Johnson clips Marino with Cowboys' spur

ON THE NFL

September 20, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

It's like old times for Jimmy Johnson.

Not only are the Dolphins 2-0, but the Miami coach is also playing mind games.

Johnson, who predicted back in Dallas in 1993 that the Cowboys would beat the San Francisco 49ers in a playoff game and then watched his team pull it off, was in rare form last week.

He harpooned a South Florida legend -- quarterback Dan Marino.

Marino is being forced to adjust to Johnson's new offense that stresses the run. But Johnson publicly reminded him that the new offense is no excuse for poor pass production.

After the Dolphins passed for just 294 yards in their first two games -- 28th in the league in passing yardage -- Johnson absolved the receivers of the blame.

"We had receivers open. We've just got to hit them. We've got to throw to the ones that are open, not the ones that are covered," he said.

That not-so-subtle shot at Marino was big news in South Florida, where Marino has rarely been criticized. That's probably what Johnson wanted. He likes to keep things on edge.

Quarterbacks coach Larry Seiple said, "He's kind of rushing things. He feels he needs to get rid of the ball a little quicker than what he needs to."

Having made his point, Johnson softened his criticism later in the week. "Dan is actually playing better this year than at the same stage last year," he said.

Marino tried to stay above the fray, saying that he expected to make the playoffs and, "I believe I'm going to be one of the main reasons for that."

It's not a coincidence that Johnson picked the week of a big game -- against 2-0 Pittsburgh -- for this maneuver.

It's always a big game for Marino because he's a Pittsburgh native and the Steelers bypassed him in the 1983 draft for defensive lineman Gabe Rivera, later paralyzed in an auto accident.

Marino is 6-4 in 10 games against his hometown team. Johnson obviously thinks his needle will help him get to 7-4.

Advantage Browns

The new Cleveland Browns don't have a player or a coach yet, but they've already got opposing teams worried.

At least Bill Polian, the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts who put together the Carolina expansion team, said, "They could conceivably make the playoffs in their first year. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if they did. A guy with the expertise of Carmen Policy and the smart football people that I expect him to hire, that's a heck of an advantage. I wish they weren't in the AFC."

Polian expects the Browns to have about $30 million in cap room to spend on top of the veteran and rookie pool.

"The cap room they're going to have is incredible. The fact that we [Carolina] were able to put together a defense with free agency enabled us to go fast. Cleveland probably will be able to put an entire team together through free agency with the amount of money they have," he said.

Polian overlooked the fact that a lot of teams used the increase in cap money to lock up their key veterans. The Browns will have a lot of cap room, but might not have many quality veterans to spend it on.

But owner Al Lerner likes Polian's optimism.

When a Cleveland writer suggested the Browns would catch the Ravens and be within striking distance of Pittsburgh in just two years, Lerner said, "I think that's a safe prediction."

Jacksonville mini mart

There were a lot of eyebrows raised when Jacksonville was awarded the second expansion team in 1993.

Jacksonville is the second-smallest NFL market with a metropolitan area of about 1 million. Only Green Bay is smaller.

On the field, the Jaguars have been a smash success. But off the field, the questions about the size of the market remain.

Jacksonville sold season tickets on a three-year basis when it got the team, and several thousand ticket holders didn't renew this year. That's why today's game with the Ravens isn't a sellout, with 1,000 to 2,000 still available.

The TV blackout will be lifted because the remaining tickets are premium seats, seats for the disabled and obstructed seats.

The Jaguars aren't helped by the fact Florida played host to Tennessee last night and the Ravens aren't exactly a prime attraction.

But they didn't sell out the opener against Kansas City last week, either.

"It was disappointing not to have the place brimming over," coach Tom Coughlin said.

Targeting Al Davis

Kansas City quarterback Elvis Grbac is busy denying a New York Times report that when he was in San Francisco, Mike Shanahan, then the 49ers' offensive coordinator, ordered him to throw a warm-up pass at the head of Al Davis, the Raiders' owner, in 1994.

"All he said was, 'Let's run the go route, which we ran in every warm-ups. He said something like, 'Al Davis is over there.' But he never told me to throw the ball at him. I remember throwing over Al Davis' head. He moved out of the way and kind of looked at Shanahan. But that was it," Grbac said.

Shanahan, now the Denver coach, didn't exactly deny the report. "Would I do something like that?" he said.

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