THE BUM'S RUSH
Paging Lawrence Taylor. Wake up, Tim Harris. Hey, Kevin Greene, snap out of it. Anybody seen Chris Doleman? Usually around this time of year, these guys are polishing off quarterbacks and polishing up their golf clubs, getting ready for the Pro Bowl in Honolulu. But here it is, almost Thanksgiving, and they have combined for only 22½ sacks.
After being shut out on Sunday against the Rams, Taylor had 4½ sacks on the year for the Giants and had gone 25 quarters without one. Last year after nine games, Green Bay's Harris had 9½ sacks; at the same point this season, he has six. Following back-to-back 16½-sack seasons, Greene missed all of training camp in a contract dispute with the Rams and struggled when L.A. installed a new defense for the first five games. He has six sacks this season. Doleman, who had 21 sacks in 1989, did not get his first sack until the Vikings' fifth game this season and now has six.
What seems to be happening is that dominant pass rushers are being put to the test by offenses that are trying more than ever to keep that one player from beating them. "Teams are getting more schooled in not letting that one guy get at the quarterback," says Dolphin defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti. "They're just not going to let any one of those guys match up one-on-one on pass-rushing downs anymore."
Says Eagle defensive end Reggie White, "In the past I was occasionally triple-teamed. But this year, I've noticed more triple-teaming. I might come in over the center, and the guard will help out, and then there might be a back waiting for me. Against Washington [on Oct. 21], it happened quite a bit."
With eight sacks in eight games entering Monday night's rematch with the Redskins, White, perhaps because opponents also have to worry about White's linemates, Clyde Simmons and Jerome Brown, is one of the few sack artists living up to his reputation. The guys on the decline have pretty much been left to attack the quarterback alone. Linebackers Harris and Greene have always been lone wolves for their respective defenses. Doleman doesn't have linemate Keith Millard, who's out for the season after having surgery to repair a knee injury suffered in Week 4, to distract the pass protection, and Taylor is playing without bookend outside linebacker Carl Banks, who is sidelined with a wrist injury. At 31, LT also is performing with less abandon than he once had. He doesn't try to sprint around double-team blocking the way he did when he was 26. Instead, he either buries his head in the blockers' chests or drops back in coverage.
Pass rushers face one additional obstacle. "Thank God they let us hold," says one NFL offensive line coach. "Otherwise, it still wouldn't be a very fair fight."
NOLL ON A ROLL
The longer Chuck Noll coaches, the more amazing he becomes. At the start of the 1989 season, the Steelers were the worst team in the league—they were outscored 92-10 in their first two games—but they rebounded to make the playoffs. This year they got off to a 1-3 start mainly because their offense failed to score a touchdown in those four games. Now Pittsburgh is 5-4 and preparing to play for sole possession of first place in the AFC Central on Sunday night in Cincinnati.
Noll is the NFL coach least affected by the tempests of the moment and the roar of the crowd. He knows that, sooner or later, his team will get the job done. He's also secure enough in his job, which he's had since '69, to know a 1-3 start won't get him fired.
Noll has set himself apart from the league's other standout coaches with his single-mindedness. No TV show. No radio show. No persistent rumors of someday climbing into the network TV booth. No commercial endorsements. (He did one advertisement while Steeler coach, for a friend in the banking business in the mid '70s, and he was very unhappy when he saw his face looming large on a billboard.) "He's made coaching his life's work, which means he's not trying to sell automobiles on the side," says Bengal general manager Paul Brown.
Because of assistant Ron Blackledge's illness, Noll had to coach the Steelers' offensive line during training camp. Every day he worked with his linemen, coaching in black shorts and a white T-shirt, looking like a throwback to the days of hands-on head coaches. During a lunch break one day, one of his assistants was complaining about how quickly the off-season had seemed to pass and how quickly they were back at the grind. Noll smiled and said, "I love it."
Says Charger coach Dan Henning, "If I was going to emulate someone in this business—in persistence and in steadfastness—Chuck Noll is the guy I'd emulate."
Running back Ronnie Harmon said he signed as a Plan B free agent last March with San Diego instead of Phoenix in part because Arizona didn't have a state holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. After a proposal for a King holiday was voted down in a statewide referendum on Nov. 6, Cardinals player representative Luis Sharpe said Phoenix's appeal to free agents would continue to suffer. "I wouldn't want to come here," said Sharpe. "You've got to think about the environment your family will grow up in."
...The final straw in Bud Carson's firing as coach of the Browns was the 42-0 loss to the Bills on Nov. 4. The next-to-last straw? The ultimate in active owners, Art Modell, didn't find out who Cleveland's starting quarterback would be against Buffalo—Bernie Kosar was benched by Carson in favor of Mike Pagel—until he heard the news from NBC commentator Bob Trumpy 10 minutes before kickoff....
Entering the season, the Eagles wanted Randall Cunningham to sit tight and pass out of the pocket more than he had done in previous years. However, after Philly started 0-2, coach Buddy Ryan told him, "Randall, just be Randall." Heading into Monday night's game against the Skins, Cunningham was the Eagles' leading ground gainer (482 yards on 66 carries) and was looking like his vintage self. He had 240 passing yards and 124 rushing yards in a 48-20 win over the Patriots in Week 9. "Randall just feels he can win a game by himself," says Philadelphia tackle Ron Heller. "I never saw a guy change a game around the way he does."
THE END ZONE
On the subject of defensive end Dexter Manley's appeal for reinstatement to the NFL after a one-year ban for drug abuse, name the person who said: "The more chances you keep giving people, the more people try to get away with things.... Pretty soon, it's not going to do any good to have the rules in the first place."
A) Mike Ditka
B) Victor Kiam
C) William Bennett
D) None of the above
The correct answer is D. Those words were spoken by, of all people, Mr. Model Citizen—Jim McMahon. Such musings from Philadelphia's backup signal caller can be heard by calling McMahon's $2-a-minute phone service.
Held without a sack in his last 25 quarters, Taylor (56) isn't as tireless at 31 as he was at 26.
Thomas broke the single-game sack record, nailing Krieg seven times.
Noll has not lost his touch for molding young Steelers into contenders.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
NO DOUBTING THIS THOMAS
Derrick Thomas, the Chiefs' promising young outside linebacker, was motivated in a couple of ways to have a big day against the Seahawks on Sunday. With one sack in his three previous games, Thomas wanted to refute a story in The Kansas City Star last week that he was in a slump. In addition, Sunday was Veterans Day, a special holiday for Thomas, whose father, an Air Force captain in Vietnam, was reported missing in action in 1972 and then was declared dead in '80. Before the game, four Air Force jets flew over Arrowhead Stadium during a brief ceremony. Thus fired up, Thomas went out and set the NFL record for sacks in a game, with seven, breaking Fred Dean's '83 mark by one.
Five of Thomas's sacks came in the final 17 minutes, with the game on the line. He was agonizingly close to an eighth sack on the game's last play, on which he grabbed Seattle quarterback Dave Krieg around the waist as time ran out. But his momentum carried him past Krieg, who slipped from Thomas's grasp and threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Paul Skansi to give Seattle a 17-16 victory. Amazingly, the Seahawk defense made few adjustments to thwart Thomas. On that last play, he was still being blocked by one man, tackle Andy Heck, whom Thomas repeatedly had beaten with his quickness. "I had Krieg," said Thomas of his just missing sack No. 8. "That's the one I'll remember the most."
MINING IRON IN NEW ORLEANS
Remember 259-pound running back Craig (Ironhead) Heyward? He carried the ball 357 times during his last year at Pitt but spent his first 2½ seasons with the Saints on the bench or blocking for Rueben Mayes and Dalton Hilliard. Not until Hilliard went down with a knee injury on Oct. 21 did Heyward get to run the ball regularly.
"If I'm in the game long enough to know what's going on," says Heyward, "I'm going to be productive." After rushing for more than 100 yards in back-to-back games, including 155 yards in the Saints' 35-7 win over the Bucs on Sunday, here are Heyward's stats as a pro.
•Marcus Dupree's first carries since 1985 came on the last four plays of the Rams' 31-7 loss to the Giants. A former Oklahoma freshman sensation who gave up the game after injuring his knee while playing in the USFL, Dupree gained one, seven, 10 and four yards. "I took a lick, the same old lick," he said. "It hasn't changed."
THE WEEK AHEAD
Eagles at Falcons. When these two teams last got together—during the preseason in Macon, Ga.—Atlanta won the scrimmage two touchdowns to one and the skirmishes also by 2-1. "It was more like a war than a game," says Eagle defensive tackle Mike Golic. Actually, it was a proving ground for macho coaches Buddy Ryan and Jerry Glanville. Benches cleared after Falcon safety Scott Case pushed Philly wideout Mike Bellamy out of bounds. Five Eagles nearly threw Atlanta running back John Settle over a fence. The heavyweight headliner: Philadelphia's 295-pound defensive tackle Jerome Brown body-slammed the Falcons' 275-pound center Mike Ruether.
Steelers at Bengals. Here's what one NFL personnel director had to say about the AFC Central race at the beginning of the season: "The team with the best defense will win, and that's why I don't think the Bengals can win. They're the Denver Nuggets of the NFL." Cincinnati ranks 27th in the league in total defense. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is playing tough, Piston-like D, particularly against the pass. The Steelers share the NFL lead for fewest touchdown passes allowed (four), having yielded just one in the last 19 quarters. The winner of this game will take sole possession of the division lead with a 6-4 record. Even the Bengals' best defense—a ball-control offense led by Boomer Esiason—is struggling mightily, having scored just 17 points against the Falcons and seven against the Saints in its two most recent games.
Raiders at Dolphins. ABC froths. Can't you hear the Monday Night Football promo now? "Shula! Shell! Schroeder! Dynasties of the '70s reborn in the '90s!" Maybe the network will be able to do its entire intro without saying, Bo knows....
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