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Rams Can Talk Winning Game : Pro football: But whether they can play one today against Broncos depends not on Joe Vitt's verbosity but on John Elway's ability.

November 06, 1994|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Rams are 3-5, and aren't they always 3-5 after the first half of the season? They are home again in the NFC West cellar, and how do you like their chances in the next four weeks against the likes of the Broncos, Raiders, 49ers and Chargers?

Rally to make the playoffs? The Rams have compiled an 8-24 mark over the second half of the season the last four years, so why should people think this November and December will be any different?

"I don't care what people think," said Joe Vitt, Ram assistant head coach. "They can all go to the beach, Disneyland, support the hockey team. I don't give a damn.

"We're playing Denver, and I know we can absolutely beat this football team. We can absolutely have a great second half, and I want a great second half for our players. The rest of the people can have a great second half and I want a great second half for our players. The rest of the people can believe what they want to believe. Get in their Save The Rams T-shirts and work on that.

"This is a good football team. This is one of the better teams I have ever been around, and this was a football team that was kicked in the stomach--losing three games on the last play of the game. You win those three games and all of a sudden we're the toast of the town. We lost those three games, but that doesn't mean our defense stinks, or our offense stinks. We just have to learn to win close games down the stretch and then we will be fine."

Vitt sleeps four nights a week on a couch at Rams Park, giving himself more time to better prepare the team, but still the Rams have been found wanting. They rank 25th on offense, last in the league in stopping the opposition on third down and have allowed one punt and two kickoffs to be returned for touchdowns.

"Denver is going up against a (tough) team," Vitt said. "They better bring their lunch. Parity is here. This is like the NBA. If you can't win in the last two minutes then you are going to be (in big trouble). You have to win close games to be among the elite, and (quarterback) John Elway obviously knows how to do that. So that's going to be the challenge for us."

Elway, who is 1-1 against the Rams, has directed the Broncos to 25 fourth-quarter game-winning drives during his 12 years in the league. The Broncos, however, have been outscored in the fourth quarter this season, 52-32, and their inability to keep pace has undermined their season.

Denver (3-5) handed San Diego its first loss two weeks ago and then whipped AFC Central leader Cleveland, but before that the Broncos had lost on the final play of the season-opener against the Chargers and then fallen in overtime a week later to the Jets. They had a final-play shot at tying Buffalo before losing, then fell victim to Joe Montana's last-minute heroics in a Monday night TV classic with Kansas City.

"We were 0-4 and 10 plays away from being 3-1," Elway said. "The last four games we're 3-1 and we've been making those plays."

Whereas the Broncos have won three of their last four, the Rams have dropped three of their last four. The Rams will start Chris Chandler at quarterback in place of Chris Miller before an anticipated crowd of 45,000 in Anaheim Stadium. Miller suffered a concussion two weeks ago in the Rams' last game, against New Orleans.

"We've had a great bye week," Vitt said. "We haven't been like a lot of dumb people around the league and beaten the dog stuffings out of our players for two weeks. We've addressed certain areas and we're ready to have a great second half of the season. I'm working with some world-class athletes and this is fun. We're playing the second half to be 8-0. These guys have paid the price to win."

The Rams are expected to have sore-shouldered defensive tackle Sean Gilbert back in the lineup to pressure Elway, who has been sacked 24 times this season. The Broncos average fewer than 100 yards a game on the ground, relying primarily on Leonard Russell, but have big-play makers in the passing game--Anthony Miller, Shannon Sharpe and Glyn Milburn.

"Elway's like a lot of quarterbacks: He thinks he can win a game by himself," said Jim Erkenbeck, Ram offensive line coach. "Probably the most effective way to play him is to let him try and win the game by himself and take away all his little helpers."

The Rams will try to run Jerome Bettis, hog the ball and keep Elway off the field, but they also might be teased into throwing the ball because of Denver's poor play against the pass. The Broncos rank last in the league in defending against the pass and have surrendered 13 touchdowns via the air.

"It doesn't matter," said George Dyer, Ram defensive coordinator. "At some point you're still going to have to face the guy and this guy is special. I've gone against him 18 times (with a 9-9 record) and your people have to play at the top of their game and hope they're as good as he is."

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