It’s too early to panic, but the Charger defense, the subject of much hype and hope in training camp, is on a pace that would shatter the National Football League record for yardage allowed in one season.
Owner Alex Spanos and Coach Don Coryell both said Monday they expect improvement from the defense as the season progresses. Charger fans can only cross their fingers and hope.
In the season’s first two games, the San Diego defense has permitted a total of 944 yards (455 by Buffalo, 489 by Seattle). That’s an average of 472 yards per game.
Projected over a 16-game schedule, the Chargers would yield 7,552 yards based on their two-game performance to date.
The NFL record for yards allowed is 6,793, set by Baltimore in 1981. That record has been challenged in the last two years, first by Green Bay, which allowed 6,403 yards in 1983, and by Minnesota, which gave up 6,352 yards last season.
The Chargers could also challenge their own NFL record for most porous pass defense. The 1981 Chargers set the league standard by permitting 4,311 passing yards.
Thus far in 1985, the Charger defense has been burned for a total of 664 passing yards (371 by Buffalo, 293 by Seattle). That’s an average of 332 yards per game, which projects to 5,312 yards for the year.
Going strictly by the numbers, the Chargers shape up as the worst overall defense and the worst pass defense in history.
But these projections, based on a mere two games, are subject to change. The Charger defense may begin to live up to the potential many perceived this summer, and the old saying about there being lies, damned lies and statistics, may be borne out again.
It’s clear Spanos and Coryell expect positive things from the San Diego defense.
“I thought overall our boys played a fantastic game Sunday against Seattle,” Spanos said Monday. “The defense has so many rookies and young players who need experience. What can you can say? I know they’re trying and will get better. Seattle was just a little too much for us.”
Coryell seemed to view the situation through the same lens: the Charger defense was victimized by a superior Seattle offense. Quarterback Dave Krieg threw five touchdown passes--four of them to Daryl Turner--and Curt Warner rushed for 168 yards and two scores.
Granted, the Seahawks are excellent, possible Super Bowl material. Their defense surrendered 440 passing yards to Dan Fouts. But where does this leave the San Diego defense? Remember, it received credit for helping to win the season opener at Buffalo despite giving up vast yardage to Bills quarterback Vince Ferragamo.
“We lost to one helluva good team,” Coryell said. “We saw on Sunday how good Seattle is, and they looked just as good when we reviewed the film of the game.
“Offensively, we played about as well as we could, and defensively, we had a real good first half. We were worn down in the second half and they beat us in one-on-one situations.”
Rookie cornerback Wayne Davis was victimized on four of Krieg’s scoring passes. A week earlier, it was cornerback Danny Walters who was picked on by the opposition.
Coryell said injuries hampered the Chargers Sunday. Walters was weak from a bout with the flu and was kicked in the groin during the game, while John Hendy suffered from leg cramps.
Defensive end Lee Williams did a decent job of pressuring Krieg and safety Jeff Dale applied of a couple of nice blitzes, according to Coryell.
Still, there was no denial from Coryell about the need for great improvement by the defensive unit, which he praised so often in training camp.
“We were disappointed about losing, but we feel our defense can and will get better,” Coryell said. “Seattle, I believe, rose from 25th ranking in defense three years ago to sixth last year with the same people, and I’m sure our defensive guys will hang in there and get better. I just hope it doesn’t take three years.”
Coryell was asked about a statement attributed to former Texas Coach Darrell Royal, who once said, “If a dog don’t bite as a pup, he won’t bite when he’s grown.”
The Charger coach grinned and said, “I think our guys will bite.”
The receiver corps was thinned by a pulled hamstring suffered in pregame warmups by Trumaine Johnson. It isn’t known how long he will be out, but Coryell said it’s doubful Johnson can play this week against Cincinnati. . . . Linebacker Carlos Bradley, who suffered a concussion on the opening kickoff, should be OK this week, Coryell said. . . . Rookie Mark Fellows, a special teams performer, is out for the year after suffering a fractured hip. . . . Coryell said he hopes the 13 catches made by Wes Chandler could ignite the veteran receiver to his best season since 1982. . . . Coryell liked the work of reserve quarterback Mark Herrmann, who directed a last-minute scoring drive after fumbling his first snap from center.
MOST YARDS ALLOWED IN AN NFL SEASON
Yards Team Year 6,793 Baltimore 1981 6,403 Green Bay 1983 6,352 Minnesota 1984 7,552 San Diego 1985*
*The yardage of 7,552 is only a projection, which is based on the average of 472 that the Chargers have allowed in their first two games. WORST CHARGER DEFENSES
Yards Year 6,136 1981 5,955 1983 5,936 1984