PRO FOOTBALL / BILL PLASCHKE : Trouble Arrives Early for Cardinals, Oilers and Saints

Trouble in the NFL is like a blitzing linebacker. One who comes from the blind side. One who hides behind a defensive end, then sneaks around his backside and sprints at your face and. . . .

One moment you are standing there, your entire world in sight, the possibilities endless.

The next moment you are swallowing somebody’s jersey and feeling for your toes.

Coaches take their meals in film rooms and players spend their summer vacations camped beneath large metal weights. Yet they cannot predict it or stop it or even guess from where it is coming.


In the NFL, trouble just happens.

In three spots this season it has happened with stunning quickness.

Blame it on the emotions caused by the new labor agreement. Blame it on the increased pressures of greater visibility that came with the premature end of baseball.

A rookie gives a veteran some lip, and a fight occurs. An offensive coordinator doesn’t look at the scoreboard, and a controversy ensues.


A new coach makes an impulsive personnel decision, and his new friends start behaving like old enemies.

“Sometimes in this game, you prepare to a fight a left-handed boxer,” said Jeff Fisher, defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers.

He paused.

“Then you get out there and the guy is right-handed.”

A rundown on the league’s three unhappiest spots:


Some guessed that Jim McMahon would weasel his way past Steve Beuerlein and become the Arizona Cardinals’ starting quarterback by midseason.

They were wrong by nearly two months.


This change already has occurred--it was announced Wednesday by offensive dunderhead Buddy Ryan--even though Beuerlein set a club record last season by completing 61.7% of his passes.

And even though Beuerlein had not even been given the opportunity to start more than the first two games this season.

The sudden quarterback controversy adds to the woes of a winless team that leads the league in defense, as expected, but is dead last in offense.

Ron Moore, who rushed for 1,018 yards last year, can’t figure out how to play in a two-back set. Receiver Gary Clark can’t stay sound, and receiver Randal Hill gets lost running deep.

And now Ryan has panicked and gone with McMahon, who is 35 with a right arm that looks at least twice that old.

OK, so Beuerlein was last in the league in passing efficiency at 45.2%. He has played five quarters .

“One thing that wins in the NFL is patience, but with this new system, I don’t know if you’ll ever see that again,” said Greg Davis, Arizona kicker and league philosopher. “I like Steve and think he’s a franchise quarterback. I’m surprised as anybody to see him benched.

“He got off to the same start last year. Unfortunately, Buddy has no history with him.”


The normally affable Beuerlein refused some interview requests but told local reporters: “I don’t agree with the situation. I don’t like the situation. Everyone who knows me . . . they all know I’ve always been able to bounce back from a bad pass, a bad quarter, a bad game. I’m sure this situation would have been no different.”

To make matters worse, the Cardinals are even mouthier than ever. When asked about Sunday’s game in Cleveland against the Browns, defensive end Michael Bankston said: “We’ll beat Cleveland for sure. We’re going to beat the Cleveland Browns in the Dawg Pound. We’re going to turn it into a bird house.”


Does anybody else think the Houston Oilers might not win three games this year?

It was thought they might get off to a slow start, but who could have figured that they would have a quarterback controversy this quickly.

And that their offensive and defensive coordinators would be at odds this fast.

Even with Ryan long gone?

Kevin Gilbride, recipient of a Ryan punch last season, asked for it again last week in a 20-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys when he called an important play thinking it was first down.

Problem was, it was third down. A pass failed. The Oilers punted. The Cowboys took the ball from near midfield into Oiler territory for what became a game-deciding field goal just before halftime.

Walking off the field, Gilbride and Fisher had words, although both denied it publicly, even though the television cameras had caught it.

And that’s the least of their problems.

The public wants Bucky Richardson to be the quarterback, but the coaching staff wants Cody Carlson as long as he can avoid injury, which seems to be about 10 minutes at a time.

They not only miss Warren Moon, they miss Sean Jones and William Fuller and Wilber Marshall.

And they have a first-place schedule that includes games against the New York Giants and Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles and the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

“This is a different team than it was last year, with a different group of leaders, a new quarterback, then a newer one after that,” Fisher said. “We’ve got to have somebody take over the leadership role. We’re just kind of wandering right now. We need somebody to get in somebody’s face mask when they’re not working.”

Fisher thought back to what it was like when he was an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers last season.

“I remember in practice where every wide receiver ran down and scored on every play, every running back ran 60 yards to score every time he touched the ball, even when the play was stopped they kept running,” Fisher said. “It’s all about an attitude. Something we’re working on here.”

If you are Coach Jack Pardee, you also might want to work on a resume. Like, now.


After “It’s still early,” this has been the most repeated statement by losing teams this season:

“At least we’re not the New Orleans Saints.”

The story of their season, which could conceivably end with zero victories despite the best intentions of renewed Jim Everett, can be found in a suburban New Orleans bar.

It was early Monday morning, after a 38-24 loss to the sorry Washington Redskins.

Running backs Lorenzo Neal and Mario Bates were in the bar, apparently commiserating over a running attack that has totaled 65 yards in two games--fewer yards than 25 individual running backs have gained in one game this year.

“Hey rookie, buy me a beer!” Neal reportedly shouted to Bates.

“I don’t have any money,” Bates reportedly replied.

The next sound was Neal’s fist connecting with Bates’ face. Just when the Saints were preparing to move Bates into the starting lineup, he suffered a broken jaw and will be sidelined for at least four weeks.

Jim Mora, the Saints’ coach whose job could be lost with the season, did not discipline either player. With Neal not making any carries and Bates walking around with a wired-shut jaw, Mora must have figured they were punished enough.