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Rams Revert to Old Ways in Running Down Lions

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

If you missed Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, get a hold of any Rams’ game film from 1985 or so and make the following changes:

Remove Eric Dickerson and splice in Greg Bell. Replace Dieter Brock with Jim Everett (sorry about that, Jim). The game-saving play on defense? Sub in Mel Owens for Nolan Cromwell.

Now, the big question. It’s third and nine and the Rams have the ball and the lead in the fourth quarter. Pass or run?

If you said run you know all you need to know about the Rams’ 17-10 victory over Detroit at Anaheim Stadium.

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It was a game in which the Rams went back through the family tree looking for roots.

On defense, the Rams only did what they thought they always had to do a few years ago--win the game.

Two big plays in the second half, one by safety Johnnie Johnson and the other by linebacker Owens--led to the game-tying field goal and the game-winning touchdown.

On offense, tailback Bell (139 yards, 27 carries) looked so much like the last two league rushing champions here (Eric Dickerson, Charles White) that you wondered, once again, whether anyone could gain 100 yards in the system.

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But wait a minute? What system? Wasn’t this the year of 25-yard pass and the three-headed tailback? Did someone bind and gag offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese in the press box?

If it happened, tackle Jackie Slater wasn’t saying anything about it.

“We’re still in the process of learning a lot of things about our passing game,” Slater said. “But our bread and butter over the years has been the sophistication of our running game, which I think is state of the art. We lost some of our focus for a while.”

Slater wanted it known that his line, as long as he’s around, can still plow with the best of them.

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And Slater also wanted to bless his coach, John Robinson, for forgetting all that fancy aerial stuff for at least one game and allowing him to knock defensive ends backward.

“I’ve known in my heart that as long as Coach Robinson was here we were going to run the football,” Slater said. “As long as he’s coaching the Rams, he’s going to feature one of the top one or two rushers in all of pro football.”

The Rams say they were forced into this bland hand on Sunday. Apparently, the Lions had seen enough of Everett last year, when he diced their secondary for a career-high 324 yards in a 37-16 victory. Yes, those were the Lion safeties cherry picking near the goal lines.

“Last year, Ron Brown sliced them up,” Everett said. “They were not allowing that to happen this year. We had to pick, pick, pick.”

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Everett wasn’t exactly proud of the way it got done, but said he understood there would be days like these.

“We’re going to have spectacular games,” he said. “Those things will happen. The thing I liked is we did what we had to do to win.”

And that was control the ball on the ground and wait for the defense. And it did take some waiting.

The Lions kept the rush of quarterback Chuck Long in the first half. Long, in fact, pretty much controlled things when he hit Gary Lee for a 12-yard scoring pass in the second quarter to give the Lions a 10-7 halftime lead.

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Frustrating as it was, the Rams kept sending rushers after Long, hoping something would break.

“Individually, I was frustrated,” new sack-monster Kevin Greene said. “As a unit we were frustrated. They were hitting passes on us. . . . But in the second half, we took it to them.”

Especially Long, who finished the game on the bench with a slight concussion. He got the message.

The game turned early in the third quarter, just as Long was driving his team toward the Ram goal line.

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From the Ram 15, Long found Lee open at the 3-yard line. Lee made the catch while being knocked from his cleats by safety Johnson. Both players were stunned, but on the way down, Johnson stole the ball from Lee’s hands for an interception.

“I don’t remember much of the play after that,” said Johnson, who took a shot to his nose on the play. “I was dazed. My face was bloody. I had a bloody nose.”

Yes, but the Rams had the football and then drove 68 impressive yards before settling for a 46-yard Mike Lansford field goal with 6:52 left in the quarter, which tied the game at 10.

As it turned out, the Ram defense was just warming up.

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After the field goal, Long took over again from his 20. First he dropped back to pass. Then, he dropped. Linebacker Owens left face-mask marks in Long’s abdomen. Long coughed up the ball, which was picked up by linebacker Carl Ekern, who flipped it back to teammate Mike Wilcher, who returned it 8 yards to the Detroit 5.

As for Owens, he’s quickly losing his name as the hard-working linebacker who can’t buy a headline. Last week, Owens had an big sack and a fumble recovery.

“I’m blowing my reputation as the invisible linebacker,” Owens said.

Soon after the big play, it was Everett rolling right and flipping the ball back to tight end Damone Johnson, who was so wide open in the end zone it shocked Everett, who heaved it into the air like shotputter John Brenner might.

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“I thought he called for a fair catch,” Everett said of Johnson. “He was so wide open.”

There was still almost 20 minutes left when the last points were scored.

Then it was time for Bell and the defense.

Greene took care of Long late in the third quarter on an 8-yard sack. Long was knocked dizzy and was replaced by Eric Hipple, a more perfect scenario the Rams could not have scripted.

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Before Hipple knew it, Wilcher had sacked him for 10 yards. Wilcher and Gary Jeter took him down again in the fourth quarter.

After only one sack in the first half, the Rams finished with 5 for minus 43 yards.

And what of Greg Bell? He carried 8 times in the fourth quarter for 40 yards, and epitomized the spirit of clock control.

It’s not like Bell does this every day, either. It was his first time he gained more than 100 yards since 1985, but on Sunday he looked like John Riggins. Afterward, Bell acted as if anything fewer than 100 yards would have been an embarrassment.

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“One hundred yards is reasonable for anyone in this backfield,” Bell said. “I couldn’t say that for Buffalo. There, you’d shoot for 80 yards.”

Still, Bell was a nice answer to tough week for the Ram tailback position, which started Wednesday with Charles White’s 30-day suspension.

Bell gave the credit to the system and his offensive line. Guard Tom Newberry said there’s a reason why Ram tailbacks seem to make it look easy.

“They’re all talented backs,” he said. “I mean, Dickerson was the second pick in the draft. Charles White won the Heisman. Bell was a No. 1 pick. Gaston Green is a first-round choice. It’s not like taking a free agent and saying, ‘OK, go get 130 yards.’ ”

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Ram Notes

Jim Everett, saying he was pretty much going along with the game plan, completed 17 of 27 passes for 141 yards with a touchdown and interception. . . . Bring on the Raiders, says linebacker Mel Owens. “It’s going to be special,” he said of next Sunday’s game at the Coliseum. “This is the media capital of the world; everyone’s going to try to blow it (the game) up. Let’s have fun with it.” . . . Guard Duval Love went down in a heap late in the game, but it turned out to be only a slight ankle sprain. . . . Coach John Robinson was promising lots of work for rookie Gaston Green on Sunday, but Green finished with 1 carry for 3 yards. Robinson apologized: “When you got a tailback running well, it’s hard for me to get him out of there.” . . . The Rams released running back Keith Jones, the team’s sixth-round pick this year. Jones had been on injured reserve since Aug. 23 with an ankle injury.


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