The dead-end zone: Trendy defenses are deep-sixing touchdowns NFL WEEK 4

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Where have all the touchdowns gone?

That's the hottest question in the NFL heading into the fourth week of the season.

While the field-goal kickers are hitting 80 percent of their attempts in the first three weeks of the season, teams are having trouble scoring touchdowns.

In four games so far, the winning team has failed to score a touchdown. It only happened five times all last year. It happened twice in 1990 and didn't happen at all in 1989.

By contrast, the San Diego Chargers have done it twice in three weeks. John Carney had six field goals in the Chargers' two home victories against the Seattle Seahawks and the Houston Oilers. His 29 straight field goals broke the record of 25 that was set by Morten Andersen a week earlier.

There are several theories why teams aren't getting in the end zone and are settling for field goals. One is that there's a paucity of quality quarterbacks. Another is that it's just another cycle.

George Young, general manager of the New York Giants, blames crowd noise. As fans, particularly in domed stadiums, become more sophisticated, they turn up the noise level when opposing teams get close to the end zone.

"You get inside the 20 and if you're the visitor, they take away half your offense because you can't hear as well and you can't do as many audibles," Young said.

The NFL is even experimenting with a new device it would put on the 20-yard lines that would amplify the quarterback's voice near the end zone.

The most popular theory, though, is that today's zone defenses are hard to puncture inside the 20. When teams rush only three defenders and drop back eight players who crowd into the end zone, it's hard for a quarterback to find the holes.

It's not foolproof. Randall Cunningham of the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Washington Redskins' defense with a touchdown pass in the final four seconds against that defense last Sunday.

Overall, though, the zones in the end zones are giving offenses fits.

"The days of playing man-to-man defense inside the 20 are gone," said Kansas City Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer "Everybody plays zone done there."

Don Breaux, running-backs coach of the Washington Redskins, even suggests banning the zone defense inside the 20.

Breaux said the Giants had so much success with the zone in the mid-'80s, now all the teams are copying it.

"I think somebody should look at eliminating the zone in the red area and I promise you scoring will go right back up," Breaux said.

Redskins head coach Richie Petitbon, who coaches the defense, scoffs at the idea of banning the zone. He just thinks offenses have to play better.

But noting the way Cunningham beat the Redskins' zone last week, Petitbon said, "A lot of people think our zone defense should be outlawed."

The expansion derby

Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? That could be the story of this NFL expansion.

Baltimore could be playing the role of the tortoise, slow but steady and always moving forward.

Baltimore officials figured that once the owners heard the details of their package, the perception of the city's chances of getting an expansion team would improve. What they didn't count on was that St. Louis would make it easier, shooting itself in the foot by not selling all its luxury boxes and club seats.

Sure enough, the NFL spinmeisters changed their tune right after the meeting in Chicago this past week.

Gary Myers on HBO's "Inside the NFL," had been predicting St. Louis and Charlotte would get the two teams. But now he's saying that "people in the league office I speak to" [they don't vote, but they're happy to offer opinions on the race] are now saying it's 'too close to call.' "

Myers said: "Baltimore made a very strong presentation and could be closing the gap on St. Louis as the old market the NFL wants to go back to." He added that Charlotte has a "real good chance."

Myers then bashed St. Louis for not selling out its luxury boxes and club seats. "The Cardinals left to go to Phoenix because the fans weren't supporting them and they wonder if that's going to happen again," he said.

That's a classic example of the league office putting a spin on something that's not backed up by facts. Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill never complained about fan support. He was unhappy with the stadium in St. Louis.

But the bottom line is that commissioner Paul Tagliabue wants to go to a new city. He used the code phrase "hot market" in Chicago, which means a new city. To get a new city, he's got to torpedo either Baltimore or St. Louis, one of the two old cities.

Until last week's meeting, the league was arguing against Baltimore on geographic grounds. Now it may be easier to argue against St. Louis on the grounds it didn't sell its seats.

Even Jerry Clinton, the leader of the St. Louis effort, is worried. He said the NFL "has concerns about our ability to support our team if they give us another franchise."

The decision

Unless there's a change in plans, Tagliabue and his two committees are going to recommend two cities to the NFL owners on Oct. 26 before the owners vote, although all five are expected to remain on the ballot.

There's a chance now that one of the recommended cities will be Baltimore instead of St. Louis. The other will be a new city. Charlotte's the favorite for that slot, but Jacksonville is a backup if the owners are too concerned about Charlotte's shaky financing plan for its stadium.

Of course, the owners aren't bound to follow the commissioner's recommendations -- but it'd be an easier battle for Baltimore if it gets the recommendation over St. Louis. A key factor will be whether the recommendation is unanimous. It will carry more weight if it is.

More expansion?

Although the NFL is going to expand by only two teams next month, Tagliabue made it obvious he's going to push for another expansion within the decade.

"I can see further expansion in the 1990s," he said. "The expansion process has made converts out of some of the skeptics. They're more open-minded and can see the values of expansion in terms of growth."

This may be wishful thinking by Tagliabue, but he's going to keep talking about it.

Since the next two teams won't take the field until 1995, more expansion in the 1990s means by 1999 -- only four years after this expansion. By NFL standards -- it hasn't expanded since 1976 -- that's a fast pace. It remains to be seen if Tagliabue can talk the owners into doing it.

Goodbye, Glanville?

Atlanta Falcons coach Jerry Glanville will be on the spot tomorrow night when his team plays host to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It doesn't help Glanville that the game isn't a sellout and will be blacked out on TV in Atlanta. It's the first time the Falcons have been blacked out since they moved to the Georgia Dome and the first time a home team has had a Monday night game blacked out since Miami played at Cleveland in the second game last year.

With the Falcons 0-3, a home loss on Monday night could mean the end of Glanville's tenure. He got a vote of confidence last week, but that's usually a one-way ticket out of town.

If the Falcons do lose and he survives, a victory at Chicago next Sunday would become imperative.

That's because the team has a bye after that. An 0-5 coach who's under fire probably can't survive a bye week. It'd give owner Rankin Smith too much time to make a change.

By the numbers, Glanville has a chance tomorrow night. The Falcons have won eight straight home games against AFC Central teams and the Steelers are 1-9 in their past 10 games against NFC teams.

Stupid QB trick

Don't expect Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly to participate in any of those hokey off-season exhibitions like the Quarterback Challenge. He said last week he threw out his arm in one last

spring and couldn't even shampoo his hair, much less throw a football for a few days. He's fine now, but says he won't do it again.

If the Bills beat the Miami Dolphins today, they'll be 3-0 and proving last January's third Super Bowl loss hasn't bothered them.

"There's no pressure on us," Kelly said. "Nobody's looking for us to go back and nobody wants us to go back."

September's team

The Indianapolis Colts aren't noted for fast starts.

If the Colts (1-1) upset the Browns today, it'll be the first time they've had a winning record after three games since 1977, when they started off 3-0 under Ted Marchibroda. Since moving to Indianapolis in 1984, they're 8-28 in September.

Quarterback switch

Three starting quarterbacks, Bernie Kosar of the Browns, Stan Humphries of the San Diego Chargers and Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers, were pulled last week, but all will start in their next game.

Vinny Testaverde won in relief of Kosar while John Friesz, Humphries' backup, put on a late drive to beat Moon's backup, Cody Carlson.

Moon said: "It's a national story when Warren Moon has a bad day. It's not a national story when Kosar and Humphries have bad days. When I have a bad day, all of a sudden I'm over the hill and the system's bad."

In the past 12 regular season games, Houston's run-and-shoot has produced more than two touchdowns only once.

A new starter

One team that's switching quarterbacks is the Lions. Coach Wayne Fontes is going with Andre Ware over Rodney Peete, who left last week's game against New Orleans with a sprained knee, but said he could have played today against the Cardinals.

"I'm upset with the whole situation," Peete said.

Singled out

Before the Oilers played at San Diego last Sunday, Chargers tight end Duane Young and offensive lineman Eric Moten invited their former Michigan State teammate Lorenzo White to dinner at a restaurant called The Butcher Shop.

After they ordered, they were surprised when police came in and HTC asked for identification. After they told them they were football players and provided identification, the police said they fit the description of three black men sought in connection with 15-20 robberies in the area. The police apologized and left.

"I felt so bad after that I didn't want to eat," White said. "Duane and Eric wanted to eat, but I told them I couldn't so we left. As we were leaving, some of the other customers told us they didn't blame us," he said. They went to eat at the Rusty Pelican without incident.

The general manager of the restaurant, Joanne Bennie, said she called the police and she didn't apologize.

"Anybody in my position would have done the same thing. Unfortunately, they fit [the description]. They were well-dressed black men and there were three of them. I felt it would be better to be safe. I didn't want to take a chance," she said.

Going home

Bill Parcells, in his first year as coach of the Patriots, spent the week insisting it's no big deal that he's returning to Giants Stadium to coach against the New York Jets.

"Nothing," he said about having any special feelings. "I mean it. Nothing. The things that made that place special aren't there now. The players who played [for him] in that stadium won't be there. The fans who supported us won't be there."

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