Venus Quarterback Trap Denver's defense prevailed with a grab bag of exotic tactics

February 08, 1999

There was Venus and the Inverted Double-Double and the Two-Deep
Squeeze. The Broncos defense threw the whole package at Falcons
quarterback Chris Chandler. "We used 10 different blitzes, two
of which we've never shown before," said Denver defensive
coordinator Greg Robinson after Super Bowl XXXIII.

"We showed zone and then blitzed 'em," said Broncos cornerback
Darrien Gordon, who cut off two second-half Atlanta drives with
a pair of interceptions worth 108 return yards. "We showed blitz
and then pulled back to a zone. We confused them."

As for stopping the Falcons' fourth-and-one try in the second
quarter--Jamal Anderson was tackled for a two-yard loss--defensive
end Neil Smith said, "We read their pulling guards; that's how we
got the jump on them."

Atlanta came into the game with the big-play defense, but on
Super Sunday all the big plays on that side of the ball belonged
to Denver. One touchdown was all the Broncos' D allowed, and
that came in garbage time. In the AFC Championship Game the Jets
got one touchdown against the Denver defense, set up by a
blocked punt on the one-yard line, and in the divisional playoff
the Dolphins got none.

Venus was the blitz used to sack Chandler at the Denver 15-yard
line on Atlanta's first possession, turning a potential
touchdown drive into a field goal. "Don't ask me about the
name," says linebacker Bill Romanowski, who made the sack
(above). "It was here before I came." Venus was put into the
game plan against the Jets and carried over to the Super Bowl.
The receivers take off, Gordon blitzes from the corner, and
Romanowski follows him. Time it right, and the offensive team
can't block it. The Broncos timed it right.

The Inverted Double-Double? Robinson paired his blitz package
with standard double-zone coverage, the corners playing up, the
safeties backing them deep. That's a Double-Double. Then, on the
fourth-quarter play that snuffed out one of the Falcons' last
remaining chances (Gordon intercepted on the two and returned
the ball 50 yards), Denver inverted the scheme. "Steve Atwater
[the free safety] came up, and I dropped back," Gordon said. "I
surprised Chandler. He thought I'd hang outside, but I dropped
to the deep middle. The ball came right to me."

The Squeeze? A two-deep (the safeties) zone, except that
nickelback Darrius Johnson squeezed, or jumped his coverage
early on an inside route to Terance Mathis, and came up with a
third-quarter interception. The giveup in these coverages was
the short underneath pass to the wideouts, and Chandler
completed his share of them. The payoff was the trio of
interceptions. "Everything we were doing," Robinson said, "was
designed to not let Chandler go deep. We kept our distance at
all times. We counted on our rush to disrupt his timing."

Cerebral football in the coverage, plenty of heat from the
blitzes. It all paid off on Sunday.

--Paul Zimmerman