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Chargers Find, Uncover Their Guilty Defender : Pro football: Cornerback Sam Seale admits he left Steeler open on game-deciding play.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The scuttlebutt after last year’s Charger season opener was the now-famous botched fake punt.

This year’s season opener, which the Chargers lost to Pittsburgh, 26-20, provided another play that can be analyzed to death.

For those who missed it: With a minute, 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Chargers trailing 19-13, Pittsburgh turned a third-and-19 screen pass at its 11-yard line into an 89-yard touchdown.

The Steelers caught the Chargers in a blitz and threw a screen pass to a wide open Dwight Stone, who raced untouched down the right sideline.

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After the game, Charger coaches identified the player who missed the coverage as “the defender.”

Monday, they identified him as cornerback Sam Seale.

And Monday, Seale faced the music.

“It was my man,” Seale said. “I thought (Stone) was blocking.”

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Seale said there was no excuse for losing track of Stone.

“I just took my eye off my man,” he said. “I lost him between the guard and the tackle.”

When Seale finally spotted Stone, the Steeler was racing down the sidelines.

“I ran over there, but Louis Lipps blocked me and Donald (Frank) and he scored,” Seale said. “I just didn’t take care of my responsibility. I take full blame. It was my man. He scored. I should have been there.”

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The Charger blitz left Seale in man coverage. But Seale said the defensive call did not keep him from making the play.

“It was a great defense,” Seale said. “If I would have covered my man, there was nowhere else to throw.”

Defensive coordinator Ron Lynn said he did not regret calling a blitz.

“I would call it again,” said Lynn, who indicated he was attempting to put the Steelers in a position where they would have to punt out of their own end zone. He also felt a blitz might rattle Steeler quarterback Neil O’Donnell, who was playing in his first NFL game after starter Bubby Brister suffered a concussion earlier in the fourth quarter.

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“We had blitzed him on two other occasions,” Lynn said. “He kind of fell out of there a couple of times. We felt fairly comfortable in doing that.”

Charger Coach Dan Henning said he was also comfortable with the call.

“I’m in full agreement with the call,” Henning said. “It’s part of our defense. To me it’s an outstanding strategy. It has to be executed.”

Henning said the blitz was one of several defensive maneuvers that weren’t executed correctly.

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“We’re in a situation where we have players that are not making the correct choices, or making incorrect moves or missing an assignment,” Henning said.

“We have a lot of work to do by design and by implementation. Right now, the implementation is far from the design. And that has to with what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. The answers are that you have to redesign or simplify.”

Cornerback Gill Byrd, who had two interceptions against the Steelers and dropped a chance for a third, said simplifying and redesigning is not the answer.

“There were mistakes that were made,” Byrd said. “There were some things that we do have to get cleaned up, but major surgery doesn’t have to done.

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“I just think guys have to get into their books. Guys have to apply themselves and say, ‘For the next 15-plus weeks, we are going to give it all we have.’ ”

Seale agreed with Byrd, saying he doesn’t buy the arguement that the defense is too complex for some players.

“I got the defense,” he said. “I’m not stupid. To me, if people can’t get the defense they don’t need to be here. They’re not smart enough to play in the NFL. We just need to take care of our responsibilities, Sam Seale included.”

Seale said he also doesn’t believe the two inexperienced safeties, Anthony Shelton and Stanley Richard, are the problem.

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“I don’t go for that theory,” he said. “The two safeties to me played well, we just have to get it done.”

Byrd said he is confident the talent is there.

“The key is commitment,” he said. “We have the physical ability. It’s just the mental mistakes that have taken their toll and they have caught up with us on a couple of occasions. Nothing that can’t be corrected, but guys have to sit down and say, ‘I want to correct this.’ ”

Whatever the problem, Lynn said it needs to be corrected. And soon.

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“We need to get the point where we don’t make errors,” Lynn said. “We’ve got some guys making a bunch of errors and we need to get those eliminated. We either eliminate the guy or eliminate the error.”

Lynn said he is not exactly sympathetic to players making mental errors.

“It’s tough for guys who are making the few bucks that we pay them to learn,” he said.

Almost lost in all the defensive woes was the performance of quarterback John Friesz, who started his second NFL game.

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In Friesz’ first start last year against the Raiders, he completed 11 of 22 passes for 98 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Sunday in the fourth quarter, Friesz completed 11 of 22 for 117 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The rest of the game, Friesz was eight of 19 for 75 yards.

“As the game went on, he seemed to get better and better,” Henning said. “I would expect and hope that would be the way it would happen with John.

“He did handle himself well in the fourth quarter. We need to have him handle himself that way in all phases as quickly as possible. And in all quarters as quickly as possible.”

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Henning said he would also like to see better play out of his special teams.

“We did a poor job on kickoff return,” he said. “We outpunted our coverage a number of times. The punts were very long but they were supposed to be more directional and with higher hang time.”

Henning blamed some of the coverage difficulties on the Steelers’ questionable blocking techniques.

“We had a bunch of people in physical jeopardy because of the way some of the blocks were thrown on special teams,” he said. “When the officials let that go, it’s kind of like jungle rules out there.”

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Injuries to linebacker Junior Seau (sprained knee) and wide receiver Anthony Miller (leg bruise) forced them out of Sunday’s game. Henning said both players should miss some practice time this week, but he expects them be ready for San Francisco on Sunday.

Henning said the Seau injury occured on a “clear clip” downfield.

Friesz sprained his ankle and had it wrapped Monday, but he is not expected to miss any practice time.


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