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ANALYSIS : Second-Half Games Favorable to Rams if They Pick up Pace

October 30, 1994|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Rams have reached midseason 3-5 for the fourth time in the past five years, are now halfway to Baltimore or St. Louis and remain a million miles away from the playoffs.

Two and a half years into Chuck Knox's rebuilding plan and the Rams are 2-14 in NFC West Division games, 0-4 this season and cellar dwellers once again.

Is the credibility of a head coach measured in his team's record?

"That may be true, and then again it might not be true," Knox said. "I mean, the season isn't over. I think the time to make that determination is when it's over."

The Rams, 14-26 under Knox and 22-50 since last appearing in the playoffs, have not won seven games in a season since 1989. A second-half schedule, however, allows the Rams to play six of their eight games in California and ends promisingly with games against New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Chicago and Washington.

But how can the Rams count on better results when in Knox's three years on the job they have failed to win two consecutive games?

This season the Rams appear improved on defense, and yet their defense ranks No. 27 in the league in first downs given up and No. 27 in the league in stopping the opposition on third down.

Special teams received a boost with the hiring of coach Wayne Sevier, and yet the Rams rank No. 27 in the league in kick return yardage given up and No. 26 in punt return yardage given up.

The Rams paid $9 million to sign quarterback Chris Miller for the next three years, but they seem more interested now in starting Chris Chandler, who will be a free agent at season's end. Miller, Chandler, Everett, Rubley--does it matter? Under Knox the Rams have emphasized the run, and have scored more than 20 points only 11 times in 40 games.

The opposition, meanwhile, has scored more than 20 points on 22 occasions, including 14 times in which they scored 30 or more. While the opposition has had a good time at the Rams' expense, local attendance has dropped to an average of 41,130.

Based on the first eight games of 1994, which produced results similar to 1992 and 1993, why should anyone think the second half of this season will be any different?

"Well, I think, one, if we get a couple of people healthy, and two, we've been in three games that we should have, could have had a chance to win," Knox said. "And they played hard. The schedule doesn't get any easier, but we just got to take it one game at a time and go and do it."

In the meantime, here's a look back--one position at a time--on the first half of the season:

QUARTERBACK

Knox raved about Miller's accuracy in training camp, but a pulled abdominal muscle, stretched rib cartilage, jammed shoulder and concussion had fans in the stands ducking for cover every time Miller threw the ball, and Knox pushing Chandler to save the day. Chandler got hurt, and Tommy Maddox demonstrated why Denver was willing to unload the former No. 1 pick for a third-round choice.

Second-half possibilities: If Miller stays out of training room, the passing game gets healthy and the team wins more than it loses. If Miller stumbles, providing Knox with opening to play Chandler, there is a quarterback controversy and the team continues to flounder.

Just a thought: Miller has completed 51.2% of his passes, and Detroit's Scott Mitchell, who was No. 1 on the Rams' free agent wish list, has completed 48.8% of his.

RUNNING BACK

Jerome Bettis' 200 carries represents 43% of the Ram offense, which explains why the Rams have a losing record. Bettis, of course, is one of the game's best running backs, but Ground Chuck is 3-8 in games in which Bettis runs for more than 100 yards. Bettis' ability to gain 723 yards behind a crumbling offensive line is an amazing feat, but team needs more zip in its passing game to keep Bettis on the move and put more points on the scoreboard.

Second-half possibilities: Where's Johnny Bailey, the team's most explosive back? Although he leads the team in receptions with 23, he has carried the ball only three times. Imagine Bailey and Bettis in the same backfield. Imagine Bailey and Troy Drayton on the field at the same time. Imagine the Rams scoring more than two touchdowns on offense in the same game for the first time since Oct. 14, 1993.

Just a thought: If Rams persist in throwing the ball to Jerome Bettis and Tim Lester, shouldn't the equipment manager outfit each with hockey goalie masks to keep them from getting hurt?

RECEIVERS

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