The Last Word From Dr. Z SI's resident expert offers up his game plan for attacking the Patriots' complex defense

February 02, 2004

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

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

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. --Paul

COLOR PHOTO: JIM ROGASH/AP ON THE SPOT With Law playing so well, the Panthers would be wiseto test Poole (38).

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