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Saints Provide Litmus Test--Again : Rams: Season collapse in ’90 revolved around games with New Orleans. So did success in 1989.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Through passing fancies and flashes in the NFL pan, the New Orleans Saints remain tried, true and totally familiar.

Tonight, the revamped Rams venture into the Superdome against the same old Saints, in the same old clamorous stadium, carrying a 1-1 record against the 2-0 Saints.

Why did the Rams collapse in 1990? Flash back to climactic plays of the Rams’ two losses to the Saints--Jim Everett’s dead-duck incompletion on fourth down under heavy pressure in the first game; Saint kicker Morten Andersen’s winning field goal after a Ram offside penalty had nullified his miss in the second.

And the Rams’ 1989 success? Flash back to Flipper Anderson’s NFL record 336 yards receiving against the Saints.

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And after the Rams’ season-opening loss to the Phoenix Cardinals, followed by an upset of the New York Giants on the road, the Saints figure to be a factor again tonight.

“We’ve gotten an opportunity to see a lot of them in the past, so I know what to expect,” Ram fullback Buford McGee said.

“It’s an individual (battle), us against them, who’s going to dominate? And in the past, especially on the goal line, they’ve really been tough. It’s not like they get lucky and do it; they do it year in and year out.”

The Saints don’t change, only the results do.

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“I think they’ve always looked solid,” Ram Coach John Robinson said. “Solid is probably the No. 1 thing you say about them. . . .

“I think they play a ton of games where they could’ve won or lost. That’s (Coach Jim Mora’s) kind of football.”

The Saints, as are the Rams, are coming off a big road victory--an upset of the Kansas City Chiefs for their first 2-0 start in franchise history.

Led by the aggressive leadership of linebackers Pat Swilling, Rickey Jackson, Sam Mills and Vaughan Johnson, the Saints are doing it with defense, giving up only 56.5 rushing yards per game, fewest in the league.

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The Saints have won three of their last four against the Rams, and had them beat in the one loss before the passing spree by Anderson and Everett.

“Yeah, they’ve been tough on us,” said Ernie Zampese, Ram offensive coordinator. “I mean, through the years . . . the New Orleans Saints have really been tough for us to score on.

“They don’t give you a lot of cheap things and they make you work for everything.”

The Rams, who completed only seven passes and ran 38 times in their 19-13 victory over the Giants, say they realize that seven completions against the Saints’ blitzing, stunting defense simply will not be enough.

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Robert Delpino, who leads the NFC in yards from scrimmage, will start at tailback and the Rams figure to use him often as a receiver, hoping to keep the Saints’ linebackers out of Everett’s face.

“We need to get on the right track offensively,” McGee said. “I don’t think we’ve been as smooth as we could’ve been.

“It didn’t show up because we got a win last week just running it, but this week we need that balance to beat them. I don’t think we’re just going to run over them.”

On defense, the Rams are coming off their best performance in years. They rank third in the league, having yielded only 243 yards per game.

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But the Saints present different problems with their ability to run and use quarterback Bobby Hebert throwing deep to receiver Eric Martin.

Hebert, back after sitting out last season because of a contract dispute, has completed 66.1% of his passes and thrown for four touchdowns.

Last year, the Saints beat the Rams twice with rookie Steve Walsh at quarterback. Walsh completed only 24 of his 52 passes against the Rams, and the Saints still averaged 22 points.

“They went through a period there with Walsh, trying to incorporate him in the game,” Robinson said. “Are there more completions or a little more push up the field (with Hebert this year)?

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“Yeah, perhaps. But Hebert can look real good and Hebert can go real cold, too.”

The Saints’ running game is averaging only 2.6 yards per carry with Dalton Hilliard and Craig Heyward, backs of proven ability.

“They do give you some different problems than the Giants caused us,” Ram linebacker coach Ronnie Jones said.

“The Giants, we could zero in on what they were doing, because they’ve got a plan and you can at least figure out what the plan is.

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“But Hebert can scramble and run around a little, he’s got good receivers, and then big backs who can run it.”

Ram Notes

Although it was in a losing effort each time, Jim Everett continued his solid play against the Saints last year, throwing for 65 yards and completing 54 passes. “I can’t explain exactly,” Coach John Robinson said when asked why Everett does so well against the Saint pass rush. “I think we’ve had some good ideas throwing against them and I think he’s competed really well against them.”

The last three Ram-Saint games in the Superdome have been decided by late field goals. . . . This is the first divisional game for each team. The Rams lost their last four divisional games last season.

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The Rams are starting two rookies in place of two injured defensive veterans--Roman Phifer at right linebacker for Brett Faryniarz, who is moving to left linebacker to replace Fred Strickland (strained knee); and Robert Young at left defensive tackle for Alvin Wright (sore shoulder). Robert Jenkins is replacing Jackie Slater (sore shoulder) at right tackle, with Gerald Perry stepping in for Jenkins at left tackle.

RAMS: TODAY’S GAME

Opponent: New Orleans Saints.

Site: Superdome.

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Time: 5.

Records: Rams 1-1, Saints 2-0.

Radio: KMPC (710).

TV: Channel 9, TNT.

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Rosters: C12.


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