|09-16-2005, 02:23 AM||#1|
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Shanahan challenge is to outwit longtime opponents
By Jeff Legwold, Rocky Mountain News
September 16, 2005
If knowledge is indeed power, then the Broncos and their opponents are going to have plenty of kilowatts to light their way during the next two weeks.
Because few, if any, know the comings and goings of the Broncos over the years like San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer and Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. And, of course, Shanahan knows their tendencies as well.
The Broncos face the Chargers on Sunday at Invesco Field at Mile High (2:15 p.m., CBS 4) and get the Chiefs there one week from Monday. All that's at stake in the back-to-back AFC West games is, well, maybe Denver's season.
"Oh, yeah, this one's like a must win, I know that's the way I'm looking at it," Broncos linebacker Al Wilson said. "We'll worry about Kansas City later, right now it's all Chargers. They know us, we know them and that's all there is to it."
Schottenheimer has faced the Broncos 31 times as a coach - he's 11-20 - with most of those with Mike Shanahan as Denver's offensive coordinator or coach.
Cunningham, who most in the league believe gives Shanahan's offenses the most difficulty, is 9-6 against the Broncos since he was named the Chiefs' defensive coordinator the first time in 1995, including 4-0 against Denver when he was the Chiefs coach in 1999 and 2000.
That's a lot of game video of what the Broncos have done, especially on offense, where Shanahan and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak have been together since both were with the San Francisco 49ers in 1994.
"You just get used to the idea you're going to have to attack different ways," Shanahan said. "You have things you believe in, but you do them different ways, you try to change things up. That's part of the National Football League. When you've got 20-some games a year, you've got to figure out a lot of different ways to do the same things.
"But that's why you coach; you don't put all these hours in just because you like to work. The fun part of the job is game day, when you match up and get a chance to see if things work."
Toss in the fact the Chargers have former Broncos coach Wade Phillips - Phillips and Shanahan were also together on Dan Reeves' Denver staff in 1989 and 1990 - as Schottenheimer's defensive coordinator and there is an everybody-knows-everybody feel to the Broncos' next two games.
"I think that we all recognize this is a business and a sport of constant evolution, it changes all the time," Schottenheimer said. "You have to be willing to look at things, you know, modify certain things that you're doing. . . . Denver, in my mind, is one of the most difficult teams to prepare for because you never know where they're gonna go line up."
"We see tendencies they try to change and they probably see tendencies in us sometimes . . . what you want to do is take advantage of those tendencies if you can," Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer said. "You always get a couple new things, maybe how they attack you differently so you have to react a little bit. But you know they're going to come hard and play physical."
Shanahan is known to change plenty on offense week to week. In the opening loss in Miami, the Broncos ran plays with a variety of players in motion, including lining up a fullback or tight end wide like a receiver, out of two-back, two-tight- end and three-receiver sets.
But when the trouble has come for the Broncos against the Chargers and Chiefs, it usually is when they haven't been able to run the ball.
With Phillips as defensive coordinator - last season was Phillips' first with the team - Schottenheimer has moved toward a 3-4 defense. And in that defense, San Diego held the Broncos to 111 rushing yards on 45 carries in the two meetings (a 2.47 yards a carry average) last season.
"We've seen them a lot, too," Plummer said. "I put everything into what Mike and (Kubiak) put in. Obviously, we know their style, what they're going to bring to the table.
"But there is nothing they haven't tried to look at with us either. They know what Rod (Smith) brings to the table, they know what Tommy Nalen comes with, they've seen me play. They know what they have to try to stop, what they have to try to force me into."
And with longtime rivals, that is the line to walk. Teams want to stick to the core beliefs in their playbook because that's what they've practiced through training camp into the season.
But they also have to try to present it with a wrinkle or two that might be unexpected or they might simply see defenders waiting for their plays.
"The three tapes you looked at, the three most recent games, particularly if they're preseason games, doesn't give you any information about what they might be doing from a formation and motion standpoint," Schottenheimer said. "Mike does a great job in that regard."
"Year by year, everybody changes, we change, they change," Shanahan said. "Marty is using some different fronts on defenses, going to a 3-4, than he has, Gunther has used a lot of different things. We try to use a lot of different things. That's the National Football League, and if you can't do some things, you're not going to be successful."
Home and away
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has a nonlosing record against only three teams - Kansas City, Miami and Baltimore - in his coaching career. How he has fared, including postseason, against AFC West rivals:
Opponent Home Away
Kansas City 8-3 4-9*
Oakland 8-2 7-3
San Diego 11-1 6-5* Includes Victory In 1997 Season Divisional Playoff Game