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Despite Standings, Saunders Has Concerns : Chargers in First Place, but the Secondary Isn't Really on Top of Things

October 27, 1987|CHRIS ELLO

SAN DIEGO — Al Saunders was asked Monday how he was feeling now that the Chargers (5-1) have the best record in the American Football Conference.

"I'm still the same old guy that was a last-place coach a year ago," Saunders said.

As the questions continued, Saunders may have been thinking he was in last place.

For example:

"What about your running game, Al?" he was asked.

The Chargers gained 114 yards rushing on 39 carries in Sunday's 42-21 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, an average of just 2.9 yards per carry.

"What about your defensive secondary, Al?" the questions came.

Also, the Chiefs' Bill Kenney passed for 328 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Chargers Sunday. Of Kenney's 22 completions, 13 were for 10 yards or more.

Saunders seemed surprised by the negative inquiries.

"Doesn't anybody want to talk about anything positive?" Saunders retorted. "After all, we are 5-1."

Yes, but there were some problems Sunday.

The running game wasn't very effective, as only Lionel James, of five backs who carried the ball, gained more than 20 yards. This wasn't so surprising, Saunders said.

"I was saying all last week that I thought the passing teams would have the advantage the first week back," Saunders said. "I figured it was going to be more difficult to run because of the conditioning of the players. I knew it was going to be harder to pound the ball downfield."

The Chiefs must have agreed with Saunders because they, too, chose to throw more often than run. And Kenney had a lot of success.

All day, it seemed the Chargers were trying to find a way to slow the Chief passing attack as defensive coordinator Ron Lynn employed five different cornerbacks during the game: Danny Walters, Gil Byrd, Elvis Patterson, Daniel Hunter and Charles Romes.

Walters was burned for a 63-yard touchdown by Chief wide receiver Carlos Carson one minute before halftime and Romes was called for three consecutive penalties totaling 54 yards to set up a Chief touchdown midway through the third quarter.

"I would have like to see Danny be a little smarter on that play before halftime," Lynn said. "But I think as a whole it was realistic to think we could have given up 14 points to them in the first half.

"I was satisfied to a point with our overall effort, and if we could take out three or four plays, it would have been a lot better."

Of the five cornerbacks who played, it appeared Patterson had the best game, breaking up two passes. Patterson, a former New York Giant, joined the Chargers during the strike and has his mind set on earning a starting job.

Neither Saunders nor Lynn would say that Patterson will be starting Sunday against Cleveland but the indication is that he will continue to see a lot of playing time.

"I think it's reasonable to say Elvis is our No. 3 cornerback right now," Lynn said. "If someone goes out, or is unable to play, he'd be the guy in there."

Walters suffered a slight knee sprain against Kansas City, although Saunders said he expects Walters to play against Cleveland. Romes is also expected to play although Lynn said he was unhappy with his performance against the Chiefs.

"Saying we gave up too much passing yardage is kind of like saying we stopped their running game completely (the Chiefs gained only 66 yards rushing)," Lynn said. "When we have a 35-7 lead, the other team is going to have to pass and you're going to give up some yardage."

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