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'Bye, Bye as Chargers Thunder In : Rams: Oversized Chargers running backs Butts and Bernstine might exploit a weakness of L.A. defense.

October 13, 1991|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Unfortunately for them, in the second game of their drive toward .500, the Rams must face the definitive back-breaking offense, one part of the most dangerous 1-5 teams the NFL has ever produced.

The Rams, who had a bye last weekend, sound as if they simply want to survive today's game against the San Diego Chargers at Anaheim Stadium, and if they happen to win it, squaring their record at 3-3, that would be pleasant, too.

The Chargers' ground game is statistically the league's best, which makes it a dangerous matchup for a Ram defense that concedes it is vulnerable against the run.

Marion Butts. Rod Bernstine. A 5.1-yard average per carry. It all adds up to a serious challenge for a Ram defense that has been beaten down by lesser runners.

"We told the players the first day we put the (Charger) film on, 'If you start feeling a little bit queasy, feel like you might throw up, go ahead and get up and leave,' " linebacker coach Ronnie Jones said. "Because every time you put the film on, it's a scary movie."

All the Rams have to do is think back to the fourth quarter of their defeat by the Saints, when 270-pound Craig (Ironhead) Heyward bullied them into submission, to realize how dangerous the Chargers' twin-bully backfield is for them.

"It's scary for us because we're not a big defensive football team," Jones said. "We knew going into this season that the area of most concern was stopping the run. Now this week we're not only faced with stopping a good running game, but we're going up against backs bigger than some of our defensive linemen.

"As far as the running game (goes), this is by far the scariest situation you could ever be in."

The Rams plan to move in some bigger bodies, at times going with nine men devoted to stopping the run, and trying to force young, inconsistent quarterback John Friesz to beat them through the air.

Alvin Wright used last week's bye to recover from a shoulder injury and will team up with Chris Pike to give the Rams 600-plus pounds of defensive tackle.

Kevin Greene is likely to play a lot at left linebacker, allowing the Rams to go with 270-pound Gerald Robinson at Greene's right end spot. And left linebacker Fred Strickland will move over to the right side, giving the Rams bookend 250-pound linebackers.

"Personally, I like playing against a big running team like that," Strickland said. "They're not fancy, they just want to come at you and challenge you against the run all day long. Stopping the run, that's what I feel I do the best anyway."

This approach, the Rams concede, could leave them vulnerable to play-action passes and Friesz has shown deftness with the football at times. Greene is a neophyte coverage man. Strickland is always looking for the run first. Meanwhile, the Chargers have Ronnie Harmon, a scatback who can catch the ball.

The Chargers have also been moving toward frequent use of four wide receivers, but completed only one pass to a receiver in that formation against the Raiders last week.

Of course, if the Ram offense could lessen the burden on the defense by scoring more than a touchdown per game, the Charger attack wouldn't be such a do-or-die issue.

But the Rams have scored only five offensive touchdowns in five games, are averaging only 11.8 points, and have not yet thrown a touchdown pass.

The Rams have one more victory than San Diego, but have gained an average of nearly 40 fewer yards a game, have made 29 fewer first downs, have rushed for 61 fewer yards a game, average 1.6 yards less per carry, and have thrown six fewer touchdown passes.

They are looking for a return of offensive glory after two weeks of working on the rhythm of their passing game. The offense also hopes to get a boost from the return of right tackle Jackie Slater, who has sat out the last three games because of a shoulder injury.

"This is what we were hoping for heading into the bye week," Slater said. "Get the time to heal up, get rid of the bumps and bruises, then maybe get back to 3-3 and hopefully get on a roll for the rest of the season."

The Charger defense has struggled and ranks fifth lowest in the league. But San Diego has talented young players such as roving linebacker Junior Seau and defensive end Leslie O'Neal, and turned in a solid performance in the team's first victory of the season, last week against the Raiders.

Ram Notes

Coach John Robinson on today's game: "No one game now has a must-win quality. I think we must win seven of the remaining 11 to be a legitimate contender for a playoff." Last season, the Rams emerged from the bye week with a 477 yards of offense, but lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, 34-31 in overtime, when the Ram defense gave up 563 total yards. . . . The Chargers say they can't even think about getting back into the playoff race yet. "We're concerned about ourselves right now, and not the race," Coach Dan Henning said. "If the time comes where we get within shooting range, maybe we'll concern ourselves with some daydreaming. But that's all it is."

Wide receiver Flipper Anderson, guard Bern Brostek, defensive tackle Mike Piel, linebacker Brett Faryniarz and cornerback Todd Lyght all have injuries and are not expected to suit up today, which means the Rams will have only 42 players ready to play.

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