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A Run-and-Shoot Nightmare : Pro football: Rams must control Moon and Houston's pass-oriented offense at Astrodome.

September 26, 1993|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOUSTON — Joe Vitt, Coach Chuck Knox's chief assistant, slept in his office at Rams Park Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Houston's run-and-shoot offense can do that to opposing coaches.

"It scares you to death," Vitt said. "I mean you're talking about a team that has big-play capabilities every snap. That's different from lining up against somebody with two backs and two tight ends and playing smash-mouth football.

"These people are taking a five-step drop and sending world-class athletes down the field choreographed. I mean, I haven't slept real good."

Obviously, quarterback Jim Everett is not the only one with problems this week. Everett, the Rams' starting quarterback for at least another game, has been bombarded with criticism this week. Today, he and his teammates, who have already been tortured by both the Packers and Giants, enter "The House of Pain" as heavy underdogs to the Houston Oilers.

And the Oilers (1-2), who are considered one of the most talented teams in the AFC, are in a bad mood.

"We've made that point to our players," Vitt said. "They're going to try and get healthy on us. They're mad and they're upset they lost to San Diego and they want to get on the right foot.

"But hey, we're mad, too."

The Oilers, like the Rams, have faltered on offense. Quarterback Warren Moon threw four interceptions in San Diego and was replaced by Cody Carlson.

"Coach (Jack) Pardee thought I was pressing and he was probably right," Moon said. "I just wasn't sharp and I wasn't throwing the ball well at all. I was even struggling on the passes I completed."

Moon will be back today as the trigger man in the run-and-shoot, and the Rams will counter with six or seven defensive backs.

"You go into a game like this mixing it up on defense," Vitt said. "Anytime you (blitz) a guy like this you're going to be praying because he gets the ball off in a hurry.

"You're holding your breath every time you blitz, but yet people have been having some success this year doing just that. It's the first time that's happened against this guy."

Moon has been sacked eight times, and now he will be matched against a defense that is tied with the Browns and Raiders for most sacks in the NFL, 13.

"It's a different look from what we're used to seeing with the run-and-shoot," Vitt said. "They are going away from tendencies that we've seen. They are going away from down-the-field reads and Warren doesn't have nearly as many audibles as he used to have. They got a play called in the huddle, the play stays on and the receivers are supposed to adjust."

The Oilers continue to use Lorenzo White at running back, but so far he has been a part-time employee. A year ago, White ran for 1,226 yards and an average gain of 4.6 yards a carry. This season he has a total of 154 yards with an average gain of three.

"From what I'm seeing right now, they are running the ball just to keep you off balance," Vitt said. "They are committed to the pass, as opposed to Detroit where they are committed to the run with Barry Sanders."

The Oilers' attack, however, might be weakened this week by injuries. Wide receiver Curtis Duncan is listed as doubtful because of a foot injury and receiver Haywood Jeffires is listed as questionable because of a groin injury.

"I remember a game in Denver when John Elway came down with the flu and Gary Kubiak had to start at the last minute," Vitt said. "We said, 'This is great. We're getting Kubiak instead of Elway,' and then Kubiak kicked our butt. I learned a lesson from that, never underestimate your opponent."

The Oiler defense is not only sound but improving week by week under defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan. The Oiler defense has not allowed a touchdown in the last eight quarters and hasn't allowed a touchdown passing in the last 17.

"They have outstanding talent," Knox said. "They were rated third on defense last year, and they have the same big-play people back. They will send seven and sometimes eight people to get the quarterback, and you've got to be able to make sight adjustments and get the ball out of there quickly."

Everett has the ability to get rid of the ball quickly, but has been off target. He is the lowest-ranking passer in the NFL, having completed 47.6% of his passes. Ram opponents have completed 64% of their passes.

"I wish there was a simple answer to what has happened so far," said Ted Tollner, Ram quarterback coach. "He's just got to fight through it. There's no question in my mind he's capable of doing what we're asking him to do, but he's just not doing it well enough right now."

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