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SUPER BOWL XXV : BUFFALO BILLS vs. NEW YORK GIANTS : Riding the Wave of a Kid's Game : Bills: They have been successful with a sandlot offense, but they won't be running it against the Raider defense this Sunday.

January 23, 1991|BOB OATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TAMPA, Fla. — The Buffalo Bills are probably the strangest team that ever made it this far in pro football. Against the New York Giants in the Super Bowl here Sunday, the Bills will be playing a shotgun-formation, no-huddle game.

That is sandlot football. It's the game kids play in the streets and in vacant lots. No other team ever got to the Super Bowl doing that.

But it may be the wave of the future. Buffalo's Jim Kelly can call his own plays. He can stand back down after down and, selecting an open receiver, fire quickly, before any defensive player can rush him.

Essentially, the Buffalo offense is one, long two-minute drill--and every NFL team runs that.

If the AFC Bills defeat New York with their exciting, rapid-fire shotgun attack, they are certain to be emulated next season.

Four other clubs already play wide-open football--the run-and-shoot Houston Oilers, Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons and the no-huddle Cincinnati Bengals.

The difference between Buffalo and those four--the reason the Bills are here and they are not--is defense. Unlike their friends in the NFL's wide-open fraternity, the Bills have put together a championship defense with a dominant player, right end Bruce Smith.

Buffalo has put together the best-balanced club in football--the only one with a 1991 Pro Bowl player in every department: quarterback Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, receiver Andre Reed, center Kent Hull, defensive players Smith and Shane Conlan and special-teams player Steve Tasker.

The Bills are so good that most fans, remembering their 51-3 dismantling of the Raiders, expect them to rip the Giants next. But they won't. Almost certainly, they won't hurt the New York defense the way they hurt the Raider defense.

If they can't--and if they fail to score readily in the first half--Buffalo's players might suddenly find the pressure suffocating, as other conference champions have in this game.

The Bills' problem is that this is their first Super Bowl. Whether they can get their sandlot offense moving is one question, obviously.

Whether they can handle the pressure could be more significant.

BILLS' PASS OFFENSE

Buffalo coaches Marv Levy and Ted Marchibroda have designed a simple but adequate passing grid for Kelly, based on short crossing patterns involving at least two wide receivers, Andre Reed and James Lofton, and often three--as well as underrated tight end Keith McKeller.

Marchibroda's tapes show that at every stage of every Bill game this season, at least one receiver has been uncovered or single-covered.

Said Lofton: "I haven't been double-covered since 1987."

Kelly will aim Sunday to quickly find the receiver with the fewest Giants around him and throw to him before being hit by Lawrence Taylor or Leonard Marshall.

The Buffalo offense is a composite of the run-and-shoot spread, San Francisco's quick passing and Cincinnati's no-huddle philosophy. And in the hands of Kelly, the machine moves so swiftly--both before and after the snap--that most defensive teams have been unable to keep up with the Bills.

Said Marchibroda, "We didn't set out deliberately to create a (rapid-fire offense). What we're doing is just using the two-minute drill all the time--and as you know, the reason you have a two-minute drill is to get the plays off as fast as you can. We just borrowed that offense."

One Buffalo advantage is that the style is so new and different that the Bills have left few footprints. The Giants will have trouble jumping on Buffalo tendencies.

There are two disadvantages. The offense, which is lightning fast on the carpet at home, will be slowed by Tampa's grass field. Second, the Giant defensive team is incomparably efficient. It held the Bills to 17 points last time. And it shut down Joe Montana twice.

BILLS' RUNNING GAME

Buffalo beat the Raiders on Sunday with Kelly's passes and draw-play running by Thomas. When the game was on the line, that's all there was, because in their new-style offense, the Bills--borrowing from the run-and-shoot coaches--run only draw plays, except in change-of-pace situations.

But the Giants probably won't give up large chunks of yards to anybody's draw plays. Theywill be ready for the ground attack that was too much for the Raiders.

In their practice time this week, both teams are focusing in that area--the Bills on new ways to block for Thomas, New York on ways to control him.

One Buffalo trouble spot is the difficulty in running out of the shotgun. Consider:

--Because a run-and-shoot quarterback is under center, he can hand off for a draw play to either side of center.

--In the shotgun formation, as a practical matter, the running back can only go in one direction.

If the runner lines up to the right of the quarterback, he must run in front of him to take a handoff for a play to the left side.

Conversely, if he lines up left, he can only go right.

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