Because they felt the Washington Redskins were vulnerable to the run, the Philadelphia Eagles went into today's contest with a simple, conservative game plan: "Run the ball as much as possible and keep them out of their nickel defenses," Philadelphia Coach Dick Vermeil explained.
The plan failed, but it didn't matter. The eagles walked away 24-14 winners anyway.
"When you play against Philadelphia you figure the way to beat them is to stop their running game," said Redskin middle lineacker Neal Olkewicz, who made his first start of the season. "normally, you stop them. Today, we stopped the run, got them in thrid down where we wanted them and then they would come up with the big plays."
Time and again on third down, the Redskins shuttled in their faster players. Time and again Eagle quarterback Ron Jaworski found a crack in the defense and came up with the yards Philadelphia needed to keep the ball.
"Our game plan was to play it conservative," Jaworski said. "But they did a good job stopping the run, so we had to go to the pass. We were lucky to come up with the big plays when we did."
Luck did not seem to be much of factor in the Eagles' decisive win on a cool afternoon in Veterans Stadium. Knowing that they have to play the Redskins again in RFK Stadium later in the season, the Philadelphia players did verbal gymnastics to keep from saying anything derisive about their opponents.
Vermeil talked about how tough the game was, how the Redskins "played their butts off and gave us a hell of a fight."
Jaworski, who wore a large ice pack on the right elbow he fell on when Ken Houston nailed him on a second quarter blitz, lauded the Redskin defense and talked about the great desire the Washington players showed.
But in the end, even the most gracious Eagle had to admit the truth. Because halfback Wilbert Montgomery was less than 100 percent (14 carriers, 41 yards) and because Washington did a good job up front, Philadelphia could not carry out its proposed game plan: go with two tight ends, stay on the ground, control the ball.
And still, the Eagles won. Easily.
"Look, any time a team loses a John Riggins, a George Starke, a Terry Hermeling it has to be affected," Eagle defensive end Claude Humphrey said. "You lose guys like that it has to affect the caliber of your team. That's no knock on the other guys they have playing.
"But John Riggins was a thorn in the Eagles' side. Every time he played against us he got a lot of yards. With the guys they're being forced to use they have to be, uh, different."
Humphrey stopped short of using the work weaker. When someone asked if that was really the word he wanted to use he shook his head vehemently. "No way I'm gonna say that," he said. "we have to play those guys again and I'm not going to get myself in trouble." Building up the Redskins seemed almost a tougher task for the Eagles in the locker room than beating them on the field.
"They're breaking in a lot of new personnel," tight end Keith Krepfle said. "That always takes time, that always has to have an effect on your team. I think in four or five more games they have a chance to be a very efficient unit."
Four or five games from now a season that already is almost lost may be completely down the drain. Even Vermeil had to concede that desperation motivated the Redskins today as much as anything.
They came out and played like a team fighting for their lives," Vermeil said. "They felt they couldn't afford another loss and they played like it. It was not easy for us. I'd like to think they've a really good football team because we had to play well to win."
The Eagles won with Louie Giammona, who had carried 19 times the last two seasons, gaining 46 yards on 11 carries while spelling the hobbled Montgomery. They won with fullback Leroy Harris, the reformed donut addict, scoring his first NFL touchdown as a pass receiver, going 51 yards on a jaunt through the Redskin secondary on a play where he was Jaworski's third option.
"Ronnie (Jaworski) missed Harold Carmichael on that play," Vermeil said. "Harold was wide open deep for a touchdown but Ronnie misread the play and threw to Leroy."
Perhaps that sums this day up as well as anything. The Eagles did things wrong and succeeded. The Redskins did many things right, and still failed.
"It's frustrating," Olkwicz said. "we'd get them to third down, go out for the nickel and then have to come back because they'd get a first down. Standing there and watching that is tough but I know I probably couldn't do as well becaude I'm not as fast.
"We all hustled, we all tried. We flew to the ball pretty well. It just wasn't quite good enough."
Not good enough leaves the Redskins 1-4.
"We have to start taking a different approach now," Olkewicz admitted "You always try to take things one game at a time, but now we really have to emphasize that. I mean we just have to look for a win somewhere."
"They'll win some games," Krepfle said. "sooner or later."