Broncos' defense remains stoic, stingy

With publicity elsewhere, Denver unit consistently shutting down the run

January 30, 1999|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- Ever in search of the perfect game, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Greg Robinson got a glimpse of what it might look like this month.

In back-to-back victories over the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, the Broncos surrendered a total of one touchdown (following a blocked Denver punt) and 28 rushing yards. Were it not for the 594 passing yards given up, perfection would have been achieved.

For the second straight year, the Broncos' defense has dominated. While running back Terrell Davis and quarterback John Elway get most of the attention, the defense has been the most consistent element in Denver's postseason splash.

"We've gotten teams to quit running on us," Robinson said in the buildup to Super Bowl XXXIII against the Atlanta Falcons. "I like to say great teams keeping getting better.

"We keep working on little things. We're always working on technique things. We're working to play the perfect game."

It is virtually impossible to play better run defense than the Broncos have played down the stretch. In their last four games, they've given up a total of 88 rushing yards on 67 carries -- a staggering 1.3 average gain. In the postseason, it's 28 yards on 26 carries, a 1.1 average.

But now comes their biggest test. The Falcons won't abandon the running game the way the Dolphins and Jets did (they had 13 rushing attempts apiece). With punishing running back Jamal Anderson, Atlanta promises to bring an all-night siege to Pro Player Stadium.

Anderson was the NFL's second-leading rusher in 1998 with 1,846 yards and a 4.5 average carry. At 5 feet 11 and 234 pounds, he poses unique problems for the Broncos.

"He runs low, he runs hard," said Glenn Cadrez, Denver's middle linebacker. "They get in a lot of situations where they're second-and-one, third-and-one, and the first guy who hits him isn't going to take him back."

Robinson likens Anderson to San Diego's 245-pound Natrone Means, who rushed for 78 yards against the Broncos in Week 10.

"There's a power factor you have to deal with, and also an acceleration factor," Robinson said.

"Jamal has the ability to bounce outside or cut back on you. He's taken advantage when teams overpursue. It comes down to discipline and gap control."

A year ago, run defense was the Broncos' most threatening weakness. This year it's their most obvious strength.

In seven of their last nine games, the Broncos have held opponents under 50 yards rushing. In their last four games, they've allowed a total of 88 rushing yards on 67 carries, a minuscule average of 1.3 a carry.

In four years as coordinator, Robinson has "tweaked" the defense, but uses essentially the same swarm-to-the-ball scheme with eight-man fronts, blitzes and stunts. The Broncos will have three new starters in that defensive front from last year's Super Bowl -- Cadrez at middle linebacker, Trevor Pryce at defensive tackle and Harald Hasselbach at defensive end.

"Strong run defense is a disciplined group," Robinson said. "It took time to develop some discipline. We've become more and more consistent as time's gone on."

Anderson had 67 yards on 23 carries in the NFC championship game victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The Broncos, Atlanta quarterback coach Jack Burns said, are better up front.

"They don't quite run like the Minnesota linebackers as a group, but they're much stronger at the point of attack and they're better tacklers -- much better tacklers," said Burns.

"They have a lot of experience in their front and in their linebackers, so their front seven is veteran. That means they can line up in a lot of different looks and still play their scheme and play it very well."

The Falcons had the No. 2 rushing game in the league this season, and the Broncos the No. 2 run defense. Strength against strength.

"If we play our game," Cadrez said, "we can dictate with our blitzes and flying around."

Pub Date: 1/30/99

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