"When we met the Oilers in the playoffs in 1979, our defensive coach, Joe Collier, told us he wanted us to get four helmets on Earl every time he carried the ball. He said if he carries 25 times a game that's 100 hits he's gonna receive, and the human body just can't stand up to that."
Denver's philosophy was nothing new. Everyone tried to get four helmets on Earl, and how many hits, how many helmets later is it now? Granted that in Houston Bum Phillips rode into the playoffs behind Earl, and Bum is loyal to his old buddies, but does it really make sense to bring Campbell in for a No. 1 draft choice and then ship out George Rogers, thus building your offense around Earl?
Last year, with both Campbell and Rogers on the squad spelling each other, the running attack dropped 18 yards per game from what it had been in '83. A banged-up offensive line was one reason, a deteriorating passing game another. To correct the latter, the Saints have signed Bobby Hebert from the USFL, just as they brought in Richard Todd last year as a quick fix. Unfortunately, under the predictable offensive system of Phillips and his ever-present offensive coach, King Hill, every quarterback has deteriorated. The year before Bum and Hill became a team in Houston, Dan Pastorini had a higher rating than he ever had under them. Ken Stabler's rating dropped the first season he played for Hill and Phillips, and it never came back. When Bum and King arrived in New Orleans, Archie Manning's rating dropped 17 points and it fell even lower the next year.
O.K., you say, these were old guys and their numbers probably would have dropped anyway, but what about Todd's decline last year? Now Hebert is the new project. Meanwhile, Dave Wilson, the eternal third man in the shuffle, wants out. Who can blame him?
The receiving corps is nothing to get excited about, either. Can Earl Campbell save this weird offense? C'mon now.
At least the Saints' defense remains solid. Bum Phillips defenses will always be solid.
Atlanta Falcons coach Leeman Bennett heard the long drum roll in '82. The ax fell on him five days after the Falcons' last game. He had been the only winning coach in the franchise's history, so he got a chance to finish the year. His three predecessors, Marion Campbell, Norm Van Brocklin and Norb Hecker, were all fired during the season. The Falcons have never had a coach they didn't fire; now Dan Henning is hearing the funereal music.
Let's see, how can Dan save his job? The owner, Rankin Smith, has already said he wants a winner this year. Is that a winner as in above .500, or a winner compared to last year's 4-12? We'll find out. William Andrews, out with a shattered left knee, will not be back in October, as some Falcons foolishly predicted in training camp. Gerald Riggs is a pretty good runner, and Redskins tradee Joe Washington might help.
The defense could be O.K. if the Falcons get lucky on their draft picks, particularly on their No. 2, Mike Gann, the end from Notre Dame. Rick Bryan, last year's No. 1, had a good season and some real thrust up front. Combined with a good set of linebackers, the unit will at least be respectable.
But it's the offense that could save Henning's job. It can't be only good; it must be exciting. There's got to be an angle, and here it is: Henning keeps talking about the untapped potential of David Archer, the backup to Steve Bartkowski. Archer is from Soda Springs, Idaho, a 1984 free-agent rookie with that John Unitas fire in his eye.