Ground Game the Key for Grounded Chargers

Al Saunders walked into his weekly Monday meeting with the media, sat down, and began to sift through the wreckage left in the aftermath of Sunday's 34-3 loss to Seattle.

As expected, he wasn't the bearer of much happy news.

"The films bore out everything we saw in the game on Sunday," said Saunders, the Chargers coach. "They beat us on offense, defense and special teams. We never got control of the game from the opening kickoff."

That was the overview.

But what about some of the other numbers?

Like the final score, they weren't very pretty, either. But one stood out.

Seventeen yards rushing.

As in, that's how many yards the Chargers gained on the ground against the Seahawks.

As in, remember that Saunders says it takes a good defense and balanced offense to win football games. How balanced were the Chargers Sunday? They did not use one running play in the second half.

"Our running game was not very good," Saunders said. "It's something we've wanted to get better at and something we have to get better at in order to be a consistent team."

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Chargers' running game Sunday was its failures in short-yardage situations.

On its first drive, the Charger offense faced third-and-one at the Seattle 43. Curtis Adams ran left and lost one yard. On fourth-and-two, Gary Anderson was supposed to run right but center Don Macek had the ball scrape against the Kingdome carpet on his snap and quarterback Mark Herrmann couldn't handle the ball. The Chargers recovered but had to turn the ball over on downs.

In the second quarter, on third-and-one from their 45, the Chargers sent Anderson up the middle. He was stopped for no gain.

"That concerns me," Saunders said. "We've got to make those plays to keep the ball. We've got to have those first downs."

The Chargers, though, had only six first downs Sunday--and only two in the second half, when they didn't run at all.

On three third-and-short plays in the second half, the Chargers passed--and all three passes fell incomplete.

In all, San Diego made only two of 10 third-down conversions against Seattle. The week before, against the Raiders, the Chargers converted just 2 of 14 third-down plays into first downs.

"We only made one third-and-short in the first half, and that was on a pass (to Anderson)," Saunders said. "I don't like the way we have progressed in our running game."

So, what to do? Adams had only 12 yards in 5 carries against the Seahawks (Tim Spencer was second with four yards gained in three carries) and no Charger runner has gained more than 79 yards in a single game this season. Anderson did that in 16 carries against St. Louis in the second game of the season.

Furthermore, no Charger runner has shown the ability to make a big play--the longest run by a back this season was Anderson's 25-yarder against St. Louis. Since the strike, the Chargers' longest gain on the ground has been 16 yards, by Anderson against the Raiders and Spencer against Cleveland.

"I don't think it's a matter of changing around the personnel," Saunders said. "I just think we're going have to spend more time and give some more attention to our running game."

Chargers Notes

Al Saunders spent part of Monday's meeting rehashing his decision to insert quarterback Dan Fouts into the game for Mark Herrmann with the Chargers behind, 24-3, and still using him when the Chargers were behind, 34-3. "Mark had been our starting quarterback all the way leading up to the game and we felt it would be best to go with him," Saunders said. "We told Dan he would be in a backup role. There were still eight minutes (actually 8:26) left in the third quarter when we brought Dan in (trailing 24-3) and we felt there was still plenty of time left to come back and win. Since we hadn't done anything on offense, we were hoping he might be able to give us a spark." Fouts was 1-for-3 on his first series, and had an interception to end his second series. By the time he came in for his third series, the Chargers trailed, 34-3. "The reason we sent him back in was because he had ended on an interception the previous series," Saunders said. "We felt it was important for him and important for the team that we do something positive before the end of the game. It just didn't work out that way." . . . Saunders did say that Fouts will practice this week and will be the starting quarterback in Sunday's game against Denver . . . Defensive end Les Miller suffered a sprained ankle in the Seattle game and had X-rays Monday. Saunders said he will know more about Miller's situation today . . . Ron Lynn, the Chargers' defensive coordinator, on the defense's performance Sunday: "Vencie Glenn led us with 14 tackles. You know it's not a good sign when your safety is leading the team in tackles." . . . The Chargers announced Monday that the blackout will be lifted and that Sunday's game against Denver will be televised locally . . . First notes of the week on the upcoming Denver game: Denver lost two players for the rest of the season after Sunday's game against the Raiders: Steve Sewell, a running back, suffered a broken jaw and safety Dennis Smith suffered a broken arm . . . In seven career games against the Chargers, Broncos quarterback John Elway has thrown only two touchdowns and had 12 interceptions.

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