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PRO FOOTBALL : BEST IN THE WEST? : Forget Elway and Fouts, It's Krieg; You Can Look It Up, the Numbers Are There

November 29, 1987|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

Who has been the best passer in the AFC West over the last five years, including this one?

Is it Dan Fouts, the former master pilot of Air Coryell who had the San Diego Chargers on an eight-game roll until last week?

Or John Elway, whose encore to the Super Bowl has been a Mile High-wire act that has the Denver Broncos talking title again?

OK, this sounds like a trick question, but surely it couldn't be the Raiders' maligned Marc Wilson or the Kansas City Chiefs' bombed-out Todd Blackledge, even if they were first-round draft choices way back when.

But who else is there?

Hint: The Raiders will face him Monday night at Seattle.

Oh, yeah, that free agent from Milton College, Dave Krieg. You win a pair of earplugs for your next visit to the Kingdome.

The tiny school in Wisconsin was boarded up in 1982, and a lot of people still don't pronounce his name right--it sounds like Craig, although headline writers have fooled around with blitz- Krieg on his better days, which Dave did not find objectionable.

But check the numbers and you'll see that the Seahawk quarterback has topped the charts like Bruce Springsteen the last few years. He is the National Football League's third-highest rated passer of all time, behind only Dan Marino and Joe Montana, who also are still quite active.

That means Krieg has a higher career rating than Fouts. Krieg, playing in the same division, has out-passed Fouts in three of the five seasons since Krieg became an established starter in 1983.

That's the year Elway and Blackledge arrived in the league, but they haven't come close to Krieg, either, based on the system of measuring passing efficiency devised some years ago when somebody gave Pete Rozelle a pocket calculator.

Another shock is that even Kansas City's Bill Kenney, a one-time free agent from Northern Colorado, out-rates Elway, Blackledge and Wilson.

But those who have followed the career of Seahawk Coach Chuck Knox shouldn't be surprised about Krieg.

"We tailor things according to what our quarterbacks can do," Knox said from Seattle. "We had James Harris and Pat Haden (with the Rams) and Joe Ferguson (with Buffalo).

"All of them, at one time or another, have led the National Football League in the quarterback rating, and all of them at one time or another have been considered Pro Bowl-type players, including David Krieg (in 1984)."

The paradox is that Knox doesn't build his teams around quarterbacks. The running game and defense are the foundations.

The quarterback's main job? Don't do anything stupid. Krieg has come to understand this, which is why he is still playing quarterback for Knox.

"When you play Chuck Knox football--or any kind of football--any head coach around the NFL would rather have his quarterback throw the ball away rather than throw an interception, because you don't give yourself a chance to make a big play on the next down," Krieg said.

"If it's first down or second down and you don't have (a play), throw it away."

Krieg threw it away so well once in last Sunday's 34-3 thrashing of the Chargers that one reporter noted the Kingdome crowd gave him a "resounding ovation (for) throwing the ball 12 rows into Section 140 in the end zone bleachers, about 30 yards from the nearest player on the field."

That didn't help Krieg's rating, but Knox explained what does:

"It's our ability to have a good runner in the backfield and be able to throw the ball successfully on first down--the high-percentage-completion pass--and also the ability to structure the passing game where you try to have a low interception ratio . . . to stress ball control in the pass offense, but to have the ability, once you're down in close, to score by the pass."

The Kingdome crowd hasn't always been as kind to Krieg. The deafening decibels that have driven opponents to distraction have also been directed at him on his off days.

By reputation, Krieg has had a lot of off days.

"The inconsistency label is something that no athlete wants to have, especially if you're a quarterback," he said. "But whenever we lose a game, it comes down to 'the quarterback didn't have a good game,' so when you win you must have done a good job.

"Playing the quarterback position, when you have a good game, usually your team will. If you have a bad game, you have to find a way to win, and we did that against the Packers (whom the Seahawks beat, 24-13)."

Knox said: "Well, he's had some games that are better than others. That's a fair assessment. That's true of a lot of quarterbacks. Some things that happen in a ballgame aren't always the quarterback's fault. He gets rushed, a receiver drops the ball, it's deflected and intercepted. And then there are also days when quarterbacks throw the ball better than on other days.

"David Krieg has been playing good football for us. He's really throwing the ball better overall than he was a year ago, except for the last four games of last year when he was really hot."

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