S. Diego offense needs a charge Unit has scored only three TDs under new coach Gilbride

September 25, 1997|By Dave Distel | Dave Distel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SAN DIEGO -- If the Ravens are concerned about keeping the San Diego Chargers off the scoreboard Sunday, a less-than-daunting challenge so far for NFL defensive coordinators, they should know one thing: They must keep the ball out of Rodney Harrison's hands.

But wait a minute, Rodney Harrison is a strong safety. He's not on offense. Why keep the ball out of his hands?

After one-fourth of the season, the first under coach Kevin Gilbride with the "state-of-the-art" offense he imported from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Harrison shares the Chargers' lead in touchdowns with two. The offense, inoffensive as it is, has scored three touchdowns, two by rookie tight end Freddie Jones, from Landover, Md., via North Carolina.

Almost every week, Gilbride's litany has been the same: "We just have to get better. We just have to get back to the drawing board and get after it again."

Meanwhile, the Chargers (1-3) were applauded for having made offensive improvement in their 26-22 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday at the Kingdome. They accomplished season highs in total offense with 309 yards

and passing with 230. Eighteen NFL teams are averaging more yards per game than the Chargers managed in their best performance.

And how many offensive touchdowns did this "explosion" produce?

Zilch. Harrison scored on a 75-yard interception return. The other 15 points were produced by John Carney's five field goals.

And the Chargers won't even have Carney's right leg to stand on this week because of a sprained knee. Yesterday, the team signed Greg Davis to replace Carney for the two weeks Carney is expected to be out.

"I really don't see that we made any progress," said quarterback Stan Humphries, who was intercepted three times by the Seahawks. "We did some things better, but we still made too many mistakes. and we still didn't win."

Most of the Chargers' problems are being attributed to Gilbride's offense rather than personnel. The presence of the veteran Jim Everett has not even been enough to percolate a quarterback controversy, because this offense has not clicked, regardless of who has been at the controls.

In the season opener, a 41-7 rout by the Patriots at New England, Everett came in after Humphries suffered a shoulder separation and promptly threw an interception. Willie Clay returned it 53 yards for the game's final touchdown.

"Jim called the wrong play," Gilbride said. "Actually, it was a play we didn't have. At least it developed into a play we didn't have."

The problem has been that the Chargers do not seem to know exactly what plays they do have. That one play in that one game has been the season in a microcosm.

The idea that Gilbride's offense may be difficult to assimilate has been the talk of the town, and team, almost since he was hired.

"Complicated? Unfamiliar?" Everett said. "Probably a little bit of both. You have the coaching element and the playing element, )) and you have the mental element and physical element. You've got to get so you do things naturally. We're still thinking about what we have to do."

Bobby Ross, Gilbride's predecessor, was fired because he and general manager Bobby Beathard were not on the same page. Beathard now has a coach on the same page as he, but the team, at least the offense, is on enough different pages to fill a telephone directory.

Before Sunday's trip to Seattle, the San Diego Union-Tribune carried an article under the headline, "Confusion is theme of Gilbride scheme."

Gilbride was asked about sim- plifying his offensive game book.

"I don't think you can," he said. "That would make it that much easier for defenses to zero in on. It's just a matter of us not using that as an excuse and digging down and making sure there is no confusion. What we need to do is just continue to get better. That'll happen as we continue to do it."

The Chargers did run the offense a little more smoothly against Seattle, but it was more a matter of getting out of kindergarten and into the first grade than it was earning a master's.

The Ravens, in the meantime, should be aware that the Chargers are, or at least have been, more of a threat to score when their defense is on the field.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: San Diego Chargers

Site: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Chargers by 1 1/2

Chargers at a glance

Record: 1-3

Last game: Lost to Seattle, 26-22, on Sunday.

Last meeting against Ravens: Defeated the then-Cleveland Browns, 31-13, on Dec. 3, 1995.

Who's hot: Rookie tight end Freddie Jones leads the team with 14 receptions. Punter Darren Bennett is second in the AFC with a 47.8 average.

Who's not: The entire offense. Starting running back Gary Brown has yet to run for 50 yards in a game and is averaging 3.0 yards per carry. Wide receiver Tony Martin, coming off an 85-catch, 14 touchdown season, has 11 receptions for 163 yards. Quarterback Stan Humphries has thrown for fewer than 150 yards in two of his three starts and is the lowest-rated quarterback in the AFC (57.7).

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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