NEW ORLEANS — Say the Rams are one-dimensional and Coach John Robinson says, "So what."
Say the same thing to Saints Coach Jim Mora and he'll tell you the Rams would be foolish if they weren't.
"The Rams have the best running back in football and they'd be dumb if they didn't give him the ball a lot. And they're not dumb, so they give him the ball," said Mora.
Mora, of course, was referring to Eric Dickerson, the NFL's leading rusher and, in Mora's estimation, a threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball.
"What they do, they do very well," Mora said. "They know they can do it, so they say, 'Stop us. Beat us.' "
Preparing for the Rams then is somewhat easier than getting ready for a more-complicated team. But it doesn't necessarily mean beating them is any easier.
"From an adjustment standpoint, it is easier to prepare for them," Mora said. "But I'm not sure we match up real well with them. You shouldn't make a lot of defensive mistakes against them, but it boils down to a question of whether or not you're good enough to match up one-on-one with them . . . and not many teams are. That's why they're 7-2 and leading the division."
The Saints' first-year coach isn't going to jump on the bandwagon and bad-mouth the Rams' passing game, either. In fact, he was impressed with quarterback Steve Dils' performance in the Rams' victory over the Bears Monday night.
"Their passing game has not been productive," he said, "but you can't relax. Dils threw the deep ball really well Monday night. The ones he did miss, he was off target just an inch. And they've got some guys who can scare the living daylights out of you with their speed in (Ron) Brown and (Henry) Ellard."
The Saints (4-5) have shown vast improvement this season under Mora and have a good chance to finish with their first winning record.
The Saints are second in the league in take-aways with 28 (17 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries) and have just 19 give-aways (12 interceptions and 7 lost fumbles) for a plus-9 difference.
That's a statistic that would bring a smile to any coach's face. But Mora is even more pleased with his team's intensity and consistent improvement.
"We've played hard in every game," he said, "and the most encouraging thing is that we've gotten better in every game."
The Saints' Orange County connection--quarterback Dave Wilson and offensive tackle Darren Gilbert--has had an up-and-down season.
Wilson, a standout at Katella High School and Fullerton College, started the year as a backup to Bobby Hebert, but took over when Hebert went down with a foot injury in the Saints' third game.
In the last four games, Wilson has completed 58% of his passes for 724 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Hebert could come off the injured reserve list any day, but Mora says Wilson will remain the starter.
Wilson, who started the first 10 games last year before an elbow injury sidelined him, says his confidence has been building and that he has put the disappointment of losing his starting role behind him.
Gilbert also got an opportunity to start after the third game, too, when first-round draft choice Jim Dombrowski was injured.
Gilbert's chance lasted one day, though. He was so out of shape, he couldn't last through his first practice as the starting left tackle.
"It was real weird," said Gilbert, who starred at Cal State Fullerton. "It was a hot, sunny afternoon, my adrenaline was flowing and I was trying to go full speed. I had to do all the reps with the first team and the special teams and I couldn't make it.
"Coach Mora took that and the fact that I came in 18 pounds over the weight they set and decided to teach me a lesson. It was my fault for being out of shape. I learned my lesson. I just hope I get another chance.
"Take my advice. Stay away from that Cajun food. It did me in."
As expected, Steve Dils will start at quarterback for the Rams Sunday. Robinson is now referring to Steve Bartkowski as his "long reliever." Bartkowski started six games this season, but his ailing right knee hasn't held up well enough to convince Robinson he should remain the starter.
Dils kept the starting job on the strength of his performance Monday night. Dils completed just 6 of 25 passes, but Robinson was impressed with Dils' mobility (he was not sacked) and his leadership.
Kicking when it counts deparment: Mike Lansford, who kicked a 50-yard field goal to beat the Bears Monday night, hit two more pressure kicks in Wednesday's practice in the Superdome. Lansford had missed a few in a row when Robinson walked up next to the goal post, held up his hand and loudly offered Lansford $10 if he made his next kick. Lansford did, from 47 yards out.
A few minutes later, Robinson came back and offered double or nothing from 52 yards.
Lansford hit again, and collected his money.
Later, Lansford pulled the $20 bill from his pocket.
"I wasn't kicking for this, though," he said.
Ram Notes Defensive end Gary Jeter who missed the Bears' game with a hamstring pull, practiced Wednesday. He is still listed as doubtful for Sunday's game. . . . Tight end Tony Hunter, who has a shin injury, is listed as questionable. Mike Wilcher, who injured a knee against the Bears, did not practice Wednesday but is listed as probable for Sunday's game. . . . Ram cornerback Jerry Gray has six interceptions, ranking him second in the NFL behind San Francisco safety Ronnie Lott, who has eight. . . . Saint linebacker Rickey Jackson was named the NFC defensive player of the week. Jackson had seven tackles, a quarterback sack and a recovered fumble.
Times staff writer Chris Dufresne contributed to this story.