These receivers get passing grades Freeman and Brooks, QB Favre pose tough test for any team's secondary

Packers' pass offense

Super Bowl Xxxii

January 23, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- In case there is any doubt about how tough it is to defend the Green Bay Packers' vaunted passing game, refer to the NFC championship game two weeks ago.

That was where Packers quarterback Brett Favre sliced and diced San Francisco's cornerbacks with the simple slant pass, hitting both Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks for big plays in a driving rainstorm.

Freeman left 49ers defenders strewn across the field on a winding, 27-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter -- short pass, long run. This came on a soggy field, no less, that turned quickly into a quagmire. The 49ers' cornerbacks were helpless to prevent those completions and big runs by both receivers.

It is that kind of big-play ability that has to concern Denver cornerbacks Ray Crockett and Darrien Gordon. Gordon, by far, is the shakier of the two and most vulnerable.

The Broncos like to play eight men against the run, which means three defensive backs are on their own in man-to-man coverage. For the most part and against most teams, that strategy has clicked this season.

But Favre isn't like most quarterbacks.

He is a three-time MVP who eats up man-to-man coverage, has the quickness to elude the pass rush and the daring to take risks. He has taken fewer risks in the postseason, however, than he took during the regular season.

Favre can nickel-and-dime a defense with the short passing game to running back Dorsey Levens, fullback William Henderson and tight end Mark Chmura, whom he likes to use in the red zone.

Or, he can go deep to Freeman (15.3 yards per catch, 12 TDs) and Brooks (16.8, 7 TDs). Couple those options with Levens' power running game and you begin to get a sense of what the Broncos are up against.

The Packers averaged 231.6 passing yards a game this season, third best in the NFL. The Broncos allowed 179.3 pass yards, which came up fifth best. That appears to be strength on strength.

The Broncos made big plays in their secondary, returning five of 18 interceptions for touchdowns. They have one of the hardest hitters in safety Steve Atwater, and a persistent pass rush in Neil Smith, Maa Tanuvasa and Alfred Williams, who each collected 8.5 sacks this season.

But unless they can get to Favre in the pocket, or run stride-for-stride with Freeman and Brooks in the secondary, it's a matchup the Broncos figure to lose.

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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