SUPER BOWL XXXII RUNNER UP 1997 GREEN BAY PACKERS

 

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.

xxxii4In 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.

xxxiii6The 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.

xxxii7In 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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SUPER BOWL XXXI CHAMPION 1996 GREEN BAY PACKERS

Reggie White, Mike Holmgren, and Brett Favre brought the term “Titletown” back to Green Bay when they beat New England 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI.  It was fun to actually have a champion Packer team in my lifetime because it had a great feel to just say it. The championship had been gone from the land of Lombardi for 29 years.

xxxi3One of the strongest teams of the 1990s and maybe the strongest team in Packer history.  This team had absolutely no holes and overcame injuries to receivers Robert Brooks, and Antonio Freeman (playing the latter half with a plate in his arm). With Brett Favre throwing a conference record 39 TDs. They wound up becoming the first team since the ’72 Dolphins to score the most points (456) while allowing the fewest (210). Although they were 13-3 with Brett Favre coming of age, they needed that signature game which would show the league they were going to win it all. In came the perennially strong San Francisco 49ers for the divisional playoff.

The NFC Championship was fitting in that it pitted the Packers (NFL’s richest tradition) against the NFC’s newest team in the Carolina Panthers.

I’m normally an underdog guy, but not this time. Especially after watching the 1995 Packers get jobbed with a ton of bad calls in the Championship game in Dallas. Talk about a twelfth man…damn! That game left you feeling like the best team didn’t win but set the course for this team to dominate 1996 from start to finish.

xxxi2Possibly the first true champion of the free agent era. Reggie White (Eagles), DE Sean Jones (Oilers), FS Eugene Robinson (Seahawks), Mike Prior (Colts), TE Keith Jackson (Dolphins), WR Andre Rison, and KR Desmond Howard (Jacksonville) gave the Packers a veteran group that added to the team’s sense of urgency. Not bad for an organization that was used arguing against free agency. It was expressed the Packers wouldn’t attract black players if true free agency came to the NFL. Once they nabbed Reggie White, the rest was history.

Now let’s be honest, this team should have gone back to back but Holmgren over-coached against the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII in 1997.  Dorsey Levens was ripping off 13 yd runs repeatedly in the first quarter and Holmgren took the ball out of his hands. Which fed right into the blitzing Broncos and the Pack was having a problem picking them up which forced the fumble and interception that forced Green Bay to play catch-up.  Further taking the ball out of Dorsey Levens hands….of course that’s just my opinion I could be wrong.

super-bowl-logo-1996The 1996 Green Bay Packers were a meteor that you could see coming from a year away. A game New England Patriots team tried to stop them and narrowed the score to 27-21 when Desmond Howard brought the house down with a 99 yard return. Game…set…match 35-21 and the Lombardi Trophy returned to Green Bay.

This article is dedicated to the memories of Fritz Shurmur, Reggie White, Wayne Simmons, Pete Rozelle, Vince Lombardi, & Brad Jewell.

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #5 1991 Philadelphia Eagles

A recurring theme that seems to be running through these greatest defenses were they had to carry anemic, inefficient offenses through the season. One such incident took place when the Philadelphia Eagles lost the 1990 NFL MVP in Randall Cunningham in the first week 1991. All appeared to be lost as they attempted to go on without their #1 weapon. This defense turned in one of the last truly great performances finishing #1 against the run, #1 against the pass, and obviously #1 overall.

1991 Pro Bowl members of the Eagles defense.

1991 Pro Bowl members of the Eagles defense.

When you carry a team that played five quarterbacks during the season, you’ve done something. We’re sure you remember that renowned NFL quarterback Brad Goebel or Pat Ryan, right?? Who?? Brad Goebel not Stan Gable…that’s a fictitious character from Revenge Of the Nerds.

As for real quarterbacks they had two games against the Redskins Mark Rypien, that year’s Super Bowl MVP. Two more against Hall of Famer Troy Aikman then one against Steve Young and Warren Moon. Also Hall of Fame members. All but Young made the Pro Bowl in 1991. They went 3-3 against them and held Young’s 49ers (#3 offensively) and Aikman’s Cowboys (#9 offensively) to less than 100 yards passing in two complete games that year.

Remember, Aikman and Young went on to face each other in 3 consecutive NFC Championships starting the following year and won the next four Super Bowls.

They faced 6 top 10 offenses going 3-3 against them. Defensively they held 6 opponents to 10 points or fewer. Two of those games were against top ten offenses as we mentioned earlier. Counting match-ups with divisional foes as individual games, 8 times they held their opposition to their lowest offensive output for the season.

Half the defense made the Pro Bowl starting with the late Reggie White, the late Jerome Brown, and Clyde Simmons from the defensive line. These three accounted for 37 of the Eagle’s 55 sacks. Those 3 alone had just 7 sacks fewer than the 2013 NFL champion Seahawks had as a team. OLB Seth Joyner (110 tck / 6.5 sacks / 6 ff /3 ints) and CB Eric Allen who picked off 5.

The only reason SS Andre Waters didn't make the Pro Bowl was his reputation.

The only reason SS Andre Waters didn’t make the Pro Bowl was his reputation.

Amazingly the late SS Andre Waters didn’t make the Pro Bowl even though he had 156 tackles. It was he and FS Wes Hopkins that sent the early message in their signature game against the Oilers. Did you know starting the very next week, when others used their 13-6 destruction against Houston as a blueprint, stats diminished for the Run & Shoot?? This performance was the impetus for the abolition of the Run & Shoot as a complete offensive approach in the NFL.

In winning 7 of their last 8 attempting to make the playoffs, the quarterback rating allowed was around 40.0. For the season, 206 of 467 (44.1%) for 2,807 yards 16 TDs and 26 interceptions would get a quarterback cut and ripped by NFL Network or ESPN shows. Well this was the passing given up by the 91′ Eagles all year.

Or think of it like this: Look at the ’91 Eagles performance against 6 top 10 offenses and 4 HOF QBs. Compare those stats to Geno Smith who was the worst rated QB last year:

  • Geno Smith – 247 of 443 (55.8%) 3,046 yds 12tds 21 ints
  • ’91 Eagles – 206 of 467 (44.1%) for 2,807 yards 16 TDs and 26 interceptions

One of the best in history and #5 on The Chancellor of Football’s list.apicofme3

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Death Becomes the Run & Shoot on a Monday Night

Single outside receiver site adjustments from the Run and Shoot

Whatever happened to the Run & Shoot as a pro offense?? You remember in the early 90s, when several downtrodden franchises looked to this offense to gain a tactical advantage on the competition.  Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, and Seattle deployed 4 receivers who ran their routes according to how defenses were playing them.  Borrowing on a concept from Bill Walsh’s offense, it was up to both the receiver and quarterback to read the defense, then adjust the route accordingly.

The truth of the matter is for each team with 4 receivers; the 3rd and 4th receivers were better than the opposing 3rd and 4th defensive backs that were normally platooned to cover them.  These teams started racking up yards by the bushel and along with Buffalo’s “K Gun offense”, the zenith of the Run & Shoot was 1991 when each team, except Seattle. who abandoned the offense in 1990, made the playoffs.  The Bills set offensive records for TDs scored and 33TD passes in a season by Jim Kelly.  In fact Thurman Thomas was NFL MVP with over 2,100 combined yards from scrimmage.

Everyone thought of the Bills “No Huddle” offense as an offshoot of the Run & Shoot because of option routes run by Andre Reed in the slot and Thurman Thomas out of the backfield.  Teams had a hard time adjusting and no matter how your corner played any of these receivers, the receiver would change his route and use the corner’s position against him.

For instance if the corner played outside position in a cover 3 zone, the adjustment would be a seam route by the slot receiver, or a skinny post for the outside receiver.  That same corner came up in press one on one, the receiver would try for an outside release and run a fly pattern.   In a cover 2 where the corner was off, he would adjust and run a hook with the underneath receiver running a down and out underneath his pattern, as the outside receiver occupied the corner.  What could a defense do to combat an offense that used your very choices against you?

Enter the NFC East.  This was the division that each team fielded twin 200 lbs. safeties receivers were funneled to. Whether it was Myron Guyton / Greg Williams with the New York Giants, Danny Copeland / Brad Edwards of the Washington Redskins, or the more punishing Andre Waters / Wes Hopkins duo that was on patrol in Philadelphia’s Veteran Stadium.

Where most teams were employing mainly dime defenses that were off the receiver, these teams started fielding nickel and dime defenses with cover two over the top and bludgeoned smaller  run and shoot receivers.  Many pundits look back to the Giants 1990 Super Bowl XXV defeat of the Buffalo Bills and their use of a 2 man line nickle and dime variations to slow down Buffalo’s no huddle / run and shoot tactics.

However thats misleading…the Giants conceded the run to the Bills (see Thurman Thomas’ 135 yards rushing) to set the tone punishing receivers with hits from the linebackers and safeties.  It was more of a victory based on the strong time of possession difference from the methodical Giants offense more than defensive tactics. A 40:31 to 19:29 possession time difference as a matter of fact.  Although Super Bowl XXV, at the end of the 1990 season, did set the blueprint for playing physical defense against this speed type offense.  So when and where was the run and shoot conquered as an offense??

The signature game that signaled the death of the Run & Shoot as an offense, came in week 14 of the 1991 season.  A Monday night matchup where the Houston Oilers hosted the Philadelphia Eagles.  The Eagles as a defense had come to full fruition as a unit originally put together by Buddy Ryan and now run by defensive coordinator Bud Carson.  They had high hopes that 1991 would be their year: they returned ’90 NFL MVP Randall Cunningham and an improving defense, yet torn ligaments to Cunningham’s knee courtesy of Bryce Paup in the season opener, sent the Eagles season spiraling.  Not quite…

A defense that ranked near the bottom in ’88, Buddy Ryan helped their esprit de corp when he drafted only four players in 1989 citing he liked his guys.  The team grew defensively into a giant by 1991 although Ryan was no longer with them.  The defense kept them in games week after week and they came into this matchup 7-5.  Could they best the #1 passing offense in the league? Could they do it on the road?

The Houston Oilers were the vanguard of the run n shoot teams and with Warren Moon had put up the most prolific numbers. In 1990 Moon passed the Oilers to the playoffs with 4,689 yards and 33 TDs.  The most since Dan Marino’s record setting 1984 and he missed 1 full game and time in 2 others.  Along the way he passed for 514 yards against the playoff bound Chief’s #6 ranked defense. Coming within 41 yards of Norm Van Brocklin’s 50 year old record of 554. Alas Moon suffered a broken thumb and missed the Oiler’s playoff loss to Cincinnati.

Going into 1991, Moon was on a near record setting pace again and some thought this, and not Buffalo was the strongest AFC team.  The Redskins were 8-0 and the Oilers 7-1 when they met in a week 8 slugfest with the eventual world champion Redskins. The game was won  by Washington 20-17 in RFK, yet they showed they indeed were ready to stand toe to toe with the best the NFC offered. Going into the Monday Night tilt against the beat up Philadelphia Eagles at home, many thought the Oilers juggernaut offense would roll in this game too.

What took place over the next three hours was one defensive masterpiece that many defensive affecionados remember reverently to this day. The Eagles employed a 4-2-5 nickel variation with OLB Seth Joyner and MLB Byron Evans, who was lanky for a middle backer yet had great range, for most of the night.

Occasionally they’d bring in the dime defense (6 defensive backs) yet what they did differently was press the receivers and blitz off short corners. The hitting was vicious with Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters leading the way.  They knocked out both Ernest Givins and Drew Hill out of the game twice each. The first vicious shot was a dirty elbow from Wes Hopkins that broke Givins nose, yet set the tone for the night.

Joyner played his way to the Pro Bowl and almost the Hall of Fame that night with 2 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to keep the game close.  Reggie White, Jerome Brown (The U), Mike Golic, and Clyde Simmons swallowed Allen Pinkett’s attempts to run holding the Oilers to a paltry 21 yards rushing for the game.  They also provided a serious rush that they supplemented with the occasional blitz that beat Houston into total submission before a stunned audience of millions. When dime back Otis Smith’s thunderous hit on Drew Hill, on an outside swirl route, forced Houston’s fifth fumble of the night. The rest of the league were on their second tablet from taking notes. The Eagles won 13-6 in front of a shocked audience.

Early 90s pic of Eagles L-R: Clyde Simmons, Eric Allen, Jerome Brown, Seth Joyner, and Reggie White

The beating was so decisive it ruined the Oilers season and this game was the complete blueprint on how to stop the run and shoot. Going into the game the Oilers were averaging 307 yards passing, just off pace needed to break Marino’s passing record, yet staggered away from this game only averaging 232 the rest of the season. The 226 they gained through the air against the Eagles was their season low.

The average was also down for the Falcons and Lions over the last 4 weeks of the season as well. The Oilers went down in the divisional round of the ’91 playoffs 26-24 to Denver, and the lone run n shoot playoff winner was Detroit who went on to whip Dallas 38-6. In fact the Cowboys had lost 4 games to run n shoot teams in 1991. The next year the Cowboys drafted a rangy MLB Robert Jones, in a Byron Evans mold, and brought in CB Kevin Smith, SS and former rangy college linebacker Darren Woodson, to stop those offenses the next year. The first of their 3 Super Bowl wins in the 90s and it started with that 1992 draft to mimick what the Eagles fielded in 1991.

As for the run n shoot, its effectiveness was diminished and the race for the record book was over.  In 1991 Houston passed for 4,621 yards where in 1992 that number dropped to 4,029. In ’92 neither the Lions or the Falcons came within 3 games of the playoffs and the Lions and Bills started to alter their offensive approach. The Oilers along with the Falcons ran the offense until 1993, yet the Falcons never returned to the playoffs…and the Oilers?? Well they went into the 1992 wildcard and took a 28-3 halftime lead on Buffalo who was playing with 6 & 7 DBs on the field.  Warren Moon at the half was 19 of 22 for almost 300 yards and 4 TDs and ballooned the lead to 35-3.

In the 3rd quarter, the Bills decided to play it the same way the Eagles had in ’91 inserting rangy MLB Carlton Bailey #54 and Darryl Talley #56 and they shut Houston down in the second half enroute to the greatest comeback in NFL history winning 41-38 in OT. Couple these landmark events with the system’s inability to score in the red zone and the run n shoot’s fate was sealed.  Even now the run n shoot receiving principles of WR route running based on options lives on in playbooks, just not in a 4 receiver set, nor as an entire offensive approach.

As for the Philadelphia Eagles defense that was the architect of the run n shoot’s demise? They went on to become the last great defense to finish #1 against the run, #1 against the pass, and #1 overall.  A distinction the ’85 Bears, ’86 Giants, ’76 Steelers, ’78 Steelers, ’08 Steelers, nor ’00 Ravens could match.  They finished the season winning 7 of 8 games and finished 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs.

The combined quarterback rating for their final 6 QBs was less than 40.0, and their principle line rushers R. White, Jerome Brown(The U), and Clyde Simmons combined for 37 sacks (which if they played last year would rank 11th in the NFL by themselves), and all 3 were Pro Bowlers and 1st team All Pro. Seth Joyner and Eric Allen earned Pro Bowl distinctions in 1991 as well.  They don’t receive the recognition of those other great defenses because they didn’t win the Super Bowl. Who would have operating with 5 different starting quarterbacks? They were one of the best defenses in NFL History.  Had Randall Cunningham not been injured…

Prologue: The impact of the players of this era in Eagle history were felt throughout the decade…

Super Bowl XXXI ring

Reggie White-Became the main prize in 1993’s free agent derby, signed with Green Bay and went on to become the NFL’s all time sack leader. Recorded 3 sacks in Super Bowl XXXI when he became a champion with Green Bay along with former Eagle TE Keith Jackson. They bested the New England Patriots who had former Eagle RB Keith Byars and CB Otis Smith on the team. White passed on the week of Christmas 2004 which cast a pall over the playoffs that year. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumosly in 2006. RIP Reggie White.

Commemorative patch worn by the 1992 Philadelphia Eagles in Jerome Brown’s memory.

Jerome Brown– An all pro talent who passed away the following June. He’s still one of the most beloved Miami Hurricanes and missed by Hurricane fans everywhere. The 1992 Eagles dedicated their season to his memory and wore this commemorative patch on their jerseys the entire season. They also kept an equipped locker for him throughout the season and set it up on road trips also. His locker was with the ’92 Eagles in the Superdome as they won their first playoff game in 15 years.

Brown was the predecessor to fellow Hurricanes DTs Cortez Kennedy Russell Maryland, and Warren Sapp. Kennedy, who changed his number to 99 in honor of Jerome and went on to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year in his honor in 1992 while playing for the Seahawks. Every Hurricane playing in the NFL during 1992 wore a black #98 on their helmet that year including several that played for the Dallas Cowboys. The next time you watch Super Bowl XXVII where Dallas beats Buffalo you’ll see the black #98 on the back of many helmets. Jerome was alos the inspiration and reason former Hurricane Warren Sapp wore #99 during his entire NFL career. R.I.P Jerome Brown

Super Bowl XXXII

Seth Joyner & Clyde Simmons– Were twin free agent prizes that signed with Buddy Ryan and the Cardinals in 1994. I wrote the Buffalo Bills organization and suggested we grab Simmons and Joyner to join Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett to fortify our defense to get to our fifth Super Bowl…yet I digress Joyner went on to join White with the Packers (1997) in their bid to repeat as champions yet they lost to Denver in Super Bowl XXXII.

Well if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, and when Denver (1998) went on to become back to back champions a year later. Seth Joyner was a Bronco and guess what number he wore?? Number 99. He is a motivational speaker in Arizona now http://sethjoyner.com/ runs youth football clinics and is a coach himself. Can also be heard on Philly radio w/ co-host Artie Clear http://www.theartieclearshow.com/

joyner_and_clear-logo---transparent

Eric Allen– Played on through the 2001 season finishing with the Raiders. A popular notion is he should have been 1993’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year for his 64 tackles 6 interception performance in which returned 4 of them for touchdowns.  The most famous being a 91 yard interception against the Jets. After weaving his way into the endzone, he handed the ball to teammate Randall Cunningham who was on crutches having been injured earlier in the game. His last game as a player was the famous “Tuck Game” in New England in the 2001 playoffs. Former teammate Otis Smith was a Patriot CB. He’s currently an ESPN analyst.

Byron Evans-Played 8 years with the Eagles through the ’94 season and was an underrated talent. Has an internet radio show he does with former teammate CB Mark McMillan on the Voice of America Network. http://www.voiceamerica.com/show/1475/hard-hittin-radio

Andre Waters– The hard hitting safety went on to join Simmons and Joyner in Arizona for the ’94 and ’95 seasons. He had gone into coaching yet passed away in 2006 R.I.P. Andre Waters

Super Bowl XXXVI Ring

Otis Smith-Was an Eagle dimeback in ’91. He went on to be the wily CB for a veteran laden Patriot team that lost Super Bowl XXXI to Green Bay. Yet was a Patriot 5 years later man handling Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce to stop the Greatest Show on Turf as he became a champion in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Mike Golic– finished his career with Miami and is half of the popular duo Mike and Mike on ESPN television and radio in the morning.

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

SUPER BOWL XXXII RUNNER UP 1997 GREEN BAY PACKERS