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Rams Sorely Will Seek a Victory at Green Bay : Pro football: Quarterbacks Miller and Chandler are recovering from injuries, and Bettis has a painful back.

October 09, 1994|MIKE REILLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GREEN BAY, Wis. — While an improving defense gives the Rams hope for better days ahead, any chance they have against the Green Bay Packers today depends on how well their quarterbacks fare in the trainer's room.

The Rams (2-3) enter the game with Chris Miller suffering from a sore throwing shoulder and Chris Chandler trying to recover from a sprained left ankle.

Miller is expected to start today, but Coach Chuck Knox hasn't ruled out starting Chandler or using him as a backup if his ankle continues to show improvement.

"We'll have to wait and see," Knox said.

Injuries best describe the state of the Rams' offense lately. Wide receiver Flipper Anderson will wear a flak jacket to protect a small broken bone in his back. Tailback Jerome Bettis, who didn't practice this week because of a bruised low back, will start and is expected to carry the offense once again.

So with plenty of ice packs in tow, the Rams will try to win at Lambeau Field for the first time since 1988 with a beat-up offense that has produced only one touchdown--on a tipped pass from Chandler to Anderson--and four field goals the last two games.

"This is a critical game for us," Ram assistant head coach Joe Vitt said. "We need to get a win in the worst way, get back to .500 and move on from there.

"And in light of the injuries on offense, we need to turn to our defense right now."

Based on the way the Ram and Green Bay defenses have played the last few weeks, today's game could become a field-goal contest between Tony Zendejas and Chris Jacke.

The Rams' defensive line--Fred Stokes, Sean Gilbert, Jimmie Jones and Robert Young--has kept Joe Montana and Jeff George on their heels the last two weeks. The defense shut out the Chiefs and held Atlanta scoreless for 56 minutes before losing, 8-5.

"That's the best defensive front in football right now," Vitt said. "I can't think of a better one. They get to the passer, they work unbelievably hard in practice and they're young too."

Green Bay's defense, under the direction of former Ram assistant Fritz Shurmur, is fourth in the league (273 yards per game). The Packers have given up more than two touchdowns only once this season, a 24-14 loss to Miami in Week 2.

Their rush defense, sixth in the league with a 77.4-yard average, will have its hands full with Bettis, who averages 101 yards. Miller faces one of the best pass rushes in the league in Green Bay's Reggie White (three sacks), Sean Jones (four sacks) and Bryce Paup (four sacks).

"I'm just going to get the ball out there quick and take as few shots as I can," Miller said.

Chandler, who suffered a sprained ankle against Atlanta last week, made what Knox called a "miraculous" recovery this week. The snaps with the top units went to backup Tommy Maddox and Miller, who has sat out the last two games because of a pinched nerve and slight separation in his right shoulder.

With Miller coming off an injury and Anderson wearing a flak jacket as he runs pass routes, where does that leave the Rams' offense?

Probably in the hands of an overworked Bettis, whose 130 carries this season are 12 more than any other back in the NFL.

Bettis has averaged 32 carries in the past two games and he raised concern early in the week about his durability in an offense that uses him so much. He sat out practice all week to rest his back but promises to be in the lineup today.

Third-down back Johnny Bailey, the team's leading receiver with 16 catches for 166 yards, also should figure prominently today, possibly lining up for the first time with Bettis, instead of replacing him.

Second-year player Howard Griffith got some work at tailback this week because David Lang sat out practice because of a deep thigh bruise. Griffith also might play today at fullback for Tim Lester, who suffered a sprained ankle in practice Wednesday but returned the next day.

Green Bay's offense also has problems with injuries to key players. Starting left guard Guy McIntyre is sidelined because of a blood clot in his calf, but quarterback Brett Favre (deep bruise on right hip) and wide receiver Sterling Sharpe (hamstring) will play.

Favre, whom the Rams sought as a restricted free agent in the off-season, leads the NFC in passing yards with 1,427. He has been erratic at times, throwing eight touchdown passes with five interceptions.

And he has had trouble getting Green Bay in the end zone. The Packers have scored more than 16 points only once this season, a 30-3 victory over Tampa Bay in Week 4.

Sharpe set a league record for receptions last season with 112, but is the team's second-leading receiver with 32 for 384 yards, one catch shy of running back Edgar Bennett. Although slowed by the hamstring injury, Sharpe still caught nine passes for 132 yards and a touchdown last week in a 17-16 loss to New England.

"Sterling came out for a few plays against New England," Green Bay Coach Mike Holmgren said. "It's not a serious injury, just a twinge in his leg, and he has a little work on it now and then.

"He'll play and give you everything he's got. Ninety percent of Sterling is usually better than 100% of a lot of guys."

Green Bay's biggest weakness is its running game. Bettis has out-rushed the entire Green Bay offense, 507 yards to 364 this season. Tailback Reggie Cobb, who's sharing time with rookie LeShon Johnson, leads the Packers with 185 yards in 45 carries and has the team's only rushing touchdown.

With both teams struggling offensively and playing well on defense, does Holmgren predict a low-scoring game?

"Any time I've ever said that it would be, it has usually been just the other kind of game," he said. "If you go on what both teams have done so far, it's going to be low-scoring."

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