Super Bowl week has arrived. The countdown to kickoff begins in earnest. Questions aplenty to be debated, churned-over, and beaten to death. Without further ado, here are three key things to think about during the lead up to and look for during Super Bowl 46:
- Gronk and His Ankle:
- This is the biggie--the obvious question for New England. The effectiveness of tight end Rob Gronkowski in the Patriots non-vertical aerial attack is vital. Without him and fellow tight end on the field together, the Patriots slip back to their Stand and Wait for Wes Welker to Beat the Double Team offense. As to his status, there is little doubt that other than regressing, he will play. Can the ankle hold up the entire game and can he remain the dynamic force blocking and out in pass patterns remain to be seen. The offense doesn't need a decoy, it needs play-makers making big plays on Sunday.
- Nate Solder and Seabass:
- As I noted here last week about the match-up with the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots with a healthy Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle allows them to open up their playbook and use rookie swing tackle Nate Solder as the third tight end. I won't belabor the point because if Vollmer is not healthy enough to play or not effective enough to protect quarterback Tom Brady, then Solder is in at right tackle asap.
- UPDATE: According to ESPNBoston, Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia told WEEI.com Tuesday that starting offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who has missed the last seven games with back and foot injuries, will play in Super Bowl XLVI.
- Special Teams
- Both teams are in Super Bowl 46 because of their special teams. The Patriots watched Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff miss insanely wide left at the end of regulation in the AFC Championship game. The Giants got a mighty special teams assist from the son of Chicago White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams who flubbed two punts leading to the Giants scoring twice and winning in overtime. Both teams have solid special teams with good kickers. If they neutralize each other (Danny Woodhead: no fumbles on kickoffs!), it takes away an advantage each team has usually had during the season. One big play, be it punt or kickoff return, fumble or forced fumble, pin-down punt or long field goal may be enough to swing the tide of the Super Bowl for these fairly evenly matched teams. One point to note from week nine: The Giants pinned the Patriots back inside their 20 the entire first half. It was a huge advantage, and I am sure the Patriots coaches are harping on field position as a big key on Sunday.