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To make the playoffs, however, San Diego will have to develop a more consistent offense by organizing a better running game and throwing less. White, obtained in a trade with Minnesota, should muscle open some holes for the ground attack. With him in the lineup, Guard Don Macek moves to center, where his strength should be an asset for neutralizing nose tackles in the 12 games San Diego will play against 3-4 defenses. To get White, the Chargers had to give the Vikings Rickey Young, an all-purpose running back, but Coach Tommy Prothro more than compensated for that loss by trading for Baltimore's Lydell Mitchell. Bo Matthews is a reliable blocking fullback, but is lacking in the catch-and-run department. Prothro upgraded Quarterback Dan Fouts' targets by drafting Wide Receiver John Jefferson of Arizona State in the first round. Jefferson should relieve the double coverage on Charlie Joiner, who at 31 has slowed markedly following knee surgery.
The strength of the Charger defense lies in an awesome young front four: Johnson, 6'8" Leroy Jones, Fred Dean and Bigfoot Kelcher, who tips in at 282. The line is better than average against the run, and its pass rush has clearly helped an unheralded secondary rank among the league's best.
Kansas City finished the 1977 season with a 2-12 record, the worst in the 18-year history of the franchise. In the process the Chiefs ranked dead last in the league on defense and set an NFL record for futility by allowing opponents almost 3,000 yards rushing.
In a year in which Linebackers Willie Lanier and Jim Lynch have retired, new Coach Marv Levy is converting the Chiefs to a 3-4 defense. His four top draft choices were all on defense, and the top three—Defensive Ends Art Still and Sylvester Hicks and Linebacker Gary Spani—will start immediately. The Chiefs hope that Still and Hicks can generate enough pressure to help the defense's one respectable unit, the secondary.
Levy plans to turn his offense into a ball-control unit, thereby helping the defense even more. Last year Kansas City gained more than four yards a rush but finished near the bottom of the league in total rushing plays. Meanwhile, the offensive line was permitting far too many sacks, and Quarterbacks Tony Adams and Mike Livingston (the latter is still trying to prove he is the Chiefs' leader after 10 seasons) were throwing interceptions all over the place. To promote more rushing, Levy will use a wing-T offense with three running backs and just one wide receiver. MacArthur Lane will be up near the line where he can better exploit his blocking and catching abilities.
Seattle lives and dies by the pass. The Seahawks surged to a 5-9 record last year largely on the strength of a league-leading 23 touchdown passes. Unfortunately, Seattle also threw 32 interceptions, the most in the league for the second year in a row, and opponents gained more per pass play against Seattle than against any other team. The Seahawks also led the league in points allowed.
Quarterback Jim Zorn is scatter-armed. Not only does he throw interceptions, his percentage of completions is poor (41%). But Zorn gains a lot of yardage with his passing, not to mention his scrambling. Wide Receiver Steve Largent (19.5 yards a catch) is his best target.
Seattle Coach Jack Patera would like to get more runs into his play mix. He has an improving young line and a top back in 6'4", 225-pound Sherman Smith. For openers, what the Seahawks need is a better outside running game. That means more blocking from Tight End Ron Howard.
To improve his pass defense, Patera drafted Memphis State Cornerback Keith Simpson in the first round—only to have him pull a hamstring. The Seahawks need a sound Simpson to tackle as well as knock down passes, since they have been hurt by teams running wide. Despite its weakness against the run, Seattle will not follow a growing trend to the 3-4 but will stick with the 4-3.
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