In building their game plan against Denver, the Washington Redskins will focus on two keys: keeping John Elway in the pass pocket and not committing turnovers.
This should give the Redskins hope, because they have a strong front four to work against Elway and they can control the ball with their conservative, power running game.
In figuring a way to stop the Broncos, you start with containing Elway from the outside with your defensive ends. The problem is nobody ever does. But the Redskins do have outstanding ends in Dexter Manley and Charles Mann. They must rush a bit cautiously, however, to prevent Elway from getting outside where he does so much damage throwing the ball to the Three Amigos and those big tight ends.
The Amigos are dangerous. They have to be or the Broncos couldn't be where they are, because they can't run the ball well enough to keep you honest. So everything is Elway and the Three Amigos, who are all big-play guys.
Denver's runners are good, tough football players, but they're not game-breakers. The Broncos are like the 49ers in using the pass to set up the run. Elway gets you thinking, "Boy, we've got to keep him under control. We can't just unload on him." Then all of a sudden they pop loose a running back. That's why they're so effective running from the shotgun formation. The awareness of Elway opens it up for Sammy Winder and Gene Lang.
The Broncos' running game shouldn't tear up Washington. Their offensive line is relatively small. It is a trapping, pulling team, the complete opposite of the Redskins' big power blockers. It's a balanced attack with a lot of deception.
On defense, Denver's strength is getting turnovers. That's why the Broncos beat Cleveland for the AFC title. If they don't get turnovers, a good offensive team like Washington can move the ball on them.
The Broncos struggled some defensively this year because of injuries and retirements. But they still have top people: Karl Mecklenburg, Rulon Jones, Ricky Hunley, Mark Haynes and Dennis Smith.
Their scheme is unusual and hard to prepare for. They line up in a three-man front, then Mecklenburg will jump from linebacker into the line to give them more pressure up front, or they'll come with the blitz. You're never sure where Mecklenburg is going to line up, so defensing him is a key to beating Denver.
They give you all kinds of looks and run every kind of stunt. But the Redskins' counter plays work well against an attacking defense, as they did against the Vikings. In other words, they'll try to get the Broncos flowing one way before the running back cuts back against the flow.
If Washington makes the right move against a particular Denver stunt, you'll see George Rogers or Timmy Smith or Kelvin Bryant break a long run.
If the Redskins don't commit turnovers and they hit a big play or two, which they're very capable of doing, you may see a rare Super Bowl upset.
Tom Landry has coached the Dallas Cowboys since their entry into the NFL in 1960. Denver Coach Dan Reeves played and coached for Landry. And of course, Landry has been preparing game plans to play against Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs for seven seasons.