Down a man, Bengals blame defensive coach
DENVER -- Angry that people around the league are calling his offensive line dirty, Mike Shanahan set out to prove the Broncos are really no different from anyone else.
"We're taking a field trip," he told reporters Wednesday after his weekly news conference.
And off they went to the video room, where the Denver coach showed a series of plays involving other teams who have used the same kind of cut blocks that Broncos linemen have been lambasted for using over the years.
"I've been talking about it for 10 years," Shanahan said. "It's one of those situations where the average football fan really doesn't understand that all teams do that."
Denver is viewed as doing it the most, however, in part because of the success the Broncos have had in the running game since Shanahan became head coach in 1995. Denver has ranked in the top five in rushing in all but two of those seasons.
The Broncos came under withering criticism from coaches, players and ABC announcers Al Michaels and John Madden after offensive lineman George Foster broke Cincinnati defensive lineman Tony Williams' ankle Monday night by diving at his lower legs. Williams had surgery Wednesday and is expected to take six months to recover.
"It was unnecessary," Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton said. "He said he didn't mean to do it, but they're coached to do it. I blame Mike Shanahan."
Technically, the cut block -- a block below an opponent's waist -- was legal because Foster's helmet was in front of Williams at contact. But it was vicious, too, in part because Williams didn't see it coming. It also looked unnecessary given that the play was moving away from the spot where the block was made.
"Although people may say it's not illegal, it doesn't necessarily have to be a part of the game," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "There was no reason to block a man low like that when he has his back basically turned to you. There is no reason to chop the guy like that."
Doctors realigned Williams' ankle and inserted a screw on Wednesday. He'll need six months to recover fully.
"[Foster] put somebody out for the season," Thornton said. "He should be fined a lot. If we put two hands on the quarterback, we get fined. You should be fined for breaking somebody's ankle."
Williams joined Jacksonville's Paul Spicer as the second player lost for the year after being cut-blocked by a Broncos lineman, and the fifth since 2001.
"They have a history of it," said Bengals cornerback Deltha O'Neal, who played four years with the Broncos. "Everybody's trying to win, everybody's playing physical, but you do stuff like that, you're basically trying to hurt him, take him out."
O'Neal doesn't blame Foster, who was the Broncos' top draft pick last year and apologized to Williams on the field.
"If they're teaching him to do it and he refuses to do it because he doesn't believe in it, they're probably going to release him or bench him and put somebody else in," O'Neal said. "So he feels, 'I've got to make a living, too. I've got to do my job.' They just need to do some other methods of teaching how to block."
The Bengals' angry reaction was to be expected. Critical comments from Steelers coach Bill Cowher certainly weren't.
"A lot of it comes down to, in my mind, respect for the game and respect for the players," Cowher said Tuesday. "Do unto others as you want others to do unto you. It's a physical game that we play. It's a very competitive game that we play, but within that there are certain lines that you don't go over."
It came as little surprise, then, that Shanahan's video package included a number of plays in which Steelers offensive linemen are seen making cut blocks. He also showed the Bengals doing it in Monday night's game.
"I was a little offended with Bill Cowher's statement because they do it," Shanahan said. "So, those type things do occur, and you just have to deal with it."
In fact, the Broncos will be dealing with it on Sunday when they play the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta's offensive line coach is Alex Gibbs, who left Denver after last season. He spent the previous nine years helping mold Denver's running game.
"You've got to know who you're playing against," Broncos defensive end Reggie Hayward said. "You have to defend yourself. We'll do a couple of drills in practice to get ready for this. You just have to be alert. You've got to get your knees and your ankles and everything out of the way and keep playing."
Foster wasn't available in the locker room Wednesday. As Williams was carted off the field Monday, Foster went up to him and apologized. After the game, he said, "I don't think it was a cheap shot."
Lots of other people did, though, and it only promoted the idea the Broncos use the tactic more often than anyone else.
An NFL spokesman said the league had no comment "beyond confirming it was a legal block under the rules."
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, who is on the NFL's competition committee, said the league looks at the blocking technique every year. Holmgren said the 49ers used the same technique when he was on their staff and "people were always kind of upset about it."
He offered no opinion on whether Foster's block was legal.
"I thought it was unnecessary. That's how I'd look at it," he said.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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