The Cards won two NFC East titles in his five years there. Those Cardinal teams bear striking similarities to today's Chargers. Coryell taught Quarterback Jim Hart the quick, five-step dropback, the quick read that Fouts uses. Drop, read, deliver. Bang! You don't get sacked that way. In 1975 Hart was sacked only eight times, still an NFL record. In three games so far this season, Fouts has thrown the ball 93 times for 930 yards. He has been sacked only once.
Coryell created a new position at St. Louis, a receiver who was neither a wide out nor a tight end, an in-between guy. The late J.V. Cain was the man, 6'4", 225 pounds and fast. When Coryell came to the Chargers in 1978 he found another one, a 6'5½", 250-pound senior at the University of Missouri named Kellen Winslow. Coryell had to have him. He gave Cleveland a second-round choice in the '79 draft to swap positions in the first round with the Chargers so they could pick Winslow. After he had drafted Winslow, he realigned his offense, creating something entirely new.
It was the one-running back, two-tight end offense, except Winslow wasn't really a tight end. He was a slotback, sometimes lined up inside the wide receiver, sometimes outside, sometimes in tight as a blocker. It's now the Chargers' standard offense.
Last year Winslow caught 89 passes, tops in the NFL. The wide receivers—J.J. Jefferson, who last week was traded to Green Bay as the result of a salary dispute, and Charlie Joiner—caught 153 between them. All three went to the Pro Bowl and each gained more than 1,000 yards, and with 4,715 yards, Fouts broke the NFL passing yardage record he had set the year before.
Coryell's offense concept is to use the pass as a ball-control device, and the central idea of his passing game is isolation, moving people around until you've got the match you want. The key is the quick drop and delivery—and quick patterns, slants, square-outs, short posts. When the Chargers do it right, their opponents are slashed to pieces, like someone being put to death with a saber. And when the defense crowds in tight to cut off the quick stuff, San Diego runs its receivers deep.
But there's one more piece, and students of Coryell's tactics say this is the heart of his offense. The quick screen. Send the back out immediately, with a lineman as protection. Sit him there while Fouts takes a quick read on the coverage. If a linebacker flies out to meet the screen man, curl a receiver underneath, or send one from the other side of the field into that linebacker's area on a slant pattern, or throw upfield.
"We'll throw upfield 73% of the time after we've shown that screen," Zampese says. "It's better than a swing pass or a safety-valve, because we've got the lineman out there in front."
The only thing Coryell needed to make the concept work was the right back, and last year he found him in New Orleans, the bespectacled and gifted runner Chuck Muncie, 6'3", 218 pounds, with lightning in his feet and merriment in his heart. The Chargers got Muncie for a second-round draft choice after the league wrote him off as uncoachable. Coryell knew about uncoachable types. He had recruited enough of them at San Diego State.
This year Coryell made the package complete when he drafted a little fireball of a back out of Auburn named James Brooks on the first round. When Muncie gets tired, send in the 180-pound scooter. Against the Chiefs Sunday Muncie caught nine passes, most of them on those quick screens. The same pass to Brooks produced a dazzling 29-yard touchdown as he broke through three defenders.
No one is quite sure how to defend against the Coryell attack. Last year Pittsburgh started right off in a five-back nick-le alignment, so Muncie ran for 115 yards in an overall attack that produced 488. Cleveland tried the same thing in the opener this season, with the same result: 161 yards rushing for Muncie, total yardage 535.