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PRO FOOTBALL : 49ers’ One Problem Is No Running Game

With a running quarterback who doesn’t seem to run much anymore, Steve Young, the San Francisco 49ers will go for the championship of California Sunday against the Raiders at the Coliseum.

After opening against two other California teams, the Rams and San Diego Chargers--who both lost in Candlestick Park this month--the 49ers, a Super Bowl champion not two years ago, are still in the NFL race, too.

But they won’t win the NFL title this time without a ground game to take some of the defensive heat off Young’s passing game.

“They only have one problem: They need a running back,” former NFL Coach Sid Gillman, who will be 80 on Oct. 26, said Monday.

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To anyone watching the 49ers lately, it’s clear that their only effective runner has been Young.

Except he has almost stopped running. He scrambled only twice Sunday, for four yards. That was about as much as any other 49er back accomplished until the fourth quarter, when the Ram defense was demoralized by receiver Jerry Rice’s put-away touchdown play.

In terms of his football talent, Young is a running back. His coaches have been lining him up at quarterback because, as they say, he’s a good passer for a running back. But on a team lacking standouts in the customary ballcarrying positions, Young’s value would rise greatly with six or eight carries a game.

If the 49ers are worrying about exposing him to injury, they should recall that the passing pocket is the most dangerous place for an NFL quarterback to be. Ask Randall Cunningham. Or Joe Theismann.

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Mathematical matter: A draw play is seldom a bad call. The Raiders didn’t lose in Atlanta Sunday because they decided on a run, a third-and-nine draw play, which failed at the Falcon 20 with two minutes left.

Yet in the circumstances--the clock winding down, no chance at another possession--the call was unnecessarily dangerous.

If their passer, Jay Schroeder, could have taken two shots there instead of one, he and the Raiders would have doubled their chances.

Another conservative team, the New Orleans Saints, reasoned that way a week earlier. Moving into scoring position at a critical moment of the Ram game, the Saints instructed their passer, Bobby Hebert, to come out of the huddle throwing.

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He missed on first down, and again on second down. But after two good looks at Ram goal-line defense, Hebert connected on third down for a touchdown.

Mathematically, a good football team improves its chance to complete a scoring-position pass from 50% on first down to 75% on second to 87.5% on third.

Most of Schroeder’s clutch passes were again well thrown in Atlanta, but the Raiders, in the end, dug him an impossible hole on fourth and 12.

Two platoons: The next question for Coach Jerry Glanville’s team is whether it can hold off the undefeated Saints Sunday at Atlanta.

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In their fifth year in New Orleans, Coach Jim Mora and President Jim Finks have developed what suddenly appears to be the NFL’s best defensive team.

“Getting (defensive end) Frank Warren back this year was the last piece,” Mora said.

Although Warren and the other defensive end, Wayne Martin, are the Saints’ most improved players, opponents usually mention the club’s linebackers first, and justifiably.

“We’re proud of the way (outside linebackers) Pat Swilling and Rickey Jackson rush the passer, and the way (inside linebackers) Sam Mills and Vaughan Johnson stack up the run,” Finks said.

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But he noted that the Saints have had their four Pro Bowl linebackers for years. It is their new defensive line that blended with the linebackers to make life miserable for Ram quarterback Jim Everett a week ago and to shock the Minnesota Vikings this week, 26-0.

Finks has found so much talent for the Saints that Mora has been able to develop a version of the two-platoon defensive line that Coach Bill Walsh brought to San Francisco a few years ago when the 49ers were winning Super Bowls.

Reserve defensive linemen Les Miller, Robert Goff and Renaldo Turnbull spell Martin, Jim Wilks and Warren from time to time to keep a fresh pass rush on every snap.

“All six men are playing great football,” Mora said.

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If the Saints (4-0) have replaced San Francisco (2-2) as the NFC West’s defensive power, they remain a Super Bowl longshot, no doubt. They’re stuffing runs and passes with a Super Bowl flair, though, and that’s half of it.

The unprofessionals: Media critics won another round from the Establishment the other day when pro football, under pressure, modified its rule against player-fan celebrations. No longer will NFL teams draw five-yard penalties when their players high-five boisterous fans, or when, say, they throw a football into a crowd.

“And that’s a good thing,” said Chicago Bear Coach Mike Ditka, speaking for a majority of coaches and critics. “It was a bad rule.”

But was it?

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The rule has been in the book in large part for crowd safety:

--An exuberant fan, reaching over the rail to high-five a touchdown maker, could fall and break a neck.

--An alcohol-fueled fan, scrambling in the stands for a football, could break his nose or crack a rib.

In sum, the more that players interact with spectators, the greater the chance that somebody will get hurt.

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The taunting rule is in the book for similar reasons. A player taunted for his mistakes is a player enraged. He will retaliate if he can. And in time, taunts and rage will surely lead to unnecessary injuries.

In recent years, the NFL has been on the right track in restricting demonstrations and celebrations. For if the focus isn’t mainly on the action--on the next play--the game will get out of control eventually, inevitably.

Public demonstrations of self-affection are trashy, anyway. In their playing days, most of the players who are in the Hall of Fame today, football or baseball, expected to make big plays. They didn’t fly around the field with their fists in the air every time they got the better of an opponent. They were professionals.

Quote Department:

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Mike Singletary, Chicago linebacker, in his new book, “Singletary on Singletary,” written with Jerry Jenkins (Nelson): “The feminist movement had to happen. (Men) had to be awakened. I believe we have the women’s movement today because we don’t have enough real men.”

Dallas offensive tackle Nate Newton, on teammate Emmitt Smith: “He can stop on a dime and give you 9 1/2 cents change.”

New Orleans quarterback Bobby Hebert, on being booed by Saint fans: “Fans in some areas are more parochial than fans in other areas, but I’m sure in New York, if the Giants aren’t winning, the fans will give (Jeff) Hostetler a rough time. Maybe in Los Angeles, if the Rams aren’t winning, (Jim) Everett may not hear it as much as Hostetler would here or in New Orleans.”


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