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Charger Counting on Run to Turn Around Fortunes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

General Manager Bobby Beathard has invited his brother-in-law to say Mass for the Chargers before today’s game with the favored 49ers.

Last rites, however, come courtesy of Charger defensive lineman Burt Grossman.

“Who would give us a chance against San Francisco?” said Grossman. “Heck, who would give us a chance against New England? What are you talking about?

“Nobody gave us a chance against the Steelers last week, and San Francisco is better than they are. Plus, the 49ers are coming off a loss. If you were to ask somebody, ‘Who do you think is going to be 0-2 after this week, San Diego or San Francisco?’ What are they going to say?”

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Oddsmakers have concluded that the 49ers are 11 to 13 points better than the Chargers, and past performances offer no evidence for debate.

San Francisco hasn’t opened the regular season 0-2 since 1982; the Chargers have stumbled from the gate 0-2 the past three years.

Since 1984, the 49ers have lost back-to-back games only twice (1985 and 1988); in that same span of time, the Chargers have lost at least two in a row on 19 occasions.

“Obviously things aren’t picture-perfect around here,” Grossman said. “Whenever your starting quarterback goes and your offensive coordinator goes, and it’s the first week of the season, you got say, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ”

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In the past two weeks, the Chargers have traded quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver to Atlanta, and dismissed Ted Tollner, the offensive coordinator. Coach Dan Henning, who criticized the philosophy of defensive coordinator Ron Lynn after last week’s 26-20 loss, will take over the play calling today.

“I think we’ll play better,” Beathard said. “I don’t think we’ll have a replay of Pittsburgh with all the mental errors. I would be disappointed if the overall team doesn’t look better in every area.”

It’s on Henning. He’s under pressure to win this season, and now he must rally his charges again. He has a defense that has been a soft touch in the final moments of the second and fourth quarters, and an offense that spent much of the exhibition season trying to master the passing game.

“It’s back to basics,” Charger guard David Richards said. “We’re going back to a more of running the ball on every down threat. That takes pressure off the Freezer (quarterback John Friesz).

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“You start throwing the ball 75% of the time and that’s tough. We’re run blockers. If this was a run-and-shoot offense I wouldn’t be here.”

Henning’s going to put the tight end back into the Chargers’ offense today, and try to pound the 49ers’ defense with big bodies and running backs Rod Bernstine and Marion Butts.

“That was the identity of the ballclub last year and he’s back at the helm,” Bernstine said. “That’s what you would imagine will happen.”

A running attack would keep the 49ers’ offense off the field and wear down a defense that many consider the finest in the league. A successful ground game also would pull in the 49ers’ safeties and allow Anthony Miller to break free deep against single coverage.

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“Dan likes to run the ball, pound it and establish the running game,” tackle Broderick Thompson said. “There are no surprises with Dan. Before, it was keep them off balance, keep them guessing.

“Now it’s going to be ‘Here it is, we’re going to run it until you stop us.’ Dan has faith in the offensive line and the running game, and now we just have to come through for him.”

The 49ers, however, have reason to play hard. They lost their regular-season opener, 16-14, to the Giants on Matt Bahr’s 35-yard field goal with five seconds to play.

“I feel like I’ve got a black eye and just got beat in a fight,” San Francisco Coach George Seifert said. “San Diego is a fine football team. They have some fine football players.

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“I don’t believe any one club has the corner on talent. I think San Diego is a good football team, as are all the NFL clubs, and there’s no way we can look past anybody after what just happened to us.”

The 49ers defeated the Chargers 24-13 in exhibition play with Steve Young at quarterback in place of Joe Montana, who has been placed on injured reserve with elbow tendinitis. Young completed 12 of 22 for 162 yards with a 73-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice and an interception against the Giants.

“I think they’re going to come out and try to throw the ball,” linebacker Leslie O’Neal said. “A lot of people said Steve Young didn’t play well against the Giants, so you would think they’re going to do something to make him make him look good. All you heard last week was that he looked timid back there.”

Young’s greatest asset is his ability to scramble for yardage, but the 49ers became the most successful team in the ‘80s behind Montana. And Montana was at his best when he went looking for Rice. After last week’s loss, Rice criticized the 49ers’ game plan and suggested the team was placing too much emphasis on its running game.

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“I’ve been concerned that we would become too preoccupied running the football,” Seifert said, “and some people right now are accusing us of that. We’re basically a passing club, and we’ve got fine receivers and we have to get the ball to them.”

If the 49ers fill the air with footballs, the Chargers’ defense again will come under scrutiny.

“It’s a monumental task,” said cornerback Gill Byrd, who opened the season with a pair of interceptions. “You’re going against the best. I imagine they don’t think we’re very good. They have this tradition of winning, and I’m sure they’re thinking if they can go control us, they can dominate us.”

The 49ers came to San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium three years ago for the last regular-season meeting between these teams, and San Francisco dominated in a 48-10 victory.

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“I think that most people that play the 49ers--the perception is the team is overmatched,” Beathard said. “But that’s what these games are for. Jimmy Connors was supposed to be overmatched, and he proved differently.

“Connors said something that I thought was really neat, and the way all athletes should feel. He hates to lose more than he loves to win. We’ve got to get guys that hate to lose. I think we have a lot, but I hope we can develop some more.”

CHARGERS

TODAY’S GAME

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* Opponent: San Francisco 49ers

* Site: Candlestick Park

* Time: 1 p.m.

* Records: Chargers 0-1; 49ers 0-1

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* Radio: XTRA (690), XEBG (1550)

* TV: Channel 39

* Rosters: Page 14


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