Grieb not flashy, but he was nearly flawless en route to MVP honors

QB Mark Grieb might not be flashy, but he was flawless in San Jose's title win, writes William Bendetson.

Originally Published: July 29, 2007
By William Bendetson | ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- Before Sunday's ArenaBowl XXI, Columbus Destroyers coach Doug Kay was watching warm-ups and saw San Jose QB Mark Grieb.

"I really like him," Kay said. "He is really consistent."

Turns out Kay was watching the ArenaBowl MVP warm up and the quarterback was much better than consistent. He was nearly perfect. Grieb was 24-of-29 for 218 yards with four TDs and zero interceptions as he led San Jose to a 55-33 win over Columbus in ArenaBowl XXI. It's San Jose's third AFL title in the past six seasons and Grieb's second MVP honor.

Getting Defensive

NEW ORLEANS -- Even though the AFL is an offensive league, who says there aren't any great defensive performances? The San Jose SaberCats have long prided themselves on their defense and proved it in their ArenaBowl XXI win over the Columbus Destroyers.

San Jose held Columbus to only 19 points in the second, and after allowing Destroyers QB Matt Nagy's first three completions of the game to go for 14, 16 and 15 yards, the SaberCats held him to only three other completions of more than 10 yards.

One reason for the SaberCats' success is talented players who are taking advantage of the unlimited substitution rule. It allows the SaberCats to have more one-way defensive players, according to defensive coordinator Kevin Guy.

"When they made the rule, they really messed up for our benefit," Guy said. "We knew that if we had mostly one-way defensive players, we could go from a good defense to a great defense, and that is what happened."

The SaberCats also took advantage of the offense's grabbing the early lead.

"Columbus played well until they got down, which allowed us to take some chances," Guy said. "It is tough to play against our defense when you are predictable, throwing long passes almost every time."

SaberCats players have different perspectives on why their defense is so good,

"We have the best offensive line and QB in football," linebacker Steve Watson said. "It becomes easy after that."

Asked whether San Jose is the New England Patriots of the AFL -- now that the SaberCats have won three ArenaBowls in six years -- defensive lineman Ron Jones said, "We don't like to compare our defense to anybody but the San Jose SaberCats."

With victory comes swagger.

-- William Bendetson

"Mark has a tremendous ability to decipher what the defense is trying to do," said San Jose offensive coordinator Terry Malley. "He also knows how to find the right receiver at the right time."

With three 1,000-yard receivers -- James Roe, Ben Nelson and Rodney Wright -- Grieb and the SaberCats simply took what was open. Columbus couldn't get much pressure on Grieb, so he just destroyed the Destroyers. At one point in the third quarter, he completed nine passes in a row, and he now has thrown the second-most touchdown passes in ArenaBowl history.

"You don't have enough fingers to cover all their receivers," Kay said. "In the first half, we overemphasized our defense on Nelson and Roe and they found the openings. When you don't have a good pass rush, it becomes even more magnified."

Mainly, Grieb and the SaberCats found Wright, who caught six passes for 57 yards in the first half. They also found the end zone, scoring on their first four possessions.

"That was our game plan," Nelson said. "We knew they were going to play a lot of zone so Wright was going to make a lot of catches with his speed. Once they switched to man defense in the second half, that opened it up for Roe and myself."

All told, Wright finished with 10 catches for 94 yards, Roe had eight for 76 yards and two TDs, and Nelson finished with five for 47 yards and one TD.

"A lot of teams have one or two great receivers," Roe said. "But with our team, we have three great receivers plus some young guys who can really play. You can hold us down for some time, but not for long."

In addition to hurting Columbus' defense, Grieb also hurt the Destroyers' offense simply by keeping it off the field. He orchestrated long drives that ran down the clock, including one 14-play drive in the second quarter, and limited the Columbus possessions. In a game in which San Jose was scoring nearly every time it had the ball, this put added pressure on the Destroyers' offense, which just couldn't keep up.

"With a team like Columbus, they are trying to force a lot of turnovers, so you need to remain patient," Grieb said. "The great thing about our offense is that you can't stop us with man defense, so teams play zone. But when Columbus got down, they switched to man, and that is when we have the most fun."

Added Columbus defensive back Brandon Hefflin: "We knew we needed to get pressure on Mark in order for him to make bad decisions, and we barely touched him. He took what we gave him and found the open areas."

He also found another championship for the SaberCats.

"What makes Mark so good is that he watches so much film that he is always well-prepared and comes to meetings with good questions," Malley said. "He spends a tremendous amount of time in the weight room, and he is a team-first person. He does not care how many touchdown passes he throws as long as the team wins."

And sometimes the wins come MVP awards. And sometimes the awards come with cars -- such as the Mitsubishi Spyder that Grieb won Sunday. There might not be any road trips planned just yet, but he definitely has some plans.

"I am going to relax," Grieb said

William Bendetson covers football for ESPN.com.