The Redskins are so convinced they can be competitive against Philadelphia that their major concern today was not the Eagles but the weather report for Sunday's 1 p.m. game. (WDVM-TV-9).
"It is supposed to be like today, cool and clear," Coach Jack Pardee said. "They aren't ruling out rain but it looks good."
To the Redskins, "good weather" means no rain. Even on the artificial turf of Veterans Stadium, wet conditions will give Philadelphia's running game an edge that could determine the outcome. The Eagles are four point favorites.
"If it rains, it will hurt our passing game and allow them to concentrate on running the ball," said one Redskin coach. "We don't want to be in a situation where we can't make them pass."
Nor does Washington want to have to depend heavily on its running game. The Redskins rushers are improved over last season, but the ground attack still is not in the class of the Eagles, who probably will ask talented Wilbur Montgomery to carry 25 times in an effort to control the clock.
"We can't let them put together game controlling marches like they want to," Pardee said. "We'll have to make some breaks. Both teams are a lot alike. We both want to make things happen and then capitalize on them."
Pardee knows that the Eagles are considered by many to be a notch above Washington in talent, especially after Philadelphia upset Pittsburgh last week.
But he still is convinced the matchups between the two clubs are extremely even, except for Montgomery.
"I just feel good about what I've seen and about our personnel and how we are playing," he said. "I know people around the country think the Eagles are better, but I see things we can do on them. We just have to have the same kind of performance we've had so far this season."
The Redskins have produced a four-game winning streak and a tie with Philadelphia and Dallas for first place in the NFC Eastern Division with a conservative, mistake-free offense and an aggressive gambling defense.
With Joe Theismann executing their short-pass attack impressively, the Redskins have produced just enough points to be successful, though their overall offense is rated 12th in the NFC. Their defence, keyed by a talented secondary, has improved greatly since the opening game and has surrendered only 14 points in the last three contests.
Whether the Redskins are up to beating Philadelphia on the road is another question. This game originally was scheduled for RFK Stadium, but was moved to accommodate the visit to Washington of Pope John Paul ii. Pardee admits he'd much rather be playing before the home fans.
"Considering our winning streak and the fact this is a big game even for early in the season would have made it nice to be at home," he said. "It's unfortunate it worked out this way but either way, we still would have to play them in Philly this season."
The Eagles are in the fourth year of Coach Dick Vermeil's rebuilding program. He restructured his team the same way Pardee and General Manager Bobby Beathard are revamping the Redskins: sign free agents, take a chance on little-known players and ask for tough, physical play from the veterans.
Unlike the Redskins, Vermeil also has had the benefit of a few decent drafts. And that advantage probably is the difference in the two teams, both of which rely heavily on unheralded players.
Montgomery, who was a sixth-round choice in 1977, has gained 452 yards so far running behind the blocks of fullback Leroy Harris. He is the best back the Redskins have faced since Earl Campbell ripped them apart in the season opener.
"We've stopped the run pretty well the last few weeks," Pardee said, "but those were rookie runners. He (Montgomery) is a veteran and a good one. They aren't fancy. They'll pitch the ball out and let him earn his yards."
And they will sprinkle in just enough Ron Jaworski passes to keep any defense off balance. Like Theismann, Jaworski is enjoying his best season, even though receiver Charles Smith drops his share of passes and receiver Harold Carmichael has been limited by a sore hand. Jaworski has adjusted by making tight end Keith Krepfle his No. 1 target.
Jaworski also is the first scrambler Washington has faced this season. Again, like Theismann, he picks his spots to run, but almost every dash has picked up important first downs.
Theismann will encounter the stiffest pass rush since Houston. Philadelphia leads the conference in sacks (16), despite employing a 3-4 defense. Left end Claude Humphrey, the reborn ex-Falcon, has made the difference. Sunday, he'll go against George Starke, the right tackle on a surprising Redskin offensive line that has surrendered only six sacks.
Theismann might have to work without his starting wide receivers at full speed. Both Danny Buggs and Ricky Thompson should play, but with injuries. Pardee could start backups John McDaniel and rookie Chris DeFrance, who was cut a week ago by the Redskins, only to be re-signed Wednesday.
"I'll be able to play," Thompson said today after testing his sore hip. Buggs, who has a sprained toe, was less optimistic. "I'm not 100 percent," he said. "It's a lot better than Monday but it's still not perfect."
McDaniel, a starter last year, was cut in preseason after catching just one pass in exhibition games. But he was brought back when rookie Kris Haines failed to improve.
DeFrance, picked up on waivers from Dallas, has impressed his teammates with his sure hands, but he has never caught a pass in an NFL game.
Ironically, the Eagle secondary is the team's weakest unit and the one area Theismann and the Redskins would like to exploit. One cornerback, Bobby Howard, is a 13-year journeyman while the other, Herman Edwards is a former free agent who loves to gamble for interceptions.
"They are different from Atlanta," Theismann said. "They sit back and wait for you to make mistakes while Atlanta comes after you. They are a solid team, a good one."
The Eagles' strength extends to their special teams, which features the NFC'S top return man, Wally Henry and rookie barefoot kicker Tony Franklin. Henry will be trying to crack Washington's special teams, the stingiest in the league against both punt and kickoff returns.
Theismann had a particularly sharp week in practice and players seemed as loose and as confident as Pardee could want. He, too, noticed the atmosphere.
"I think they are starting to believe in themselves," he said. "They are still practicing the way they need to to win, but they also are maturing. I think we are ready for this kind of game."
In passing situations, the Redskins probably will employ a front four of Joe Jones and Coy Bacon at end and Perry Brooks and Karl Lorch at tackle. They are the team's four best pass rushers . . . Tight end Reggie Haynes, who has been sidelined with an offseason knee injury, has been released at his own request. Haynes will try to catch on with another team, although his knee is still not 100 percent . . . The Eagles and Redskins meet again in two weeks at RFK. Pardee is unhappy about it because he believes playing games that close together is not healthy. "It's tough enough to beat a team twice in one season but it's tougher playing so close," he said.