The Rams plop into today’s wild-card playoff round with all the grace of a face-first mudslide. They took a season to the ledge--coming one, last-second Steve Grogan completion from elimination--so why not take the postseason there, too?
You don’t dig into the vaults at NFL Films searching for ways to describe the Rams, you go to amusement parks.
“Out of control,” is the way Coach John Robinson puts it. And he’s in charge.
The Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles, with their high-wire bird, quarterback Randall Cunningham, probably were meant for each other. There’s no telling how many blocks will be slipped or points might be scored, but don’t be surprised if you see:
--Cunningham with the ball in his hands on the last play, trailing by four points, scrambling against the Rams’ two-man rush and prevent defense, refusing to throw until he breaks Grogan’s time-consuming play record, set last week in New England.
--The Rams blow a 20-point fourth-quarter lead, rally for three touchdowns in the last two minutes, but the game goes into overtime because an extra point ricochets off both uprights and bounces back.
--This space free for your own ending.
“I think it would be a bad idea to count us out at any time,” Ram quarterback Jim Everett said. “Or count us in at any time.”
Just consider the game film the teams dissected last week. When the Rams and the Eagles met last season at Veterans Stadium, the game wasn’t decided until the final 16 seconds, when Everett’s pass was intercepted at the Philadelphia seven-yard line, coming up just short in a 30-24 loss.
Apparently, the Rams’ comeback machine was still in the darkroom back then.
“It was still developing,” guard Tom Newberry said. “Now, it’s a look in the huddle. We don’t think we can be beaten.”
The Eagles’ defensive front four will ask the Rams to think again. This is the best unit the Rams have faced since Keith Millard’s Minnesota group chased Everett around the Metrodome in November.
Newberry, the team’s only first-team choice on the Associated Press All-Pro team, matches up with tackle Jerome Brown, of the University of Miami and “Did the Japanese sit down and have dinner with Pearl Harbor?” fame.
The Eagles set a club record with 62 sacks this season, and three of the four down linemen, including Brown, recorded more than 10 sacks apiece. Surprisingly, the leader was little-known right end Clyde Simmons, who finished with 15.5. He’s little known because he plays opposite end to All-Pro Reggie White, who finished with 11 sacks.
“It’s going to be a great battle for three hours,” Newberry said. “There’s not a bad athlete on their line and not a bad athlete on our line.”
Eagle Coach Buddy Ryan said his defensive line is better than the Super Bowl group--Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael, William Perry--he coached at Chicago in 1985.
That’s a mouthful, even for Ryan.
“We’ve got four guys who are as good as any in the country,” Ryan said. “In fact, our defensive line I think has won 10 out of 11 games. Our offense won the Washington game, but our defensive line won the other 10 games for us. They’re going to have to carry us to the Super Bowl. They’re good enough, if they play up to their potential, to get us there--and win, but they have to do it, they can’t just talk about it.”
If the Eagles can’t get any pressure on Everett, though, duck your head, because the ball’s going upfield in a hurry, especially with Eagle Pro Bowl cornerback Eric Allen hobbling on a bad ankle. Allen was injured horsing around with a teammate in the locker room.
“Their defense is controlled chaos,” Everett said. “That’s exactly the way Buddy wants it. Some plays (for us) will look easy, but some plays will look like everything’s going to pot. That’s the nature of playing the Eagles.”
In the meantime, the Rams’ defense waits patiently for the storming of Cunningham.
“ Nervous is a good word for it,” Robinson said of his group.
The Rams are lacking only “depth” on their defensive depth chart, having wished cornerback Cliff Hicks good luck with his knee surgery last week.
Cornerback LeRoy Irvin can think of only one plausible solution to the Cunningham question.
“Well,” Irvin said, “the best way to stop Randall is to get a couple boys from the South Side of Chicago and not let him show up for the game.”
The next-best idea is what the Rams will really do--that is, spread defenders on the field like pylon cones and hope Cunningham can’t pass the agility test.
To control Cunningham is to contain him, although it’s easier said than done, especially with Ryan laughing at the Rams’ strategy from the opposite sideline.
“I think the key to any defense is the pass rush,” Ryan said. “I don’t care how many people you have back in the secondary, if you can’t put pressure on the passer, you’re not going to stop them. Any quarterback in the NFL can kill you if you just let him sit back there and throw the ball.”
Ryan didn’t mention Grogan by name, but you knew he had been over the Ram-Patriot game film.
Ram defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur put together a highlight reel of Cunningham--before lunch-- to better prepare his men for battle.
“It was just him coming out of the pocket,” Shurmur said, “whether it was designed or not. Most of it was not designed. In that film, there were probably 25 times when he escaped and two when they got him. Two out of 27.”
See you in overtime.
Ram cornerback LeRoy Irvin said Randall Cunningham is a better open-field runner than his runner-up choice, quarterback Steve Young of San Francisco. “He’s the best ever,” Irvin said. “Believe me.” Speaking of Irvin, his future seems in some doubt now because of cornerback Cliff Hicks’ knee surgery. The Rams are saying that if Hicks returns at all, it will be as a safety, leaving the door open for the 32-year-old Irvin, who had been expected to retire after the season. Coach John Robinson said: “I think LeRoy’s thinking of retiring, but it’s not an issue I want to deal with before the game.”
Irvin, on the Rams’ defense: “It’s like a dam. There’s one leak, and you plug it; there’s another leak, and you plug that. I guess, if there’s too many leaks, the dam will break. But the playoffs are kind of strange. You play with what you bring. Everyone has injuries; you just have to play with what you have.”
With 621 rushing yards this season, Cunningham became the first quarterback in the modern era to lead his team in rushing three consecutive seasons. Cunningham is in fifth place on the all-time quarterback rushing list with 2,495 yards, trailing Fran Tarkenton (3,674), Tobin Rote (3,128), Greg Landry (2,655) and Bobby Douglass (2,654). . . . The Eagles lead the NFL in turnover ratio this season with a plus-24, total takeaways with 56, fumble recoveries with 26 and interceptions with 30.