When Patriots have the ball
The Patriots in 2007 were a down the field passing team. They had great speed on the outside with Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth with Jabar Gaffney as the third deep threat. In their underneath passing attack, they had Wes Welker in the slot and Kevin Faulk coming out of the backfield. Their TEs were solid but secondary targets, Kyle Brady and Ben Watson. With that array of talent focused on speed and deep balls, many of Brady's throws were deep and outside the numbers. The passing attack has shifted since then; Welker is the primary WR target and the two talented TEs get many balls thrown their way. The Patriots don't have speed on the outside that scares anyone. No doubt, this is why Bellichick brought in Ochocinco in the off-season, to get some of that needed speed, but it appears not to have worked out for Chad. This means that the Patriots passing attack is not really balanced to take advantage of the entire field. Most of their throws are short balls between the numbers, rather than deep balls on the outside. I don't know if Brady is losing some arm strength or if his receivers can't get deep, but most of the passing game activity is in the middle of the field. On the one hand, this would seem to make defending it easier, since you might be able to shade your zones to the middle and have lots of bodies flooding the middle of the field. On the other hand, while the Giants DB-field has played better of late, the strength of the defense is still the DL and its pass rush. Throwing lots of quick release throws would dampen the effect of the pass rush and is something that is right in the Patriots playbook. Anticipating that the Patriots will try to run short, quick passes to get away from the pass rush, the Giants will have to combat that by playing tight coverage by the DBs and trying to be physical with the Patriot receivers to disrupt the timing of their short patterns. This is hard to do with Welker and with Gronkowski, Welker because he is so quick and usually runs out of the slot, not right at the line of scrimmage and Gronkowski because he is just so big. Gronkowski having a bad ankle, may recover so that he will have decent straight line speed, but it is unlikely he will have as much lateral quickness as he usually does. Consequently, he will have more trouble getting away from attempts to bump him at the line of scrimmage and this aggressive tight, physical coverage might be effective. Giants used this tactic against the Packers, who have more and quicker targets. It seemed to work against the Packers, so I think the Giants will try it Sunday.
Patriots will probably try to run the ball and will use lots of screen passes; two effective ways to slow down a big pass rush. They could also try to rely on some max protect schemes to neutralize the pass rush and hope that their WRs will eventually get open, if Brady has enough time.
It will be an interesting match up - will Patriots OL be able to block the Giants DL long enough for their short passing game to work. Or, will the Giants DB-field take away Brady's first quick read, make him look for a second target, forcing him to sit in the pocket a second longer, giving the Giants pass rush a chance to get home.
Giants match ups in the secondary, when they are not playing zones, may be Ross on Welker, because Webster is a little bigger and likes to handle the more physical WRs. Webster may spend some time on the TEs, since he has the physical attributes to handle them. Jacquian Williams will need to have a big day, helping in pass defense.
When Giants have the ball
The Patriots defense has been playing a little better lately, but they have played weak offense in the Broncos and Ravens. Giants defense has been playing better too, but they have played some high powered offenses in this defensive revival, in Packers, Cowboys and Falcons. If the Giants OL blocks the Patriots DL giving Eli some time, he will make some plays down the field. Patriots may play a very conservative defense, not letting anyone get behind them, using a lot of nickel forcing the Giants to throw short and run the ball. It will be interesting to see how the Giants handle this. Giants WRs have made plays after the catch, so Giants need to be patient and wait for their play makers to take over the game. If Patriots play this conservative shell coverage with nickel in the DB-field, Giants may have to go to a power running game against the smaller Patriots defenders and Brandon Jacobs could be an important player in this game. If the Patriots are successful at taking the Giants out of their passing game and turning the game into a match of short passing games, it may be to the Patriots advantage, because that is their offense and the game will be played on their turf, in the style that they are comfortable with.
Patriots DL is anchored by the one real good player on it - Wilfork. He is more a run stopper than a pass rusher, so the idea that Eli needs good protection may not be threatened by Wilfork. In fact, one of the Giants poor offensive games this year came in games where they had trouble blocking the other team's pass rush. I think the Patriots will go to a conservative defensive game plan, but if they decide to pressure and blitz a lot, Giants will have to pick it up and make them pay. I still believe that if the OL blocks 'em, Eli will move the ball through the air.