MIAMI -- There's nothing subtle about the Atlanta Falcons' offense.
It's built around running back Jamal Anderson, who likes to pound away at the left side.
Since Anderson is left-handed, he usually stays left on plays designed to go to the left. But he'll often cut back to the left on plays designed to the right.
Anderson has a solid blocker in left tackle Bob Whitfield, but he just appears more comfortable in going to his left.
Anderson rushed for 1,846 yards on 410 carries -- a league record -- during the regular season. The Falcons planned to spell Anderson with Byron Hanspard, but Anderson had to take the full load when Hanspard was put on injured reserve at the start of camp.
Meanwhile, opposing teams are starting to overplay the run. The Minnesota Vikings did it in the NFC title game when they brought up linebacker Dixon Edwards and strong safety Robert Griffith on many first-down plays.
Using that strategy, the Vikings limited Anderson to 42 yards in regulation and 67 overall.
But they became vulnerable to the passing of Chris Chandler, who threw for 340 yards.
The Falcons figure to start out running Anderson again in this game. He averaged 25.6 carries in the regular season and has 52 attempts in the two playoff games.
But running against Denver will be no easy task. The Broncos were ranked No. 3 in the league in rushing defense during the regular season and gave up just 88 yards rushing in their final four games, only 28 in their two playoff victories. Miami and the New York Jets each gained just 14 yards in 13 carries against the Denver defense.
Denver has been very effective containing first-down rushes in the playoffs, holding opponents to just 8 yards on 14 attempts. By contrast, Atlanta got 4 yards or more on about 40 percent of its first-down rushes and ranked No. 3 in the league with 1,098 yards on first-down rushing plays.
One minus for the Falcons is that Brian Kozlowski, who moved from tight end to fullback, isn't as good a lead blocker as Bob Christian was before he injured his knee in December.
When Anderson runs to his left behind Whitfield, second-year left guard Calvin Collins has a critical job because he's lined up against the Broncos' best run defender, 304-pound Keith Traylor. Collins can't afford to let Taylor penetrate and stop Anderson in the backfield.
The key for the Falcons will be their first-down runs. If they can keep averaging 4 yards a carry, they can mix the pass with the run and keep Denver off-balance.
But if Falcons can't average more than a yard on first down, the Falcons will have to try to win the game with Chandler's arm.
They did that against the Vikings, but they'd prefer to rely on Anderson's legs. He's carried them most of the year.
Pub Date: 1/27/99