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THE NFL
Peter King
November 13, 1989
THE NEW ELITE
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November 13, 1989

The Nfl

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San Diego has one formation in which the defensive ends line up wide, the tackles line up over the offensive tackles instead of the guards, and two inside linebackers—and sometimes the strong safety—clog the middle. The Chargers figure that they can stop the run and put pressure on the passer this way, though the cornerbacks must cover one-on-one. "No one is thinking bend-but-don't-break," says Seattle offensive line coach Kent Stephenson. "People want to force you into a different play, and they can do that by putting more people up front so you are outnumbered."

Here are a couple of the factors that helped bring about the new defenses:

•Offensive linemen have, as a rule, gotten bigger than defensive linemen, and big running backs have become common. How does a team expect to stop 256-pound jumbo back Larry Kinnebrew of Buffalo running behind a line weighing in at an average of 287? Just clog, baby. Bunch the inside linebackers close to the center and back them up with a big strong safety.

•Quarterbacks were having a field day without a heavy rush, despite the coverage in the secondary. Ryan's Bears had success by constantly putting defenders in the quarterback's face. In 1985, Chicago scared the heck out of offensive coordinators by showing how easy it is to sack the passer. Defensive size isn't paramount anymore; quickness is. Case in point: The Seahawks' best rusher in 1989 is Rufus Porter, who is only 221 pounds. "I've never had a guy [that size] make that kind of impact," says Seattle coach Chuck Knox.

To counter these pressure defenses, offenses are spreading their formations. Some teams use four wideouts and one running back. Consequently, some of the best receivers are getting single coverage. Says Denver's Phillips, "The pressure is on the corners. They've got to cover."

FIRST-ROUND FLOPS
Patriot wide receiver Hart Lee Dykes has been a slow learner and has only 10 catches in an offense desperate for him to blossom. Cincinnati guard Freddie Childress didn't make it past the final preseason cut because of fatness (340 pounds) and a lack of discipline. Cleveland wideout Lawyer Tillman (two catches, 12 yards), who signed two days before the first game, will be a nonfactor all season. And where is the sixth pick in the draft, Tampa Bay linebacker Broderick Thomas, who has one sack?

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