Pro Football Today : Hoping to Make No Mistake About It : Rams: A team that had seven turnovers last week plays the Giants, who have turned it over 14 times in 17 regular-season games.
The Rams, who gave until it toppled them last Sunday, tread today into the home of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, a team that relishes its image as the Scrooge of the NFL.
The Rams (0-1) turned the ball over seven times in their 24-14 loss to the Phoenix Cardinals last Sunday--exactly half the total of Giant giveaways in their last 17 regular-season games, which includes all of last year and Monday night’s emotional, last-second 16-14 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Someday, the Rams want to grow up to be Giants.
“They never give it up,” said Ram quarterback Jim Everett, not without a tinge of envy. “They’re a very disciplined football team. Ball control is their whole lifeblood. If the Giants ever gave the ball up seven times, I don’t know what would happen. Maybe we’ll find out.”
They probably won’t, because New York has raised careful offensive football to an art form not likely to be sullied by a Ram defense that did not force a turnover last Sunday.
The Rams head into this game like a child repeating one stern message-- don’t fumble, don’t fumble, don’t fumble --and not at all certain this goal can be realized.
They know, especially against the Giants, that if they lose the ball even three or four times, they are probably denying themselves any chance of winning.
“Coach (John Robinson) has us with these Velcro gloves, and (equipment manager) Todd Hewitt has this quick-drying Superglue,” Everett joked.
The only major change the Rams have made offensively is playing sure-handed Robert Delpino at tailback ahead of Cleveland Gary, who fumbled yet again in the loss to Phoenix. Delpino, to earn the job, racked up 242 total yards against the Cardinals as Gary’s replacement and has a full game against New York to try to lock into the job.
New Giant Coach Ray Handley did not sound as if the switch to Delpino has surprised his defense.
“Delpino has always been a productive back and always had good games against us,” Handley said. “The utilization of Delpino is not surprising to me. And I don’t think he ever really takes anybody by surprise. Everybody knows what he can do.”
Other than the Delpino move, the Rams are just hoping that the challenge of going head-to-head against the NFL’s best team will revitalize them as much as it usually does.
For one thing, new defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher was fairly successful against New York while he was Philadelphia’s defensive coordinator, although he concedes that he had Reggie White, Jerome Brown and Clyde Simmons then. But Fisher does know the Giant offense.
During Robinson’s tenure, the Rams are 5-3 against the Giants, and before last year’s 31-7 drubbing won three consecutive meetings.
The Ram offense has been successful against the Giants by playing carefully, then hitting them with big plays--remember Flipper Anderson running out of the end zone into the tunnel?--while New York leans forward to stop the Ram running game.
“I think our guys always get excited when we play them,” offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese said. “And we usually have had a pretty good balance of run-pass, productivity-wise, when we play them. I don’t think they’re a team you can just run the ball or just throw the ball against.
“They’re real, real solid. Physical. They do not make mistakes.”
The Giant offense, blessed with less talent than their defense but equally as productive, makes even fewer mistakes, content to pound away with running backs and huge linemen, then get enough big third downs to pile up time of possession.
Robinson calls their turnover-free style “a state of mind,” and for the Rams, peering in at a team they so badly wish to emulate, it might as well be a state of grace.
Now, with mobile Jeff Hostetler playing ahead of Phil Simms at quarterback, suddenly this very cautious offense has a bite to it.
Hostetler threw only one interception in his five-game substitution for the injured Simms last season, mainly because Hostetler can turn bad situations into big gainers--he gained 45 yards running against San Francisco Monday night--without putting the ball up for grabs.
“You’ve got to stop the run against the Giants. That comes first,” Fisher said. “Then, when you do that, you’ve got to cover people. But now, you can do all that--have everybody covered--(and) Hostetler can still pull it down and run for a first down.”
With trips to New Orleans and San Francisco coming up, the Rams are hoping they at least get an emotional lift, if not a victory, from this game. If they don’t, 0-4 is a real possibility. . . . Offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese doesn’t think Giant linebacker Lawrence Taylor is at the end of his run. “A great player, great player,” Zampese said. “They’ve got some other real fine players, but you’ve got to account for him. Watch the game Monday night? He’s playing as good as he’s ever played, with great enthusiasm. He stuffs plays at him. He runs them down away from him. I don’t know how much more you can do as a defensive player than that guy does.” In practice last week, the Rams tried various blocking schemes, including dropping left guard Bern Brostek back quickly, to stop the linebacker imitating Taylor. . . . When the Giants beat the Rams last season at Anaheim Stadium, 31-7, it was 10-7 at one point in the third quarter before the roof caved in.