Rams ’88 PREVIEW SECTION : A LOOK AT THE RAMS’ 1988 OPPONENTS
DETROIT LIONS Sept. 11, 1 p.m. Anaheim Stadium
1987 record: 4-11.
Record against Rams: Rams lead series, 37-34-1.
Key offensive starter: Pete Mandley, wide receiver. One of the league’s best-kept secrets, Mandley caught 58 passes for 720 yards and 7 touchdowns last season. His reception total was 24 more than the closest Lion, running back James Jones.
Key defensive starter: Reggie Rogers, end. Rogers, a first-round choice in 1987, was considered a bust as a rookie. But he made considerable progress during the off-season and training camp, enough so to earn praise from head Coach Darryl Rogers. He’s fighting for a starting position with veteran Keith Ferguson.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . James Jones regain his touch as one of the league’s best all-purpose players. When used correctly, Jones can give teams fits with his running ability and knack of turning simple swing passes into big gainers. PHOENIX CARDINALS Oct. 2, 1 p.m. Anaheim Stadium
1987 record: 7-8.
Record against Rams: Rams lead series, 22-15-2.
Key offensive starter: Neil Lomax, quarterback. The Cardinals may have struggled last year, but Lomax didn’t. He led the league in passing yardage (3,387) and threw 24 touchdowns passes. For his efforts, Lomax was named to the Pro Bowl.
Key defensive starter: Leonard Smith, strong safety. Smith remains one of those anonymous NFL types partly because of his name and partly because of his team. The Cardinals didn’t attract much attention, which caused fans to overlook Smith’s fine season (109 tackles, 3 forced fumbles).
The Rams could do without seeing . . . Vai Sikahema returning punts and kickoffs. Sikahema earned his second Pro Bowl trip with a 12.5-yard punt-return average and 22.4-yard kickoff-return average.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS Oct. 23, 1 p.m. Anaheim Stadium
1987 record: 9-6.
Record against Rams: Rams lead series, 3-0.
Key offensive starter: Dave Krieg, quarterback. The mercurial Krieg threw for 23 touchdowns and had an 87.6 efficiency rating, second only to Cleveland’s Bernie Kosar in the AFC. But after perennial All-Pro Steve Largent, there’s a drop-off in receiving talent.
Key defensive starter: Brian Bosworth, linebacker. Bosworth, say Seattle coaches, had a boffo training camp. If you don’t include the one strike game that fellow linebacker Fredd Young played in, Bosworth, a rookie in 1987, led the Seahawks in tackles.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . Curt Warner, running back. Warner has recovered from a bothersome ankle injury that prevented him from playing in last year’s Pro Bowl. He just missed his fourth 1,000-yard season and finished second in the AFC in rushing to Eric Dickerson of the Indianapolis Colts. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS Nov. 20, 1 p.m. Anaheim Stadium
1987 record: 8-7.
Record against Rams: Rams lead series, 2-1.
Key offensive starter: The Chargers’ season rests on the arm of Babe Laufenberg, who’s been cut seven times since joining the league in 1983. He won the starting job over Mark Malone, Laufenberg being the more mobile of the two. With his offense line, minus tackle Jim Lachey, he better be mobile.
Key defensive starter: The Charger defense, once the laughing stock of the league, finished an almost respectable 15th last year, the team’s highest ranking in the 1980s. The improvement was made with such acquisitions as Lee Williams, who gives the team a legitimate rusher at right end.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . Rookie receiver Anthony Miller loose in the secondary. The speedy first-round pick from Tennessee seemingly just needs experience to make it big. LOS ANGELES RAIDERS Sept. 18, 1 p.m. Los Angeles Coliseum
1987 record: 5-10.
Record against Rams: Raiders lead series, 4-1.
Key offensive starter: Jay Schroeder, quarterback. You have to assume the former Redskin will replace Steve Beuerlein, considering the Raiders gave up standout offensive lineman Jim Lachey and two draft choices for him. Schroeder will have receivers galore in Willie Gault, Tim Brown, James Lofton, Todd Christensen and Mervyn Fernandez. And don’t forget Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson (sometime after Oct. 2) in the backfield.
Key defensive starter: Howie Long, defensive end. Long still attracts a lot of attention from offensive linemen, which gives Bill Pickel and Greg Townsend plenty of opportunity to pressure quarterbacks. Expect a another big season from Long.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . Schroeder setting up with enough time to throw the ball deep to Gault, Brown and Lofton.
ATLANTA FALCONS Oct. 9, 10 a.m. Fulton County Stadium Dec. 11, 1 p.m. Anaheim Stadium
1987 record: 3-12.
Record against Rams: Rams lead series, 30-10-2.
Key offensive starter: Chris Miller, quarterback. Miller is now the NFL’s youngest starting quarterback--Miller is 23, Tampa Bay’s Vinny Testaverde is 25. Miller finally got the benefit of a full training camp (he was a holdout for part of last season) and no players’ strike. It shows.
Key defensive starter: Tony Casillas, nose tackle. Casillas left the Falcons for 23 days during training camp to receive therapy for stress. Casillas now says he’s “dedicated to playing football,” which is bad news to centers and guards around the league.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . Marcus Cotton, linebacker. It didn’t take Cotton, a rookie pick from USC, long to win the right outside starting position. Falcon coaches rave about him. Cotton could be one of three rookie starters on the Falcon defense. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS Oct. 30, 10 a.m. Superdome Nov. 13, 1 p.m. Anaheim Stadium
1987 record: 12-4.
Record against Rams: Rams lead series, 24-12.
Key offensive starter: Rueben Mayes, running back. Mayes is trying to return from major knee surgery. Mayes’ 917 rushing yards were second in the NFC only to the Rams’ Charles White, who gained 1,374.
Key defensive starter: Linebacker Sam Mills is one of Coach Jim Mora’s favorite players, and one who was told many times he was too short (5-9) to play linebacker in the NFL. Mills had to first prove himself with Mora’s United States Football League team, the Philadelphia Stars. Mills is the heart of a great linebacking corps that includes Rickey Jackson, Vaughan Johnson and Pat Swilling.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . Craig (Ironhead) Heyward running wild, making the Rams wish they had drafted the bulky fullback instead of Gaston Green, the speedster from UCLA. DENVER BRONCOS Nov. 27, 1 p.m. Mile High Stadium
1987 record: 12-5-1.
Record against Rams: Rams lead series, 3-2.
Key offensive starter: The obvious choice here is all-world quarterback John Elway, so let’s go with veteran tailback Tony Dorsett. It’s been said the Broncos have only been a great back away from winning the Super Bowl the past two years. Dorsett is a great back, but he’s also 34 years old. If Dorsett could gain 800 yards playing mostly on natural turf, it could be enough.
Key defensive starter: Linebacker Karl Mecklenburg has long been the NFL’s chameleon, changing colors on every down. One minute he’s a lineman, the next a linebacker, the next a nose tackle. What he represents for most teams is a pain in the neck. It’s as simple as this: If you don’t control Mecklenburg in some fashion, you lose.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . John Elway rolling out of the pocket on third down and 10 with the game on the line. NEW YORK GIANTS Sept. 25, 1 p.m. Giants Stadium
1987 record: 6-9.
Record against Rams: Rams lead series, 16-8.
Key offensive starter: Phil Simms, quarterback. Simms will once again be asked to lead an offense that had all sorts of problems last season. The offensive line was suspect and the running game accounted for only four touchdowns. Still, Simms may have had the best passing season of his career. This year, he has Karl Nelson back at tackle and depth at receiver.
Key defensive starter: Carl Banks, linebacker. With Lawrence Taylor sidelined once again by a drug problem, Banks becomes the Giants’ best defensive player.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . The Joe Morris of 1986. Morris looked good in camp and is expected to regain his previous form now that the offensive line is in better shape. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS Oct. 16, 1 p.m. Anaheim Stadium Dec. 18, 5 p.m. Candlestick Park
1987 record: 13-2.
Record against Rams: Rams lead series, 45-29-2.
Key offensive starter: Joe Montana/Steve Young, quarterbacks. A two-headed monster if there’s ever been one. Montana probably will get the starting call, but Young is more than capable of taking the 49ers to another division title.
Key defensive starter: Michael Carter, nose tackle. Carter’s play is becoming monotonous. Each season he clogs up the middle, forces teams to commit two offensive linemen to him and makes the Pro Bowl. This season shouldn’t be any different.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . Jerry Rice, wide receiver. Rice only accounted for 138 of the 49ers’ 459 points last season, thanks to 23 touchdowns. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES Nov. 6, 10 a.m. Veterans Stadium
1987 record: 7-8.
Record against Rams: Rams lead series, 15-10-1.
Key offensive starter: Randall Cunningham may be the most gifted all-around quarterback in the game today. Last year, he completed 55% of his passes for 2,786 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also led the Eagles in rushing with 505 yards. If Cunningham can learn to hold onto the ball better--he fumbled 12 times last season--he could jump into the lofty air of the Marinos and Montanas.
Key defensive starter: Reggie White is probably the best defensive end in the game today. He recorded 21 sacks in 12 games last season. White demands two blockers at all times.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . Rookie tight end Keith Jackson turn out to be the terror some scouts think he will be. Jackson played in a run-dominated offense at Oklahoma. He could be the next Kellen Winslow or the next Tony Hunter. CHICAGO BEARS Dec. 5, 6 p.m. Anaheim Stadium
1987 record: 11-5.
Record against Rams: Bears lead series, 43-28-3.
Key offensive starter: With Walter Payton retired and Willie Gault traded to the Raiders, the burden of the Bears’ season rests on the injured shoulder of quarterback Jim McMahon. If McMahon can stay healthy, something he hasn’t done in seven years, the Bears might have a chance to capture their fifth divisional title in a row.
Key defensive starter: The Bear defense starts and ends with the play of middle linebacker Mike Singletary, who will have to be even better to make up for the loss of outside backer Wilbur Marshall to the Redskins. Singletary and the Bears were the league’s No. 1 ranked team against the run in 1987.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . The just-out-off-the-fat farm, slimmed-down William (Refrigerator) Perry coming at their quarterback with a full head of steam.