MIAMI -- A year ago, the way to beat the Denver Broncos was to run the ball.
This season, the strategy is to pass.
The New York Jets put up 52 passes in the AFC championship game at Denver, and they had a lead halfway through the third quarter. The San Diego Chargers threw 53 passes against the Broncos. The Jacksonville Jaguars threw 46, the Kansas City Chiefs 43. Eight other opponents threw 35 or more passes.
In three of their last seven games, the Broncos were torched for more than 300 yards passing.
That's an air raid.
Now it's the Atlanta Falcons' turn to crank up the sirens. The Falcons will bring a hot Chris Chandler into Super Bowl XXXIII and hope there is a meltdown in the Denver secondary.
In two playoff games, the Atlanta quarterback has completed 64.5 percent of his throws for 509 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. And when Jamal Anderson was held to 67 rushing yards by the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game, Chandler threw for 340.
Call him the X-factor in a game that features the NFL's top two rushers.
The Broncos know what's coming.
"We took a lot of criticism in the secondary after those two losses," said cornerback Darrien Gordon, speaking of regular-season defeats against the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins.
"But we knew with the veterans we have, we'll be able to step up and make big plays. The last couple of weeks, we've been the best defense in the league."
A year ago, the Broncos ranked fifth in the NFL in pass defense, giving up 179.3 yards a game. This year, they're 26th, giving up 228 per game. Touchdown passes against them have increased from 20 to 28, and pass completions are up from 55.1 percent to 57.9.
Obviously, teams have thrown more against Denver because they've been behind. But they've also thrown because the Broncos are vulnerable.
Cornerback Ray Crockett had seven fewer passes defensed this season than in 1997. Tyrone Braxton lost his saftey job to a rookie for most of the year, and the other safety, Steve Atwater, has had a bad year.
The blitz may be the way to go for Denver on Sunday. The Falcons gave up 53 sacks this season, and one thing's for certain: Chandler can't throw from his back.
Pub Date: 1/29/99