afc west

September 05, 1993

The Kansas City 49ers—make that the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS—have hung up a mirror, and when they look at it they want to see San Francisco staring back. Along with Joe Montana came the 49er offensive scheme and Paul Hackett, the guy who coached it during three of the Montana years. Everything's in place, right? Not quite.

Over the past four years the Chiefs have brought in massive, heavy-legged people to provide the drive power for coach Marty Schottenheimer's smash-mouth offense. Now they're being told, "Look, you're butterflies. You'll be pulling and trapping and doing all sorts of 49er-style things." But there's a darker side to all this. One of the keys to the 49ers' effectiveness has been their much feared and hated practice of going for the defenders' legs, particularly the knees, chopping from the blind side, rolling up, keeping the defense jittery. Can Schottenheimer, an old linebacker, coach that kind of football? Let's face it, it's part of the San Francisco package.

I thought Montana would have a hard time imagining the Chief receivers as Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Brent Jones, but after watching him in the preseason I've scratched that. His timing is still so impeccable that he'll make effective receivers out of all of them.

I think the most effective use the Chiefs could make of ex-Raider Marcus Allen would be in the Tom Rathman role, occasionally running and blocking, but, most important, catching passes underneath the zone. But if the Chiefs see Allen as a backup to Harvey Williams, who caught five passes last year, so be it.

People say, "Montana's 37, and what happens if he gets hurt?" Well, there is Dave Krieg and a very good defense, which brought K.C. a 10-6 record and a playoff spot last year. The Chiefs are not exactly starting from poverty.

The DENVER BRONCOS say they're relieved that Dan Reeves's tight control has given way to Wade Phillips's more relaxed style. Meanwhile in New York the Giants are saying thank heavens Reeves is here to exert some control—which means that the Giants must have been uncontrollable under Ray Handley, whose arrival was welcomed by some players as a relief from Bill Parcells's tight control. The psychological ebb and flow never ends. Just win, baby.

I think the real reason why Phillips replaced Reeves in Denver was that Bronco owner Pat Bowlen wanted more say in the football side of things, and he and Reeves just got tired of each other. Aside from the Phillips-Reeves switch, Jim Fassel, John Elway's position coach at Stanford, was hired to coordinate an offense that will follow the 49er scheme—this year's Blue Plate Special around the league—with a quick drop, faster reads and short patterns, all of which should take pressure off a line that gave up 52 sacks last year.

Most significant, the Broncos hired Bob Ferguson away from the Bills and made him their chief deal maker. He brought in free agents Don Maggs and Brian Habib for the offensive line, and Rod Bernstine for the backfield, and when Maggs went down with a back injury, Fergie acquired the Vikings' fine left tackle, Gary Zimmerman.

Denver has nice offense now. Elway has three possession receivers to go to—Bernstine, holdover Shannon Sharpe and nifty little Glyn Milburn, the No. 2 draft pick. The top pick, Dan Williams, was immediately plugged in as the starting right defensive end, and he looks very solid. So do the Broncos.

The SAN DIEGO CHARGERS' train ing camp was an injury shambles last year. Then the team lost its first four games, and new coach Bobby Ross publicly apologized to the fans and his own bosses. Then—wham!—the Chargers became the league's hottest team from October through December, winning 11 of 12 games. Quarterback Stan Humphries had the year of his life, Ross did a magnificent job, the Bill Arnspargercoached Junior Seau-Leslie O'Neal defense turned up the burners, and San Diego was in the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

And that's where it stopped, in a rainstorm in Miami against the Dolphins, a team that NFL insiders were predicting the Chargers would crush. The elements were too much. Humphries was intercepted four times, three of the picks setting up Miami touchdowns, and the Chargers lost 31-0. "It eats me Up," Humphries says. "I stunk, and we're not the kind of team that can walk on the field and not play our best and win."

Humphries says that the Chargers have been doing more to juice up the offense—running some no-huddle, throwing more to their backs on base downs. One of those backs could be Natrone Means, a good-looking rookie.

One thing the Chargers should be great at is rushing the passer. Added to the three in-house guys, O'Neal, Seau and Burt Grossman, were outside linebacker Jerrol Williams, a fine free-agent pickup from Pittsburgh, and eye-popping rookie defensive end Ray Lee Johnson. Playoff team, yes. One step up? Depends on how far Humphries and the offense have come.

This was the saddest thing I heard about the LOS ANGELES RAIDERS last year: "We had a team meeting, and [coach] Art Shell got into a shouting match with Marcus Allen," one player told me. "What was so depressing was that they're exactly the same type of people, great old Raiders. It shows what's happened to this organization."

Opposing players said there were names in which the Raiders just quit. Some guys, such as starting defensive end Greg Townsend, looked as though they were going through the motions. Allen, their best running back, was sitting on the bench. Their best quarterback, Steve Beuerlein, was sitting on the bench in Dallas. Former Giant Jeff Hostetler, their new quarterback, is better than what they had, but he's a safety-first guy who completes the seven-yard pass on third-and-nine.

L.A. can't help but win some games because in some areas the team is so strong: the secondary, with a fine pair of corners, Terry McDaniel and Lionel Washington; and the offensive line, with center Don Mosebar, guard Steve Wisniewski and ex-Ram LT Gerald Perry. Howie Long holds firm on a D-line in which everyone wants to be an open-field pass rusher. It's sad.

Football law: Put a great defense in enough hopeless situations and it will eventually crack. Not so with the SEATTLE SEAHAWKS. In '92 the quarterbacking was hopeless, as were the offense, field position and record (2-14). But how those defensive guys hung in there, series after series. They never cracked, a tribute to two coaches, Tom Catlin and Rusty Tillman. Defensive coordinator Tillman should be a terrific head coach some day.

Who are these defensive guys, anyway? Nosetackle Cortex Kennedy, free safety Eugene Robinson and outside linebacker Rufus Porter are the Pro Bowlers. The rest are mainly over-achievers—tackle Joe Nash and end Jeff Bryant and corners Dwayne Harper and Patrick Hunter. Can they sustain the intensity for another dismal year without cracking? Who knows.?

The Seahawks were locked into taking a quarterback on the first round, and Rick Mirer will find out what it's like to play behind a line that gave up a league-high 67 sacks. I don't see much change on this unit, which had a running game at times but leaked badly when it was time to throw. All seven drafted rookies could wind up somewhere on the roster, which is what happens to 2-14 teams.

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PHOTOJOHN BIEVERAllen would most help the Chiefs by catching passes. PHOTOJOHN BIEVERThe cautious Hostetler (15) is not what a Raider ought to be.

prediction

KANSAS CITY

12-4

DENVER

10-6

SAN DIEGO

10-6

L.A. RAIDERS

6-10

SEATTLE

4-12

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)