- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Right defensive end Lyle Alzado, who received a tremendous booing from the Denver fans for whom he'd performed so ably for eight years, said, "Let's be honest. I got tired out there."
And All-Pro left defensive end Howie Long said, "In the second half we were pinching our ends down on every play and they were still trapping us. It was unbelievable. It was like they were taking us out of the game."
In the last Super Bowl the Redskins tried to run straight at the Raiders and got squashed. The Broncos did it differently, cracking down with two, even three tight ends, angle-blocking them, trapping them. San Diego had showed the world—not to mention Denver—that it could be done in the Monday-nighter earlier in the week. Of course, L.A. had made it easier for the Chargers by opening the game in a modified nickel defense, in which 235-pound inside linebacker Bob Nelson was replaced by the nickel back, 190-pound Odis McKinney. Fine, said the Chargers. You want to go nickel, we'll run the ball. And they did. McKinney found himself staring at a guard, and Earnest Jackson, the San Diego tailback, got a career-high 155 yards. But the odd thing was that the Raiders never got out of the nickel. It was arrogance: You're not going to beat us running the ball.
Even weirder was that on Denver's last 10-play drive on Sunday Los Angeles was in the same set. Even when the Broncos went with three tight ends and it was obvious that they were going to pound away, the Raiders kept their nickel back on the field. It was only when Denver had a second-and-two near midfield and the clock showed 1:48 that L.A. brought in the big goal-line people.
Give Bronco coach Dan Reeves credit for putting together the game plan. Reeves is unique among NFL coaches: He has never lost to a defending Super Bowl champ in his four years as a head coach. He's 4-0 against them; he's the man who shot Johnny Ringo. Denver beat the Raiders twice in '81 and the 49ers once in '82. The Broncos didn't play the Skins last season. Reeves's game plan this time called for a power approach—three tight ends on occasion, once in a while an unbalanced line with left tackle Dave Studdard, who did a magnificent job Sunday, switching over to the right side. He even went with three tackles, unbalancing the line with two of them on one side.
Unfortunately that scheme died in the third quarter, when one of the Denver tackles, Ken Lanier, got thrown out of the game. It happened on a third-and-goal play from the Raider two-yard line. Elway went back to pass and wound up scrambling to his right and falling short of the goal line. Meanwhile, on the left side of the field, a tremendous brawl had developed between Lanier and Los Angeles's goal-line monster, 6'7", 280-pound Sean Jones, a rookie. When the smoke had cleared, the play was nullified, Lanier was ejected and the Broncos got a 19-yard field goal from Rich Karlis.
Lanier is a holder, a strangler, a takedown artist. Long, his foe in Denver's regular alignment, bit the dirt many times in Lanier's grasp, but Jerry Markbreit's officiating crew doesn't like to call offensive holding penalties. Only one was assessed on Denver all day—on Lanier in the first quarter.
"As soon as the fight started," Bronco center Billy Bryan said, "No. 99 [Jones] yanked Kenny's helmet off. When they threw Ken out I couldn't believe it."
"I'm not saying nothing; it's all on the films," Lanier said, but Jones offered a more informative picture. "Yeah, I guess I pulled his helmet off. But I had him squared up, I was zeroed in on Elway before he sprinted out, and Lanier just twisted me and yanked me down. The fight is my fault—for losing my cool—but this stuff is just getting ridiculous. Guys are holding us, tugging on us, and the officials aren't calling the fouls. It gets into people's minds that the Raiders play this kind of football, so other teams think they can get away with anything against us."
It was a nasty game. The L.A. defense has come to be known as the Three P's—for punching, pushing and pointing—but on Sunday the Broncos more than held their own in those departments.