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Surprise! Chargers Potent on the Run

September 08, 1986|STEVE DOLAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — From now on, opposing defensive coordinators may need an extra dose of aspirin when they prepare for the Chargers.

No longer are the Chargers strictly a passing team. These guys can also run the ball.

What a headache for the rest of the National Football League.

Dan Fouts passed for 276 yards in Sunday's 50-28 victory over Miami, but that's nothing special. He seems to do that most of the time.

What made this opener special was that the Chargers ran the ball so well that some people may have thought Keith Lincoln and Paul Lowe were the running backs.

San Diego rushed for 224 yards, its most productive rushing effort in 110 games. The Chargers had not surpassed 200 yards rushing in 76 games.

Combining the new rushing attack with the old passing attack brings the word invincible to the minds of some.

"I think we'll be very effective running and mixing the pass," said Buford McGee, who rushed for two touchdowns. "I don't want to get too cocky, but I think we'll be unstoppable."

At a nearby locker, running back Tim Spencer echoed the unstoppable theory. But Ernie Zampese, the offensive coordinator, wanted to stop such talk.

"No offense is unstoppable," Zampese said. "The Bears proved that last year."

For years, the Charger passing game has been nearly unstoppable. They have led the NFL in passing seven of the last eight years, finishing second in 1984.

And now the Chargers can run.

"We have so many good people that we can either run or pass," running back Gary Anderson said. "Other teams don't know who to key on. I think our running game will definitely help our passing game. If we mix it up like we did today, we'll be hard to beat."

Anderson's effort on the game's first touchdown will be difficult to top. He vaulted over Miami defender Bud Brown and somersaulted into the end zone.

Fouts said Anderson looked like gymnast Kurt Thomas. Zampese said Anderson looked like high jumper Dwight Stones. Center Don Macek said Anderson looked like Superman.

With a single leap, Anderson inspired the Charger attack.

"When you see someone do something like Gary did, you want to equal or better it," Spencer said. "It's going to be hard to better that play. It'll be in everybody's offensive highlight film."

The Chargers are definitely the offense of the '80s. They run so many variations off so many formations that it can become mind-boggling at times.

Among the running backs, Anderson and Lionel James also double as wide receivers. McGee can run the option as if he were quarterbacking Oklahoma or Texas. Spencer is the power guy.

"I think that's the beauty of our offense," James said. "We try to create confusion. We can have one back, two backs or three backs; and four receivers, three receivers or two receivers. When you have to prepare for that, it creates a lot of confusion. It leaves a lot of people open for us."

The strategy left Charger running backs in the clear against Miami.

"I think that's a residual effect of the offensive line coming on," said Al Saunders, assistant head coach. "It's extremely important for a team to be able to run the ball and control it. You have to be able to run the ball successfully if you are going to win consistently. It was a positive thing to be able to see us do that today."

The question is whether San Diego will consistently be effective on the ground.

"With our personnel, we'd be crazy not to throw," Zampese said. "If we can run like we did today, we know we'll do well. Teams won't be able to play us to pass."

That's an added headache opposing defensive coordinators did not need.

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