Sunday, October 6th, 2002
One quarter of the way through the football season, and the 1972 Miami
Dolphins have only two teams to worry about matching their record of
perfection. The Oakland Raiders who, like a fine wine, seem to only
get better with age, and the surprising San Diego Chargers are both
unbeaten through the first four weeks.
No one is surprised by Oakland's early success. Although no longer led by
fiery Jon Gruden, new coach Bill Callahan has seemed to pick
up right where Gruden left off. The offense is clicking and if their players
can make it through the season without breaking a hip, they are legitimate
Super Bowl contenders.
The Chargers, on the other hand, have come from nowhere and are the only
4-0 team in the NFL. New head coach Marty Schottenheimer is back to
his old winning formula that has proven successful everywhere he went. Many
people forget, before being fired by the Washington Redskins last
season, Schottenheimer did lead the Redskins on a five-game winning streak
to end up with an 8-8 record.
Now, he has started to turn things around in San Diego with a monstrous defense
and outstanding running game. Ah, yes, good old Martyball. And San Diego
is a perfect place for it for a couple of reasons.
The Chargers have always been known for a great defense and have a Hall of
Fame bound linebacker in Junior Seau. With the addition of speedy
middle linebacker Donnie Edwards and improved play by gargantuan end
Marcellus Wiley, this Chargers defense now ranks first in the NFL,
giving up fewer than 10 points per game. They are playing by the philosophy
of run the football on offense and stop the run on defense and it is obviously
working. The Chargers attacking defense has managed to hold opponents to
only 77 rushing yards per game, third best in the NFL.
As for their offense, second year running back LaDainian Tomlinson
leads the league in rushing and has been sensational. If he can break through
the wall of fatigue he ran into the second half of last year, San Diego will
be in great shape.
Led by quarterback Drew Brees, the Chargers offense relies heavily
on the run and play-action pass. What had all the ingredients for a season-long
quarterback controversy between Brees and the gritty Doug Flutie has
Schottenheimer's choice of Brees has proven to be a wise decision and a perfect
situation for a young quarterback to blossom. Brees is not put in a situation
where he has to be a playmaker for the Chargers to succeed. He doesn't have
to be Brett Favre or even Joey Harrington. All Brees has to
do is not turn the ball over and hand off to Tomlinson, which is what he
has done 101 times already.
Many critics were calling the San Diego a fluke after the first three weeks,
having beaten the lowly Bengals, Texans, and Cardinals.
However, the Chargers proved everyone wrong by stopping the defending Super
Bowl champion New England Patriots dead in their tracks. Last week,
San Diego's defense again did the job, holding Tom Brady and the Pats
to a mere 14 points. Combine that with a record-setting 217 yard rushing
day by Tomlinson, and it equals victory.
All in all, the '72 Dolphins probably aren't sweating too much about the
Chargers or the Raiders (especially since they are in the same tough AFC
West division). However, the rest of the NFL should probably start paying
a little more attention to Schottenheimer and the Chargers. After all, it
was only two years ago where a man named Trent Dilfer led the offensively
inept, but defensively dominant, Baltimore Ravens to a championship