Eagles Trying to Beat Rams With a Rookie

Times Staff Writer

Oh, Randall Cunningham, do the Rams have a deal for you.

Throw the football all you want to. Just don’t try to run with it.

The rookie from Nevada Las Vegas has replaced Ron Jaworski as the Eagles’ quarterback and will start for the first time today (Channel 2, 10 a.m. PDT), facing one of the more complex defensive systems in the National Football League.

Forget the old it-doesn’t-make-any-difference-who-plays wheeze. The Rams (1-0) have a special plan just for Cunningham, the kid brother of Sam (Bam) Cunningham, the former USC and New England Patriot fullback.

Fritz Shurmur, the Rams’ defensive coordinator, said of Cunningham: “His ability as an athlete scares us more than his ability to dissect and read coverages. He’s got a great arm, but he’s obviously a little short on experience.”

The Rams have one of the NFL’s strongest defenses against the run, and the Eagles’ ground game is just a step ahead of nonexistent. So, realistically, the Rams aren’t seriously concerned about the Eagles (0-1) running on them--only Cunningham.


“I’m sure there are going to be some designed plays for him to run the football,” Shurmur said. “This guy ran a bootleg against us (in an August exhibition at Columbus, Ohio) to keep a drive alive.

“With Jaworski, you’ve got an old-pro kind of a guy who sits in there and reads coverages, and you’re not too concerned about him getting away scrambling on you.

“But with Cunningham, you’ve got a problem if you let him run around on you . . . what we’re gonna try to do is keep him contained and in the pocket and try to make him read the coverages and throw the ball. He’s got an excellent arm, but that’s what we’d like him to do.”

Shurmur would settle for interceptions instead of sacks any day.

He added: “The big thing for our guys is to stay alive on the rush . . . keep him in front of us. It’s critical that if we get someone up in his face, to make sure we’ve got somebody sitting outside.”

Cunningham, a 6-4, 195-pound second-round draft choice who grew up in Santa Barbara, will recognize the Rams. He just might not recognize what they’re doing.

“He hasn’t seen all the (pass coverage) combinations from us,” Shurmur said. “We were very simple against him last time (at Columbus) and didn’t show ‘em much, knowing we were going to see them again. We’re gonna try to give him a lot of different looks. We have some looks we haven’t used before.

“We’re gonna show him the blitz and then come out of it and do other things you want to do with a young quarterback.”

Philadelphia’s two major newspapers, noted for their aggressive sports sections, are on strike, but if they were publishing, they’d be laughing at Eagle Coach Marion Campbell for insisting that the quarterback switch was his idea. The real suspect is Norman Braman, the automobile dealer who has done things his way since he bought the franchise from Leonard Tose in April.

The day the change was announced, the odds on the Rams went up a full point to 4 1/2, and Campbell has spent most of this week explaining why he made the change.

“I like what I see in Cunningham,” said Campbell, who once was known as the Swamp Fox around South Carolina and Georgia. “He’s moved the football more consistent than anyone we’ve had.”

The only problem is that it hasn’t always moved in the right direction.

Campbell sent Cunningham to the rescue after the Giants had sacked Jaworski eight times in last Sunday’s 21-0 stomp. Cunningham threw seven passes, completing one to each side.

At Columbus, although the Rams lost, 14-12, they handled Cunningham well. He completed 2 of 3 passes for 20 yards, ran 4 times for 29 more but was sacked 5 times for 54 yards and a safety--a net of minus 5 yards for his efforts.

“He’s gonna give us a little more maneuverability,” Campbell said. “That’s the biggest reason.

“I realize there’s gonna be some problems, there always is. But you’ve got to get started someplace, and that’s what I’m doing with him. If we run into trouble, I won’t hesitate to call on Ron. I will not pull him out on the first negative. I went through this same thing with (Steve) Bartkowski down in Atlanta, and he became a great quarterback.

“Hopefully, we can generate some points. We haven’t been getting enough points.”

Like, zero.

“I’m not laying the blame on Ron,” Campbell said. “I just want to make this move now. I don’t want to look back eight weeks from now and say, ‘I wish I had done it.’ ”

Cunningham seems to have a grasp of the situation.

“In the event I do have a bad game and Ron does come back, I’ll be right back in his corner, rooting him on,” he said.

“I really didn’t think something like this would happen. I’ve always thought Ron is a great quarterback, and he is--but that’s not the reason Ron was pulled. The reason is that the coach made a decision to go to a more mobile quarterback. We know Ron can do the job. It’s time for me to prove myself.”

Watching all of this from the sideline will be Ram running back Eric Dickerson, who ended his holdout Friday and joined the team. Dickerson won’t play against the Eagles today but will start his third season two games late against the Seahawks at Seattle on Monday night, Sept. 23.