That state-of-the-art Ram offense blew another microchip Sunday, which was enough to send Coach John Robinson racing back to the locker room in search of his warranty. After a 31-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Rams' sixth defeat in seven tries, Robinson decided enough was enough: He's taking his offense back to the shop.
"We've just gotten to a point through this period that we have traveled that we are no longer doing the things we need to do to win games," he said. "We've lost our skills and our competitiveness that we need to win games. Our first step on the road back is to start taking care of details and making the simple plays."
Where to start?
In the last three days the Rams have lost the league's most prolific runner, Eric Dickerson, to a trade. They've seen All Pro guard Dennis Harrah rendered useless by a back injury. They've watched Dickerson's replacement, Charles White, hindered by a broken finger and sprained wrist. Their other running back, Buford McGee, is long gone with an Achilles tendon injury.
On Sunday, quarterback Jim Everett threw a seven-yard scoring pass late in the fourth period. It was his first touchdown pass of the season. The Ram offense is averaging fewer first downs, net yards and touchdowns than their opponents--by a disturbing margin.
"We're at the point now where we've said, 'Oh, my gawd. It's a crisis situation,' " said wide receiver Michael Young, who caught Everett's lone touchdown pass. "But it's something that we believe can be remedied."
This wasn't exactly what the Rams had in mind when they assembled at training camp this summer. They figured--and perhaps rightly so--that Dickerson would be good for his usual 1,000-plus season; Everett, now in his second season, would improve exponentially; Ram wide receivers, thanks to new offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese, would roam freely in opposing secondaries. A visit to the NFC championship game wasn't considered far-fetched.
"I had great expectations," said tight end David Hill. "I saw us doing all kinds of things. We were going to be able to throw the ball. With the running game we had, I looked for Eric to break the (rushing) record . . .
"It was supposedly going to be a real nice package with passing and running," he said. "We've had our problems, but even without the conflicts, (the offense) hasn't meshed together like I thought it would."
Instead, Dickerson has taken his 1,000 or so yards to the Indianapolis Colts. And Ram starting wide receivers Henry Ellard and Ron Brown have a grand total of 23 receptions and zero touchdowns.
There are theories:
--Dickerson's departure left the Rams with a high-octane offense, but low-octane talent.
--The Rams overestimated Everett's ability to quickly grasp Zampese's complicated offensive plan.
--Dickerson was the Ram offense. "It's no secret that this offense was built around Eric," Hill said.
Maybe so, said Young, but the Ram offense struggled long before Dickerson left. The Ram regulars haven't won since Dec. 7.
"I don't think with Eric here it would be all that different," he said. "But obviously, that's not going to help us. I mean, we really believe in what we're doing. I just think that people just underestimated the time it was going to take to put things together.
"In a way, with the situation we're in now, we can look at it and say, 'Hell, we can't get much worse. Now let's relax.' "
This is where Robinson comes in. His postgame chat with the Rams was a lecture on basics. The Rams will return to them, he said, beginning today.
Said Zampese: "I'm sure he's talking about technique things, details, the minor things. You know, running every pass pattern hard, run blocking, pass protection."
As for the Dickerson trade and assorted other problems, Zampese said the effects were minimal. "I think it's sort of gone beyond that," he said. "We're not talking about who anymore, we're talking about what you do."
So tinkering is out of the question?
"Hell, we're 1-6,."
So expect changes. Everett said he "probably" will become more a centerpiece for the Ram offense. Some news flash, what with most of the old Ram offense now playing for the Colts.
"I'm sure there will be some different things," Everett said. "When you lose the NFL's best running back, that's a tough thing."
And getting tougher all the time.