Difference-makers: Identifying three impact Patriots
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Who will be the Super Bowl star on a team without any? Isn't that the way the New England Patriots are almost always described? No star, just team.
Tom Brady has been the star in the Patriots' first two Super Bowl victories, even if Ty Law deserved the MVP in the first one.
Brady will make his usual impact Sunday against the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. In fact, it wouldn't be shocking to see him win his third MVP.
|Corey Dillon better get his rest because he'll be busy Sunday. (AP)
But we opted to look at three other players who might play a major role on the Patriots' chances. One is a big-time player (Corey Dillon), one is second-year starter (Eugene Wilson) and the third is a first-year starter (Brandon Gorin) who the team had hoped would be watching Sunday but who is forced in as a starter because of injury.
If all three have big games, the Patriots will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy again.
1. Corey Dillon, running back
The Eagles had problems earlier in the year with their run defense. They feel the insertion of Jeremiah Trotter into the lineup at middle linebacker with six games left in the regular season changed that.
But remember one thing: They're still a little small up front, and ends Jevon Kearse and Derrick Burgess are more pass rushers than run players.
That's why Dillon, a power back, will be key Sunday. The Patriots aren't a power-running team in the truest sense, but they do a heck of a job getting helmet-on-helmet up front to create lanes for Dillon. If he has a crease, Dillon is going to get through it. Arm tackles do not bring him down.
"They're a great team with a great defense," Dillon said. "Whatever we get out there, we're going to have to earn it."
Dillon ran for 1,635 yards in 15 regular-season games, third best in the league. He ran for 144 against the Colts in the divisional playoffs and 73 against the Steelers in the title game. He ran it 24 times against the Colts and 23 times against the Steelers. Look for a similar number -- if not more -- against the Eagles.
Dillon gets stronger as the game moves along. He averaged 4.8 per rush on his first 10 carries this year, and 5 yards per rush on carries 11-20.
Look for the Patriots to pound him early and often into the Eagles line. His first Super Bowl could be a special one.
2. Brandon Gorin, offensive tackle
Tom Brady has to be clean.
That's the goal of the offensive linemen. If his uniform is clean at the end of Sunday's game, they will have done their job, and the Patriots will likely have their consecutive Super Bowl victories.
That's where Gorin becomes a major factor. This is a man who never started before this season but now finds himself starting in a Super Bowl. An injury to Tom Ashworth earlier this year forced Gorin in as the right tackle.
Some thought he wasn't athletic enough to handle the job, but he has proven to be plenty reliable.
Gorin is listed at 6-feet-6 and 306 pounds, but there's no way he's less than 320 pounds. He's light on his feet, though, and showed well in the AFC title game handling the Steelers' speed rushers.
Handling speed will be key again Sunday. In Kearse and Burgess, the Eagles have two lighter ends who can really come up the field. The likelihood is that Kearse will spend much of the game at left end to match up with the inexperienced Gorin, rather than opposite left tackle Matt Light, who is a better player.
If Gorin can keep Kearse off Brady, and push him around in the run game, the Patriots should move the football. If Kearse gets the better of him, Brady could be forced into a couple of interceptions that could decide the game.
3. Eugene Wilson, safety
Rodney Harrison gets most of the attention in back of the New England secondary -- and rightfully so. He is big-hitting safety the younger players look up to for guidance. But Wilson could be more valuable Sunday. He is the rangier of the two safeties, which means he's better in coverage. A converted corner who has played out there at times this season because of injuries, Wilson is comfortable covering receivers, backs and tight ends.
With the Eagles expected to use a lot of spread formations, his coverage skills could be crucial to the Patriots' plan to slow down Donovan McNabb and the passing game.
Harrison excels against the run, and the Eagles aren't one of those pound-it teams. That's why Wilson should be the more valuable of the two this week.
Wilson started last year's Super Bowl as a rookie, but he's a better player this time around. That means he could be on Brian Westbrook a bunch Sunday if the Eagles move their runner outside in passing formations.
"We have to cover all edges for his game," Wilson said. "Sometimes they split him out at receiver, they bring him out of the backfield, they do a lot of things with him, so we have to be ready."
A year ago, the Panthers had some success throwing down the field against the New England secondary. Expect the Eagles to try to do the same. How well Wilson plays in coverage will be a key to whether the Patriots win the game.