, quite frankly, they've been brutal with five DBs.

Patriots Pass Defense with 5+ DBs on Field, 2011 Season

Comp pct ......... 63.3 (25th in NFL)
Yds/att ............. 8.2 (30th)
TD-Int diff ........ +6 (25th)
30+ yd plays .... 17 (T-Last)

BOMBS AWAY: Eli Manning isn't bashful; he likes to throw downfield. In fact, he attempted the most throws of at least 21 air yards in the regular season, completing 42.7 percent of such throws. This would seem to be the ideal opponent for Manning, because no team allowed a higher completion percentage on throws of 21 yards or more than the Patriots.

Look for Manning to target former Rutgers CB Devin McCourty, who's had a disappointing year. As a rookie in 2010, he led the league in defending or intercepting passes of 15+ yards -- a total of 14. This season, his total dropped to six.

Highest Completion Percentage Allowed on Throws 21+ Yards, 2011 Season

Patriots .... 46.4
Chargers ... 44.1
Panthers ... 42.9
Cowboys ... 42.6