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Antrel Rolle Explains Cardinals’ Coverage Used On Santonio Holmes’ Super Bowl XLIII-Winning TD Catch

Former NFL cornerback Antrel Rolle had to feel a little bit ambushed during his recent appearance on CBS Sports’ ‘All Things Covered’ podcast with Bryant McFadden and Patrick Peterson as he was asked to relive and recount two huge plays that took place in Super Bowl XLIII that he was on the wrong end of. Not only was Rolle asked to talk about the 100-yard interception return for a touchdown by Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison against his Arizona Cardinals, but he was also asked to break down the failed coverage on the Super Bowl-winning touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to wide receiver Santonio Holmes. To Rolle’s credit, he obliged and did so with a great attitude.

“So, on the backside [of the play] we were pretty much playing kind of like a man-to-man with a guy hanging low,” Rolle said. “And on that side where the play happened, we were supposed to have a guy that’s playing the flat, which was the low outside guy. We had a high outside guy, which is supposed to be exactly where Santonio Holmes caught that ball. Then we have a low inside guy for anything that’s coming underneath. And then we have a high inside guy. So, they ran that play a couple of times early in that game. And actually, the play right before that, they ran the same exact play to the other side, but Ben overthrew him [Holmes]. So, the coach knew exactly what was coming and put us in the perfect coverage if the coverage were ran the right way. The perfect coverage. So, mind you, we have a low outside guy and a high outside guy, they threw the ball exactly where the high outside guy was supposed to be.”

McFadden, who was a member of the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII-winning team, then interjected a question.

“So, the high outside guy went and attacked the shorter route and left a hole?” McFadden asked Rolle.

Rolle then quickly replied.

He attacked the shorter route,” Rolle replied. “When Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball, [the defensive player] dropped down low and it left the open area. [Aaron] Francisco tried to do the best he could to try to come over there and make a play, but it was greatness. It was greatness.”

Greatness it was indeed by Holmes, who made an amazing toe-tap touchdown reception in the back right corner of the end zone before being shoved out of bounds by Cardinals safety Aaron Francisco.

The play? It was a Roethlisberger staple and his favorite at the time, 74 Scat Flasher Z Level. Bruce Arians, who was the Steelers offensive coordinator from 2007-2011, has talked about that Super Bowl-winning play several times over the years.

“I never repeat plays in a game,” Arians told Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Bay Times back in January of 2019. “But we were in the red zone. We had used everything. That play was Ben’s No. 1 pick, so we went back to it. 74 Scat Flasher Z Level. 74 Scat is the protection, so we free release the back. The linemen slide away, and the back would be hot in the flat. Hines Ward would be coming across to try to pick for that back or sit down in zone. Santonio ran a corner route behind him.

“The thing was designed to go to the flat. They played zone. Ben pumps it so hard I thought the ball was going to come out of his hands for Hines. Santonio gets a lot of credit for that catch, but that throw was unbelievable. To get it over the corner’s head and put it in a position where Tone can just catch it. He was the third read. It was a great throw.”

As for Rolle saying that the high outside defender on that play made a mistake and attacked the shorter route, that player is believed to have been cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

“That’s why football is the ultimate team sport,” McFadden said of the play. “You can have 10 people doing what they’re supposed to do, and one person not doing what they’re supposed to do, it messes up the entire thing.”

Rolle did not disagree with McFadden’s assessment.

You’re exactly right, you’re exactly right,” Rolle said.

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