In 2008, the New York Giants sacked Tom Brady five times on the way to the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. While the Patriots aren't the juggernauts that they were back then, with Tom Brady's offense being a record breaking unit, the gameplan remains the same for the Giants to repeat with another victory.
With Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck on the outside, with Osi Umenyiora rotating, the Giants' pivotal players upfront haven't changed much. Tuck and Umenyiora remain, but Strahan's starting role has been filled by Jason Pierre-Paul.
Pierre-Paul is going to be a crucial figure if the Giants can overcome the Patriots. His athleticism and intelligence has allowed him to have a dominant season as a pass rusher. Very few players are as athletic as Pierre-Paul and it is his speed and agility that will allow him to get the better of Matt Light.
Light is coming to the end of his career and is not the dominant left tackle he once was. While getting pressure on Brady through the middle is generally the best way to shut him down, Pierre-Paul's matchup with Light, with Umenyiora spelling him, could shut the Patriots' offense down at the source.
With Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul attacking Light, he will be facing a fresh elite pass rusher on every single snap.
Football is about matchups and getting to Brady is essentially cutting off the head of the beast before it can even start growling. For all of Tom Brady's elite qualities, his ability to extend plays and adjust after the snap is not impressive. Brady has good pocket presence, but pocket presence can only carry you so far, especially against this defensive line.
On obvious passing downs, the Giants will move Pierre-Paul inside to play defensive tackle alongside Chris Canty. This could present major issues for the Patriots interior linemen. While the Patriots have excellent guards and a reliable guard-turned-center inside, they are an aging group better suited to manhandling big guys opposed to trying to contain the relentlessness of the man known as JPP.
Pushing the pocket into Brady, or better yet coming clean through the middle, is Brady's kryptonite.
Some quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and even Cam Newton, are athletic enough to make defenders miss and escape their clutches to throw downfield. Those quarterbacks can also make passes without having their feet set or from unorthodox positions.
Bill Belichick has invested so heavily in his offensive line throughout his career because Brady needs that pass protection to function. Without a clean pocket to pass from, his accuracy and consistency throwing the football would be moot.
Now Brady is not completely a sitting duck, his pocket presence and agility is amongst the best in the league. However, when the Giants have so many talented pass rushers, I haven't even touched on the fact that Justin Tuck is on of the best ends in the league and could manhandle Sebastien Vollmer on Sunday, his ability to dodge defenders won't be enough.
The NFL is all about matchups. While the Baltimore Ravens defense may be better than the Giants overall, the Ravens didn't have the quality and depth upfront to expose the Patriots biggest weakness.
If the Giants can get to Brady with their four man front, it won't matter if Rob Gronkowski is 50 percent, 100 percent, or 200 percent fit.