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HOW THE UPSTART VIKINGS BLITZED THE PACK MANNING'S DRAFT OPTIONS MOUTHY GEORGE SLAPPED WITH SUSPENSION

Sept. 30, 1996
Sept. 30, 1996

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Sept. 30, 1996

HOW THE UPSTART VIKINGS BLITZED THE PACK MANNING'S DRAFT OPTIONS MOUTHY GEORGE SLAPPED WITH SUSPENSION

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This is an article from the Sept. 30, 1996 issue Original Layout

Foge Fazio couldn't believe what he was seeing. Fazio, the
Vikings' defensive coordinator, had prepared all sorts of
complicated blitzes to confuse the NFL's fastest gun, Packers
quarterback Brett Favre, but as Sunday's game unfolded he
determined his front four was so effective at rushing the passer
that it wasn't necessary to call a blitz.

Minnesota blitzed 14 times in the first half but only once in
the second of a stunning 30-21 win at the Metrodome. On the 34
plays in which he dropped back to pass, Favre was sacked seven
times--every time by a lineman--and knocked down 10 times after
throwing. Even when the Packers kept in a tight end and the
fullback to block, and even when Favre took a three-step drop,
he still got hit. Time after time, with the Vikings rushing four
players and the Pack blocking with as many as six or seven,
Minnesota broke through the protection.

"Sometimes we as coaches make things complex," Fazio said later,
his eyes bloodshot from the strain of preparing for what had
been the hottest offense in the NFL. "But you look at the guys
on our defense, and they're so relentless. I'm not going to tame
them. What sense would that make? Sometimes it's best not to
plan everything. Just let your players play."

At 4-0, Minnesota is the surprise team of the NFL, and if you
had to pick a Most Valuable Viking, you would have to choose
from among five defensive players: ends Derrick Alexander,
Fernando Smith and Martin Harrison, and tackles John Randle and
Esera Tuaolo. As long as its ferocious front stays healthy and
hungry, Minnesota is certain to be a playoff factor.

What Fazio did on Sunday was show defensive coordinators around
the league a blueprint for how to beat Green Bay. Here are the
key elements.

Attack the left tackle. The Pack can hide it no longer:
Third-year veteran Gary Brown is not the answer at left tackle.
He made Alexander, a first-round pick in 1995, look like an
All-Pro. Alexander finished with five tackles, one sack and a
fumble recovery. This year's first-round draft choice, John
Michels, isn't ready to start, but Green Bay may have no choice
but to play him soon. Even if 11-year incumbent Ken Ruettgers
comes back in three weeks--he's rehabbing a degenerative left
knee and may not last long when he returns--this crucial
position could turn into a huge weakness for the Packers. The
left tackle is supposed to protect Favre's blind side, and Green
Bay could be just one hit away from losing its star.

Don't blitz Favre. Granted, a superior pass rush helps, but the
Vikings proved that dropping seven men in coverage is the best
way to frustrate Green Bay's offense. Such a scheme allows a
defense to give the cornerbacks help on wideout Robert Brooks
and lie in wait underneath on tight ends Mark Chmura and Keith
Jackson.

Play clockball. The Vikings held the ball for 38 minutes, and
Green Bay ran only 49 plays, its fewest in two years. "The most
difficult time for a racehorse is the time he spends between the
paddock and the gate," Minnesota coach Dennis Green said. "He
can't wait to race. What you want to do with Green Bay is make
them antsy."

In the losers' locker room, the Packers remained levelheaded. "I
still think we're the best team in football," said defensive end
Sean Jones. Favre just shrugged. "Can't wait to get them in our
place," he said of the Dec. 22 regular-season finale. "We'll be
fine. I never thought we'd go undefeated."

Dressing next to Favre, backup Jim McMahon said with an evil
grin, "I thought we would. And you screwed it up!"

For the first time all afternoon, Favre cracked a smile.

PEYTON'S PLACE?

Too many people are penciling in Tennessee junior quarterback
Peyton Manning as the first pick in next April's NFL draft. Yes,
Manning is likely to forgo his final year of college
eligibility, but it's not certain he will declare for that
draft. If he graduates next May, a year ahead of his class (and
he could), Manning could skip the April selection process and
enter a supplemental draft next summer.

Why go that route? For one thing, Manning might not like the
team that holds the top selection in April, and perhaps no club
desirable to him would deal for the pick by the time he has to
declare for the regular draft in January. To determine the order
for the supplemental draft, the NFL conducts a weighted lottery.
Thus odds are that Manning would go to a team other than the one
with the first pick. (Whichever team selected him would forfeit
its first-round choice in the 1998 regular draft.) Also, even
though the supplemental draft would be a crapshoot for Manning,
he would be going to a team that could strengthen itself
immediately by getting at least two high draft picks in '97.

JUST SUSPENSION

You are Falcons quarterback Jeff George. You play in the best
system a pure passer can play in: the run-and-shoot. You play
for one of the best passing-game teachers, coach June Jones.
Even though your teams have won only 38% of their games during
your six-plus years in the NFL, Atlanta offered you a $25
million, five-year contract last year, which you turned down.
Now you are suspended because you repeatedly yelled at your
coach after being benched during a 33-18 loss to the Eagles on
Sunday night.

At the time of George's benching, the Falcons trailed 23-10 and
he had gone 16 of 23 for 217 yards, with two interceptions and
one touchdown. He had completed 11 straight passes before
throwing an interception just before he was yanked. Jones, who
the following day announced George's suspension for this
Sunday's game in San Francisco, may have been too quick in
making the move to backup Bobby Hebert, but that's not the
issue. The issue is that George, a petulant child if the NFL has
ever seen one, wouldn't accept his benching. "He just crossed
the line," Jones said on Monday. "TV caught only a small part of
it. Jeff went much too far, and you can't allow anyone on a team
to go that far over the line."

George is eligible to become a free agent after this season. The
Falcons will try to trade him, Jones said, "though it'll be
difficult because of the salary cap." In the past three years
George has sent Jones and Ted Marchibroda in Indianapolis, two
of the most mild-mannered people, over the edge. At 0-3 Jones
needs a win, but he deserves kudos for taking this stand.

EYE-OPENER

Unwilling to try contact lenses because, he said, he couldn't
bear the thought of anything touching his eyes, running back
LeShon Johnson played with 20/70 vision in two years as a
reserve with the Packers and the Cardinals. But last April an
eye specialist persuaded him to have laser surgery, and Johnson
reported to Arizona's camp with 20/10 vision. "I felt like a
new man," Johnson says. "I could see my blocks, and the ball
didn't look all blurry anymore."

With their running game sputtering heading into Sunday's game in
New Orleans, the Cardinals turned to Johnson, the NCAA rushing
champion as a senior at Northern Illinois in '93. Johnson darted
through cracks in the Saints' line for 214 yards, including
fourth-quarter touchdown runs of 56 and 70 yards, in a 28-14
Arizona win. Not bad for a player who during an injury-plagued
first two years rushed for 97 yards.

THE END ZONE

Cleveland Stadium memorabilia will be auctioned before the
facility is torn down in November. Among the items up for bid is
the commode from Art Modell's old office.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS The Vikings rattled Favre with a pass rush that was reminiscent of their Purple People Eater days. [Minnesota Vikings players tackling Brett Favre]COLOR PHOTO: TOM LYNN With Robert Smith carrying 26 times for 88 yards, Minnesota played keepaway from Green Bay.COLOR PHOTO: A.J. SISCO/UPI Thanks to laser surgery, Johnson can see clearly now. [LeShon Johnson]