- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Denver's offense is a sad story. Craig Morton, 36, has reverted to the mediocrity of his New York Giant seasons, and Norris Weese, 28, is none too strong a passer, in distance or physique. And whatever effectiveness the quarterbacks might provide is diminished by a line that gave up 48 sacks last year. Miller, an old line coach himself, hired Whitey Dovell—formerly of the Colts—to work with the linemen, but shortcomings up front still were evident in the exhibitions, as the Broncos rarely held off the rushers on predictable passing downs. The running game is not overpowering—and was vitiated when Rob Lytle injured a knee, sidelining him indefinitely—and the kicking must improve. Jim Turner booted only 11 field goals last season.
Don't bury OAKLAND yet. New Coach Tom Flores has a team in transition that may well surprise the entire NFL. For one thing, Kenny Stabler should be a better quarterback than he was a year ago, when his 30 interceptions were the league's most publicized stat. No longer handicapped by the arm injuries that prevented him from throwing long, Stabler again will be the prime mover in an offense that can score from any distance. It can, that is, if the Raiders' line comes through with a more consistent performance than it did in 1978, when Oakland too often found itself in third and long and Stabler was forced to throw more passes (406) than ever before. Blocking is Flores' most worrisome concern, especially because the return of Right Tackle John Vella, out for almost two seasons with knee and chest injuries, has been offset by the loss of Left Tackle Art Shell, who hurt a knee in training camp and will miss at least four games. Also, Tight End Dave Casper's preseason training consisted of playing softball for Willie Nelson's Texas Yazoos, not catching passes from Stabler.
Mark van Eeghen, who is going for his fourth straight 1,000-yard season, will be the mainstay of the ballcarriers, who are, all in all, more than adequate.
Oakland's defense should be better as a result of the trade that brought Dave Pear from Tampa Bay to play nose guard in the three-man front. Cornerback Monte Jackson, who cost the Raiders a pair of No. 1 draft choices, rarely displayed his All-Pro credentials in 1978, but he had a good camp, and Ted Hendricks remains a role model for NFL linebackers. But there may be a glaring weakness in the line if, as it appears, massive Tackle John Matuszak has reverted to the undisciplined and unbridled Matuszak who flunked out in Houston, Kansas City and Washington.
That sort of concern is foreign to SEATTLE, a team whose off-field behavior would not embarass a Sunday school class. On the field, however, the Seahawks have made fast improvement during their four-year history and will contend for a playoff spot, even if they wear the NFL's ugliest uniforms.
Now that Fran Tarkenton has become a TV analyst, Seattle's Jim Zorn is the finest improvisational quarterback in the game; he was the AFC leader in completions (248) and passing yardage (3,283) in 1978. Zorn's scrambling is not only effective but necessary, because the Seahawks are blessed with neither an imposing tight end nor unfailing interior linemen. Seattle's assets include Steve Largent, a Pro-Bowl receiver who hauled in 71 passes for 1,168 yards despite a deficiency in speed, and an efficient rushing attack paced by Dave Sims and Sherman Smith. Sims led the NFL in touchdowns last season with 15 and combined with Smith for 1,557 yards.
The Seahawks' biggest question mark is a defensive unit in search of a line. Last year Seattle ranked 23rd against the rush and 27th against the pass, and gave up more points than every team save the Jets. Coach Jack Patera is counting on pass-rush help from veteran End Carl Eller and Tackle Manu Tuiasosopo, the No. 1 draft choice.
Kansas City is the only non-contender in the division, but the Chiefs will spoil some Sundays for their opponents if Coach Marv Levy can add effective pass plays to his rush-oriented Wing-T. The Chiefs virtually ignored the pass last season when their runners, led by Tony Reed's 1,053 yards, ranked second in the NFL and rambled for an average of 186 yards a game. Except when playing catch-up, Kansas City's passing game will be strictly play action, unless rookie Steve Fuller unseats 12-year-veteran Mike Livingston at quarterback.
On defense, the Chiefs are still rebuilding and will again suffer from youthful mistakes and the lack of a pass rush. Defensive End Mike Bell of Colorado State, the team's No. 1 draft choice, may help the latter now that he's recovered from off-season knee surgery.