... and Denver figures to be especially aware Containing Packers duo crucial to Broncos' success

Broncos special teams

January 24, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- Denver and Green Bay were equal in special teams play until Packers coach Mike Holmgren made a move in the postseason and put receivers Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman on the return units.

"In the playoffs, there are no tomorrows," said Darrien Gordon, the Broncos starting cornerback and punt returner. "One play can turn an entire game. They have the luxury of having two guys who must have had some special teams background. It's a tremendous advantage. Why not use it? It gives them an edge."

Now Denver has to undo Holmgren's magic, or at least slow it down when it comes to Brooks, now a punt returner and Freeman, who returns kicks. In the postseason, Brooks has returned five punts for 74 yards with a long of 28 yards. Freeman has three kickoff returns for 54 yards.

Denver had success on punt coverage, allowing 9 yards a return and and average of 20.5 on kickoff returns during the regular season.

"The key word is contain. Then you win the field position battle," said Denver coach Mike Shanahan. "In big games where teams are close to the same playing level, specials teams and field position are the deciding factors. I won't reveal our game plan, but we don't want Freeman and Brooks having clear paths to the goal line."

Gordon also will be a major factor. He has returned three punts for touchdowns and averaged 13.6 yards per punt return during the regular season. And Broncos kick returner Vaughn Hebron is one of the best in the league, averaging 23.5 yards. Hebron, from Cardinal Gibbons, handled 43 kickoffs this season for 1,009 yards, including a high return of 46 yards.

Denver punter Tom Rouen has to be more consistent than he has been in the regular season, when he averaged 43.3 yards. Broncos kicker Jason Elam has been inconsistent on field goals this season outside of 39 yards. Elam was three of eight from 40 to 49 yards during the regular season and three of five outside of 50.

Pub Date: 1/24/98

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