They are the dominant force in the NFL today, yet few fans know their names.
"Try me," you say.
Okay, give me the names of the five guys who block for Dan Fouts.
In the last two weeks, the San Diego Chargers have scored 91 points, 41 against San Francisco and 50 against Cincinnati. Fouts continues to have plenty of time to throw the ball, no matter how desperate the opposition's pass rush.
"We have to get to Fouts, to at least upset his rhythm," a Bengal coach said. Only the Los Angeles Raiders have succeeded, in the second half of their come-from-behind 28-24 victory over Don Coryell's club.
The television announcers and football writers rave about Fouts' accuracy and his gifted receivers. The praise is deserved. But Fouts is a pocket passer who lacks mobility. He is smart and tough, but if he didn't have near-perfect protection his statistics would be much less scintillating and the Chargers, with their inadequate defense, would not be 5-2 in the American Conference.
I can think of only one other offensive line, in recent times, that was as good as San Diego's when it came to protecting the passer: the St. Louis Cardinals' in the mid-70s.
The gentlemen who formed that wall for Jim Hart answered to the names of Roger Finnie, Bob Young, Tom Banks, Conrad Dobler and Dan Dierdorf. They were great, as a unit, during an era when pass blocking was more difficult than it is today, before holding was made legal.
That Cardinal line might have been slightly better than the Chargers' current crew in the matter of blocking for the run. And certainly the Steelers, the Dolphins and the Raiders in their championship seasons were outstanding in blocking for both passing and running.
But I doubt if there has ever been a unit so proficient, or specialized, as San Diego's. The Chargers run only enough to give their receivers time to catch their breath. Air Coryell is designed to pass, pass, pass--the most sophisticated passing strategy the game has ever seen. And it's all keyed to the offensive front, whose names are Billy Shields, Doug Wilkerson, Don Macek, Ed White and Russ Washington.
This group helped keep my imaginary bankroll in four figures over the weekend. Miami was the only other selection to cover. Undaunted, I'll come right back with Miami giving 3 points at home Monday night against Buffalo, for $250, and with Pittsburgh on Sunday giving 6 at home to New England, also for $250.
Terry Bradshaw is struggling as the Steeler quarterback. In their last three outings on the road Pittsburgh has been shut out in Seattle, shut out in Buffalo and defeated, 10-9, by a Cleveland defense that had been having troubles of its own.
At home, however, the Steeler offense has been productive. There is the possibility Cliff Stoudt will replace Bradshaw against the Patriots. I doubt it. The most important consideration in this matchup concerns New England's determination to run the ball--and Pittsburgh's excellent record against the run. In a game vital to the playoff hopes of both squads, the edge must go to the more experienced Steelers.
Buffalo was unlucky to have lost, 24-23, at Tampa Bay last Sunday. The Bills were in easy field goal range late in the game, only to fumble. Buffalo is a good team, well coached, but it was unable to handle the Miami defense in Buffalo, losing, 9-7, and the Dolphin defense is even tougher at home. Giving the three points appears to be reasonable.
In other games this week the Las Vegas line lists San Diego 13 1/2 over Baltimore, the Rams 2 1/2 over Chicago, Cleveland 4 1/2 at Houston, the Raiders 8 over Denver, Tampa Bay 4 over Detroit, Atlanta 4 over Green Bay, St. Louis 1 1/2 over the Giants, the Jets 3 at Minnesota, Dallas 9 over Philadelphia, San Francisco 1 at Kansas City, Cincinnati 10 over Seattle and Washington 4 at New Orleans.
Last week's results: Miami, even, defeated the Jets, 20-19, plus $250; Detroit, giving 3 1/2 lost to Minnesota, 34-31, minus $275; Seattle, giving 4, lost to New England, 16-0, minus $275; San Francisco, giving 4, lost to Atlanta, 17-7, minus $275; San Diego, giving 3, defeated Cincinnati, 50-34, plus $250. Net for week, minus $325; net for season, plus $1,275. Won-lost record, 14-9. Last Week Season Totals $-325 $+1,275