Super Bowl XXXII between the Denver Broncos and the Green Bay Packers was a classic case of over coaching in Denver’s 31-24 upset win. Was it really an upset?? The years of free agency made the AFC as physical as the NFC.
In the previous 3 seasons, you saw the AFC getting more physical in their Super Bowl representative. San Diego in XXIX, Steelers in XXX, and Patriots in XXXI. They weren’t like my Buffalo Bills in 3 of the previous 4 Super Bowls before that were being beaten on the lines and out hit. Yet Green Bay was set to defend their title with Reggie White, Gilbert Brown, Santana Dotson and that defensive front.
What happened? The ’97 edition of the Packers were stout and were more in harmony as an offense. Edgar Bennett had been lost to injury. No worries, Dorsey Levens picked up the slack and had a career year with nearly 1,500 yards rushing. A powerful runner that gave Green Bay a stronger running game than they had in ’96. Robert Brooks was healthy and teamed with Antonio Freeman to give Favre the perfect set of receivers to go along with Pro Bowl TE Mark Chmura. Freeman had become a star in ’97 and could be found on the end of many of Brett Favre’s 35 TDs thrown that year. Brett was Co-MVP of the league and first time a player won it 3 straight years. They were better X’s and O’s but what was missing?
Desmond Howard and Keith Jackson were missing. Howard we’ll get to later, yet Jackson was the long time tight end who had come over as a free agent, had retired after the championship the previous year. The Packers would use a little more two tight ends with Chmura and Jackson which kept teams honest. This protects an offense from overload blitzes a majority of the time.
The Packers also could split either TE away from the line so that formation wise they could keep a defense deployed in base personnel and back a few teams out of a blitz. Evidenced by Keith Jackson’s huge game in the NFC Championship in ’95 v. Dallas with over 100 yards receiving in that game. Yet here they were 13-3 again and headed to the Super Bowl looking to become a dynasty.
I can still see the Packers ripping off 13 yd runs by Levens, and 13 yd passes by Favre in this the Super Bowl where the NFC was on a 13 game winning streak. I can still see that pretty pass from Favre to Freeman to end the first drive with a TD and a 7-0 lead. The Packers were off and runnin’…yet took the ball out of Dorsey Levens hands when he was running wild on the worst run defense, by ranking (16th), and yards per carry avg. to make the Super Bowl up to that point. This led to Favre being under more pressure from a blitzing Bronco defense.
After a Steve Atwater sack and forced fumble led to the Packers being behind 17-7, the Broncos had wrested strategic control from Green Bay. Dorsey Levens was a pass blocker and part time receiver now that they were playing catch-up. Denver on the other hand had Terrell Davis to keep running north /south on the Packers defense tiring them out. So is that great scouting by the Broncos or over coaching on the Packer’s part?
The Chancellor of Football thought over coaching since they took the ball out of Levens hands first when he had 11 carries for 62 yards at the half, including 5 runs of 7 yards or more. He was averaging 5.6 yards per carry yet Holmgren put the game in Brett Favre’s hands instead and right into the path of Bronco Defensive CoOrdinator Greg Robinson’s blitzers.
In 1997 the defending champion Packers were a juggernaut and in many ways were just as strong as their 1996 champion. They didn’t have Desmond Howard as the game breaking catalyst and it didn’t come back to haunt them until the late 3rd quarter in Super Bowl XXXII. When Antonio Freeman fumbled a kickoff that fired up the Broncos when Denver had just scored to take a 24-17 lead. It was ironic that roughly at about the same point in XXXI, Desmond took the kickoff the distance to deflate the Patriots. Here it sent a shot of confidence and excitement through the Bronco sideline. Only a few plays before was the John Elway diving helicopter run.
Yet this team did win the NFC Championship in San Francisco with a 23-10 win to end Steve Mariucci’s rookie season. The week before they held off the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional game 21-7 in a game made famous by the back and forth taunting between Brett Favre and Warren Sapp. That was a transcendent game yet Tampa didn’t have a ready for primetime offense that sank them. This team should have repeated.
Yet tactically they gave it away.
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