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PRO FOOTBALL : Ram Notebook : Marino and Receivers Exacted Costly Price for Switch to Man-on-Man

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

The Rams cling to their well-tested zone defense like a bum clings to his last dollar. It is their best friend, a seven-course meal ticket that rarely fails to satisfy. Called Cover-Four, the zone has confounded nearly everyone on the Ram schedule this season.

That, of course, was before the arrival of Miami Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino and his merry band of wide receivers. Suddenly the conservative, safe Cover-Four defense is occasionally discarded for man-on-man coverage. Cornerbacks LeRoy Irvin and Jerry Gray find themselves with Dolphin receivers Mark Duper and Mark Clayton--and little help from the Ram safeties. This is not good.

“We played a lot of man-on-man,” Ram safety Vince Newsome said. “I don’t know if it was the most we played (this season), but we played it a lot.”

Here was the Ram thinking:

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--Marino releases the ball faster than anyone in the league. Why not try to hurry those throws with more pressure from the defensive line? Why not blitz on occasion?

--Miami’s offensive line isn’t as wonderful as the Dolphins would like the National Football League to believe. Sure, it had allowed only one sack in the previous five games, the Rams said, but Marino had a lot to do with that.

With this in mind, the Rams dispatched Irvin, a Pro Bowl participant last season, and Gray, a Pro Bowl candidate this year, to their corners and expected the best. Instead, they watched a 37-31 Dolphin victory, made possible by five Marino touchdown passes and 29 completions for 403 yards. No Ram defender was spared, certainly not Irvin and Gray, who can be expected to lobby for the immediate resumption of the zone.

"(Marino) had his day, but we’ll have ours,” Irvin said. “We knew that he was going to try to take us up top and beat us deep. We knew what they were going to do and they did it and we couldn’t stop them. So that was the game.”

Irvin was the victim of a 20-yard scoring pass from Marino to Duper in overtime that secured the Dolphin victory. Duper began his pattern by slanting toward the middle of the field and then broke left leaving Irvin, who was in man-on-man coverage, helpless and without support. “They got me, they got me,” Irvin said. “And I’ve got to look at it on TV tonight and all week and hope that I get a chance to redeem myself next week and play the caliber of football I know I can play.”

And earlier, in the second period, Irvin found himself chasing Duper again as the Dolphins suckered the Ram defense into thinking run, only to have Ron Davenport take the handoff and toss it back to Marino, who promptly found Duper for a 69-yard touchdown.

“As I’ve said before, when the game is on the line I love for the defense to be on the field and for us to win it defensively,” he said. “As it turned out today . . . we had a few breakdowns, they beat me deep and that was the ballgame.”

As if it comes as a surprise, Irvin said Marino deserves any and every compliment. “I think he’s the best, without a doubt,” he said. “Until you’re out there on the island, boy, those bombs come fast.”

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And that much-expected Ram pass rush? Marino was sacked once, despite an offensive line that Ram defensive end Gary Jeter described as “average.”

“It seemed like we were (near Marino) a lot,” Jeter said. “But it’s quality. The guy’s got such timing, man.”

Gray and Clayton probably won’t be exchanging Christmas cards this year. The two players had several heated exchanges during the game. Gray accused Clayton of “pulling himself by me. I was telling him to stop.”

Gray went so far to tell several officials, but no penalty was called.

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Said Clayton of Gray’s claims and on-field arguments: “I don’t listen to that (bleep).”

Clayton finished the game with 4 receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown. Duper had 5 catches for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns.

“We saw four games on film and we thought we could pick our spots to go long,” Clayton said.

Told that few teams have done well against the Ram defense, Clayton said: “Well, no one’s really tested them deep.”

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With the ball on the Ram 32 and the Dolphins driving in overtime, Marino threw an apparent interception to defensive back Mickey Sutton. But the interception was nullified by an offside penalty called against linebacker Kevin Greene and nose tackle Shawn Miller. Jeter said the penalty instead should have been given to Marino.

“He was moving his body,” Jeter said. “We were trying to get the referees to understand that he was moving his body. It was not so much his voice. When you do that (move the body), that’s offside on the offense. But they never did call it. They were doing it a couple of times.”

Running back Eric Dickerson had his 11th 100-yard game of the season. He rushed for 124 yards in 28 tries and scored once.

Dickerson contends that a second touchdown was taken away when officials ruled that he fumbled the ball near the end zone. Ram guard Tom Newberry eventually recovered the fumble for a score. “I thought Eric was across the line anyway,” said Newberry, who last scored a touchdown as a high school running back. “I just crawled after it,” he said. “That, or it might go out of bounds.”

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Meanwhile, Dickerson would also finish with two fumbles. “It just happens,” he said. “It’s just something you forget, like a quarterback throwing an interception.”

Fullback Barry Redden was scratched from the Ram lineup several minutes before Sunday’s game began. Earlier in the morning, Redden was in the hospital receiving intravenous fluids to help combat a case of flu. It helped, but not enough to allow Redden to play. After a brief pregame workout, Redden returned to the bench.

"(Redden’s absence) costs us a whole lot,” Dickerson said. “Barry knows all the assignments. There were things we couldn’t do because he wasn’t there.”

Tim Tyrrell took Redden’s place. He had no rushes and caught a pass for 9 yards.

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Numbers to think about:

--Entering Sunday’s game, the Rams had the second-best overall defense in the league and the fifth-best pass defense. Those rankings most likely will drop.

--Kevin House, starting for the injured Ron Brown (shoulder), caught 3 passes for 65 yards and a touchdown. Brown, said Coach John Robinson, is out for Friday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.

--Duper’s 145 yards of pass receptions was the eighth time he has gone over the 100-yard mark this season.

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--Marino has thrown for four or more touchdowns five times this season.

--Dickerson’s fourth-period touchdown was his 56th for the Rams, a team record.

--Ram tight end David Hill caught three passes Sunday. He had nine receptions in the previous 14 games.


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