SI's resident expert offers up his game tacking the Patriots' complex defense
AFTER STUDYING videotape of the Patriots' AFC Championship Game win over the Colts, I came up with some dos and don'ts for the Panthers' offense in the Super Bowl.
Don't try to get anything going against the left side of the New England secondary, where Ty Law plays the corner and Rodney Harrison backs him up at left safety. (The Pats usually don't go strong and weak with their safeties.) On the first of Law's three interceptions of Peyton Manning, a post-corner route to Marvin Harrison, Law was signaling to Rodney Harrison where the ball would go even before the wideout made his cut. Then Law broke off his own assignment underneath and made the interception. Law has never been better. He's like the poker player who can read everybody's hand, and Harrison is lighter and quicker than I've ever seen him. He's getting a terrific jump on the ball.
Don't throw fades or anything that is slow-developing, because Harrison and the right safety, rookie Eugene Wilson, will separate receivers from the ball and their senses. Manning made that mistake, and his wideouts were basket cases by the fourth quarter.
Don't try to block the edge rushers in the nickel, Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest, with a tight end or a running back. Treat them as the defensive ends they once were, not linebackers who rush. Make sure you've got a tackle on each one. In the case of Carolina left tackle Todd Steussie, make sure he has help if he's going against McGinest.
Early in the game Indy had success running on New England's nickel in long-yardage situations. On their touchdown drive at the start of the third quarter the Colts went heavy, with a fullback or two tight ends, and they had some success then, too. But I don't think the Patriots will show the Panthers the same look. As a mixer New England brought in Ted Johnson at strongside linebacker, with Vrabel going to the weak side, but I think that scheme will be put in mothballs. Carolina should come in with three wideouts and run against the nickel until the Patriots stop it.
If middle linebacker Tedy Bruschi's bad right leg keeps him out and Johnson replaces him, then I'd do everything I could to get Johnson, who's basically a run stopper, into coverage. I'd start by throwing to fullback Brad Hoover and see what happens.
I'd throw deep against right corner Tyrone Poole, who seems to be wearing down. I'd put a pair of wideouts in the face of nickel back Asante Samuel and run picks and screens. He's a rookie and can be fooled. But I wouldn't try to get anything going against him downfield, because that's where his strength lies.