SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 4, 2012

Local football coaches dissect Sunday's Super Bowl match up

By Gianna Addario and Dan Harrison
Staff Writers

The New England Patriots and the New York Giants will square off on Sunday in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI in what's been one of the most hyped football games in NFL history.

And for good reason, considering there are more interweaving storylines surrounding the game than the movie "Pulp Fiction."

There's Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and his high ankle sprain; the pass-rushing maniacs that prowl the Giants defensive line working against a Pats offensive line that appears to be healthy for the first time all season; and of course, there's the matter of settling the score from Super Bowl XLII, when New York ended New England's hopes for a perfect season on the sport's biggest stage.

Will Tom Brady and Bill Belichick cement themselves as greatest coach-QB tandem ever? Can Eli Manning emerge from big brother Peyton's shadow forever? Will Gronkowski borrow Schilling's bloody sock and Boston's good fortune along with it?

Let's see what some of our local High School football coaches have to say.

We'll begin in enemy territory with Masconomet coach Jim Pugh. No stranger to Super Bowls himself, Pugh grew up in Long Island, N.Y., and is a lifelong member of the G-men's fan club.

"I'm happy to report that after moving to Massachusetts many, many years ago from Long Island, my loyalties have remained with the team I grew up rooting for, the Giants," said Pugh, who despite 2007's result, is weary of another match-up against New England. "I have learned to never bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. I will be hoping for another upset like four years ago."

Pugh believes the key to the Giants' success is red zone efficiency and getting in Brady's face as much as possible.

"The Giants have to keep pressure on Brady and score touchdowns when in the Red Zone," said Pugh. "Not field goals."

For Swampscott coach Steve Dembowski, an aficionado of the spread offense, the Patriots offensive game plan should revolve around balance and protecting the football. It's not about the ratio of pass attempts to handoffs, rather taking advantage of the rushing opportunities as they present themselves.

On the flip side, Dembowski talked about Manning's effectiveness when he scrambles outside the pocket and keeps his eyes on his dangerous receivers down the field.

"It's all about keeping Manning in the pocket and then preventing the big play in the passing game. Manning has had a lot of luck in the playoffs buying extra time by escaping (the pocket)," noted Dembowski, who revisited the game-film from the regular season match up for insight.

"Watching the replay of the game in week 10, when he (Manning) escapes the pocket, the extra time, it breaks down the coverage and he has really been good at that late down the stretch."

For as great a tactician as Dembowski is, the Big Blue boss believes one of the biggest factors of the game has nothing to do with Xs and Os. Las Vegas has the Patriots as a three-point favorite, but anybody following the media coverage coming out of Indianapolis this week knows most people considered to be in-the-know, nationally, are taking the Giants.

And Dembowski knows how it feels to have bulletin board material working against you.

"They have the Jim Rudloff psychological advantage," Dembowski said referring to the Marblehead coach and his ability to motivate when his team is the underdog — particularly against Dembowski's Big Blue.

"Everyone nationally, all week has said the Giants are the better team, the Giants will win the game. That's the Jim Rudloff factor."

Rudloff, who has a track record of having his defense step up in big games, believes the Patriots need to focus in on shutting down Manning's security blanket — and he's not talking about Hakeem Nicks.

"For the Pats to win they need to take away what makes Manning comfortable and that's Victor Cruz," said Rudloff, who switched gears to talk about Brady and the offense.

"The Pats offense is going to have to find just the right mix of using their tight ends to chip and protect Brady and/or release into a pattern."

Tom was less-than-terrific against the Ravens in the AFC Championship and with the exception of the Bronco beat-down in the Divisional round, Brady's been average at best in the postseason since losing to the Giants in February of 2008.

But like Hamilton-Wenham coach Andrew Morency points out, as bad as Brady was against Baltimore, he's rarely had back-to-back sup-bar performances.

Morency, whose defense has been among the best in the North Shore in points allowed per game the past two years, thinks the return of Brandon Spikes at linebacker has done wonders for the New England front seven. A vicious run blitzer, Spikes brings a bit of an edge the Pats have been missing since the departure of Rodney Harrison. Spikes is seeing more and more snaps in the playoffs and he's earned it. It was Spikes who picked off Joe Flacco in the fourth quarter two weeks ago.

"The front seven is playing as well as anybody. Spikes is a great addition, he's allowed (Jerod) Mayo do more things. They really compliment each other," said Morency. "It's had a domino effect on guys like (Rob) Ninkovich. Spikes has such a nasty kind of play to him, it's something the Pats need."

Pingree's Chris Powers agrees with Morency about the front seven, but points to the big man in the middle, Vince Wilfork, and his dominating AFC Championship performance. If Wilfork can demand, and occasionally beat, a double team from the Giants offensive line, it frees up one-on-one pass rushing for Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Shaun Ellis and Mark Anderson.

Powers also sees what many feel is the biggest match up in tomorrow's game, the New York front four against the New England offensive line, differently than most people who believe the Giants will be in Brady's face all game.

What the guys like Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre Paul, Chris Canty and Justin Tuck bring in terms of speed and pass rushing relentlessness, they lack in sheer size. With the heavy emphasis on getting to Brady every time he drops back in the pocket, the New York defensive line could over-penetrate and be susceptible to some draws and delayed handoffs to Danny Woodhead and BenJarvis Green-Ellis. Factor in a healthy Patriots offensive line featuring imposing guards in Brian Waters and Logan Mankins (both have never won a Super Bowl) and the Giants' biggest strength could be used against them.

"I believe the Patriots will continue to use their over-the-middle and seam passing game, but I am expecting to see them run the ball quite a bit," said Powers. "The Pats' O-line is really good and I feel they may be able to take advantage of the Giants' front four's aggressiveness by running the ball."

And if the Giants have to respect the run, it opens up the play-action game-a staple of the Super Bowl winning teams in the early 2000s.