... but Falcons find a way to shut down pain; No. 2 rush defense has been up to the task all season; Super Bowl XXXIII


MIAMI -- The Atlanta Falcons' defensive line is made up of a bunch of no-names who are calling themselves the "Bomb Squad," even though virtually nobody noticed.

If they shut down the Denver Broncos' Terrell Davis in the Super Bowl, they'll get noticed, but they have been shutting down the run all season.

During the regular season, they allowed an average of 75.2 yards per game and 3.33 yards per rush. They were second in the league to the San Diego Chargers in both categories.

It's one of the reasons they held opposing teams to 18.1 points a game this season, the fourth-lowest total in the league.

While winning 20 of their last 24 regular-season games, the Falcons have given up 100 yards to one runner. Curtis Martin of the New York Jets got 101 yards in 25 carries in a game when defensive tackle Travis Hall didn't play and three other starters were injured.

They held Garrison Hearst to 57 and 56 yards while splitting two regular-season games with the San Francisco 49ers. In four games this season, they've held the opposing offense to 45 or fewer yards rushing.

It all starts with their front four of ends Chuck Smith and Lester Archambeau and tackles Hall and Shane Dronett.

Smith and Archambeau, who go 265 and 275 pounds, are noted for their quickness. Hall, at 300 pounds, and Dronett, at 295, can stuff the run inside.

The Falcons have a lot of sure tacklers who don't miss the first time. Hall has 279 tackles the past three years, the most for any interior lineman in the league. Bryant Young of the 49ers is a distant second at 244.

The linemen get help from an active linebacking crew spearheaded by Jessie Tuggle, the NFL's leading active tackler with 1,682 in his career.

Safety Eugene Robinson also is effective at coming up to support the run. He's the second active leading tackler with 1,244.

The Falcons dominated the Minnesota offensive line in the NFC championship game while holding Robert Smith to 71 yards and the entire Vikings team to 102. The longest run they gave up was 16 yards.

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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