There are pertinent numbers about the Miami Dolphins to make them the darlings of the percentage-minded Sunday in their playoff game against the Houston Oilers (4 p.m., WRC-TV-4, WBAL-TV-11) but there is a reluctance to cloud a natural attraction with statistics.
On the one side is Earl Campbell, All-Cosmic alreadly as a rookie, being paid the ultimate compliment by the recently suspect Dolphin defense.
Linebacker Steve Towle, who has been more successful chasing Campbell in a television snuff commercial, has become convinced since his last "live" encounter with the Oilers that he needs help. So, the Dolphins are going to gang-tackle Campbell.
"In that first game (a 35-30 loss in the Astrodome) I was a little over-anxious," Towle says. "I wanted to get the big hit on Campbell and you can't knock him over, one on one. You just can't do that.
"You have to make sure you get a hold on hima and wait for your teammates to come around. We're known as a swarming defense, so we've got to continue that.He's strong, but he can't run with six of us climbing aboard."
Campbell, first rookie to win the National Football League rushing title since Jim Brown in 1957, beat out Walter Payton of Chicago, 1,450 yards to 1,395. He rushed for 199 yards against the Dolphins on Nov. 20, including an 81-yard touchdown sprint, and the Oilers drove 70, 87, 63, 80 and 93 yards for scores.
Before the Dolphins played the Redskins, Miami's defensive posture was an embarrassment. The Dolphins' pride scuffed, they did in Washington, 16-0, for their third shutout of the season and now lead the league since the merger with 14.
They allowed nine points in their last three games despite eight penetrations inside their 20-yard line.
The Dolphins swooped down on Joe Theismann's passes for four interceptions and proved it was no fluke by swarming against Oakland for five interceptions against Ken Stabler, prompting Coach Don Shula to call it a "magnificent defense" that day.
Meanwhile, quarterback Bob Griese has come back from an Aug. 25 knee injury, missing five regular seson games, and has the higest scoring team in the American Conference, completing 63 percent of his passes.
The Oilers (10-6) are making their first playoff appearance since 1969 in the old American Football League. The Dolphins (11-5) have been to the Super Bowl three times, winning twice. They have a 58-10 record in the Orange Bowl aince Shula took over in 1970.
In 1972, when the Dolphins went 17-0 and beat the Redskins in the Super Bowl, they were the least-penalized team in the NFL. Such poise, suggesting the elimination of costly mistakes, has endeared them to bettors looking for an edge in the percentages.
It is noteworthy that the Dolphins once more are the least-penalized team in NFL; that the offense has committed the fewest turnovers, and has plus 23 to lead the giveaway and takeaway table despite eight of 11 starters on defense having four years or less experience.