Dick Vermeil has turned the Philadelphia Eagles into the kind of solid, methodical football team that should be able to overwhelm a weak opponent like the Redskins just by producing a typically consistent performance.
But Vermeil, who learned his coaching psychology from George Allen, didn't want to take any chances preparing for today's 1 p.m. game with the winless Redskins at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium (WDVM-TV-9). So he told his players, of all things, that he was a lousy coach against winless teams.
"There must be something about me that brings out the worst in me against teams that haven't won a game," he said earlier in the week. "I'm just a very poor coach in these situations. A team like the Redskins will just jump up and grab you and beat you. I know the phyical matchups with them have always created problems for us.
"I just know that I'm more uptight this week than I was last week (when preparing for Buffalo)."
There seems to be little reason for Vermeil to be concerned. The unbeaten Eagles are one of the best three or four clubs in the league, even without their top runner, Wilbert Montgomery, who is sidelined with a pulled leg muscle. The Philadelphia defense yields yards grudgingly and the Eagle special teams rarely make the kind of mistakes that hurt Washington so badly against St. Louis last week.
The Eagles went through an agonizingly slow rebuilding process under Vermeil before emerging as an NFL power two years ago. The Redskins, a playoff contender when Vermeil came to Philadelphia in 1976, are now beginning that same rebuilding process, and experiencing the same turmoil.
The Redskins have talked bravely all week about being competitive against Philadelphia, a nine-point favorite, although they were unable to beat two much weaker opponents (New York and St. Louis) the previous two Sundays.
This is a survival game for Washington. The Redskin injury situation, which has severely limited Coach Joe Gibbs' flexibility, will improve substantially in the next few days if his team can avoid major losses today.
"We'll be as strong, squad wise, as we've been all year the next two weeks if no one else goes down," Gibbs said. "Brad Dusek and Wilbur Young can come off the injured list next week and maybe Joe Washington and Russ Grimm will be back, too. Then the next week, maybe Monte Coleman will be okay. And Mike Nelms is getting better every week. His thumb is improving all the time."
Without Coleman, Dusek and the recently released Coy Bacon, the Redskins will have difficulty mounting a decent pass rush on quarterback Ron Jaworski.
"We're just going to need improved effort from everyone along the front four," said tackle Dave Butz. "Not having Coy is a big factor, but we can't do anything about that. We just have to play better."
Mat Mendenhall, who will replace Bacon, should help the Redskin defense against the run, but he is still learning how to rush the passer, a major reason why Dexter Manley and Mike Clark may play more.
With running back Joe Washington unavailable, the burden will fall to Wilbur Jackson, who gained 104 yards last week working out of a one-back, two-tight-end offense that Gibbs first designed for San Diego last year. When the Redskins use two backs, Terry Metcalf will take Washington's place. And John Riggins, back from a knee injury, will spell Jackson.
The Redskins still may have problems running the ball consistently against the Eagles, despite the absence of linebacker Bill Bergey. That could force plenty of passes by Joe Theismann, who has thrown for a league-leading 987 yards in three games.
"We need to have even more improvement from the offense," Gibbs said. "And, just as important, we need to have the special teams get better and we need to cut down on big plays against the defense. What I'd like to see is no more sliding backwards. It seems we get better in one area and then fall off the next week. To have a chance of winning, we have to stop that."
Even the Redskins' best game may not be enough against an opponent like Philadelphia. Vermeil became upset when he thought his team was becoming too complacent after winning its first two games, so the Eagles were more emotional at Buffalo 10 days ago and came away with an impressive 20-14 win.
In that game, Philadelphia gained 396 yards against one of the league's best defensive teams. That type of production may not be possible without Montgomery, although the Redskin defense's inability to cause turnovers (only one interception so far) has left it vulnerable to an attacking offense.
"We need to cause some turnovers, create some mistakes," safety Mark Murphy said. "Those plays are something that happen when you perform your assignments correctly. You can't go looking for them. But in the past, causing turnovers has been one of our biggest strengths."
Said Butz: "I'm sure we are being discounted in this game by a lot of people. But I think we are all anxious to play it. What better way to get things straightened out than to beat Philadelphia?"
Cornerback Lemar Parrish, who has not practiced all week because of a sore knee, is expected to start.