10 role players that could make a Super difference
Posted on 1/25/2012 11:29:05 PM
By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Trend Surfer
So, Football Nation, are you ready for the big one? Super Bowl XLVI is right around the corner, and judging from the hype thus far it should be quite a show.
First Tom Brady and Eli Manning will wrestle at the midfield stripe. Each fall is worth five points. College rules apply. Then, Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick will play a grueling, multi-game set of Othello, Monopoly and chess, winner gets 10 points -- and if it’s still tied after that, the coaches will play a round of Jeopardy to determine the NFL champion.
Oh, didn’t you hear?
Super Bowl XLVI isn’t Patriots vs. Giants.
It’s Brady vs. Manning and Coughlin vs. Belichick.
Those other hundred or so dudes each franchise will have with them on the sidelines and in the skyboxes are just extras, like the players wearing “00” and moving in unison in the background of Madden 2k12 games.
But of course, this game won’t come down to the marquee matchups, it’ll come down to an accumulation of smaller ones – and lesser players. Kyle Williams , Sterling Moore, Billy Cundiff and Jacquian Williams reminded us of that during conference championship week, and there will surely be new names to become legend by the time the 2011 season is in the books.
The question, though, is whether they’ll be remembered as legends or goats.
Mark Anderson, OLB/DE, New England
Anderson has been a savior for the Patriots this year. He finished the year with double-digit sacks, and was really playing well in the Patriots’ 4-3 on the other side of Andre Carter. But when Carter went down with a season-ending injury, coach Bill Belichick switched to a 3-4 look — and moved Anderson to outside linebacker, where he’d never played before.
While Anderson doesn’t drop into coverage much — only a handful of snaps each game -- he’d have to be considered a liability there, and one the Giants will look to exploit. Will he be the sack-master, or the guy looking lost in coverage?
Kyle Arrington, CB, New England
With Devin McCourty bouncing between cover corner and roaming safety, Arrington is the Patriots’ No. 1 cornerback – and will be the man assigned to stopping New York’s Victor Cruz more often than not.
Manning has thrown to Cruz 79 times in the last nine Giant games, resulting in 980 yards – and with no interceptions. Arrington, who led the league with seven picks in the regular season, will be under pressure to add an eighth on Super Bowl Sunday, and if he’s not up to the task it puts more pressure on Tom Brady and the offense to keep up.
Chase Blackburn, MLB, New York
This guy was thinking about other careers, unsigned and unwanted at midseason, when the Giants brought him back into the fold thanks to injury to be their starting middle linebacker.
Now, he’ll be responsible for tracking the Patriots’ twin terrors at tight end in the biggest game of the year. Yep, dreams come true. While Blackburn has played well, he was never able to establish himself as a full-time starter in his previous five years with New York. His ability to get it done against New England’s middle-of-the-field attack is huge.
Deion Branch, WR, New England
Branch is the forgotten starter in the Patriots’ offensive attack. Wes Welker is unstoppable in the slot, Aaron Hernandez can’t be tackled in the open field and Rob Gronkowski is more or less superhuman.
Then there’s Branch, who has a Super Bowl MVP trophy in his arsenal – but what else? They brought in Chad Ochocinco to push him, and while Branch held off the challenge he’s not really an impact guy. He’s not tall, he’s not particularly fast and he’s not young (33 this summer). He’s only had 11 catches since Week 12 despite playing almost every down, and if Gronkowski is out they’ll need him to step up.
Carson Butler, TE, New England
Who? Yep, Carson Butler. If he makes a catch in the Super Bowl, it’ll be his first as a pro, so it doesn’t get much deeper in the sleeper category than him. He was signed to the practice squad Thursday (he spent the 2010 season there with New England), and will almost certainly get the callup.
Why? If Rob Gronkowski can’t play in the Super Bowl or will be limited, Belichick is going to have to tinker with the lineup – and he doesn’t have a lot of options. There were no other tight ends on the roster or the practice squad behind Gronk and Hernandez, and brother Dan Gronkowski wasn’t an option after signing with Cleveland at the end of the regular season.
The Patriots are going to have to significantly alter the plan if Gronk is out – which could mean Butler could see some significant action. Will he be up to the task?
David Diehl, LT, New York
By all accounts, Diehl has been one of the league’s worst starting linemen all year, and watching Eli Manning get battered by the San Francisco defense last week did nothing to change that opinion.
The Giants had Diehl starting at left guard in the first meeting, but he switched to left tackle a couple of weeks later. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s been personally responsible for 47 sacks, hits or pressures on Manning in nine weeks. In comparison, Patriots LT Matt Light was only responsible for 35 pressures on Tom Brady in 17 games.
With the red-hot Rob Ninkovich likely to be coming at Diehl hard, how the 31-year-old veteran responds will be pivotal.
Julian Edelman, WR/KR/PR/ST/QB/RB/CB, New England
Yes, Edelman does it all – but does he do any of it well?
Last week vs. Baltimore, he took a handoff, had passes thrown to him, covered receivers and returned punts, but didn’t look particularly good doing any of it.
He’s been decent as a cornerback in limited duty, not much of a factor at wideout (six catches all year). As a returner, he shows flashes but also has those moments where you’re concerned he’s going to make the big mistake.
Will he make a big tackle? Miss one? Return a punt to the house? Fumble it? Take over at quarterback for Tom Brady and win MVP? We’ll have to wait and see.
Stephen Gostkowski, K, New England
There’s little doubt about the strength of Steven Gostkowski’s leg. He booms the majority of his kickoffs deep into the end zone (except when the game plan calls for him to lay it up), and in the friendly indoor environs of Lucas Oil Stadium you can pretty much remove kick returns from the Giants’ equation.
But he’s no Adam Vinatieri. His career numbers are similar (84.4 percent success for Gostkowski, 82.9 percent for Vinatieri), but Gostkowski doesn’t have that reputation for delivering the big kick. Coach Bill Belichick’s reluctance to let him take those big kicks doesn’t help Gostkowski’s rep, but he can make friends – or enemies – out of the New England fans with his performance on Super Bowl Sunday.
Jerrel Jernigan, WR/KR, New York
While Jernigan could conceivably make an impact on returns, it’s more likely that the aforementioned Gostkowski will turn him into a knee-taking spectator.
But with starting wideout Hakeem Nicks sitting out practice this week and the Giants running a three-WR set on the majority of their offensive snaps, Jernigan (or fellow reserve Devin Thomas) could move up a spot and make an impact on the game ... one way or the other.
Aaron Ross, CB, New York
There’s not a lot of middle ground with Ross. He’s either very good, or notably bad, and has drawn equal parts ire and praise over a five-year career as a starter with the Giants.
New York plays five defensive backs for most of the game, and will certainly be doing the same against New England. Ross is the most likely candidate to match up with Wes Welker, and that battle looms pretty large. He's also in the mix as a punt returner, sharing duties with Will Blackmon.
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