Last week, the Arizona Outlaws lost quarterback Doug Williams to an arthritic knee, traded three players and placed their starting fullback on waivers.

After all that, today's meeting with the Baltimore Stars at Byrd Stadium (2:30 p.m.) can't be much worse. The teams that played in last year's USFL championship game have fallen on hard times offensively and are struggling just to get to the playoffs. The Stars are 4-5-1; the Outlaws 4-6.

The Stars had a good week of practice. But that doesn't mean much after suffering their worst loss in club history last week against the Tampa Bay Bandits, 28-14.

"We had a good week of practice last week, too," Coach Jim Mora said. "That's what worries me."

The Stars have yet to go above the .500 mark this season. An ineffective offense is still the problem; they move the ball everywhere but inside the 20. They are ranked sixth in the league in total offense, but are 10th in scoring with 176 points.

"We can't make the play in the end zone," Mora said.

Richard Johnson is scheduled to start at quarterback for the Outlaws with Williams sidelined indefinitely by a sore left knee after last week's 27-11 loss to the Oakland Invaders. It was the Outlaws' fourth straight defeat, and the consensus is that it might have been time for a change anyway.

"It's the Ricky Johnson show," said Williams, who suffers from arthritis in both knees and could face further surgery. "The knee isn't feeling too good. It's no better and no worse, so we'll have to play it by ear. The way we've been playing lately, it's a good chance to give someone else an opportunity."

Johnson, out of Southern Illinois, signed with the Outlaws last season after impressing the staff in training camp. He started the final three games, completing 55 of 110 passes for 602 yards and one touchdown, but threw 12 interceptions.

"I'm not going to get overly concerned," Johnson said. "I'm just going to play my kind of game. It's a golden opportunity for me and one I've been waiting for all season. I guess I'm excited and a little anxious, but I'm sure everything will fall into place."

Williams will dress for the game but would play only in a dire emergency. He has completed 160 of 302 passes for 2,104 yards and 11 touchdowns. Against the Invaders last week, he completed 19 of a season-high 45 passes for 345 yards, also a season high. Johnson has played briefly in two games this season, but has yet to throw a pass. "He's good, but he hasn't played," Kush said of Johnson. "It would be difficult of us to expect anything unusual from him."

Williams' injury followed a week of shakeups for the Outlaws. All-USFL linebacker Ed Smith was traded to Oakland for linebacker Tom Carter and tight end Brian Williams. Defensive end Mark Buben and cornerback Lane Shields were sent to the Denver Gold for all-USFL cornerback David Martin. Starting fullback Kevin Long was placed on waivers; he had 284 yards on 95 carries this season.

"We've lost four straight," Kush said. "Like any other team, when you trade or make a change at midseason they're probably saying, 'Who's next?' But that's part of it. We felt we had to make the moves."

Kush also said a report that he had made the Outlaws run four miles one day in practice was a product of media exaggeration.

"You guys manufactured it, you decide if it's true," he said.