CHARGER UPDATE : NOTEBOOK / T.J. SIMERS : Chargers Should Expect Falcons to Run-and-Shoot, O’Neal Says
Atlanta ranks fourth in the NFL rushing, but linebacker Leslie O’Neal believes the Chargers will be fooling themselves if they don’t prepare to see the Falcons’ “Red Gun” passing attack.
“It looks like we’re preparing for the run,” O’Neal said, “but I don’t know. Considering how we played the first two weeks and what we’ve been vulnerable against, I just don’t see them running the ball a lot. I could be wrong, but . . .
”. . . Let me pose this question to you: If you decided to go with a run-and-shoot offense, and it really didn’t produce the way you wanted it to in the first two games, and then you see a San Diego team that gave up some big passes against Pittsburgh and San Francisco, wouldn’t this be a good time to just air it out?”
The Chargers’ pass defense ranks 28th in the NFL, and has been stricken with a rash of “mental mistakes.”
Some have suggested the Chargers’ secondary has received no help from the team’s pass rushers. O’Neal disagrees.
“After the first three, four or five games last year, I was just a regular old joe,” O’Neal said. “I held out, I was selfish and all that stuff, but when the season was drawing to a close and everybody was looking around for some positives, then people looked at me.
“We’re getting pressure, but everybody wants to throw the blame somewhere.”
The Chargers, who were annually one of the top teams in the league in piling up sacks, have three this season. Critics have pointed to Lee Williams’ departure, and this year’s defensive line is being coached by Chuck Clausen, who replaced a fired Gunther Cunningham.
“Here’s the next question: If we’re not getting a good pass rush, then why is it?” said O’Neal, who has been criticized in the past by the team for his voicing his opinions. “Is it because we don’t have all the guys we used to have? Is it because we’re playing a different scheme up front than we have in the past? Or is it because we brought another coach in, and maybe he’s not as good as the other coach?
“Those are a bunch of questions I cannot answer, because nobody believes what I say anyway.”
Coach Dan Henning told the media in Atlanta on Wednesday that running back Marion Butts might carry the ball on every down Sunday.
On Thursday he told the media in San Diego that Butts will continue to back up Rod Bernstine.
“I told Butts this week that as long as Bernstine is healthy, playing hard and being productive, he’s going to have to fight his (butt) off to get that job back.”
So why did Henning tell the Atlanta media Butts will play a lot?
“I didn’t tell them a real 100% truthful statement the whole time I talked to them,” Henning said. “Not like you guys, I tell you the truth all the time.
“They asked stuff they really had no business asking because it has to do with competitive advantage one way or another.”
The Chargers fell 15,000-plus tickets short of selling out San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium in time Thursday to lift the television blackout locally.
The blackout has been lifted once a year for the past three years. On each occasion, the Chargers were matched against the Raiders.
The Chargers expect a crowd of 45,000 fans for Sunday’s home opener with the Falcons. Each fan attending the game will receive a free neon Chargers’ baseball cap.
Running back Rod Bernstine, cornerback Gill Byrd and Henning will be the featured speakers at today’s Charger Backer gathering at the Sports Club in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium at 11 a.m. The meeting is open to the public.