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Oilers Show Raiders It Could Be Worse : Pro football: Houston has fallen on hard times, limping into Coliseum today with 1-6 record.


Finally, a farewell to arms. Big arms. Strong arms. Proven arms.

Finally, the Raiders don't have to face a quarterback with the potential to dominate the airspace above the playing field. Three weeks ago, it was Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots, the hottest young quarterback in the league. Two weeks ago, it was Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins, one of football's hottest quarterbacks for a decade. And last week it was Jeff George of the Atlanta Falcons, who got hot when he finally got out of Indianapolis.

This week, the Raiders will face . . . who knows?

Not only don't the Houston Oilers, today's opponent at the Coliseum, have a proven arm to lead them, they don't even know from week to week whose arm it will be.

And this week is no different.

Cody Carlson will start today if his sore knee allows him. If not, it will be backup Billy Joe Tolliver.

Where is Warren Moon when you really need him?

With the off-season trade of Moon to the Minnesota Vikings after a decade as a fixture in Houston, the Oilers installed Carlson, his longtime backup, as the starter.

But Carlson has spent as much time in the trainer's room as on the field in what was supposed to be his big chance after seven seasons of standing on the sideline. Carlson, who has suffered nose, shoulder and knee injuries, has sat out three of Houston's seven games and has been taken out of the last two he started.

The last time the Raiders faced the Oilers, at the Astrodome in the exhibition season finale, Bucky Richardson, a third-year veteran from Texas A&M, was the local favorite.

But his star has faded and he has been replaced by Tolliver, another former Texas collegiate star serving as the latest Oiler relief ace. Tolliver, who played at Texas Tech, is in his sixth NFL season and on his third team after previous stops in San Diego and Atlanta. Signed in the second week of the season by Houston, Tolliver has come out of the bullpen in each of the Oilers' last two games, relieving Richardson against the Cleveland Browns and Carlson last Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Oilers lost both games, but that's nothing new. They have lost six of seven this season in a dramatic plunge from the ranks of playoff contenders after reaching the postseason in seven consecutive seasons.

Asked if Houston can still salvage this season, Oiler defensive back Cris Dishman said: "I don't think we have the talent there. We lost a lot.

"I'm wishing and hoping and praying that we can do it, but it takes each individual to look at themselves and realize they've got to step their game up.

"We've still got a chance to make the playoffs if we win (the remaining) nine games."

Right. Or if they can lure Moon back from Minnesota. That's about as likely.

Asked how much the Oilers miss Moon, Dishman said: "Drastically. We miss Warren in the community. We miss Warren on the field. We miss him off the field. And Warren's leadership at halftime too. If we were behind or we were ahead, Warren would say some things that would get everyone to realize what's going on. We drastically miss him, but we can't cry over spilled milk."

There's plenty to cry over if you're an Oiler fan looking at the combined numbers put up by Moon's replacements. Carlson, Richardson and Tolliver have completed only 48.9% of their passes, for eight touchdowns with an equal number of interceptions.

"Cody's getting better all the time," Pardee said. "His knee's not completely well. . . . He can't take his right steps. As he gets stronger, he certainly knows where to go with the ball and all that. It's just, without the right steps, the ball sails on him occasionally."

Quarterback isn't the only place Houston is having trouble. Gary Brown, coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season, was expected to assume the role of featured back. But an ankle injury has kept him out of two games and limited him to 364 yards rushing. That has forced the Oilers to go back to another of their former 1,000-yard rushers, Lorenzo White, who wasn't even in the picture for 1994 when they went to camp.

The defense has been respectable, keeping the Oilers in games by giving up 301.9 yards a game, second-lowest total in the AFC behind the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even so, there are indications that some players are already writing this season off.

"You could bring in Jimmy Johnson, Vince Lombardi or Tom Landry, and it's not going to change anything this season," receiver Ernest Givins told the Sporting News.

And the Raiders thought they had problems.

The Raiders (3-4) hope their troubles are finally behind them. With the dispute between Coach Art Shell and quarterback Jeff Hostetler in the rear-view mirror and the offense coming off its best effort of the season last week in a victory over the Falcons, the Raiders are optimistic that the second half of the season will reduce the strife and inconsistency of the first half to a memory.

Holes in the offensive line were filled effectively last week by Robert Jenkins and Greg Skrepenak. Harvey Williams seems finally established as the starting tailback.

The only question mark is at free safety where Eddie Anderson, bothered by a groin pull, might have to give way to second-year player Patrick Bates today.

Nobody is ready yet to repeat the preseason prediction that the Raiders are headed for the Super Bowl.

But if they want to assure themselves that things could be a lot worse, all they have to do today is look across the line of scrimmage.



* Opponent: Houston Oilers.

* Site: Coliseum.

* Time: 1 p.m.

* Records: Raiders 3-4, Oilers 1-6.

* TV: Blacked out in L.A.

* Radio: KFI (640), KWKW (1330), KMEN (1290).

* Rosters: C18.

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