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Defensing The Toss Sweep The Falcons focused on the Jets' pet play, giving New York other options


The Falcons entered Sunday's game against the Jets with the
NFL's second-best defense against the run. Having not allowed a
100-yard rushing performance in 14 consecutive games, they had
set their sights on cooling off Curtis Martin. The shifty Martin
had run for more than 100 yards in each of his previous three
games, thanks mostly to a play that few teams employ as often or
as effectively as the Jets. "They use a toss sweep off of a
bunch formation," Falcons defensive coordinator Rich Brooks said
last Thursday. "Other teams run it once or twice in a game. The
Jets will do it up to 15 times."

In New York's toss sweep, wideouts Wayne Chrebet and Keyshawn
Johnson line up on the strong side, with Chrebet wide and
Johnson in the slot about two yards outside of the tight end. As
Martin gathers a short pitch, Chrebet moves inside and blocks
Johnson's man, and Johnson cracks down on the player across from
the tight end, freeing up that blocker or the tackle to pull and
obliterate a defensive back.

"Some defenses put a linebacker out there, but then the Jets can
kill you with the pass," Brooks said. "You hate to have a
linebacker cover a receiver."

Instead, for most of the first half on Sunday, New York crossed
up the Falcons by running plays out of the bunch formation to
the weak side. Then with 1:35 left in the half and the Falcons
making adjustments, Martin took a pitch to the strong side and
ran behind 312-pound right tackle Jason Fabini, who wiped out
203-pound cornerback Michael Booker. The result was a 13-yard
gain, Martin's longest of the day.

With the Falcons focused on stopping that play, Vinny Testaverde
threw for two third-quarter touchdowns. All told, Martin ran the
toss sweep six times, for 46 yards. Despite sitting out the
fourth quarter, he finished with 101 yards rushing as the Jets
rolled to a 28-3 win.

"They knew what we were looking for and brought out a new
package," Brooks said afterward. "Teams give you something
different every week. This was just a lot more different than

--Richard Deutsch

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Martin burned Atlanta for 101 yards, including 46 on toss sweeps. [Curtis Martin with football in game]