As Arnsparger arrives, so does Chargers' defense Defensive great faces his old team

January 10, 1993|By T.J. Simers | T.J. Simers,Los Angeles Times

MIAMI -- Dan Fouts has been there. He has played against a Bill Arnsparger-designed defense in the playoffs, so he understands the pitfalls that await Miami quarterback Dan Marino and coach Don Shula when they take on the San Diego Chargers here today in Joe Robbie Stadium.

"Marino and Shula better have a hell of a game," said Fouts, the Chargers' former quarterback, and victim of five interceptions against Arnsparger's Miami defense in a 34-13 playoff defeat in 1983.

"When I played against Arnsparger's defense, I got the feeling the guy on the other side of the field was reading my mind. He was right there with me on every play."

Arnsparger, the architect of the Dolphins' "No-Name Defense" in the early '70s and the "Killer B's" in the early '80s, returns to Miami today in command of the Chargers' fourth-ranked defense.

"This is going to be exciting," said Shula, who coached with Arnsparger at the University of Kentucky, with the Baltimore Colts and in Miami.

"He hasn't lost it. Their defense is playing well, and Bill certainly has to be the main reason. Bill has given them the same thing that he gave our defense, and that's stability."

Arnsparger left Miami in 1983 to become head coach at `f Louisiana State, then moved on to the University of Florida as athletic director before Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard recruited him to return to the NFL this season.

Although he spent nearly a decade away from the professional game, the results remain the same. In last Saturday's opening playoff game, Arnsparger's defense befuddled the Chiefs, and the Chargers (12-5) claimed a 17-0 victory.

Two more victories, and Arnsparger will be coaching in his sixth Super Bowl.

"Being away from the game for so long was a concern to some people, but not to me," Chargers coach Bobby Ross said. "He has a remarkable football mind."

The Dolphins, however, offer a considerable test. Miami (11-5) ranked fifth on offense, and Marino was the only quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards.

"Knowing Arnsparger, he'll change up coverages as much as possible," Fouts said. "And with Dan Marino, you have to knock him down and put pressure on him up the middle to move him from side to side. You have to get him a little frustrated."

In four games against the Chargers, Marino has completed 104 of 164 passes for 1,270 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He has defeated the Chargers, however, only once.

The Chargers led the AFC in sacks this season with 51, and defensive end Leslie O'Neal took individual honors with 17. The defense sacked Kansas City quarterback Dave Krieg seven times a week ago.

"They have two superstars on defense in Junior Seau and Leslie O'Neal," Shula said. "They're not blitzing a lot, but they're still getting great pressure on the quarterback."

The Chargers had 29 sacks in 1991 with essentially the same cast of pass rushers. Arnsparger, however, has put O'Neal on the right side, Burt Grossman on the left and assigned Seau duties up the middle.

"He just tries to keep everything simple," said Grossman said. "We have four defenses, we don't blitz and there's nothing tricky about it. He just lets the athletes play."

"He won't talk about his accomplishments, but something he has frequently talked to me about is Miami's Super Bowl XVII loss to the Redskins," linebacker Gary Plummer said. "He still says it's the stupidest call he ever made. He ran a goal-line blitz on about the 30-something yard line and John Riggins ran it in for a touchdown.

"What a great career this man has had, and that's something he remembers."

Arnsparger received a game ball for Miami's 14-7 Super Bowl VII victory over Washington, and was on the winning side in Super Bowl V when the Colts beat Dallas, 16-13.

The Chargers, meanwhile, are still looking to play in their first Super Bowl, and are now guided by Ross, a rookie NFL head coach, who needs 289 more regular-season victories to catch Shula.

"If we had to depend on me against Shula, they would win," said Ross, the former Maryland coach who has directed the Chargers to 12 victories in their last 13 games. "The one thing that's our salvation is that this game is won with players."

In the past 10 games, the Chargers have allowed the opposition to score three touchdowns in a game only once.

"San Diego is playing as well as anyone in the league -- on both sides of the ball," said Marino.

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