"Not yet, Steve. Soon."
So Courson would go back to the weight room and pump more iron, pile on more muscle. And when Mullins got hurt, he was ready. The Steelers used a straight-block offense against Miami in the playoffs. The Dolphin linemen don't penetrate, they wait and read. Courson blasted big holes in the middle of the Miami line.
"We were watching him from the sideline," Joe Greene says. "When he went after 'em, all you'd see were feet in the air or guys on their backs, crumpling up. He's got an arm he can put right through you. When we got into short yardage we yelled, 'Go over the Sweeper!' We call him that because he sweeps 'em up. We were standing there making sweeping motions, like we had brooms." Unplug one, plug another one in.
Joe Greene remains. Perles says the game Greene had against the Oilers in the championship was vintage Greene, his best in five years. Greene himself admits that he has changed his style as he nears the end of his career. He had always been a quickness guy, relying on tremendous anticipation to foul up a play. Now he's working on his strength. For the first time he's lifting weights for more than exercise. Strength is what he'll fall back on when the quickness goes. Against Miami, he used that strength to stabilize the middle, forcing his man back into traffic. Against the Oilers, he made big plays on his old quickness, twice knifing in to spill Earl Campbell for losses.
The Steeler defense presents the biggest problem for L.A. Only five of the Rams' offensive starters were in the line-up for their NFC championship game against Dallas a year ago. Quick turnovers could be disastrous. Too many three-and-out series could keep the L.A. defense—proud and tough, but battered—on the field too long. The Rams' defense will probably start off giving Bradshaw & Co. problems—in the three games in which Bradshaw has faced L.A. (all losses), he has been intercepted eight times—but the L.A. defense has got to have help.
In three straight playoff seasons a fine defensive team suffered a blowout—or near blowout—because the offense just couldn't do it. Pittsburgh went into the 1976 AFC championship against Oakland with a great defense and an offense that had only one healthy running back; the defense kept Pittsburgh in it for a while, but finally the Steelers were overrun. The next year Denver's Orange Crush defense had Dallas on the ropes at the beginning of Super Bowl XII, but every time Craig Morton got his hands on the ball he turned it over, and the final score looked like a blowout. Then, there was last year's NFC title match—L.A. vs. Dallas. Ram runners kept hobbling off the field and the offense died, and a heroic defense that had held the score to 7-0 for three periods crumbled. Result: 28-0.
The Rams need a consistent offense on Sunday or the game might turn into a runaway in the second half. Against Tampa Bay they went into a revised formation—Cullen Bryant on the wing, blocking down for Tyler—but they'll probably junk it and go against the Steelers straight up. No one sweeps Pittsburgh; the Steeler linebackers are simply too quick. Any success on the ground against Pittsburgh has come between the tackles.
Another problem for L.A. might be its wide-receiver shuttle system of sending in plays. This puts a strain on an offense fighting the 30-second clock and cuts down the audible time. It's not so bad when the Rams are between the 40-yard lines, but when they're near the goal the shuttle man can have a 40-yard run to the huddle. Against the Bucs they were called for an illegal formation on the four-yard line and had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
There will be some 105,000 people in the Rose Bowl, and as Jim Youngblood says, it will be the front-runners who'll be roaring. The few loyal Ram fans who stuck with them when they announced they were packing up and leaving for Anaheim, who hung tough when everybody was hurt and L.A. couldn't beat a decent team, probably will be too busy praying.
The Steelers have beaten that game plan, too. Pittsburgh 27, L.A. 10.