ANALYSIS : Ground Chuck, Rams Have Come to Pass


The words were no dramatic departure from what Chuck Knox has been saying since he arrived as the Rams’ first among non-equals, but coming when they did, how they did, and, yes, from whom they did, they still sounded stunning.

The 1992 Rams will be a running team . . . Knox!

Realizing the futility of any attempt at it, the Rams will not be a dominant running football team in 1992, Knox said Monday. They will not even try. They won’t play a fullback most of the time, and they will count on Jim Everett throwing the football plenty.


Entering his 20th season as an NFL head coach, this man steeped in the tradition of physical football has come to pass.

Knox has quite comfortably led passing teams before, of course, in Buffalo with Joe Ferguson and many seasons with Dave Krieg in Seattle. Since leaving the Rams in 1977, Knox has adapted and adjusted much more than his “Ground Chuck” appellation would testify.

He came to the Rams in January, saying he would tailor his offensive and defensive systems to the talent on the roster.

But has Knox ever gone into a season declaring his intention to play wide-open, one-back, throw-it-often offensive football? Probably not. Of course, he has never coached this bunch of Rams before, either.

“We have focused the strength of our offense,” Knox said. “We have a quarterback--a proven, bona fide quarterback. We have some strength at the wide receiver position. And we have some quality and strength at the tight end position. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

“We’re trying to build a system around the skills these people possess. It’s no longer trying to prove the running game or anything like that.”


The Rams are overloaded with quality receivers, from starting wideouts Henry Ellard and Flipper Anderson to their three solid tight ends to backup receivers Aaron Cox, Todd Kinchen, Jeff Chadwick and Vernon Turner to good-hands running backs Cleveland Gary and Robert Delpino.

They’ve got Everett, who has been burdened with offensive responsibility before. They’ve got an offensive line probably more adept at pass-blocking than smashing out running lanes.

Knox, not being a fool who cannot part with his ways, will not try to force the run.

“With our strength at the quarterback position and receiver position,” Knox said, “we’re not going to go in there and be trying to pound the ball with a two-back set. We’re going to be throwing the ball, mixing the run in there out of passing formations.”

Last year, the Rams, with basically the same cast of runners they have this season, averaged only 3.3 yards a carry--the league average was 4.0--scored only 11 rushing touchdowns--and had a long carry that was only 36 yards. Delpino led the Rams with 688 yards, the lowest total for a team rushing leader in a non-strike season since 1978.

Knox even suggests it isn’t likely the Rams, given their noticeable lack of a Barry Sanders or Thurman Thomas (or even Thomas Sanders) in the lineup, will have a 1,000-yard rusher.

“I don’t know,” Knox said, “I think it’s possible. You take a look at Buffalo, Thurman Thomas gets his 1,000 yards and they’re basically a one-back set. Sure, it’s possible. I think you take Barry Sanders, that’s a one-back set, he gets over 1,000 yards. That’s possible.


“It depends upon the quality of the person at that position.”

Ram offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese, the only holdover from last season’s staff, says the Rams will run an offense fairly similar to last year’s scheme--just do a lot more out of the one-back set.

“I think you can spread the defense a little bit more,” Zampese said. “You can utilize different kinds of personnel, which we like to do. . . . You can go with one back and two tight ends and two wideouts, or you can go with two backs and two wide receivers and one tight end, and then you could leave a back in the backfield, and leave the other in the backfield, or could shift him out of the backfield, you could line him up in the backfield and move the other guys around. . . .

“You don’t have quite as much strength as you would from having a (blocking) back in the backfield. There’s some runs that you can’t run from it, but you can utilize most of the runs. The Redskins have been doing it for years.”

Does this mean we have seen at least the temporary end of Ground Chuck?

“Not at all,” Zampese said. “It doesn’t mean you’re not going to attempt to run the football, because you have to do that. You have to be able to run the football some.

“You can’t just get stuck in a pass-rush contest with anybody, really, and certainly not with a team like (this week’s opponent, the Buffalo Bills) that can rush the passer as well as they do.”