Falcons not shortchanged by air attack ...; SUPER BOWL XXXIII


MIAMI -- Since the Atlanta Falcons like to emphasize the run, it's easy to think they have a conservative offense.

But there's nothing conservative about their passing offense. When they do throw, they like to throw deep and they're good at it.

The Falcons averaged a league-high 15.8 yards per completion this season, the best mark in the NFL since the Oakland Raiders averaged 16.3 in 1989.

Coach Dan Reeves, following in the footsteps of his mentor, former Dallas coach Tom Landry, likes quarterbacks with big arms. That's why he didn't re-sign Bobby Hebert in 1997 and traded for Chris Chandler.

Chandler has the arm to go deep, which is why the Falcons ranked fourth in the NFL in pass completions of 25 yards or more. Chandler also led the league in yards per pass attempt at 9.65 yards. Most teams average about 7 yards per pass attempt.

It's a difficult offense for a quarterback -- John Elway made no secret of his disdain for Reeves' offense when he was in Denver -- but Chandler has the arm and experience to make it work. Chandler often says throwing the ball is the easy part. The difficult part is knowing where to throw it.

The Falcons do all this with mostly a two-wide receiver set of Terance Mathis and Tony Martin. Although Ronnie Harris caught a 29-yard pass against Minnesota in the fourth-quarter drive that tied the NFC title game, slot receivers Harris, Todd Kinchen and Tim Dwight combined for just 16 catches this year.

By contrast, Martin caught 66 passes and Mathis 64 as they shared the bulk of the receiving work. Martin, a nine-year veteran obtained in a trade with San Diego, has lost a step, but is still fast enough to get free. Mathis is good on double-move routes and often will run the out-and-up route.

Tight end O. J. Santiago is a bigger threat than the third receivers. He hauled in 27 passes this season.

Although Jamal Anderson caught 27 passes and Bob Christian, who is out with a knee injury, made 19 catches, the Falcons don't like to dump the ball off to the running backs.

One of the reasons the passing game is so effective is that opposing teams tend to bring up eight defenders to play the run and stop Anderson and that leaves them vulnerable in the secondary. Minnesota did that while holding Anderson to 67 yards in the NFC title game, but paid the price when Chandler passed for 340 yards.

If Denver tries the same strategy and brings up safety Steve Atwater as the eighth defender against the run, Chandler could do more passing on first downs.

The Broncos were highly effective in last year's Super Bowl blitzing Green Bay's Brett Favre, but that tactic might not work against the Falcons because they often use maximum protection for Chandler and send out only two receivers in the pattern.

Although the Falcons' philosophy is to run first, they've proved they can beat teams with the pass if they overplay the run.

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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