- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
A minijam. One of four or five. Raider-Bronco games are always nasty, but this one followed a different script in the strategy department. The book on the Raiders used to be that if you shut down their wideouts and got their quarterback to put the ball up, they'd had it. The Raiders have two wideouts, Dokie Williams and rookie Jessie Hester. Only two. The rest are just names filling out a roster. On long-yardage situations, NFL teams go to three and four wideouts. The Raiders stay with two. It's kind of quaint, but the stats say that in 14 games only seven passes have been caught by wide receivers other than Williams or Hester.
On Sunday the Broncos took both wideouts away. Wilson aimed nine passes their way. One was caught (by Hester for 14 yards), one was intercepted. Wilson misfired on his last five passes in the game. For the afternoon, his passes produced only 93 yards out of 13 completions. At the end the Raiders gave up passing and just ran the ball and played for field position. But don't forget this is a team that traditionally lives on the deep thrust, and they were trying to climb back from a 14-0 halftime deficit.
So how did they do it? Well, defense of course. They kept the Broncos on their own side of the 50 on seven of eight series after halftime, and on the eighth, Sean Jones sacked Elway and took Denver out of field-goal range. Denver gained only 54 yards, total, in the second half and the overtime.
And then there was Marcus Allen. He's having his finest year. He has changed the complexion of the L.A. offense, which, through necessity, is now geared to the run. In four of their last five games the Raiders have run the ball more times than they've passed, and Allen has averaged better than 27 carries in each of those five. This is the guy who once went up to Al Davis and told him he wanted to run more. To which Davis replied, "You want to run more? Take a few laps after practice."
Allen is making up for lost time this season. In three previous years he had never carried more than 26 times in a game, but in '85 he has had days of 31, 30 and 29 carries, plus a trio of 28s and Sunday's 25. The result is seven straight games of 100-plus yards, including 135 Sunday, and a season's total of 1,527, putting him 21 yards behind the NFL leader, Gerald Riggs of Atlanta. In their 25-year history the Raiders have never had a back lead the league in rushing.
The Broncos were waiting for Allen. Two weeks earlier he had hit them for 173 yards, and this was not going to happen again. Or so the Broncos thought. They installed a special four-man line, with three of their bigger linebackers behind it, as a mixer, to go with their base 3-4. In practice they stressed backside containment and disciplined control of the rush lanes (Allen had broken a 61-yarder against the grain in the first contest). It would cut down on their pass rush, but so what? Wilson wasn't going to beat them. Allen could.
And then there was the weather. Allen's a sunshine kid, born and raised in San Diego. Then everything in L.A.—college at Southern Cal and pro ball with the Raiders. Going into Sunday's game, he had seen snow only once ("on a ski trip a few years ago," he said) and had never played in it. O.K., Marcus, if our defense doesn't get you, Jack Frost will.
But here's the thing about Allen. Off the field he's an L.A. superstar, 25 years old and single, fancy Ferrari, stylish apartment, a healthy renegotiated contract ($3.5 million for four years). On the field, though, he picks up a new dimension—toughness.
"He and Walter Payton are the toughest backs in the game," Long says. "Marcus takes it to 'em and gets their best shots, and then he bounces up and takes it to 'em again. There have been times this year when he's had to drag himself to practice, but if he's banged up he doesn't want anybody to know it. In four years he's never missed a game."
The Raider offense calls for Allen to block for fullback Frank Hawkins. No sweat. He broke in at USC as the up-back in the I formation, blocking for Charles White. He's called upon as a pass receiver, and has caught 58 of them.