Chargers hope Deuce doesn't run loose

The San Diego Chargers run defense may lead the league in run defense but they will face their toughest challenge to date this Sunday when they meet up with the New Orleans Saints and Deuce McAllister.

The former Mississippi running back may have been brought around more slowly than his fellow 2001 first round draft pick LaDainian Tomlinson but he is no less explosive. Hobbled by injuries that have limited him to five games this year, his stats have diminished.

But this is a back that in 2003 had 16 runs that traversed 20 yards or more. The run defense, needless to say, is in for a dogfight this week as they attempt to curtail Deuce McAllister and the New Orleans Saints.

"I know he's struggling with his ankle," Saints coach Jim Haslett said of his star running back. "He hasn't really gotten a chance to get back in the secondary and use the stiff arm and the things he does best. I'm hoping that's it, and with this week and next week, hopefully when he comes back it'll be a heck of a challenge in that San Diego game."

Keeping him out of the secondary will take a collective effort from the front seven. While it is true the Chargers have only allowed three teams to cross the 100 yard barrier on the year, the running backs they have stopped haven't been what would be considered the elite.

Quentin Griffith proved to be more bark than bite and the Denver running game never got on track prior to the days of running Rueben Droughns. Chris Brown has proven to be a solid back but he was hindered by injury and the Titans did not have All-Pro quarterback Steve McNair on the field. The Chargers built a big first half lead on Jacksonville and Fred Taylor saw his role reduced – getting only 11 carries but averaging 5.8 per. The Bolts stoned Warrick Dunn but had some trouble stopping the bigger T.J. Duckett. And Michael Vick didn't run roughshod through the defense – until the fourth quarter. And last week was a total domination by the Chargers that left Oakland's running backs in the dust.

When faced with the better backs in the league, save Brad Hoover – a big back who ran well, the Chargers have not come up smelling nearly as good as their number one rushing defense states. Curtis Martin ran for over 100 yards. Domanick Davis ran for 87 and added another 70 in pass receiving. Even Fred Taylor showed his nifty moves in the pass reception area.

That leaves concern when McAllister rolls into town and no more protective boot that limited his mobility.

"We like to think of LaDainian as the premier back in the National Football League and I told (my team), as a matter of information, McAllister gained the exact sum of four yards less rushing a year ago than LaDainian Tomlinson, so they know what category that puts him in," Marty Schottenheimer warned. "I'm a big fan of him (McAllister). He's got the combination that I think you're always looking for and that's power and speed. There was a play, I was watching the Seattle game, he made a run on third and one and they had him a yard or two in the backfield and he bounced off the thing and he lunged forward and made the first down. He shows power, but he's got the speed to go the distance and I think that's what makes him so dangerous."

McAllister, who sustained an ankle sprain in Week 2, is averaging just 3.4 yards per rush, and comes off an outing in which he rushed for just 42 yards on 24 carries.

This year, therefore, has not been a true barometer of his abilities. He has scored 21 touchdowns in his previous two seasons and he only has fifty yards rushing this year while his team has been in the lead.

Even his receptions are down from a year ago. He caught 69 passes in 2003 but has managed just eight this year. The ankle has been the primary reason for his decline.

"He's always been one of my favorites in the National Football League, just because he's so big and strong, but he's fast, he's elusive," Tomlinson said. "Deuce can catch the ball well. Deuce can do everything. He and I are going through our little injury problems right now, but I still enjoy watching him."

Tomlinson has intimate knowledge of McAllister and his abilities. They met at the Playboy All-American game and ended up rooming together. Tomlinson recalls the competition between he and McAllister on who would be the first back taken in the draft and to this day shows surprise at McAllister dropping to 23rd in the first round.

"I'm glad that we're in different conferences, because I wouldn't want to be competing with him to get a Pro Bowl slot," Tomlinson said in earnest.

This is a guy who rushed for over 100 yards in nine straight games last year. The lone 100 yard game he has this year is an aberration to what he usually brings to the field and what better time to bust out than now.

The Chargers, ironically, have never allowed a Saint to rush for 100 yards in their eight previous meetings.

That stat could evaporate quicker than a drop of water in the desert as they have never faced a back the caliber of Deuce McAllister in any of their previous meetings with the Saints.

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