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Friday, January 25, 2008
Among the surprises, the lack of Patriots' designed big plays

By Ron Jaworski
ESPN Insider

ESPN.com's resident expert and "Monday Night Football" analyst Ron Jaworski went to the lab after the AFC and NFC championship games and studied film of the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. While in the lab, he documented three potential surprises and situations for each team that could dictate which holds the Lombardi Trophy at the end of Super Bowl XLII.

New England Patriots

1. After watching tape of last month's Patriots-Giants game, the biggest surprise was the aggressive play of linebacker Junior Seau. While he did make some big plays because of his aggressiveness, it also left him vulnerable when the Giants went to play action and he was exposed.

In the rematch, he must play with better discipline, because the Giants will smartly take advantage of him, using play action to suck him up to the line of scrimmage, then putting either a tight end or a running back in the spot Seau previously occupied. That could lead to some big plays, especially if they are able to get the ball to Ahmad Bradshaw in the middle of the field with room to work.

2. Another surprise is the lack of designed big plays we have seen from the Patriots. When I say designed, I mean a play that has eight-man protection and only two receivers. Those plays give Tom Brady enough time to let his receivers get downfield to attack the safeties. The Patriots used those plays quite a bit early in the season, but opposing teams have taken them away with good safety play. The Pats have not executed one since playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14.

I expect to see the Patriots return to form with those types of plays against the Giants, because the Giants' weakness is their safeties. If New England is able to make those plays early, New York might have to play catch-up, and the nature of the game could change completely.

3. Matt Light versus Osi Umenyiora is going to be one of the biggest matchups on the field. Umenyiora is an extremely gifted pass-rusher who can use his strength to bull-rush an offensive lineman or speed rush against the high shoulder of a lineman, and use his spin to get free and cause havoc in the backfield.

The Patriots realize how dangerous Umenyiora is and will try to get Light help as much as possible. They will keep a running back to his side to chip him or use the same playbook they used against Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, sending a tight end or wide receiver in motion and using that player to chip him.

New York Giants

1. Ahmad Bradshaw's presence will be a surprise for the Patriots. He didn't play in the first game, and he offers the Giants a versatile big-play running presence that will be vital to beating New England.

The Patriots' down linemen are the strength of their defense. They create a tunnel for the linebackers to work in, but on occasion, the linebackers freelance or try to make plays, creating seams. Bradshaw will actively take advantage of the seams where Brandon Jacobswouldn't, because of Bradshaw's better speed. He could be a major key to this team's success.

2. The matchup between center Shaun O'Hara and nose tackle Vince Wilfork is extremely important and simply a great interior match. O'Hara must find a way to handle Wilfork by himself, allowing the guards to get in the linebackers' faces, creating second-level opportunities for Bradshaw and Jacobs. The linebackers do a fabulous job of attacking the gaps created by teams that double-team Wilfork. If O'Hara can get it done, it will go a long way toward the Giants pulling off the upset.

3. The Giants' secondary has played extremely well during the playoffs. Surprisingly, it has gone more and more to dime coverage, which obviously has been very effective. Even more surprising was the Giants' decision to go primarily with single coverage against the Green Bay Packers' talented receiving corps.

We won't see that against the Patriots, but we can expect to see physical Giants cornerback Aaron Ross matched up against Randy Moss. Most of that coverage will be on the right side, where the majority of Moss' big plays have come this season. Also, don't expect to see a true Cover 2 against the Patriots, because the Giants will have to have their No. 2 cornerback on Wes Welker at all times to make sure he doesn't eat them up underneath.