As the NFL regular season enters its final months, the Tennessee Titans (10-0) and New York Giants (9-1) have established themselves as the hegemons of the gridiron empire. Beyond their sterling records and suffocating defense, I find the Titans to be severely handicapped going up against the Giants in a possible future Super Bowl matchup. With Jeff Fisher's conservative defense/solid running game style being most damaging to their success in this anticipated dream match up. When I look at this Titans team, I cant help but see the Bill Cowher coached Steeler teams of the mid-90s. With the mediocre quarterback in Kerry Collins representing Neil O'Donnell (both have beards), above-average running backs (Lendale White filling in for Bam Morris), and a superb defense. The problem with this comparison is that those Steeler teams were masters of the close playoff loss. I just feel the conservative football mantra, though successful, always fails when used in an evenly matched contest come playoff time.
New York on the other hand, keeps mimicking the 2001 New England Patriots with there upset of the heavily favored team in the Super Bowl, powerhouse defense, no-name running game, and habitually clutch quarterback play. Though Coughlin comes from an offensive background, its his defense that has established the Giants as a force to be reckoned with this season. Below is a more detailed breakdown between the two teams and proof that the Titans have a lot to handle come this winter.
Coaching: Edge to the Giants
Though Fisher has been the head coach for the Titans/Oilers since 1994 and has never been pink slipped like Tom Coughlin, I can't overlook the fact that Coughlin has led a team to Super Bowl victory. Fisher on the other hand is 0-1 in the Super Bowl, 1-2 in AFC championship games, and has lost twice in the divisional playoffs while being the #1 seed in the playoffs (D-Coordinator for 93-94 Oilers). Yes, Coughlin's record with the Jaguars in the playoffs was abysmal, but his ring erases those Jacksonville blemishes.
Quarterback: Edge to the Giants
When you have a guy from Penn State quarterbacking your team, most football fans cry themselves to sleep at night. Yet, here is Mr. Kerry Collins leading the Titans to an undefeated record 12 weeks into the NFL season. Personally, I find his success being determined by great offensive line play coupled with a new found desire to accept the serviceable quarterback role. That said, seeing Eli Manning carve up the vaunted #1 ranked Steeler defense this year and converting third down after third down since January 2008 has become extremely impressive. I hate to say it, but this temperamental kid who pulled and Elway at the NFL draft has shown true brilliance in his play. His accuracy and crunch time performances continue to remind me of the great Tom Brady.
Backfield: Edge to Giants
With Lendale White in the Tennessee backfield, I almost thought this category would swing towards the Titans. Then I looked at the statistics. The battering Lendale White may have 11 touchdowns, but he also has a paltry 3.9 yards per carry average (ypc). His partner Chris Johnson, is doing a little better with a 4.4 ypc sprinkled with 5 touchdowns. For the Titans, a total of 1,327 yards has been gained so far this year on 335 carries. Comparing these stats to the Giants, you quickly appreciate how awesome their running back by committee is. Starter Brandon Jacobs is averaging 5.4 ypc, backup Derrick Ward is running for 5.3 yards a carry, while third down back Ahmad Bradshaw is chewing up an amazing 6.7 ypc. In total, the Giants have amassed 400 more yards on the ground this year with fewer carries (328 total) than the Titans.
Receiving Corp: Edge to the Giants
Plaxico Burress could outperform the Titans receivers single-handily if given the chance. When Justin Gage is your number two receiver and he couldn't even crack the two deep for the Chicago Bears, you know you have issues. Though, in research of the Tennessee tight ends, I find Bo Scaife having superior stats compared to Kevin Boss and added depth with Alge Crumpler. Still, with sage veteran Amani Toomer teaming up with the gargantuan Burress, its no surprise that this receiving corp has doubled the touchdown output of its possible Super Bowl foe.
Offensive Line: Even
I give Tennessee's line a lot of credit for giving Collins an eternity to find open receivers. They have given a once pathetic quarterback a career rebirth. Though, the Giants counter with sick running production from their hog mollies which also happened to completely stonewall Pittsburgh's vaunted blitzing 3-4. Therefore, I say both sides deserve recognition for being instrumental in their teams winning records.
Defensive Line: Even
Again, at first glance I figured the Titans would finally win a category. Then I looked at the statistics and quickly declared both D-lines even. Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth has emerged as a premier defensive tackle (7 sacks) and will surely end up in Honolulu this year. His teammate Tony Brown is chipping in with 3.5 sacks to help with the cause. Where the tackles dominate for the Titans, they are quickly over matched on the defensive end. Yes, on paper Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch look like an awesome duo, but this isn't 2001. Both ends have their stats dwarfed by the sacking machine that is Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka. Together the Giant twosome have 15 sacks to the Titan's 5.5. Their tackle production is also half of the Giant's D-ends. With the Titans having the better tackles and the Giant displaying dominant end play, each team cancels out each others strength and creates a stalemate on the defensive front.
Linebackers: Edge to Titans
Keith Bulluck's 62 tackles are above and beyond everyone else from either team. His outstanding play alone has placed shame to the remaining mediocrity on both squad's linebackers. Both linebacking corps represent filler between their elite secondaries and defensive lines.
Very hard to find a dominant side. Each position is manned by a stud on both teams. Chris Hope is having a career year and each secondary has two ex-Longhorns pulling their weight. The interception category is dead even with Tennessee having one more at 15. The Titans have more tackles and bigger names at each position, but the Giants counter with R.W. McQuarters and Sam Madison for more quality depth in their nickel and dime packages.
Special Teams: Edge to Giants
Statistically, New York edges out the Titans in field goal efficiency and punt average. This stat is amazing even more, in that the two players doing it, are in their forties! Its hard to go against two sure Hall of Famers in John Carney and Jeff Feagles.
Intangibles: Edge to Giants
Withstanding the tribulations of their 2008 Super Bowl run as the wild-card last year has placed quite a few feathers in the Giants cap. This seasoning comes in handy during hard fought close games. Having this aura of defending champs doesn't hurt for intimidation purposes either in a contest. Fisher's men on the other hand can't match the makeup or success that the Giants have gained from their Super Bowl success. Another reason Tennesse lacks the intangibles compared to the Giants is their failure to incorporate the athletically gifted Vince Young into the mid-90s Kordell Stewart/Slash role. Here is a guy who is on par with anybody in your receiving corp and could be a fantastic reverse runner. Just give him the ball in space and hope for large gains. Yet, he is wasted on the sidelines losing confidence by the day. It just seems a valuable weapon is gathering dust instead of being unleashed upon the enemy.
Totals: Giants win categories by score of 6-1-3
Final Score in Super Bowl: Giants win 24-21.