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Detroit owner William Clay Ford is unhappy with the Lions' erratic play on offense, and he might force coach Wayne Fontes to make changes in his offensive staff after the season. "If he's disenchanted, then my job's in jeopardy," says Davis. Detroit is last in the league in average time of possession (25:21 per game), which has contributed to its drop to last in the league in total defense.
But Davis doesn't blame the defense's weaknesses on the offense, and he doesn't think Sanders has been misused. (Sanders did lead the NFC in rushing before Sunday's games.) "We give him great air to run in," Davis says. "The worst thing you could do is overrun him. I think it could shorten his career. If you put him in a normal two-back offense, his production would go down dramatically." Maybe, but in 1988 he rushed for 2,628 yards and won the Heisman Trophy in a ground-oriented attack at Oklahoma State.
Atlanta. Coach Jerry Glanville hasn't bought into the notion that you have to use the run-and-shoot exclusively; the Falcons now use it for 60% of their plays. "We've got two distinct systems," quarterback Scott Campbell says. "If we open the game and find we're able to run, we go to the two-back set." Indeed, the Falcons' 222-yard rushing performance against Tampa Bay on Dec. 2 was their best single-game effort on the ground since 1986.
Atlanta, which is 3-10, doesn't have four good receivers, and its No. 1 quarterback, Chris Miller, struggled mightily with the run-and-shoot before going down for the season with a broken collarbone sustained during that game against the Bucs. Like the Lions, the Falcons have been done in by an awful defense (No. 25 in the league) and by poor production once they get near the goal line.
Houston. The 7-6 Oilers have generated more yardage than the 49ers, but they've committed 30 turnovers and dropped seven passes in the end zone. They even mishandled 10 throws in one game, a loss to the Steelers in Week 2. This kind of sloppiness has left Moon frazzled. "No team has stopped us yet," he says. "It's not the offense; it's the people. In this offense, you can't afford to make the crucial mistakes, and we've made them."
The Oilers have scored only 27 touchdowns on 50 trips inside the opposition's 20-yard line. They need to forgo the run-and-shoot for their Jumbo Offense-backup tackles Dean Steinkuhler (287 pounds) and Doug Dawson (288) are inserted as tight ends with fullback Victor Jones (212)—more often when they get in scoring range.
The big tests for Houston come Sunday at Kansas City and Dec. 23 at Cincinnati, potential tundras at this time of the year. Another rap against the run-and-shoot is that it's a warm-weather offense, because you can't pass well in wind and cold. "Some people wanted us to run it," says Bills general manager Bill Polian, "but there's no way you run that offense in Buffalo in November and December."
In sum, run-and-shoot advocates stand by their offense. Everyone else hates to face it, but no one is lining up to play Mouse's game.
THE END ZONE
Last April, at the funeral of Ryan White, the Cicero, Ind., teenager whose campaign for the rights of AIDS victims received national attention. Colt general manager Jim Irsay wondered what he could do to raise money for the battle against the disease. Irsay, who met White briefly at an Elton John concert in Indianapolis, decided to call on some of his friends in the rock-music business and help them write a pop tribute to White.