The steady flow of NFL players, coaches and alumni making their way through the Super Bowl XLII media center isn't close to being in full force, but I did manage to speak to four guests who know a thing or two about pro football and offered some insight into the Giants-Patriots matchup.
All four indicated that they'd like to see the Giants make it a good game, but you got the feeling that they were apprehensive about predicting that. They just didn't think the Giants could keep doing what they've done over the past four games.
Ryan: Mix it up
The first person I spoke to was Baltimore Ravens assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who has the unique perspective of having come as close as anyone this season to defeating New England. His key to beating the Patriots was simple:
|Rick Stewart / Getty Images|
|Rex Ryan and the Ravens came as close as anyone to beating the Patriots this season.|
"Don't call timeout," he deadpanned -- alluding to the unfortunate timeout he called late in the fourth quarter of the New England-Baltimore game, just before his defense stopped Tom Brady on a fourth-down sneak. After a penalty on the next play, the Patriots eventually converted and went on to score the game-winning touchdown that kept their perfect season alive.
Kidding aside, Ryan said that to beat New England, the Giants have to mix it up on defense: Pressure on some downs, but drop into coverage on others. They need to disguise their formation, he said -- wait as long as they can so that Brady and the offense can't adjust. "Make them try to figure out what you're doing."
But all that said, Ryan was also quick to add that Brady is the best quarterback he has ever faced as a coach in the NFL.
Reeves: Kill the clock
Dan Reeves won 201 games in a 23-year NFL head coaching career, so he's certainly qualified to offer some advice to the Giants, whom he coached from 1993-96. "Pressure Brady and force him to release the ball early," he said. The Giants can't afford to give him any time, he said, because he has outstanding accuracy and can get rid of the ball so quickly. No matter what the defense does, Reeves stressed taking as much time off the clock as they possibly can -- not just by running the football and making first downs, but also by running down the play clock and snapping the ball with two seconds left instead of eight.
The other advice he had for the defense was to watch out for Brady's hard count -- not only can they be drawn offsides, but they can show their hand on defense and allow Brady to change the play. He said the Giants also have to be ready to make defensive substitutions quickly. Since the New England offense is so versatile, they have the ability to line up and snap the ball on a third-and-long situation before the Giants might be able with 12 men on the field if they're not careful.
Irvin: QBs the key
Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, who has three Super Bowl rings from his career with the Cowboys, placed the focus firmly on the quarterbacks. As far as the Giants' chances of pulling off the upset Sunday, he thought their best hope was that Brady's ankle is not 100 percent, and that the injury leads the two-time Super Bowl MVP to make some bad throws. As for the Patriots' most dangerous receiving threat, Irvin suggested the Giants mix up their coverage on Randy Moss, definitely double-team him and do whatever they can to frustrate him. Most importantly, do not let New England get off to a fast start.
When it comes to the Giants on offense, Irvin said that Eli Manning needs to be sharp, convert on third downs and avoid making high throws. Irvin recalled his first trip to the Super Bowl, which also was Troy Aikman's first Super Bowl. Even a Hall of Fame quarterback like Aikman was really tense on such a grand stage. Irvin recalled being wide open on Aikman's first attempt of Super Bowl XXVII against the Bills, but the pass sailed about 20 feet over his head. (Aikman calmed down after that, of course, and threw four TD passes en route to being named the game's MVP.)
Tucker: Tight coverage
Mel Tucker joined the Cleveland Browns in 2005 and was their secondary coach until just recently being promoted to defensive coordinator. Remember the name -- like Baltimore's Rex Ryan, Tucker will someday be a head coach in the NFL.
Tucker's Browns faced the Patriots this year, so he has a good idea what the Giants will be up against. His feeling was that the Giants have to play tight coverage and make it hard for the New England receivers to get into their routes. Also, they need to prevent them from adding yards after the catch, something the Patriots have been very good at.
And of course, he added they need to sack Brady and force the Patriots into long yardage situations.
All four of these "Super analysts" said they wouldn't be shocked if the Giants pulled off the upset, but they all concluded they thought New England would win.