Memo to Joe Theismann and Ron Jaworski:
Bring a good book along to Veterans Stadium Sunday, in addition to your playbook. This is for during the game, mind you. Without some sort of trickery, perhaps even an injunction, neither defensive line is going to get within ham radio distance of either one of you. There'll be enough time in the pocket to catch up on some reading before having to read coverages and complete the pass.
Evidently, the Philadelphia Eagles played honest, no-gimmick defense against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final exhibition over the weekend. And Terry Bradshaw passed them both dizzy and back into reality. Receivers were so blatantly open that it was close to impossible to believe that the Eagles actually had the statistically best defense in the National Football League last season.
So Redskin fans can take comfort in the fact that theirs are not the only pass rushers who need lassos to sack a quarterback. Philadelphians are not quite sure if the trade of supreme middle guard Charlie Johnson and the retirement of Claude Humphrey has made the defense suddenly vulnerable, during a 1-3 exhibition season.
Or perhaps Coach Dick Vermeil was playing games with the Redskins against the Steelers, waiting until the regular-season opener to throw all manner of blitzes and other secret stuff at Theismann. Maybe a short paperback instead of "War and Peace" would be in order, Joe, just in case a Jerry Robinson or some other linebacker decides to intrude.
Whatever the short-range concern with the Eagles, Vermeil has been heard to mutter that this is his best team in terms of quality athletes competing for jobs, superior even to the one that lost to the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
Vermeil trusted the defense enough from last year to draft almost exculsively for offense this season--and the Eagles, for a change, figure to be flying. After a one-year absence, Sid Gillman is back as an offensive aide and morale booster for Jaworski.
Last season was an up-and-down one for Jaworski, in all the wrong ways. His passing attempts were up, his completions were down; his touchdown passes were down slightly, his interceptions were up dramatically. His total yardage dropped by nearly 500.
The other reason for a futuristic touch in Vermeil's usually Cro-Magnon-like offense is that it ought to keep Wilbert Montgomery alive a bit longer. He is, simply, the Eagles' best player. And tough enough for the Redskins to admit, grudgingly, that he reminds them of Larry Brown.
Montgomery lasted until the sixth round in the draft six years ago because he was considered damaged goods. Those allegedly worn-out legs have carried him to 5,095 yards in five years, including 1,402 last season. He also is a gifted receiver, and the Eagles plan to feature him in that role more, in motion out of the backfield or planted out there in wide-receiver territory right from the beginning.
If Harold Carmichael catches six balls against Washington, Bobby Mitchell loses ground. That would give the Eagles' 12-year veteran 522 career receptions, and lift him past former Redskin Mitchell into eighth place in the league. Carmichael is expected to be boosted by some old and new rockets on the other side of the field.
Vermeil's major reaction after losing to the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs last season was that the Eagles needed receivers who could do more than catch. Ron Smith and some rookie wideouts and tight ends have been swift and elusive enough for such familiar names as Wally Henry, Charlie Smith and Keith Krepfle to be fired.
Against Pittsburgh, the Eagles acted as though running was a four-letter word. In the first half, Jaworski was 14 for 21 and threw three touchdown passes. Other than Carmichael, Smith and rookie Mike Quick are the first Eagles in some time capable of turning a 15-yard pass into a 65-yard gain.
Henry very likely lost his job before that playoff loss to the Giants was over. His dropped punt and bobbled kickoff set up two of the three New York touchdowns in the first period.
The Eagles during the Vermeil years have drafted spectacularly, getting more out of less than any team in recent memory. Leonard Mitchell may prove the embarrassing exception. He had a predraft reputation for laxity, but Vermeil assumed he could kick some inspiration into the gifted defensive lineman.
A stress-fracture injury was a valid excuse for a mostly unproductive rookie season last year. Mitchell also has been a nonfactor much of this preseason. That and the unscheduled departure of Johnson seem to have unsettled the defense at least temporarily.
Johnson was a three-time Pro Bowler who decided he merited practice relief at the most physically punishing position in football. Vermeil disagreed, and that eventually led to his being shipped to the Minnesota Vikings for a second-round draft choice.
In addition to losing leadership without Johnson, the Eagles apparently are not sure about the math of their defensive line on obvious pass-rush situations, whether to use three or four men. They might as well have used two men, Vermeil and owner Leonard Tose, for all the good four regulars did against the Steelers.
Okay, Joe, bring "War and Peace" after all.