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Count Zarth
12-01-2005, 04:11 AM
Ground hogs on defense

Broncos first against the run; Chiefs likely to put that to the test

By Lee Rasizer, Rocky Mountain News
December 1, 2005
ENGLEWOOD -

"Whew, baby."

With those words Wednesday, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer summed up his feelings about facing a Kansas City Chiefs running attack that will have 10-time Pro Bowl tackle Willie Roaf back in the lineup and a halfback making the most of solo duty.

But the Chiefs just might be muttering similar colorful expressions about the unit that will try to slow them Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium (2:15 p.m. MST, CBS 4).

Few teams have tested the Broncos on the ground this season, consistently having trailed them.

But when the Dallas Cowboys finally employed a smash-mouth approach on Thanksgiving against the Broncos, they largely failed.

Dallas rushed for 85 yards on 32 carries, the most attempts the Broncos have encountered since Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins. And by the time Week 12 was over, the Broncos had emerged as the league's top-ranked defense against the run.

"It was definitely encouraging," Broncos safety John Lynch said about limiting Dallas to 2.7 yards a carry.

"It let everyone know we're not giving up on teams running the ball," Broncos defensive tackle Michael Myers said. "We practice every day on stopping the run before pass rushing, and that's really the key to the game, making teams one-dimensional. If you do that, you've got something going."

The Broncos have led the NFL in run defense three times: 1977, 1979 and 1996.

But their current per-game yield of 79.1 yards would rank as the best in team history, ahead of their run defenses in 1998 (80.4), 1996 (83.2) and 1993 (88.6).

Those kinds of per-game numbers are a good half of ground production for the Chiefs, who haven't missed a beat since placing running back Priest Holmes on injured reserve last month because of neck and head injuries after a helmet-to-helmet hit.

"The last three or four weeks, Larry Johnson's the top rusher in the NFL, so it's, 'Here we go again,' " Lynch said. "It's their strength against our strength."

Johnson has recorded four consecutive 100-yard rushing games and would tie Holmes' Chiefs record with a similar effort Sunday. His 330 yards the past two weeks is a franchise record for consecutive games, and with 85 yards Sunday, he would have the best three-game total and become the eighth 1,000-yard rusher in Chiefs history.

But only two players have managed more than 64 yards against the Broncos this season: Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins (103 on Oct. 9) and Tiki Barber of the New York Giants (86 on Oct. 23).

"It's not a secret why," Chiefs quarterback Trent Green said.

He suggested the Broncos' success in stopping the run has started with tackles Gerard Warren and Myers, who "are able to plug things up, and when they need to get penetration, they do."

And with defensive ends Courtney Brown and Trevor Pryce also playing well, "it frees up those linebackers," Green said.

D.J. Williams and Ian Gold were the Broncos' top tacklers against the Cowboys, demonstrating their speed time as they again played sideline to sideline. Middle linebacker Al Wilson has made more solo tackles (54) than any other Broncos player this season.

"It definitely separates them from the rest of the teams in the league when you have that type of coverage from all three linebackers," Green said. "And as well as their defensive line has been playing and the way they've played all year, it's the reason the linebackers are able to utilize that speed. It gives those guys free rein."

Green knows free rein when he sees it because his offense essentially has held dominion over the Broncos' highly rated run defenses the past half-dozen seasons in games played in Kansas City, Mo.

The Chiefs have scored 11 rushing touchdowns in the past six games against the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium, averaging 174.3 rushing yards.

Kimble Anders, Tony Richardson, Holmes and Johnson each has recorded a 100-yard games against the Broncos during that span.

Johnson largely had played in Holmes' shadow until this season, and he has been public in his displeasure about it. He recently told a Kansas City radio station he constantly will have to prove himself until Holmes retires and ends the comparisons.

"Do I have to go out and run against Jesus or against 11 Jesuses to actually prove I can play in this league?" Johnson asked.

"I feel his pain on that," Broncos safety Nick Ferguson said. "Because sometimes you're thrust into the shadow of a player that's played the position on that same team before you. And how do you break out of that shadow?"

Johnson first proved he deserved the spotlight against the Broncos. His first career start was against them Dec. 19, at Arrowhead Stadium, and he finished with 151 yards on 30 carries in a 45-17 Chiefs victory.

The Chiefs are 7-1 when Johnson rushes for at least 100 yards.

"He's strong, very elusive and he's making a name for himself the way he has played over the last four games," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

The kind of monikers the Broncos defense gets - dominant, very good, average - will depend on its performance in the next five weeks and, given recent history, especially this weekend. The Broncos have finished in the top seven against the run each season since 2000, and it didn't matter in Kansas City.

The Chiefs (7-4) enter the game as the NFL's No. 4 rushing offense, at 138.1 yards a game.

The Broncos' quest to finish the season as the No. 1 run defense will be tested again in the finale, when they face another top-five rushing offense at the San Diego Chargers.

"It would be a testament to all our hard work and effort," Gold said. "But as far as right now, we haven't proven anything to ourselves or to anybody."

Delano
12-01-2005, 04:31 AM
Weren't the Falcons rated first against the rush last year when Priest and Larry hung 8 TDs on 'em?

huskerdooz
12-01-2005, 04:51 AM
It was actually Priest and Derrick Blaylock with 4 TDs each.