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Rams '87 : PREVIEW SECTION : A LOOK AT THE RAMS' 1987 OPPONENTS

September 11, 1987

Houston Oilers

Sept. 13, 10 a.m.

Astrodome

1986 Record: 5-11.

Record Against Rams: Rams lead series, 3-1.

Key Offensive Starters: Quarterback Warren Moon. He threw twice as many interceptions (26) as touchdowns passes (13) last season, but his scrambling ability can still give a team fits. Oiler offense also includes former Ram castoffs Drew and Kent Hill. Drew, the receiver, caught 65 passes for 1,112 yards last season. Kent, the offensive guard, went to Houston in the trade that brought Jim Everett to the Rams. Rookie fullback Alonzo Highsmith could give the team more punch.

Key Defensive Starter: John Grimsley, inside linebacker: In his first full season, he led Oilers with 199 tackles (112 solos). He averaged 14 tackles in his last 12 games.

The Rams Could Do Without Seeing . . . Highsmith, the first-round choice from Miami, finally signing a contract and taking out all that unspent energy on the Ram defensive line. Or, Moon scrambling in the backfield ready to throw at any time to speedy wide receivers Hill, Haywood Jeffires and Ernest Givens.

Minnesota Vikings

Sept. 20, 1 p.m.

Anaheim Stadium

1986 Record: 9-7.

Record Against Rams: Vikings lead series, 15-12-2.

Key Offensive Starters: Quarterback Tommy Kramer made his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 10 seasons last year, but a recurring bout with alcoholism forced him into a rehab center during training camp. Running back Darrin Nelson, the diminutive one from Stanford, had 53 catches. Wide Receiver Anthony Carter (38 catches, 686 yards, 7 touchdowns) is one of the legitimate deep threats in the NFL. Oh, and don't forget first-round choice running back D.J. Dozier from Penn State.

Key Defensive Starters: Joey Browner, safety, led Vikings in tackles (98) and fumble recoveries (4) and made it to the Pro Bowl for the second straight season. Look out for Vikings' young line led by tackle Keith Millard (10 1/2 sacks), one of four former first-round picks on the front.

The Rams Could Do Without Seeing . . . The Vikings ever again in the playoffs. Coach Bud Grant is gone and the team plays indoors now, but no team over the years has caused Ram fans more pain. Minnesota knocked the Rams out of the playoffs in 1969 (conference title), 1974 (NFC championship), 1976 (NFC championship) and 1977 (Divisional Playoff).

Cincinnati Bengals

Sept. 27, 1 p.m.

Anaheim Stadium

1986 record: 10-6.

Record Against Rams: Bengals lead series, 3-2.

Key Offensive Starters: Quarterback Boomer Esiason had a big hand in an offense that led the NFL last season (405 yards per game). Also throw in James Brooks (1,087 yards rushing, 54 catches) and receivers Eddie Brown (58 catches) and Cris Collinsworth (62 catches, 10 TDs).

Key Defensive Starter: David Fulcher (105 tackles), strong safety, hits like Seattle's Kenny Easley, but the bad news is that only the woeful Indianapolis Colts gave up more points than Cincinnati in 1986.

The Rams Could Do Without Seeing . . . The Bengal offense on the field. These guys are a multi-pronged football warhead waiting to go off in the end zone. The cure for the Rams is three or four 98-yard, 10-minute drives that conclude with one-yard Dickerson touchdown plunges.

New Orleans Saints

Oct. 4, 10 a.m.

Louisiana Superdome

and

Nov. 8, 1 p.m.

Anaheim Stadium

1986 Record: 7-9.

Record Against Rams: Rams lead series, 24-10.

Key Offensive Starter: Dave Wilson, quarterback. Wilson is expected to beat out Bobby Hebert for the starting position, a battle that could determine just how well the Saints do this season. He completed 24 of 43 passes against the Rams last Nov. 23.

Key Defensive Starter: Rickey Jackson, linebacker. Jackson led the Saints in tackles, which isn't unusual. Jackson is one of the hardest tacklers in the conference, a talent that Dickerson can confirm.

The Rams Could Do Without Seeing . . . Eric Martin, wide receiver. Martin caught 11 passes for 143 yards and one touchdown against the Rams last season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Oct. 11, 1 p.m.

Anaheim Stadium

1986 record: 6-10.

Record against Rams: Rams lead series, 10-4-1.

Key Offensive Starters: Running back Earnest Jackson has been dumped by two teams (San Diego and Philadelphia) in the last three years after 1,000-yard seasons, but perhaps will find a home in Pittsburgh after 910 yards rushing last year in limited playing time. The only problem with receiver Louis Lipps (38 catches) is the team's inability to get him the ball 80 times a season.

Key Defensive Starters: Mike Merriweather, outside linebacker, made it to the Pro Bowl again, but it was fellow linebacker Bryan Hinkle who led the team in tackles.

The Rams Could Do Without Seeing . . . Louis Lipps in the open field. He has scored 26 touchdowns in his first 30 NFL games.

Atlanta Falcons

Oct. 18, 10 a.m.

Fulton County Stadium

and

Dec. 13, 1 p.m.

Anaheim Stadium

1986 record: 7-8-1.

Record Against Rams: Rams lead series, 29-9-2.

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