Full-scale blitzing will bring risks When safety Butler rushes, Broncos TE Sharpe will be a handful for secondary

Packers' pass defense

Super Bowl Xxxii

January 22, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- One of the AFC's slickest passing games meets one of the NFC's stickier pass defenses in Super Bowl XXXII, and the key to the matchup is how well Denver handles Green Bay's assortment of blitzes.

The Broncos have had varied success against a full-scale blitz this season. They did not handle it well in a regular-season loss to the San Francisco 49ers. But they more than held their own against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game two weeks ago.

The Packers, meanwhile, have used the blitz as a major weapon down the stretch. They have not given up a touchdown pass in 31 quarters over eight games. A large part of that is their increased effort to reach the quarterback.

But the blitz represents a bigger risk for Green Bay in this game. The Packers' best blitzer, safety LeRoy Butler, also draws the assignment of covering tight end Shannon Sharpe, one of Denver's two 1,000-yard receivers this season.

Who covers Sharpe when Butler blitzes is the question. Sharpe is a tight end in a wide receiver's body. Strong-side linebacker Seth Joyner won't be able to stay with Sharpe downfield, so one of the defensive backs will have to take him.

That's the intrigue of this matchup. In Sharpe (three touchdown catches), Rod Smith (12 TDs, 1,180 yards) and Ed McCaffrey (eight TDs), Denver has three big-play receivers, although McCaffrey isn't the deep threat the other two are. In John Elway, the Broncos have a seasoned quarterback who knows what to do in these situations. He will have opportunities to make the big play.

After Green Bay lost its best cornerback, Craig Newsome, in the season opener, Tyrone Williams developed into a competent left corner. But he can be beaten, as San Francisco's J. J. Stokes showed more than once in the NFC championship game.

The Packers will need a strong pass rush by defensive end Reggie White (11 sacks), and a big push up the middle by Santana Dotson. Veteran safety Eugene Robinson, a former Seattle Seahawk, has played often against Elway and figures to be a critical factor in the secondary.

Rookie Darren Sharper, Mike Prior or Roderick Mullen will have to make plays in the Packers' nickel and dime coverages, as well. Sooner or later, Elway will get a matchup he likes, and then it's up to him to make the play.

Pub Date: 1/22/98

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