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Turner, Coryell offenses comparable

Posted May 8, 2012

SAN DIEGO – It was a footnote in 2011 as the team did not make the playoffs, a forgotten lyric to an otherwise disappointing season.

The Chargers topped 400 points and averaged more than 25 points per game for the eighth consecutive season, an NFL record.

Until late in the season, it appeared the streak would end. But a rebuilt offensive line helped Rivers, more judicious with the football late in the year, and the Chargers erupted for 38, 37, 34 and 38 points in four of the last five games.

In fact, as prolific and forward thinking as Don Coryell’s offense was in the late ’70s and early ’80s with Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner and Wes Chandler, an argument can be made in favor of Head Coach Norv Turner’s version led by Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, and a handful of tall receivers and talented running backs.

Coryell’s offense was more prolific in terms of yardage and more dominant for its era. Turner’s offense has been more efficient and historic in terms of consistent scoring.

Since Turner took over in 2007, the Chargers are fourth in the NFL, scoring 26.9 points per game. Only New England, New Orleans and Green Bay have scored more.

Coryell’s first five San Diego teams scored 26.4 points per game, first in the NFL by more than one point. Those teams (1979-84) often had to out-score opponents, which averaged 23.1 points per game themselves, 24th in the NFL. By contrast, Turner’s Chargers have allowed 20.6 points per game, ninth in the league.

Both offenses drove their teams to three playoff appearances, three playoff wins and one AFC Championship appearance in the five seasons.

Fouts and company threw for 2,500 more yards under Coryell than Rivers and company under Turner. The Air Coryell Chargers averaged nearly 300 passing yards per game, ridiculous numbers for that era (second-place San Francisco and a young Joe Montana averaged 248.2).

Rivers’ Chargers have managed 263.3 yards per game in an era where 10 different teams have topped 250.

But despite throwing 20 interceptions in 2011, Rivers and the Chargers have averaged one pick every 37 throws and one touchdown every 18 throws under Turner. Fouts and company averaged one pick every 25 throws and one touchdown every 22 throws under Coryell. The more efficient passing attack also has yielded 8.1 yards per attempt and a 63.8 percent completion rate under Turner versus 7.7 and 59.7 under Coryell.

The two best offenses in Chargers history each produced 110.8 rushing yards per game, with Coryell’s version generating 118 touchdowns to Turner’s 83. Turner’s teams averaged 4.0 yards per carry (Tennessee, 10th-best in the NFL in that span, averaged 4.3) to Coryell’s 3.8 (Dallas, 10th-best in the NFL in that span, averaged 4.1).

So Coryell’s offense was more prolific for its era, especially in terms of passing yards. But Turner’s has been more efficient with Rivers, throwing 53 fewer interceptions, two more touchdowns and scoring a half-point more per game.

Coryell’s teams went 52-37 (.584) from 1979-84 and Turner’s teams went 48-31 (.608) from 2007-11.

Both featured vertical, downfield throws and thrived on big plays. A star quarterback and an elite pass-catching tight end characterized each offense. In the end, preference likely comes down to taste. But few NFL teams have had five-year stretches of offense more than two decades apart that can match what Coryell and Turner produced for the Chargers.

CHARITY LUNCH: A group of about a dozen Chargers waited tables and served food Friday at the Joe & Vi Jacobs Center in San Diego.

The annual STAR/PAL Superheroes for Youth Luncheon is a cooperative program put on in conjunction with the San Diego Police, Probation and Fire departments. The luncheon helps raise money that supports at-risk youth.

HONORED AGAIN: Decorated Chargers team photographer Mike Nowak again was honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, earning an honorable mention in the category of “Best Feature Shots” for 2011.

The photo, named “Honoring 9/11,” depicts the sun shining through a football field-sized American flag. Taken prior to the Chargers’ season opener against Minnesota and shot from ground level beneath the flag, the photo also shows several volunteers from the armed forces and first-responder services holding the flag above their heads.
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