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SCOUT'S HONOR: Super Bowl focus
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Updated Feb 1, 2002 5:48 PM ET
Focus Game: Patriots vs. Rams
Chris Landry is a veteran NFL scout for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and the Cleveland Browns and former organizer of the Indianapolis Scouting Combine. He now operates his own scouting consultant business where he serves as a consultant to several NFL teams as well as universities in their coaching searches.
This year's Super Bowl coaching matchup provides us with two contrasting styles. Mike Martz of the Rams is an offensive coach and a master of a variety of formations combined with personnel groupings. Bill Belichick of the Patriots excels at breaking down an opponent with his defense and taking away what the other team's offense does best. The difficulty for Belichick this week will be to try and find an area that the Rams are not good at offensively. You can take a few things away from their offense strategically, but you cannot defend it all. That is where the Rams have the clear advantage. They do so much so well offensively and have so many weapons, it's virtually impossible to slow them down enough without their help. Having worked on Belichick's staff in Cleveland, I know what type of hours he is putting in to come up with a plan of attack. Had he been able to get two weeks to prepare, he would really have a legitimate chance to pull off a shocker. In this week's spotlight feature, we will take a look at both sides of the ball for each team.
St. Louis Rams offense vs. Patriots defense
In their first meeting earlier in the year, Belichick decided to drop and play coverage rather than give a steady supply of blitzes. With time, Rams quarterback Kurt Warner was able to dissect the Patriots soft zone fairly well. Look for Belichick to throw a variety of blitz packages this week, coming from all angles in an effort to put pressure on Warner and throw off the rhythm of their timing offense. Behind a steady blitz package, the Patriots figure to continue a soft zone look with 6-7 defensive backs with regularity. They figure to interchange regularly as their defense is a very intelligent group although short on athletic ability. Rams coach Mike Martz will counter the blitz package with hot reads. He is not one to utilize maximum protection in his blitz protection scheme. He would rather have the sight adjustments built right in to their passing attack where his receivers would shorten their routes in an effort to get rid of the ball quicker before the rush gets there. They feel that the athletic ability of their wide receivers can turn short gains into big plays. I also look for Martz to force a lot of action to cornerback Otis Smith and free safety Tebucky Jones. Smith is a short-area cover 2 cornerback. He is not asked to cover much ground due to his lack of athletic ability, but he plays with good technique and discipline. The Rams will try to stretch him with short crossing routes that he must defend after the catch. Free safety Jones is responsible for deep-half coverage in their predominately cover 2 scheme but usually is found cheating to the boundary in a help coverage situation. Double-crossing routes will limit his ability to help out and allow for some deep hitches, curls and go routes down the sideline.
Rams defense vs. Patriots offense
New England's offensive game plan is centered around a power running ground game versus an undersized Rams defensive front, as well as a controlled and fundamentally sound short-to-medium-range passing attack. They want to get running back Antowain Smith 25 carries and pound the ball often right at the Rams to neutralize their speed on defense. If they are able to do this effectively, they will be able to shorten the game and keep the ball away from the Rams offense as much as possible.
The Patriots passing attack puts lot of pressure on the opposition's linebackers. They rely on backs J.R. Redmond and Kevin Faulk along with tight end Jermaine Wiggins to make plays across the middle, and that has been a huge factor in the playoffs for the Pats. The Rams middle linebacker, London Fletcher, has the speed and range to cover, but strongside linebacker Don Davis will have to step it up a notch in coverage this week. The Rams have great defensive team speed and will try to put pressure from the outside on Brady. The Patriots offense will have to come up with a couple of big plays to get more points on the board than they have in the playoffs, because regardless of how well they play on defense, the Rams will still get their share of points.
This holds the key for any chance the Patriots have to keep the game close and possibly pull off a shocker. The Patriots have been dominant in the kicking game and the Rams are very vulnerable in the coverage game. Field position is a must for New England all night. They must be able to play on a short field and force the Rams into playing on a long field. With a great kicker, a good punter and an explosive returner in Troy Brown, the Patriots must not only dominate field position but get two touchdowns out of the kicking game and force two fumbles out of the Rams, which they are prone to do.
The Rams have a decided edge athletically on both offense and defense, so this is where New England must win the game.
It will be interesting to see how this game plays out. Even though the Rams have superior talent, they seem to be unable to blow many people out. Without question, the Patriots will throw something at the Rams offense that will force them to adjust on the move. With a few more bullets in the gun, I feel Belichick would have a chance to pull this one out. But the talent level is so lopsided in this one, it's hard to see the Rams being beaten, as they have too many weapons they can turn to. The Patriots will have some success and force the Rams to struggle at times, but in the end it will be too much talent to overcome. While on the staff of the Titans a couple of years ago, I saw the Rams beat us at the buzzer. This one will be close for a while but will be decided well before the final buzzer. The Rams win by a couple of touchdowns.
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