Another week, another gimmick. Just what the Raiders need in the wake of two mail-order offenses that left them on the short end of 51-3 and 47-17 scores.
What the Raiders wouldn’t give for a simple game of run-and-pass.
First, it was Buffalo’s no-huddle offense in last January’s AFC title game. In last Sunday’s opener, it was Houston’s run-and-shoot.
Today, at the Coliseum, it’s the Raiders against the Denver Broncos, who may have breathed new life into the franchise by handing the keys to quarterback John Elway.
Elway, at 31, had become somewhat bored with the game as he approached his ninth season with a team on the brink of overhaul, so Denver offered inspiration in the form of football’s most precious commodity: control.
Elway is calling his own plays for the first time since starring at Granada Hills High. There was a time, before the NFL became high-tech, when all quarterbacks called their own plays. Johnny Unitas had some luck with it.
The modern game, though, with its complicated schemes and formations, has been overrun by technicians and scholars who survey the field from above with binoculars, calculate a play’s chances based on scientific probability, then phone their next move to the head coach on the sideline. There, an assistant or backup quarterback relays the call to the huddle.
This method has replaced “Go deep, I’ll hit you” in the game’s lexicon.
Giving up play-calling power is the ultimate sacrifice, but Bronco Coach Dan Reeves was open to suggestions after last season’s 5-11 debacle. Reeves and Elway have not always communicated well in the best of times, so the coach figured he would cut himself out of the conversation. In last Sunday’s opener, Elway proved himself an able offensive coordinator, leading the Broncos to a 45-14 victory over Cincinnati.
Like the Bengals, Reeves never knew what was coming next.
“I have no idea what John’s going to call,” Reeves admitted.
Reeves believes he should know, and that’s one of the flaws in the new system.
“It helps the quarterback and it helps the team a great deal if you know what play is being run,” Reeves said. “We’re getting better at it, but we still have a long ways to go.”
Elway knows the offense like the back of his hand. He scribbles some of his favorite ideas just above it, on a wristband.
Reeves says that Elway can handle the extra burden because he has been in the same system for eight years. If not now, when?
The Raiders are 3-0 against Denver under Coach Art Shell but are looking at 3-1 if they don’t put some pressure on Elway and tighten up their secondary. It wasn’t comforting to owner Al Davis that his starting free safety, Eddie Anderson, watched Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices from the sideline because of a groin pull.
Anderson’s backup is untested Dan Land. If Anderson can’t go, look for Elway to circle the lineup change on his wristband.
Shell isn’t getting swept away with this new Elway freedom.
“We basically know what he likes to do well,” Shell said. “Those are the things he’ll likely lean on. John, basically, is a reflection of Dan Reeves.”
Based on last week’s game, look for Elway to hand off a few more footballs to Gaston Green, who is making the most of his off-season trade from the Rams, not to mention tailback Bobby Humphrey’s holdout.
Green rushed 24 times last week for an NFL career-high 116 yards. It hadn’t been much of a career until then, with Green languishing three years on the Rams’ bench after the team made him the 13th pick of the 1988 draft.
Green never seemed a Coach John Robinson-type back, leading most observers to assume that the former UCLA star was management’s pick, a public relations tonic to the controversial Eric Dickerson trade of 1987.
“I figure he just likes bigger backs,” the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Green said this week, “that I wasn’t big enough for him. I know when he first drafted me, he talked about me putting on some weight and getting up to 205.”
It never happened. So Green sat, first as Greg Bell ran and, later, as Cleveland Gary fumbled.
“For so long, I was just basically a spectator, watching from the sideline,” Green said of his Ram experience. “It was really frustrating because I would do a lot in practice, then when the game came, I would never get a chance to get into the game. Now, it’s exciting for me again. I’m having fun. I feel real good again about playing.”
Denver Coach Dan Reeves said the Broncos probably will not run a version of the run-and-shoot to take advantage of the Raiders’ obvious weakness against the offense. “Well, if you give me Warren Moon and those four wide receivers . . . " Reeves said. “But I think you have to coach something you’re comfortable with.” . . . Raider Coach Art Shell says the Broncos will use four wide-receiver formations. “I will not doubt that they will use some,” Shell said. “They have used some in the past. You’d have to think they’d take a look at some of that for a series or two.”
Roger Craig, the top receiving back in NFL history with 512 receptions, is hoping the Raiders will take advantage of his talent while he’s in the lineup. “I hope we start dumping off to the backs occasionally to keep the defense honest,” Craig said. “It’s nice when we go deep sometimes, but if we can change it up a little bit, it will (mess) up the defenses.” . . . Napoleon McCallum, fighting for a roster spot two weeks ago, will spell Craig at tailback today.