All about Doug's TEAM

Doug Flutie was getting much of the credit when the Chargers jumped out to a 3-0 record. Then losses to the Browns and Patriots brought San Diego back to reality. Flutie can't do it all by himself. In fact, the Chargers lost partly because of Flutie's inability to move the offense. Anyway, the Chargers are not a Super Bowl team, but they are vastly improved from last year.

 

The talk in San Diego was that the defense can't hold fourth-quarter leads. It had a 10-point lead against the Patriots, but let them back in, en route to New England's 29-26 overtime victory in Foxboro Oct. 14. Defensive coordinator Dave Pascale, who had back surgery during the off-season, injured himself in a fall and has been available for only one game this season. Linebackers coach Jim Vechiarella was calling the defensive plays in Pascale's absence, but he has resigned because of stress. Former Bills secondary coach Dick Roach was hired to replace Vechiarella. Cornerbacks coach Mark Banker is calling the defensive plays now. That upheaval could hurt San Diego.

Chargers on Offense: San Diego is a multi-formation team that mostly uses the following personnel groupings: two-back/two wide receiver/one tight end, three wide receiver/one back/one tight end or two tight end/two back/one wide receiver in short-yardage situations.

Near the goal line, the Chargers will sometimes use an I formation with tight end Steve Heiden in the backfield as an H-back. He and fullback Fred McCrary will block for LaDainian Tomlinson, or Doug Flutie will fake a handoff to Tomlinson and throw to Heiden, tight end Freddie Jones or receiver Jeff Graham in the end zone.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner favors a quick, short-passing attack and a lot of funky formations to keep a defense off balance. That could be bad news for the youthful Bills' defense, a group that has been troubled in handling standard formations.

Tomlinson usually runs out of a two-back set, and is the kind of runner who doesn't mind making something happen on his own. Against the Browns Oct. 7, he broke a 54-yard run, first running left, then going to the right when he spotted more daylight there.

Curtis Conway and Tim Dwight are the speed receivers, with Graham as simply a reliable veteran who can spot weaknesses in a defense and exploit them. The Chargers will put Graham or Conway in motion quite a bit. Conway and Dwight always need to be watched on end-arounds when San Diego is in a two-back set. If San Diego is in a one-back set, that usually means a pass is coming.

Freddie Jones is a tight end with good hands and great athletic ability, but he had caught just 11 passes, through five games, which ranked him 15th among NFL tight ends.

The offensive line was a weak spot coming into the season, but it had given up just six sacks, undoubtedly helped by Flutie's mobility and experience. Right tackle Vaughn Parker sprained a knee Sept. 23, but has not missed any starts.

Key matchup: Bills front seven vs. Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson. He was tied among running backs with a league-leading seven touchdowns, and averaging 97.2 yards per game. The Bills have had problems with good running backs. If the secondary has to make a lot of tackles on Tomlinson, that's bad news.

The way to win: Force Flutie to pass. Buffalo fans know that the way to beat Flutie is to make him throw. Don't let him hand off, don't let him scramble outside the pocket for extra yards, but make him throw. He's not an accurate passer. He usually completes less than 60 percent of his passes with occasional interceptions.

 

Offensive player to watch:

WR Jeff Graham

Ht. 6'2" Wt. 206

Jeff Graham caught nine passes for 113 yards and a touchdown vs. Buffalo last season. He was tied with Curtis Conway for the team lead with 18 receptions after five games. Graham is a reliable veteran with good hands and exceptional ability to find soft spots in a defense. The Chargers like to put him in the slot and get him involved in patterns over the middle.

At 32, Graham is not as fast as he once was, but he is crafty. He's a possession receiver now, with counterparts Conway and Tim Dwight as speedsters outside. Graham had not caught a touchdown pass.

 

Chargers on DEFENSE: The Chargers play a 4-3 scheme with ex-Bill Marcellus Wiley manning the left end. Wiley had 10 1/2 sacks last season playing right end. A hairline fracture of a foot kept him out of the first two games. He doesn't have his burst of speed back yet, but he did have three sacks in the first three games he played.

Ex-Bills John Holecek and Sam Rogers are backups — Holecek for middle linebacker Orlando Ruff and Rogers for strongside linebacker Gerald Dixon. He strained his right calf vs. the Patriots Oct. 14, but Dixon is expected to be back for the Bills game.

Right end Raylee Johnson recorded 10 1/2 sacks in 1999. He missed the 2000 season because of a torn right knee. His return means the Chargers have a good pair of defensive ends rushing the passer. Johnson had four sacks. Another former Bill, right tackle John Parrella, had one.

The Chargers like to blitz their linebackers to put pressure on the passer. For Rob Johnson and his offensive linemen, that can be troublesome, though there is some question as to whether San Diego's blitzing has been successful. Its 11 sacks put it in the top half of the league, but only two had been by the linebackers. What the trio of Dixon, Ruff and weakside linebacker Junior Seau really do best is shut down the run. The Chargers' defensive unit has been one of the best against the run since 1997. There have been some really bad Chargers teams during those times, and bad teams usually are porous against the run. But that just hasn't been the case in San Diego.

In the secondary, right cornerback Ryan McNeil has played better than left corner Alex Molden. Both were off-season free-agency pickups. Molden was called for a damaging interference penalty against the Patriots in overtime, leading to New England's game-winning field goal. McNeil led the team with five interceptions.

Key matchup: Bills quarterback Rob Johnson vs. the Chargers secondary. Johnson will be under pressure to show that Buffalo made the right decision in keeping him.


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