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Fourth in a series
Here's a key matchup to watch in Super Bowl XLVI:
Patriots WRs Wes Welker and Deion Branch vs. Giants CBs Corey Webster and Aaron Ross
If you simply looked at Welker's stat line from these teams' Week Nine meeting, you'd think the Giants, like many teams, couldn't cover the Patriots' receivers. Welker had nine catches for 136 yards.
But a closer look at Tom Brady's numbers, mainly the 28-of-49 throwing (57.1 percent), tells you how physical the Giants' secondary was in that game. New York also picked off Brady twice.
Webster and Ross are responsible for keeping Welker and Branch grounded, taking away two of Brady's more reliable targets. Welker is often Brady's first read, and he had a sensational season. The league's best slot receiver is a very adept route runner who rarely drops a pass, and he can run after the catch. The Patriots will move him around to try and get him a favorable matchup.
Most of the time, Welker will face Ross, who can handle quick receivers in the slot. Antrel Rolle also might take some snaps against Welker, coming down from his safety spot.
What Ross and Webster will attempt to do is be very physical with Welker and Branch by jamming them at the line to throw them off their routes. The Steelers' corners were able to do that in one of the other Patriots' losses this season.
Webster is the Giants' best corner. He is big and physical and typically covers the opponent's top outside receiver. In this game, that will be the veteran Branch. He had only two catches for 21 yards on five targets in Week Nine and has been very hit-or-miss this season. But if the Giants fall asleep, Brady will go to Branch. The two are always on the same page, especially on timing routes. Branch had a 6-125 receiving game vs. Philadelphia and caught 8-129 vs. San Diego this season.
"It's kind of hard to match up with how they do because they line up people anywhere," Webster said at media day. "You just have to be cognizant of where their playmakers are at all times, know where they are on the field, and hopefully disrupt some timing between the quarterback and the receivers, and that will help us out."
Welker goes in motion often, and sometimes even will line up in the backfield — whatever the Patriots decide to do to avoid getting him jammed at the line. With the safeties and linebackers for the Giants set to be extra focused on TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Webster and Ross might not get much help in coverage.
The Giants' physical play helped get Brady off his game in the last matchup, and if a defense can take away any of his weapons, it can provide an advantage for New York.