. . . but passing on Falcons no breeze; SUPER BOWL XXXIII


MIAMI -- It appeared to be a mismatch two weeks ago when the Atlanta Falcons brought the league's 21st-ranked pass defense into the Metrodome to face the Minnesota pass offense that was ranked first in the league in the NFC title game.

But the Falcons showed the rankings were misleading when they held Randall Cunningham to 266 yards passing and only one completion of longer than 18 yards.

The Falcons held the Vikings to just one touchdown in the second half and overtime and escaped with a 30-27 victory that put the Falcons in the Super Bowl.

The Falcons would again appear vulnerable to the pass in Super Bowl XXXIII against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

The Broncos have the seventh-ranked passing offense with John Elway.

But don't be surprised if the Broncos have trouble throwing the ball against the Falcons. Atlanta may again show how misleading its pass-defense ranking is.

One reason they're ranked so low is that they stuff the run, get ahead and force teams to throw against them. When opposing teams do throw, though, the Falcons can play the pass.

Their pass defense starts with a good pass rush from the front four.

When Elway drops back to pass, he's not likely to have a lot of time to throw. And Elway hasn't been particularly effective in recent games. He threw for only 182 and 173 yards in the Broncos' two playoff victories over the Dolphins and Jets.

It didn't matter because Terrell Davis ran for 178 and 167 yards in those two games. Davis, though, doesn't figure to gain that much yardage against the Falcons, who are second in the league against the run.

That means Elway is going to have to be more effective.

It'll be particularly interesting to see what the Broncos' strategy is on first down. They usually like to run Davis, but the Falcons are likely to jam the line of scrimmage with eight players -- leaving just three pass defenders, safety Eugene Robinson and cornerbacks Ray Buchanan and Michael Brooker or Ronnie Bradford.

With their trio of wide receiver Rod Smith, wide receiver Ed McCaffrey and tight end Shannon Sharpe, the Broncos may be tempted to test the Falcons in the air on first down.

Regardless of what strategy is used, the Atlanta pass defense is much better on the field than it is on paper.

The Vikings found that out two weeks ago and the Broncos could learn the same lesson Sunday.

Pub Date: 1/28/99

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