Throughout his 16-year NFL career Marcus Allen's specialty has
been converting short-yardage situations into first downs or
touchdowns. Still, the league's leader in career rushing TDs has
trouble explaining why he went airborne on a third-and-one
during the Chiefs' game-winning overtime drive against the
Seahawks on Sept. 28. Nor can he say why he made good on his
only short-yardage try on Sunday against the Dolphins. The usual
tangibles, such as film work or coaching, don't apply in this
case. "It's just in me," says Allen. Below, he discusses what
he's looking for when he lines up for a short-yardage play.
"Everything is instinctive. I don't know what I'm doing half the
time in those situations, but I do know what I anticipate.
Short-yardage plays happen quicker than others, and your choices
are reduced. We run the same play more than 90 percent of the
time. That makes it tougher because everyone knows what we're
going to do, and that's go over the middle. Then it's our big
guys against their big guys, and it's like trying to squeeze
through a rathole. The slightest edge can help immensely.
"I start looking for things when I get in position. I'm in an I
formation behind fullback Tony Richardson, and we've got two
tight ends and one wideout. The beauty of the I formation is
that I can see everything. The defensive alignment tells me
what's about to happen. We see only a few defenses: the 5-3, the
6-2 or the Banzai, in which everyone just sells out. I'll try to
figure out if the defensive linemen are going to submarine or
try to penetrate, or if the linebackers are going to shoot the
gaps or come over the top. This also gives me an idea of what
each of our linemen is going to do.
"Even after studying the alignment, I haven't decided exactly
where I'll run or how I'll try to get the first down. I don't
dive much anymore, and I don't like to do it. Early in my pro
career and in college, we'd call for the dive, but not anymore.
I prefer to stay on the ground because it's a lot safer. But if
the defense gets early penetration, I have to do the next best
thing, which is leave my feet.
"I rely on my feel and experience. I have a way of slithering
through the cracks. I react. It's all instinct."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Allen is a master at gaining crucial ground. [Marcus Allen in game]