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Tex Maule
January 06, 1969
By flattening pro football's best runner and operating their own impeccable offense with ease, the Colts won the NFL championship, whitewashing Cleveland 34-0.
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January 06, 1969

Baltimore Lowers The Boom

By flattening pro football's best runner and operating their own impeccable offense with ease, the Colts won the NFL championship, whitewashing Cleveland 34-0.

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The most effective formation for the Colts was one they call "wing left opposite." This sends their two wide receivers—Jimmy Orr and Willie Richardson—to the wide side of the field, with Mackey on the narrow side. The Colts have used this often enough but usually only for passing plays. In this game, to confound the Browns, they ran, sending Tom Matte bustling back to the side away from the two receivers.

Mackey, a burly 220-pounder who is an exceptional blocker, handled the Cleveland defensive end (usually Ron Snidow) while Jerry Hill, the tough, violent Baltimore fullback, blocked on the linebacker. Matte, who may not be the fastest back in the league but is surely the most determined, repeatedly slashed inside or outside the blocks for substantial yardage.

Although Earl Morrall did not have an exceptional day throwing the ball, he called a very heady game, varying the Baltimore running attack by calling Matte and Hill on traps up the middle and on late draws. The Colt offensive line responded with beautiful trap blocks on the Cleveland tackles and with irresistible surge blocks. Surge blocking is what it sounds like. Some teams call it drive blocking, but all it means is that the offensive linemen block straight ahead and the back follows the surge.

"They were very much aware of the pass," Morrall said after the game. "I think that may be why they were so vulnerable to the blocks. Of course, our offensive line did a great job, but they have been doing a great job all year long. I was a little surprised that our running game went so well, but when it did it set up everything else."

In the first quarter Baltimore fenced with the Browns, feeling out their defense and examining their offense and playing with a degree of caution abandoned later when the Colts became sure that their diagnoses of both phases of the Cleveland game were correct. As the quarter ended, Baltimore began to move with the authority that was to grow minute by minute for the rest of the day. Morrall, starting from his own 31-yard line, passed to Jimmy Orr on the left sideline for 14 yards, Orr deceiving Brown Cornerback Ben Davis. Morrall missed Mackey twice, then went to his right, where Willie Richardson had outmaneuvered Erich Barnes, something he was to repeat several times.

With the Cleveland defense properly impressed by the pass, and the Cleveland defensive line overly conscious of its obligation to get in on the quarterback, Morrall switched to the run. From the wing-left-opposite formation, Matte ran for six and 12, then up the middle on a trap for three more. But Morrall overthrew receivers twice and Baltimore had to settle for a 28-yard field goal 15 seconds into the second quarter.

The Baltimore defense, playing now with the confident abandon that has made it the stingiest in football, slammed Kelly to the ground on an attempted sweep, trapped Nelsen for a 13-yard loss when he tried to pass and, though it gave up a 10-yard gain to Kelly on a screen pass, forced the Browns to punt. This time Morrall started from his own 40 and dazzled the Cleveland defense with a marvelous mélange of offensive plays.. With his two wide receivers deployed to the left, he sent Mackey for 10 yards around the left flank on an end-around. Then he called Fullback Jerry Hill up the middle for four yards and, faking the same play, threw to Matte for a short gain. From a conventional set, he passed to Mackey for eight. Orr, who had been probing the reactions of Ben Davis, now gave Davis a strong inside fake, cut to the sideline and caught Morrall's pass, tiptoeing to stay in bounds. The play gained 19 yards and put Baltimore on the Cleveland 17-yard line.

On five running plays the Colts scored, with Matte carrying four times and Hill once. The damage was done inside and much of it came on a draw which worked wonderfully well all afternoon. It was, really, a variation on a draw, designed to create unexpected blocking angles on unsuspecting Brown defenders. Normally the center will block the middle linebacker on a draw; in this case, the center blocked across on the Browns' left tackle, the Colt right guard trapped the right tackle and the left guard went through to wipe out the middle linebacker. It worked well enough for Hill to slam seven yards to the Cleveland one. Two plays later Matte followed the surge blocking of the right side of the Baltimore line for the touchdown.

If there was a decisive play that extinguished whatever small hope Cleveland still had at this point, it came with two minutes left in the first half. Mackey, grabbing a screen pass, had raced to the Cleveland 14, where he fumbled, and Erich Barnes returned the fumble to the Cleveland 23. Had the Browns been able to capitalize on this break, they might have regained their waning confidence. Nelsen, hoping to score quickly, tried to find a wide receiver on a pass into a crack in the Baltimore zone. But the Colt defense shut off his targets. The pressure of the Colt front four was reaching him as he gave up on a completion and tried to throw the ball away, over the sideline. He was hit just as he released, and the ball, fluttering like a wing-shot duck, landed in the hands of Baltimore Linebacker Mike Curtis, who accepted it thankfully and stepped out at the Cleveland 33-yard line.

The pressure on this play was typical of that applied all afternoon by the Baltimore rush. In a passing situation, the Baltimore tackles and ends often stunted. That is, the end looped to the inside, the tackle to the outside and, most of the time, 295-pound Bubba Smith, the left end, broke up the Cleveland pocket on the inside, forcing Nelsen outside and making him throw off balance.

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