Sunday, February 1, 2004

Super Bowl about defense


So is Carolina D-line better, or N.E. secondary?

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HOUSTON - Two position groups - one for each team - have the ability to control the outcome of Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Carolina's defensive line, expected to stop New England's rush offense, is in a position to disrupt the Patriots' pass offense by pressuring quarterback Tom Brady into quick throws. The Panthers' front four - ends Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers and tackles Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner - accounts for 4.5 of the team's 10 postseason sacks. Consistent pressure from the Carolina front would allow the Panthers to keep seven defenders in pass protection and force the Patriots to employ extra blockers, keeping them out of their favored spread offense.

"Pass rush is the best way to play pass defense," Carolina coach John Fox said.

New England, which led the NFL in allowing just 14.9 points a game, is going to throw a variety of blitzes and coverage schemes at Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme. The key to New England's defense is its secondary - led by Pro Bowl strong safety Rodney Harrison and cornerback Ty Law.

New England will stick Law on Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith, the one threat the Patriots respect. They're not too worried about the Panthers' other receivers.

The New England secondary dominated the Rams two years ago in Super Bowl XXXVI, when Law returned a Kurt Warner pass 47 yards for a touchdown. As they did against the Colts in the AFC title game, the Pats will try to jam Carolina's receivers at the line and disrupt the pass game.

"A lot of their pass plays are catch-and-run," Belichick said. "They make people miss. We have to defend them from the line of scrimmage down the entire field."

Palace of the Super Bowl fans

The Super Bowl parties for U.S. troops in Iraq will start hours before dawn, and there won't be beer. But at least in Tikrit, soldiers have a lavish venue: They'll be watching a cinema-sized screen in a former palace of Saddam Hussein. At bases across the country, the 130,000 American troops will be able to catch the game between the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots live (starting at 2:25 a.m. Monday, Iraqi time) in mess halls and recreation centers.

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E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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