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Playing Mind Games With the Chargers : Saunders' Psychology Put to Test Again Today Against America's Team

November 16, 1986|CHRIS COBBS | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The going rate for a psychologist is $100 for a 50-minute session. Al Saunders, the new coach of the Chargers, should consider seeking a raise on the basis of his performance as an amateur shrink last week at Denver.

Looking for a psychological edge because his team was a heavy underdog after losing eight straight games, Saunders read a newspaper clipping to his team about a man with no legs who finished the New York Marathon in four days by propelling himself on his knuckles. Saunders was rewarded with a 9-3 victory.

It may not be so easy to inspire the Chargers for today's game against Dallas at 1 in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, but Saunders and his staff are doing their best to find a psychological edge.

"The Cowboys are second overall in offense and third on defense in the NFL," he said, reversing the actual order of ranking in those categories. "I'm sure nobody gives us a chance, just like they didn't last week, but we're not going to believe them."

Defensive coordinator Ron Lynn latched onto the Cowboys' designation as America's Team.

"I'm sure that with every team Dallas plays, that title of America's Team helps to motivate the other side," Lynn said.

These may not be master strokes of psychology, but they are among the better tools available to the Charger brain trust.

Oh, yes, there's also a quarterback named Dan Fouts.

All week, the Chargers endeavored to maintain suspense over whether Fouts would be sufficiently recovered from a concussion in time to reclaim his job from Tom Flick.

The Chargers were hoping to keep the Cowboys in the dark about their quarterback and the nature of their offense this week. With Fouts, there will be more passing than if Flick started. No doubt, Tom Landry, in his 27th year as coach, figured this out on his own.

What the Chargers must figure out is a way to maintain their improved defense of the past month against the Cowboys' running-back tandem of Herschel Walker and Tony Dorsett.

"Both of them are super players to whom the word great could be applied," Lynn said. "They can both kill you on a single carry. They can run for 2, 2 and 8 yards, then go 55 on the next one. Walker is bigger and faster, Dorsett is quicker, but both are cutback runners who will punish you on the sidelines. You better get your pads down when you tackle one of them on the sidelines."

Despite the talents of Walker and Dorsett, the Dallas offense has been less than a marvel in the last two weeks with losses to the New York Giants and the Raiders.

Last Sunday against the Raiders, the Cowboys had two second-quarter touchdowns nullified by penalties, and a third score was denied when Walker fumbled while attempting to plunge into the end zone from a yard out. Lester Hayes recovered for the Raiders.

Quarterback Steve Pelluer, who has replaced the injured Danny White, completed 14 of 30 passes, but threw five interceptions to tie a club record shared by Eddie LeBaron and White.

"He's such a competitive guy and so geared up for the games that he tried too hard to make the plays and forgot he wasn't Superman," said Paul Hackett, the Cowboys' passing offense coordinator.

Pelluer, making his fifth start of the year today, is backed up by Reggie Collier and Paul McDonald, who was signed last week.

Landry has no illusions about the Cowboys' recent problems.

"Except for the errors, we've been playing pretty good football," he said. "We've lost two in a row by three points, but the bottom line is not there. We are doing all those things that make you lose, like holding on a touchdown run."

Landry said the Cowboys prepared to face either Fouts or Flick. "If they have Fouts, they have a great passing game," he said. "Dan is a dominant force. We were of an open mind in preparing (for either quarterback)."

Walker believes the Cowboys will rebound from their recent losses. "We've just got to calm ourselves down and get back in the swing of things, just go out and do what we did before, which was to play great football," he said.

Walker, bothered by a sprained left ankle, didn't play much last week against the Raiders, but still leads the Cowboys in rushing yardage and receptions. Like Fouts, he is supposed to be fine now.

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