Throughout his 16-year NFL career Marcus Allen's specialty has been converting short-yardage situations into first downs or touchdowns. Still, the league's leader in career rushing TDs has trouble explaining why he went airborne on a third-and-one during the Chiefs' game-winning overtime drive against the Seahawks on Sept. 28. Nor can he say why he made good on his only short-yardage try on Sunday against the Dolphins. The usual tangibles, such as film work or coaching, don't apply in this case. "It's just in me," says Allen. Below, he discusses what he's looking for when he lines up for a short-yardage play.
"Everything is instinctive. I don't know what I'm doing half the time in those situations, but I do know what I anticipate. Short-yardage plays happen quicker than others, and your choices are reduced. We run the same play more than 90 percent of the time. That makes it tougher because everyone knows what we're going to do, and that's go over the middle. Then it's our big guys against their big guys, and it's like trying to squeeze through a rathole. The slightest edge can help immensely.
"I start looking for things when I get in position. I'm in an I formation behind fullback Tony Richardson, and we've got two tight ends and one wideout. The beauty of the I formation is that I can see everything. The defensive alignment tells me what's about to happen. We see only a few defenses: the 5-3, the 6-2 or the Banzai, in which everyone just sells out. I'll try to figure out if the defensive linemen are going to submarine or try to penetrate, or if the linebackers are going to shoot the gaps or come over the top. This also gives me an idea of what each of our linemen is going to do.
"Even after studying the alignment, I haven't decided exactly where I'll run or how I'll try to get the first down. I don't dive much anymore, and I don't like to do it. Early in my pro career and in college, we'd call for the dive, but not anymore. I prefer to stay on the ground because it's a lot safer. But if the defense gets early penetration, I have to do the next best thing, which is leave my feet.
"I rely on my feel and experience. I have a way of slithering through the cracks. I react. It's all instinct."