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MIKE PENNER

Knox's Plan Coming Together Perfectly

August 26, 1994|MIKE PENNER

SAN DIEGO — Buddy Ryan will be laughing so hard, he'll be crying. He'll be doubled over in his leather chair, wiping the lenses of his fogged-up glasses with a handkerchief. The rest of the Arizona Cardinal coaching staff will be on the floor, giggling uncontrollably, holding their aching sides.

Chuck Knox will have them right where he wants them.

So you thought the Rams' 24-6 loss Thursday night to the previously 0-4 San Diego Chargers was a joke? So will Buddy, once he gets a load of the videotape. So did the 49,283 ticket holders at Jack Murphy Stadium who watched the home team, probably the fourth-best team in the AFC West, impersonate the Dallas Cowboys for an evening.

But that is to look at the small picture and the small picture only.

And what is Knox if not the consummate big-picture man?

It is brilliant, really. Possibly the deke of this NFL season and many more before that.

You lose eight consecutive exhibition games, dating back to mid-August 1992, around the closing ceremonies of the last summer Olympics, and you play an opponent with nearly as many problems as you--namely, no victories in 1994, no wide receivers and few people capable of stopping opposing ballcarriers before they're dancing in the end zone.

So you keep Jerome Bettis, your most valuable offensive player, on the bench all night.

And you keep Flipper Anderson, your best (only?) deep pass-catching threat, on the bench all night.

And you allow your brittle-kneed new quarterback, Chris Miller, to spend an entire half scrambling for his life behind a jury-rigged offensive line featuring New York Giant castoff Clarence Jones at left tackle/backside protector.

And you give Todd Lyght and Steve Israel serious playing time at cornerback.

Result: You score two field goals, you lose by 18 points, you conclude your second consecutive 0-4 exhibition season and the Cardinals swagger into Anaheim Stadium a week from Sunday completely unprepared for the devious trap Knox has laid for them.

It's a masterstroke, I'm telling you.

Notice how thick Knox laid it on post-rout.

"Well, we were awful," were his opening words to the press.

"About the only good thing I can say on our part was the goal-line stand.

"We just aren't in sync at this point.

"There's no way we can commit those kinds of mistakes and win . . .

"I'm concerned, big time. I hope (the players) are concerned. They better be."

And why hadn't Knox played Bettis and Anderson in his team's final tuneup, with Miller still trying to learn a new system and become accustomed to new teammates? On a team seemingly groping blindly for cohesion and confidence at this point, why not put your first-team tailback and wide receiver on the field at the same time with your first-team quarterback--with a highly uncertain defensive unit on the other side of the football?

Knox said he didn't want Bettis or Anderson getting hurt.

He did not, however, say anything about the Rams' opening-day gate.

(Attention fans, passers-by and rotisserie geeks bored out of your minds: Many prime seats still available!)

Save The Rams may not be an idea with much of a future, but Thursday night, the Save The Chargers program picked up a considerable head of steam. Such heroes. Gale Gilbert, formerly the third-string quarterback in Buffalo, having taken his last regular-season NFL snap in 1990, completing 6 of 11 passes for 73 yards, including a touchdown strike to one Al Pununu, who celebrated the occasion by holding the football to his mouth, pretending it was an ice-cold mug of beer and taking a long pull on it.

A night against the Rams--the pause that always refreshes.

So now the Rams enter Knox's third season, and maybe their last season in Orange County, with no momentum, not much of a clue and hammer marks from four straight pounding by the Packers, the Patriots, the Raiders and the Chargers.

Right now, they look like Tampa Bay West. And the Cardinals? Here they come next Sunday, chewing on toothpicks and whistling and listening to portable CD players, counting the empty seats and staring at the scoreboard, wondering what will look more attractive--35-10 or 42-10?

And that's when Knox finally reveals what he's been hiding all this time up his sleeve.

Chuck, please let us know when it's safe to open our eyes, all right?

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