Super Bowl contenders in '89, Rams face second lost season

WHERE DID IT ALL GO?

December 01, 1991|By Ken Murray

The Los Angeles Rams' fall seems as stunning as it was unpredictable.

Wasn't it just the other week that John Robinson silenced Buddy Ryan with a playoff upset in Philadelphia? Wasn't it just the other day that Willie Anderson took Jim Everett's pass through the end zone and up the ramp at the Meadowlands, terminating another playoff game and the New York Giants' season?

Doesn't it seem like yesterday that the Rams were on the brink of a return to the Super Bowl, squared off against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game?

Except it wasn't yesterday; it was the 1989 NFL season. And that brink the Rams were on turned out to be more of a precipice than a launch point. Their 30-3 loss to the 49ers in the NFC title game was the beginning of a tailspin for the organization.

The Rams landed with a thud Monday night, when they once again were routed by the 49ers, 33-10 -- but in a game that had no championship bearing.

It was the low point of a fast-dissolving season, Robinson said, "because we expected to play [well]. That was the first sign of the team falling apart. And I think that got to all of us."

Since losing the NFC championship game after the '89 season, the Rams have gone 8-20. At 3-9 this season with six straight losses, they will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season. When they play host to the Washington Redskins (11-1) today at 4 p.m. in sold-out Anaheim Stadium, the biggest question involving the Rams is whether Robinson can save his job as coach.

While addressing the question only vaguely last week, Robinson sounded optimistic. He has two years left on a contract that pays him $700,000 annually, but it reportedly contains a $500,000 buyout clause. With six playoff appearances in nine years, he preaches patience for what ails the Rams.

"This is no different . . . than a lot of people who are in business right now and having the business failing," he said. "I'm not thinking of suicide. I think it's wrong to maximize those things and begin to see them as some sort of a death march. The thing I want to do is get my team playing good. That's the best thing that could happen to me.

"I think organizations continue to lose when they make quick decisions. And I'm not commenting about my circumstance. I think we will make a thorough decision at the end of the year, and there won't be any finger-pointing one way or the other."

Robinson said there was acrimony after a 5-11 disaster last season. "There was a lot of the 'I confess, it's somebody else's fault' type syndrome," he said.

To squelch it, and perhaps to keep his job, Robinson fired six assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur, who preferred to play safety-first, zone defense. The new coordinator is Jeff Fisher, who was tutored in Ryan's attack scheme in Philadelphia. But the defense (24.1 points, 331.3 yards per game) remains somnolent, minus some quality interior pass rushers and consistency in the secondary.

Meanwhile, the offense under Everett remains a rumor. Everett, a six-year veteran, threw for more completions, yards and touchdown passes than any other NFL quarterback over the past three seasons. This season, he didn't get his first touchdown pass until the sixth game. With nine touchdown passes and 13 interceptions, he ranks eighth in the NFC in the passer ratings -- 19th overall.

Robinson said that Everett's performance is clouded by two factors -- the lack of a dependable running game, and by the fact the Rams ask him to save the day on a weekly basis.

The running game has been negligible because the Rams have not successfully replaced 1,000-yard rusher Greg Bell, who left after the 1989 season. The offensive line was revamped at the beginning of the season, and revamped again when injuries hit.

"Jim got off to a bad start early in the year just throwing spirals," Robinson said. "He wasn't doing that so good. But once he started performing, I think he's played 85 percent of the game great and then, in some key instances, was trying to do too much. Quarterbacks fail when you ask them to do more than they can do."

It also has been suggested that Everett is suffering from a loss of confidence, which he doesn't dispute.

"Any time any human is in a situation that is unsuccessful, you're going to lose some confidence," he said. "By no means does that mean I don't think I can get the job done. I'm very confident in what I can get done. Sure, I think this has rattled the entire organization, as well as the quarterback."

Changing of the Rams

There have been a few, but key, changes in the Rams in two years: 61989 NFC championship game.. .. .. 1991 vs. Redskins

OFFENSE.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .OFFENSE

WR Willie Anderson.. .. .. .. .. ..WR Willie Anderson

LT Irv Pankey.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..LT Robert Jenkins

LG Tom Newberry.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..LG Tom Newberry

C Doug Smith.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..C Doug Smith

RG Duval Love.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. RG Duval Love

RT Jackie Slater.. .. .. .. .. .. .. RT Jackie Slater

TE Pete Holohan.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .TE Damon Johnson

WR Henry Ellard.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..WR Henry Ellard

QB Jim Everett.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .QB Jim Everett

RB Buford McGee.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..RB Buford McGee

RB Greg Bell.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. RB Robert Delpino

DEFENSE.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .DEFENSE

DT Shawn Miller.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..LE Kevin Greene

NT Alvin Wright.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..DT Alvin Wright

DT Mike Piel.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..DT Mike Charles

OLB Kevin Greene.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .RE Robert Young

ILB Larry Kelm.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .LOLB Paul Butcher

ILB Fred Strickland.. .. .. .. .. .. ..MLB Larry Kelm

OLB Mike Wilcher.. .. .. .. .. . ROLB Fred Strickland

LCB Jerry Gray.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .LCB Todd Lyght

RCB LeRoy Irvin.. .. .. .. .. .. .. RCB Darryl Henley

FS James Washington.. .. .. .. .. .. ..FS Pat Terrell

SS Michael Stewart.. .. .. .. .. ..SS Michael Stewart

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