The San Diego football team has seized first place in the AFC West this year with carefully coached, uniquely aggressive defensive men who attack not the players in the offensive line but the gaps between those players.

Up and down the line, as the Chargers won Sunday, 13-10, it worked something like this:

• When Seattle snapped the ball, San Diego's defensive linemen and a linebacker or two charged into all the gaps from end to end to form a long, solid moving wall that Seahawk running back Ricky Watters hit 21 times, gaining only 54 yards and no touchdowns.

• When the play was a pass instead of a run, the Chargers' defensive people, already charging into the gaps, kept rushing to hurry Seattle passer Jon Kitna into an ineffective day: one touchdown, 140 net passing yards.

As directed by former USC middle linebacker Junior Seau, one of the most dominating players at his position since Dick Butkus, the strange San Diego defense has held three opponents to three touchdowns this season--one apiece--leading to the Chargers' 4-1 start and a date with Green Bay next Sunday.

* * * Football Turnovers Overrated

Year in and year out, most football coaches take the heat off themselves with a lot of talk about turnovers--their players' fumbles and interceptions.

Then, overreacting, TV's announcers talk excessively about all of that.

But turnovers don't win football games, people do.

San Diego, for example, gave the ball to Seattle with four interceptions Sunday but still won the game because quarterback Erik Kramer, who threw the interceptions, also threw for 296 yards.

The Chargers' 13-point explosion that day wasn't quite what Coach Mike Riley had in mind, but this is Riley's first season as an NFL coach, and he reasons that any way a rookie wins is a good way.

To date, his best move in San Diego was picking up last year's staff of defensive coaches, as headed by Joe Pascale, a staff put together in 1997 by former coach Kevin Gilbride.

Coaching is decisive, turnovers are overrated.

* * *

Griese Gives Denver Calm Quarterbacking

Whether Coach Mike Shanahan is beginning to restore order in Denver is something that won't be determined at least until Sunday, when the 2-4 Broncos show up in Foxboro, Mass., for a date with 4-2 New England.

Already, however, Shanahan's handpicked new field leader, Brian Griese, has proved one thing in winning two in a row: He is disconcertingly unflappable.

In the storms of NFL competition, Griese comes across, indeed, as one of the most unflappable young players of recent years in U.S. sports.

Sternly criticized and embarrassed in Denver because he couldn't win instantly as John Elway's successor, Griese has come back calmly and competently to beat two good defensive teams, Oakland and Green Bay.