- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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The Seattle Seahawks rose up with such fury at the end of '86 that everyone is picking them to go to the Super Bowl, even though they didn't even make last season's playoffs. I pick 'em, too. Like everyone else, I've been seduced by their finish. Just look at what the Seahawks did. In October they beat the Super Bowl-bound Giants, but that was just a warmup. They ended the year with five straight wins, including a 17-pointer over the Cowboys in Dallas and a 37-0 whipping of the Raiders, when L.A. was pushing for a playoff berth. Denver coach Dan Reeves promised to send his Seattle counterpart, Chuck Knox, a case of Scotch for the victory over the Raiders. Knox thanked Reeves by knocking off the Broncos 41-16 on the last weekend of the season.
So where had they been, these monsters who turned the league's juggernauts into palookas? A stretch of four straight losses sank the Seahawks. At one point during that streak Knox benched his quarterback, Dave Krieg. Seems that Knox is always threatening to bench Krieg or to replace him or do something bad to him when things go wrong. He benched him against the Jets ("We couldn't believe our good luck," one Jets coach said), who gave the Seahawks a 38-7 drubbing, their worst loss in five years, and against the Chiefs, who beat Seattle 27-7, before unbenching him.
I keep trying to figure out why people are down on Krieg, whose 91.0 rating was third in the NFL. "Strictly a dome passer," says a friend of mine who likes to wager. "Get him on the road and he can't play." Hmmm, that's interesting. I did a breakdown on Krieg. His home rating was a dazzling 96.45, and on the road it was 85.08, not as good (all quarterbacks have slightly higher home numbers), but respectable. In fact, Krieg's road rating would have placed him seventh in the league. I see nothing but high productivity in the Seahawk offense—Krieg, wideouts Steve Largent and Daryl Turner, running back Curt Warner and a monstrous line.
The team's big problem, the Seattle coaches decided way before Brian Bosworth declared his intentions, was sub-par linebacker play. So they drafted linebackers in the first two rounds—first Tony Woods and then Dave Wyman. The Seahawks also picked up a sleeper named M.L. Johnson in the ninth round, and they love all three. Then they got the Boz. The act was complete. Bosworth will play the weakside inside linebacker, and he'll stay on the field with the nickel team, along with one other linebacker. Teams will no longer get rich by running against Seattle's one-linebacker nickel setup. The Seahawks will overwhelm the opposition with waves of linebackers, Giants style.
The special teams should improve as well. "Rusty Tillman's just licking his chops, waiting to get some of these guys on his kick team," says G.M. Mike McCormack. The formula is right. Super Bowl prediction: Giants 24, Seattle 17.
When discussing big games, people always seem to pick the wrong play as the turning point. Take Super Bowl XXI. Everyone says the crucial moment was the Giants' goal-line stand in the second quarter. That supposedly broke the backs of the Denver Broncos. Oh yeah? Well, look what happened after that. After giving up a safety, the Broncos got the ball on their own 37 with 1:05 left in the half and took it all the way down to the New York 16, where...don't ask. O.K., they missed the field goal. But the point is, at that juncture Denver was hardly a demoralized team. The Broncos had come right back. That's what quarterback John Elway is capable of doing.
In truth, the Giants won the game in the third quarter, when they wore down the Broncos. Denver was a small team on both sides of the ball. Bigger, more physical clubs had worn them down before, and the Broncos' performance, particularly on defense, sagged noticeably toward the end of the season. Denver allowed 155 points in its last five regular-season games, the same number it yielded in its first 10.
More beef, cried the chef, more meat in the stew. The Broncos are trying. They're shifting players around on defense to bulk up the muscle positions. Freddie Gilbert, a 275-pounder, goes to the power, or left, end, and 260-pound Rulon Jones replaces Gilbert on the right side. Andre Townsend, who's 265, replaces 245-pound Greg Kragen at noseguard. Simon Fletcher, a 240-pound former end, is pushing 218-pound Jim Ryan at the strongside outside linebacker. Things could break down, though, if cornerback Mark Haynes doesn't come through in the spot left vacant by Louis Wright's retirement. The heralded Haynes broke the Broncos' hearts last year with a meager performance.
The only notable addition to the Denver offense will be No. 1 draft choice Ricky Nattiel, a wideout who can fly. So can incumbent receivers Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson. Elway ended the year as the NFL's best catch-up quarterback. Denver will be fun to watch, particularly against Seattle.
During minicamp, I watched Kansas City Chiefs coach Frank (Crash) Gansz call together his players. "Men," he said, and with some teams this would be a signal for the giggles to begin, "when things get critical, when you're at the razor's edge, when you battle to that edge, when you line up in the NFL, there's nothing like it. You're pumping adrenaline down to your toenails. It's like flying four-ship formation."