Super Bowl XXXI grades: Bledsoe struggles with pressure
Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21
In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, we’re diving into NFL Game Pass’ historical Super Bowl database to grade some of the most memorable, pre-PFF era Super Bowls. Here are the key takeaways and the highest-graded players from Green Bay’s 35-21 win over New England in Super Bowl XXXI Jan. 26, 1997.
Quarterback grade: Brett Favre, 75.2
Favre capitalizes on deep throws
Favre – unsurprisingly – wasn’t the most accurate QB in the world in Super Bowl XXXI, but he was able to connect on a couple of huge throws and then effectively manage an offense that just didn’t need to screw up, thanks to some otherworldly performances from Green Bay’s defense and special teams. Favre attempted 13 throws that traveled at least 10 yards down field, he completed just four of them, but those four completions netted him 180 passing yards and both of his touchdowns.
Top offensive grades:
G Aaron Taylor, 79.5
C Frank Winters, 76.3
QB Brett Favre, 75.2
WR Antonio Freeman, 75.1
WR Andre Rison, 74.7
Offensive line stifles Patriots pass rush
In 2016, Tyrod Taylor was the NFL’s most sacked QB, getting sacked 42 times while making 15 starts, for an average of 2.8 sacks per game. If you’re of the belief that sack totals are a good barometer by which to measure pressure, you’d look back at the box score of Super Bowl XXXI to see that Brett Favre was sacked five times – nearly double Taylor’s league-leading per-game average from this season – and be of the belief that Favre and the Green Bay offense was able to get it done despite New England’s ability to get pressure. But that just wasn’t the case, and this game highlights why at PFF it is one of our missions to discredit this common fallacy among football fans.
In 2016, Derek Carr was the NFL’s least-pressured QB, facing pressure on 142 of his 593 drop-backs, giving him a pressure percentage of 23.9 percent. In Super Bowl XXXI, Favre faced pressure – five sacks included – on just six of his 34 dropbacks, giving him a pressure percentage of 17.6 percent. Despite the Patriots having success at converting their pressures into sacks during Super Bowl XXXI, on a snap-by-snap basis the Packers offensive line did an excellent job at protecting their QB allowing him the necessary time he needed to make a clean throw. Bruce Wilkerson, Aaron Taylor and Frank Winters all combined to allow zero pressures against New England.
Top defensive grades:
ED Reggie White, 86.6
DI Gilbert Brown, 84.6
DI Santana Dotson, 83.8
CB Doug Evans, 82.3
ED Gabe Wilkins, 81.7
Reggie White puts on a show
No player – with the exception of Desmond Howard* for obvious reasons – stood out in this game like Reggie White did. The term “unblockable” may have actually been coined that night — I’m just waiting on some sources to verify. White tallied 11 total pressures in Super Bowl XXXI on just 45 pass-rushing snaps. In the past five seasons, there have been just five 4-3 defensive ends to record 11 pressures over the course of the entire playoffs; White managed to get 11 in the biggest game of his legendary career. Brown and Dotson combined to record seven pressures between them while each grading well in run defense, while Wilkins recorded three total pressures and also batted a pass on just 19 total snaps. On the back end of the defense, Evans allowed just two catches on four targets for a total of just 10 yards to go with an interception.
*It would be a mistake to not find somewhere in this recap to highlight Howard’s play as a returner. We don’t currently translate our raw grades to the 0-99 scale for kick returners, but in terms of those raw grades, Howard’s grade as a kick returner in Super Bowl XXXI stands as higher than any returner in any Super Bowl in the PFF Era (2006-present).
Quarterback grade: Drew Bledsoe, 43.1
Pressure gets to Bledsoe
Bledsoe, like Favre, was sacked five times in this one; but unlike his counterpart, he faced pressure on a great deal of other drop-backs as well. Bledsoe was pressured on 22 of his 54 drop-backs in Super Bowl XXXI (40.7 percent) and he completed just six of 17 passes for 40 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, giving him a mere 4.4 QB Rating while under duress. Bledsoe also struggled at pushing the ball down the field, completing just seven of 15 passes for 119 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions on throws traveling at least 10 yards in the air.
Top offensive grades:
TE Ben Coates, 85.6
T Bruce Armstrong, 71.8
HB Curtis Martin, 69.8
WR Terry Glenn, 67.6
FB Keith Byars, 53.7
Ben Coates stands out in lackluster day for offense
Ben Coates had an excellent game in Super Bowl XXXI, grading at least slightly positively as a receiver, run blocker, pass protector and as a blocker down field for other receivers. As a receiver, Coates hauled in seven of his eight targets for 72 yards and a touchdown; Bledsoe had a 143.8 passer rating when throwing to Coates, he had a 46.0 passer rating when targeting any other receiver. Armstrong allowed just two total pressures in pass protection on the day at the left tackle spot, while Max Lane surrendered 12 total pressures from the right tackle spot, with most of those 12 being surrendered to Reggie White.
Top defensive grades:
LB Ted Johnson, 91.8
DI Mark Wheeler, 76.7
CB Ty Law, 75.4
LB Todd Collins, 75.4
CB Mike McGruder, 75.3
Ted Johnson puts up impressive Super Bowl performance
Patriots’ LB Ted Johnson had an absolutely outstanding game in terms of stopping the run (93.9 run-defense grade), racking up six run stops (a stop is a solo tackle that results in a loss for the offense, given the situation) to lead both defenses. Johnson also had a fine day in coverage where he allowed just two of four targets to be caught for a total of 11 yards; Johnson also had a stop in coverage. Ty Law and Mike McGruder combined to allow just one catch on three targets for a total of five yards; McGruder also registered one pass breakup.
PFF Game-Ball Winner: Green Bay ED Reggie White
Click the tables below to expand.