PRO FOOTBALL : Falcons Can Only Be the Spoilers Today : Rams Will Put Their Four-Game Win Streak on the Line at Anaheim

Times Staff Writer

There is nothing much left for the Atlanta Falcons but to make life miserable for others.

That tends to move you when you're 3-9 with three games left and your whole defense combined has one fewer sack, 15, than defensive end Reggie White of Philadelphia.

Still, for the other teams, it's a case of lose to the Falcons and answer to the owner. Ask Tom Landry, trashed last week by Dallas owner Bum Bright after losing to none other than--you guessed it--the Falcons.

Atlanta Coach Marion Campbell takes full responsibility and feels bad about it.

"It's sad to see all of that stuff," he said of the Landry affair. "I don't know another coach that's more respected than that man. I don't like to see it."

Today, Campbell hopes to be apologizing for John Robinson and his Rams, who put their four-game winning streak on a very weak Falcon line at Anaheim Stadium.

An Atlanta upset here would flat-out eliminate the Rams from the playoffs and guarantee Robinson his first losing season in his last 16 years of coaching.

As if the Falcons needed to cause any more grief. The Rams are still kicking themselves for what now becomes a very important strike-ball loss to the Falcons Oct. 18. The Rams, with nine regulars in the lineup, messed up a 17-point halftime lead and lost, 24-20.

"It seems like it was five years ago," Campbell said of the game. "It's been a long season."

Don't the Rams know it. And who could have known back then that the Rams would ever be good again?

Remember, Jim Everett had crossed the picket line and was available for the Falcons but didn't play in the loss.

"You could say it was a paid vacation," Everett said of the game, which he watched from the sideline.

Today, though, Everett will punch the clock at 1 p.m. as one of the league's hottest quarterbacks, with an NFC player-of-the-week award to prove it.

"It's not just myself, it's everybody," Everett said. "It's the receivers having confidence in themselves, and it even took Ernie (Zampese) a while to get used to the new personnel."

Is he used to them now?

"Yeah," Everett said.

Everett threw for 324 yards and 2 touchdowns in the team's 37-16 win over Detroit last week. The slap-happy Rams have been whistling their way to work going on four weeks now. It's been like two different teams and seasons.

And Everett is a big reason. He's regained the confidence he had when he first arrived and lost the nervous happy-feet dance he used to do in the pocket.

Did he just need time to grow up? Today, Everett is starting only his 16th National Football League game, so in essence, he's just completing his first season.

And, really, if he can't pad his numbers against the Falcons, then something's wrong.

It's hard to believe that a defense coached by Campbell, who once tutored the Rams' Fearsome Foursome in the mid-1960s, could be so bad. Campbell has long been one of the league's most respected defensive coordinators.

Injuries, of course, can make any coach look bad. And that, all cliches aside, has been the big problem in Atlanta, where the Falcons have not put the same defense on the field twice this season.

It may have something to with their 28th-overall ranking on defense, which is dead last.

And because Campbell has lost all his starting linebackers except John Rade, he has been forced to switch from his 3-4 defense to a 4-3.

Asking Campbell to give up his 3-4 was like asking Linus to give up his blanket.

"It's been the most frustrating, difficult thing I've had to do," Campbell said. "It's the first time in my life that I've gone this long and not been able to get it straight. I've never experienced anything like it. I couldn't just sit here blindly. I had to do something."

And things are getting better, albeit slowly. The Falcons held the Cowboys to 10 points last week but have still given up more points, 185, than any other team in the NFL.

"They have character," Campbell said of his players. "They've been through some tough periods here. We still have to battle this thing. The responsibility is not just to yourself but to each other. We talk about that all the time. They work very hard in practice. It just came together last week."

Ram Notes

Good news for Charles White? The Falcons rank last in the NFL against the rush. White, who has been nursing a sore foot all week, is the NFL's leading rusher with 1,054 yards. He is 96 yards ahead of Indianapolis' Eric Dickerson, who faces Buffalo today. The Bills, by the way, rank 21st in the league against the rush.

More White: He didn't practice much this week because of the injury to his left foot, which was rolled over on the artificial turf at the Pontiac Silverdome last week. White says he's fine, though. . . . Who has been the NFL's second-best runner over the last five years? It's Atlanta's Gerald Riggs, who has gained 5,288 yards in that time, second only to you-know-who from Indianapolis. Last week, Riggs became the team's all-time leading rusher with 6,024 yards.

The big question will be who gets more carries today, White or Riggs? Both teams rely heavily on the running game. Ram Coach John Robinson wouldn't compare the Falcons' offensive line to his own, but called the unit led by guard Bill Fralic "very, very good." . . . Marion Campbell said his team thinks much like the Rams. "We like to use Gerald, everyone knows that," Campbell said. "But we're trying to at least develop some other weapons so that they don't gang up on him. We always feel we want to run the ball, the whole world knows that."

No one, not even Campbell, is sure when first-round draft choice Chris Miller might get in at quarterback. Miller, from Oregon and the 13th pick overall, missed much of training camp in a contract dispute. At the moment, Scott Campbell quarterbacks the Falcons.

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