PHOENIX, Ariz. -- When you do the math, the vulnerability is easy to see.
Thirty-nine. Thirty-four. Thirty-two. Thirty. Add them up and you have the combined age of the New England Patriots' linebackers: 135.
How in the world are they ever going to stop the New York Giants' young duo of running backs, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, who offer perhaps the NFL's best one-two punch of power and speed?
It is a matchup that could very well have the most to do with determining the outcome of Super Bowl XLII.
Not only are Jacobs and Bradshaw capable of making a significant contribution to the Giants' offense, they also have the ability to provide considerable help to New York's efforts to contain Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and the rest of the Patriots' record-setting scoring machine. The Pats' offense can't do any damage from the sideline, which is where it will spend plenty of time if Jacobs and Bradshaw consistently move the chains.
And Jacobs, for one, doesn't see New England putting a stop to that plan.
"I think it would take a lot for a defense to really just shut us down," the third-year veteran said. "New England has the talent and the experience to do it, but I think it is going to be hard playing against two different backs with two different styles."
Jacobs' style is sheer power. At 6-foot-4 and 264 pounds, he's a force that most defenders can't handle because they simply can't match his size or strength. And he becomes even more effective running behind 6-3, 266-pound fullback Madison Hedgecock.
Bradshaw's style is pure speed. He explodes through the hole in a blink and can go the distance on any given carry. But don't be fooled by the rookie's relatively small (5-9, 198-pound) frame; he has enough strength to plow through the middle when necessary.
"That draw play he had against Green Bay (in the NFC Championship Game), that got called back, that was a tremendous run," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "In that run, he made a couple of guys miss, then he broke a couple tackles and then he outran the secondary for a 50-yard touchdown. When you see a player make that kind of run and see him do it two or three different ways within the same run, you have an appreciation for his power, his quickness and his speed, all in one package."
Which takes us back to the Patriots' aging linebackers. At 39, Junior Seau is the senior citizen of the bunch. He mans one inside spot while 34-year-old Tedy Bruschi handles the other. Outside are Mike Vrabel, 32, and the "baby" of the group, 30-year-old Adalius Thomas.
The Giants' game plan seems fairly obvious: Hammer Jacobs inside from the very start. That will wear down the Patriots' defense, especially Seau and Bruschi, and sap it of the energy needed to chase Bradshaw outside or run him down from behind. As the game progresses, the Giants will do what they always do -- keep the defense off balance by alternating Jacobs and Bradshaw -- while counting on their ground game to enhance Eli Manning's play-action passes to Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, and the rest of the Giant receivers.
"It sort of alters your style a little bit and you've got to recognize which back's in there because maybe there is a little bit more of a threat of a cutback with Bradshaw," Bruschi said. "And with Jacobs in there you really have to worry about your tackling techniques and making sure you can tackle him and bring him down."
Wilfork has too much strength and quickness to be handled by a single blocker. And his ability to consistently defeat double-team blocks and penetrate is disruptive to running inside. If Jacobs is forced to the outside, he loses his effectiveness. Wilfork also does a good job of keeping blockers off of Seau and Bruschi.
It will be up to Giants center Shaun O'Hara and a guard to try and neutralize Wilfork. However, in the process, the Giants will have one less blocker to deal with a linebacker coming from the backside or to help with defensive ends Richard Seymour and Ty Warren. Consequently, that will provide greater freedom for Vrabel and Thomas to make plays outside.
Although the Patriots did have their problems against physical runners in the regular season (they were trampled in successive weeks by Baltimore's Willis McGahee and Pittsburgh's Willie Parker), they did hold their own in the playoffs against the NFL's No. 2 rushing team, Jacksonville. San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, the league's rushing champion, only made a brief appearance in the AFC title game before exiting with a knee injury.
The Pats limited Jacobs to 67 yards in the regular-season finale against the Giants. But his size and strength were not easy for them to handle.
Jacobs looks forward to the chance to have a big game against the Patriots on Sunday. But the operative word is "game." Not quarter. Not half.
"Teams have come out and run on New England, but as you can see, they still have a zero in their loss column," Jacobs said. "If you can't come out and get it done for the whole game, it doesn't really make a difference. Nobody has beaten them yet and we have a tremendous test in front of us.
"Teams have been able to run; that is what we do and I can't wait. I would love the challenge."