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Marked Man
Paul Zimmerman
February 02, 1998
The Broncos were determined not to let LeRoy Butler stop them—and they succeeded
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February 02, 1998

Marked Man

The Broncos were determined not to let LeRoy Butler stop them—and they succeeded

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The Target for a Denver blocking scheme that enabled Terrell Davis to rush for 157 yards, run for a Super Bowl-record three touchdowns and win the MVP trophy wasn't future Hall of Fame end Reggie White or 345-pound tackle Gilbert Brown. It was strong safety LeRoy Butler, the star of Green Bay game films, an unblocked phantom who would appear out of nowhere and ruin play after play with bone-crushing tackles. "Our main job," said Alex Gibbs, coach of the smallest (an average of 289 pounds per man), quickest and best offensive line in the business, "was to make sure Butler wouldn't make plays against us."

"We saw films of games in which a play would be well blocked," said Broncos center Tom Nalen, "but Butler would come in scot-free and make tackles for no gain or minus yardage. We knew we had to get a hat on him every play. He might have been surprised. That hasn't happened to him all year."

Denver used a variety of schemes. Sometimes one of the tackles, Tony Jones or Gary Zimmerman, would turn the defensive end over to the tight end and go after Butler. "You have to get on him quickly," Jones said, "or he'll ol� you, and you'll be blocking air."

On strongside runs, fullback Howard Griffith would sometimes seek out Butler, passing his normal assignment, the outside linebacker, along to a wide receiver. When the Broncos ran weakside, a wideout would sometimes crack down on Butler. "We pride ourselves on our blocking," said flanker Ed McCaffrey, who at 215 pounds had 15 pounds on Butler.

When Butler was stacked, or hidden behind a defensive lineman, it was up to one of the middle three—Nalen and guards Brian Habib and Mark Schlereth—to find him quickly. "You're in the flow of a play, and Terrell watches for an alley and then makes his cut," Schlereth said. "That's our running game. Butler is very good at finding those alleys and filling them, so one of us had to get there first. Whoever had that alley in front of him had to go after him."

Sounds simple, but the keys were speed, precision and quick thinking on the move, which Gibbs says are the hallmarks of his unit and the reasons he wouldn't trade it for any in the game. A front five of 330-pounders could never make it work.

Butler led Green Bay with nine tackles, but most of his stops were downfield. Davis was not stopped for a loss on any of his 30 carries. All told, Denver rushed for 179 yards on 39 carries, with the only negative yardage coming when Elway took a knee on the last play of each half. In crunch time the Packers' defense was a worn-out unit as the Broncos, on their final two series, drove from their own 18 to Green Bay's 39, punted the Packers into a hole and then put the game away with a 49-yard drive that ended on a 17-yard run by Davis and his one-yard walkover touchdown. "They were substituting Reggie White in and out," Nalen said. " Brown was exhausted. When we'd break our huddle, he hadn't even lined up yet."

"Speed, conditioning, strength and a great runner," Gibbs said. "I'll take that formula any time."