Retro ReFo: Super Bowl XXXVI
Over the years our readers have asked us for many things, and among those one topic keeps repeating; revisiting and grading old games. Interesting as that is, we don’t normally have time for much additional work, but Super Bowl week does give us an opportunity. So by way of a trial and to gauge if this is worth doing again, we decided what better game to look back on than the last time a Super Bowl was held in the Superdome. Following the 2001 season the seemingly unstoppable offensive juggernaut of the St. Louis Rams came up against the underdog New England Patriots. If ProFootballFocus.com had been in existence then here’s how our Re-Focused article would have read.
(For full Game Grades: Click HERE)
St. Louis – Three Performances of Note
Although Torry Holt (-2.6) didn’t make the Pro Bowl initially in 2001, he was the second alternate and did go to Hawaii on the back of two injuries. His 85.2 yards receiving per game was good for sixth in the NFL and led his team. It’s fair to say the Rams came into the game expecting him to be a difference-maker — but certainly not in the way things transpired.
In New Orleans, his two first-down receptions in no way compensated for his failings. Targeted 11 times, his five catches for only 49 yards conflicted hugely with his three drops and, perhaps more significantly, the slip on the in-route which led to Kurt Warner’s second interception. Of all the Rams receivers, he was the one who appeared most rattled by the aggressive tactics of the Patriots’ secondary.
Little Problem Getting to the QB
When PFF started grading games in 2008, Leonard Little (+1.0) was a very good pass rusher who had problems defending the run. Looking back to this game, which came at the end of his fourth season, it appears not much had changed during the intervening years. In only 18 attempts to get to Tom Brady, Little managed a sack, two hits, and a hurry. The ease with which he went outside of right tackle Greg Randall to force an incompletion on 3rd-and-2 with 7:59 left in the last quarter demonstarted the best of his work. Although he did make some plays outside the passing game he was usually sealed inside easily on the plethora of right end runs the Patriots employed. However, perhaps the strangest sight was him dropping in coverage with 21 seconds left in the game and failing to stop Jermaine Wiggins from picking up 5 yards after catch on a whip route that made a 53-yard field goal the 48-yarder it became.
Trouble in the Middle
At the root of the Rams’ defensive issues in this game was their inability to stop the Patriots’ ground game (133 yards at 5.3 a pop). At the center of that effort was London Fletcher (-4.0). As can be seen from the full grading, the defensive line did just about enough but the linebackers all had issues and Fletcher had the most of all. He missed only a single tackle, but this was more a function of him either being pushed around or making mental errors. On one occasion he decided to follow Tommy Polley into exactly the same hole leaving his vacant, and on the David Patten reverse he was so confused he was still looking for the ball on the right as Patten crossed the line of scrimmage on his left.
Perhaps the biggest display of his issues, though, came on a screen to Troy Brown when Joe Andruzzi completely pancaked the MLB in space (12:43 left in the third quarter).
New England – Three Performances of Note
Hands up those people who can name either of the other two Patriots receivers, outside David Patten and Troy Brown (+2.0), who ran routes during this game. Well, if you can (answers in the full grading) you did better than me — after (not before) I’d watched the game that is. This makes the way Brown dominated proceedings, as he picked up 66% of the net passing yardage and 63% of the first downs by passing, all the more impressive; who else was there to cover? Additionally, what often gets forgotten about the final drive is that if Brown had not been able to wrong foot Dre’ Bly and had been tackled in bounds, it is almost certain the clock would have expired and the game would have gone into overtime. Tom Brady may have taken the MVP award, but Brown was the offensive difference in this game.
It’s something fans of Tom Brady (-0.8) don’t like to hear and clearly, as the years wore on, the phrase became redundant, but you can’t watch this game without thinking ‘Game Manager’ was the very epitome of the role he performed. A powerful running game, a clever defensive plan, and the quarterback is essentially left with the job of not messing it all up. All of 66% of his meager 145 passing yards came after the catch, and on the final game-winning drive, 68%. That drive is famous (among other things) for John Madden saying he would just run out the clock and being a little incredulous when the Patriots didn’t just kneel on it. Perhaps what he didn’t count on was the Rams somehow contriving to let the receiver on most of the dump-offs get out of bounds. No, this wasn’t a classic performance from Brady, he made as many poor throws as he did good ones but, in the end, his two best throws (the TD and the final throw to Brown) were the ones that will be remembered.
Doing the Unthinkable
During this game nobody played as many snaps in coverage as Otis Smith (+2.4) and no one gave up fewer yards. Of his 52 plays in the passing game he was targeted six times and allowed only two receptions for 13 yards and a 9-yard pass interference penalty. Add to this his pass defended and interception (where his close coverage led to Torry Holt falling down) and you have a remarkable performance against the best passing attack in football.
It is fair to say he was beaten deep by Holt once when Warner threw the ball out of bounds, but when that and the penalty remain your only blemishes, you have played a truly sensational game at the most important moment in your career. When people talk about this game the names mentioned are Brady, Brown and sometimes Ty Law, but I’ll remember it for the play of Otis Smith.
– In perhaps his only negative of the game, center Damian Woody moved to left guard on every shotgun snap so the more reliable long snapper, Mike Compton, could take over those duties.
– In the game the Rams utilized only five defensive backs and (as is Lovie Smith’s trademark) only three packages; the Patriots used eight DBs and 13 different packages.
– Lawyer Milloy missed four tackles during the game — two against the run, two in coverage. It’s instructive that, as he graded out as broadly average, how well he played outside that.
For the reasons given above Otis Smith was awarded the retrospective PFF game ball.
Follow Neil on Twitter @PFF_Neil
For full game grades for both teams, continue to Page 2.