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Rams and Falcons to Meet in a Battle of the Slow Quarterbacks

Times Staff Writer

Take one 32-year-old quarterback who was relatively immobile even before five operations on his right knee, add one vigorous pass rush, and it seems apparent that the Rams intend to turn their Fritz blitz loose on the Atlanta Falcons’ Steve Bartkowski today.

Not necessarily so, says the architect of the defense, Fritz Shurmur, the Rams’ defensive coordinator.

“Saying you’re gonna tee off and go after Bartkowski, I’m not sure that’s the best way to play this team,” Shurmur said. “He can hurt you because he throws so well and reads so well. He messes with you . . . looks you off and goes back to the other side. It’s hard to fool him.

“He’s had 13 sacks, but he exercises excellent judgment. He’s been intercepted one time. When he takes a sack he’s got a reason for taking a sack. I don’t think it has anything to do with his mobility.”

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The Rams will start today’s 1 p.m. game at Anaheim tied for first in rushing defense with the Chicago Bears. They’re 19th in pass defense and 10th overall.

Says Shurmur, so what.

“When I look at stats, I like to see how we’re playing pass defense until the game is out of reach,” he said. “Then we’re playing another kind of defense.

“I’m not overly impressed with our being No. 1 in rushing defense, nor overly disappointed at being 19th or whatever we are in pass defense. I really don’t give a damn about statistics. There’s a thing about not letting people cross your goal line--pride or whatever--that is really significant.”

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So how about this: The Rams (3-0) are one of only two unbeaten teams remaining in the National Football League, along with the Chicago Bears, and they are the only team that hasn’t surrendered a rushing touchdown.

“Wins and losses is what counts,” Shurmur said. “Keeping ‘em out of the end zone is our primary objective.”

In that regard, the Falcons may be more difficult than your typical 0-3 opponent that has lost 12 of its last 13, extending back into a 4-12 campaign last season. While allowing more points, 107, than anyone except Cincinnati, they have scored only one fewer than the Rams--71.

“They’re a much better offensive team than 0 and 3,” Shurmur said.

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But the Falcons’ secondary was devastated when they lost three starters at San Francisco, and this past week they lost outside linebacker David Frye with a “non-football illness.”

Ram quarterback Dieter Brock said: “From what I’ve seen on film, they’re a blitzing team. They’re gonna make some good plays that way, but we know when everybody’s comin’ that we’ve got a one-on-one situation.”

The Rams would most like to get, say, Henry Ellard one-on-one with rookie cornerback Wendell Cason, who was called for pass interference against Denver twice last week.

“We’ll have to see what’s there,” Brock said.

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Cason is a free agent from Oregon who was waived in the last cutdown, then brought back after the injuries.

“How good is he?” assistant coach Joe Madden said, echoing a reporter’s question last week. “He’s better than that empty locker down there.”

Ram fans are still asking the same question about Brock, the 25th-ranked passer in the NFL.

Brock conceded that the development of the Rams’ new passing game has been slow.

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“There are times when we’re not really sure what we’re doing yet,” he said. “I’m not sure what the receivers are gonna do. But when we know what we’re doing, we’re pretty dang good.”

The game will match two of the least-mobile quarterbacks in the league, although Brock, unlike Bartkowski, has never had knee surgery. He was just born slow.

Falcon Coach Dan Henning said he doesn’t stay awake nights worrying about Bartkowski’s knees.

“You take all the steps possible to protect whatever quarterback you have,” Henning said. “Any quarterback in the league, whether he’s had five (knee operations) or none, is one play away from being out for the season.

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“Right now (Bartkowski’s) knee is as healthy as it’s ever gonna be, and we know what he’s capable of doing.”

Ram Notes The Falcons rank 22nd in total offense, although Steve Bartkowski is the league’s fourth-ranked passer. They are 21st in total defense. . . . Fans attending the game will receive a free Ram calendar. . . . Falcon kicker Mick Luckhurst is 5 fir 5 on field goals this season. He kicked three, including the game winner at the end, against the Rams in last season’s 30-28 victory at Anaheim. That was the Falcons’ first win on the Rams’ home field in 17 tries. . . . Ram kicker Mike Lansford is 3 for 5.


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