Both teams are up front about chances

January 26, 1994|By S.A. Paolantonio | S.A. Paolantonio,Knight-Ridder News Service

ATLANTA -- Charles Haley is not fooling around.

And John Fina knows it.

Fina, the starting left tackle for the Buffalo Bills, will draw the assignment of trying to keep Haley's mean attitude out of Jim Kelly's face on Sunday. But Haley, Dallas' right defensive end, is very clear about how the Cowboys will win the Super Bowl rematch.

"The key is going to be how the front four plays," Haley said yesterday, as both teams began preparations for Sunday's game. "If we dominate, we win."

Responded Fina: "Charles could not be more right."

For big games, the attention is always on the marquee players. They wear sunglasses indoors. They spin off cute lines. They make the big money.

But ask Kelly or Troy Aikman or Thurman Thomas or Emmitt Smith and, with genuine sincerity, they will repeat that old cliche: "This game will be decided in the trenches." In regard to Super Bowl XXVIII, that could not be more true.

"The MVP will be our offensive line," Kelly said.

Last year, Kelly was knocked out of the Super Bowl by Haley & Company in the second quarter. Frank Reich took over. But he wasn't much better. Each quarterback was so rattled by the Cowboys' defensive pressure, he threw two interceptions.

But after manhandling Kansas City in the AFC title game, the Bills' offensive line is brimming with confidence -- even though Fina dropped a sure touchdown pass on a trick goal-line play against the Chiefs. Buffalo coach Marv Levy will not be trying that against the Cowboys.

Levy may be trying some other things. Against the Chiefs, the Bills experimented with counter plays to try to reduce the effectiveness of All-Pro linebacker Derrick Thomas, and they accomplished that task.

Frequently, the Bills had All-Pro Howard Ballard, who is 6 feet 6 and 325 pounds, pulling across the line of scrimmage from his right tackle position to attack Thomas, while two other linemen double-teamed whoever had his nose over the center. The result: Ballard took out Derrick Thomas, and Thurman Thomas was able to cut back through the off-guard hole for big gains.

"We caused the Chiefs to call two timeouts on defense because they were tired and they were confused," Kelly said.

But even when the Bills beat the Cowboys, 13-10, in the second week of the regular season, the Dallas front four had no problem handling Buffalo's offensive line. Kelly was sacked four times for 26 yards in losses. And Thurman Thomas was kept to 75 yards rushing.

Defensive tackle Russell Maryland of the Cowboys said he expects the Bills to make some changes, fortifying Kelly's protection. And when that happens, the Cowboys will be ready, he said.

"We have to do the things that we do best -- get off the ball, use our speed and our quickness," said Maryland, who has been bothered by a sprained ankle but will play.

On the other side of the coin, the Bills will try to mix their defensive fronts, both for decoy purposes and to try to foil the Cowboys' giant offensive line. The biggest man in Buffalo's front seven is end Phil Hansen, who is 6-5, 278 pounds. Nose tackle Jeff Wright is only 274 pounds. All-Pro end Bruce Smith plays large at 273.

Meanwhile, the smallest member of the Cowboys' offensive line is center John Gesek at 6-5, 285 pounds. The tackles -- Mark Tuinei and Erik Williams -- are 305 and 324, respectively. Guards Nate Newton and Kevin Gogan are 325 pounds each.

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