Chargers' Big Worry is Taylor-Made

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stripped to its barest form, any pregame analysis of today's Giants-Chargers game must center on whether the Chargers will be able to contain or control outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

The Chargers showed their concern Saturday when they activated rookie quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver off injured reserve. That means for the first time this year they will have three quarterbacks eligible to play. The other two are probable starter Jim McMahon and back-up David Archer.

Stopping Taylor is out of the question. He already has six and a half sacks, two and a half more than Chargers Lee Williams and Leslie O'Neal, who are tied for their team's lead in the same category.

The Giants are 5-1 and right at the top of most people's lists of favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Chargers are 2-4 and wallowing at the bottom of the AFC West where they are tied with Kansas City.

Since entering the league in 1981 Taylor has sacked opposing quarterbacks more than 100 times. Multiply that number by at least 10 and you get a better idea of how many times Taylor's mere presence has disrupted what opposing offenses have tried to accomplish.

"He's one of the best I've ever seen," says Williams, a man who hands out compliments about as often as Presidents hand out Supreme Court appointments. "He has it all and he uses it. Nobody has to tell football players what kind of player Lawrence Taylor is. He plays with passion."

"It's the desire he has," says Charger tackle Joey Howard, who was to bear the brunt of blocking responsibility against Taylor until he bruised an Achilles in practice Thursday. Joel Patten, the Chargers' regular left tackle, has a pinched nerve in his neck and is still recovering from a sprained knee.

That leaves backup right tackle James FitzPatrick. FitzPatrick was a first round pick by the Chargers in 1986. But he never became the player the Chargers thought he would be. Then injuries forced the Chargers to start him at right tackle four weeks ago against the Chiefs and he acquitted himself remarkably well against pass-rushing Kansas City linebacker Derrick Thomas.

The week before the Chargers beat the Chiefs, Thomas had five solo tackles, two and a half sacks and one forced fumble against the Raiders. Against the Chargers Thomas sacked no one and managed just three tackles.

FitzPatrick's job, if Patten can't start, will be to protect McMahon's blind side, the area from which Taylor generally strikes.

"Every team's got a big-gun pass rusher," FitzPatrick says. "But Taylor may be the biggest gun of all."

Earlier this year former Charger tackle Jim Lachey, now a Redskin, had great success playing Taylor straight up. Lachey subsequently spoke with injured Charger lineman Dennis McKnight, who relayed Lachey's thoughts to FitzPatrick.

"I've seen some guys try to force Taylor to go one way and others just grab him and hold on for dear life," FitzPatrick says.

The problem is Taylor's size AND speed. He is 6-3 and 243 pounds and quicker than many cornerbacks.

Thomas was quick like Taylor but much smaller. With Thomas, FitzPatrick stood up straighter and used his sheer size (6-7 1/2, 310 pounds) to ward off Thomas. "With Taylor," FitzPatrick says, "you can't do that. If you do, the first thing he's going to do is put his helmet right between your pecs (pectoral muscles) and blow you right back into the quarterback. That's what makes him a double-edged sword."

Charger Coach Dan Henning cautions about forgetting the rest of the Giant defense that now ranks 11th in the league after being last following the season opener. Henning fears the emphasis on Taylor might cause people to ignore veteran Giant right end Leonard Marshall. Charger line Coach Larry Beightol respects the entire Giant line that also includes nose tackle Erik Howard and left end John Washington.

"It's going to be a real test," Beightol says. "They're going to check our hole card, so to speak."

Asked what that hole card might be, Beightol said, "I can't tell you right now. Maybe a miracle."

Despite a long list of injuries that will probably keep third down backs Dana Brinson and Rod Bernstine out of the game, Henning isn't so sure a miracle is necessary.

"The game's only 60 minutes long," he says. "You don't know what might happen."

To help solve the Brinson-Bernstine problem, the Chargers acquired former Minnesota running back Darrin Nelson Tuesday from the Cowboys. Nelson should play against the Giants. But his knowledge of the Charger offense is limited.

Other significant Charger injuries include quarterback Jim McMahon (ankle/knee/shoulder) and tackle Brett Miller (neck). McMahon is questionable on the weekly injury report, Miller probable. Both will almost certainly start. The Chargers placed wide receiver Quinn Early on injured reserve Saturday, which means he won't play for at least six weeks.

Fortunately for the Chargers, their defense is much healthier and playing much better football than the offense. In the last four weeks, only three teams have allowed fewer points than the Chargers. In the last four weeks the Chargers have intercepted 10 passes. Cornerback Gill Byrd is tied with Tampa Bay's Harry Hamilton for the league lead at five.

"The last month I think the Chargers are playing as well as anybody in the league, if you count points as a criteria," says Charger Coach Bill Parcells.

Henning's response: "Bill is very solicitous when he's holding a full house and you're pulling to an inside straight."

Charger Notes

The Chargers also activated tight end Andy Parker Saturday and waived veteran nose tackle Mike Charles. Plus, they signed rookie running back Victor Floyd to the developmental squad. Floyd had been waived earlier in the week. The two prime candidates for today's inactive list are Rod Bernstine and Dana Brinson. Both are injured. . . . The Giants' leading rusher is former Cardinal Ottis Anderson, who will be 32 next month. Anderson already has carried the ball 123 yards for 447 yards, fifth in the NFC. The last year Anderson carried that many times was 1984, when he finished with 1,174 yards in 289 rushes. "Everybody had written him off," says Giant Coach Bill Parcells. "And I'm not sure I wasn't in the group that had some apprehensions." . . . Parcells and Charger Coach Dan Henning have faced each other twice as head coaches in the regular season. In 1983, Parcells' Giants beat Henning's Falcons, 16-13, in overtime at Atlanta. In 1984 Parcells' Giants beat Henning's Falcons, 19-7, in Atlanta. . . . More on Giant linebacker Lawrence Taylor, this from Henning: "He's a guy who doesn't stay blocked. I think there are probably people who rush as well or cover as well. But nobody stays unblocked like Lawrence does." . . . The Giants rank No. 1 in the league in point differential. They have averaged 9.83 more points per game than their opponents. . . . The Giants were three of three on fourth down in their 20-17 victory over Washington last week. . . . The only other time the Giants ever played the Chargers in San Diego was 1980. Final score that day: Chargers 44, Giants 7. . . . The last Giant kickoff return for a touchdown was 17 years ago.

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