The Washington Redskins know they cannot afford any November missteps. Earlier this month, they were supposed to beat such easy marks as Atlanta and Detroit and they did.
Sunday, the Redskins will play the Philadelphia Eagles at 1 p.m. before the first sellout of the season at Veterans Stadium (WDVM-TV-9). Oddsmakers say the Redskins should beat the Eagles (4-6-1) by 6 1/2 points.
But the Redskins know better. Or, at least, they say they know better, perhaps for the sake of modesty and a clean bulletin board in the Eagles' locker room.
Washington is tied with Dallas (7-4) for first place in the NFC Eastern Division. The Cowboys play in Buffalo (0-11) Sunday. The Redskins, who play Buffalo next Sunday at RFK Stadium, feel they must defeat the Eagles to keep pace with the Cowboys' likely victory over the Bills.
So the Redskins quietly talk about their deficiencies, like the troubles on their punt team last week when two punts were blocked and, on a third, punter Jeff Hayes was tackled for a loss.
"We know Philly gives us a lot of different (punt-blocking) looks and that they saw our breakdowns last week," said Greg Williams, one of the Redskins' special teams captains. "We just have to get it right the first time (Sunday). We just need to get our confidence back."
The Redskins also talked about today's reactivation of all-pro free safety Mark Murphy, who returns from injured reserve and will take the roster spot of strong safety Tony Peters. Peters is suffering from an abdominal muscle pull and was placed on the injured list for a minimum of four weeks.
Murphy will play on special teams Sunday and will serve as a backup to starting free safety Curtis Jordan. Murphy, 29, said of becoming a reserve, "It's something I haven't done in a while (since 1978) . . . (But) it's part of the process. I'll do whatever they want me to do."
And, most of all, the Redskins say all the right things about Philadelphia.
In late September the Redskins beat the Eagles, 20-0, at RFK Stadium. They sacked quarterback Ron Jaworski four times, limited the Eagles to 76 yards rushing, nullified Eagles all-pro receiver Mike Quick with double-coverage (Quick caught just two third-quarter passes), scored on a 51-yard flea-flicker pass from quarterback Joe Theismann to wide receiver Art Monk, watched Theismann scramble for 56 yards and helped nudge fullback John Riggins forward for 104 yards on 28 carries.
Still, Redskins linebacker Mel Kaufman spoke the party line by saying, "Philadelphia always plays us tough. Look it up. Check the last couple of years. With the exception of the last game, they've all been close."
In fact, even though the Redskins have won six consecutive games over the Eagles since mid-1981, four have been decided by four points or less. So Kaufman has a point.
The Redskins also point out that the Eagles led unbeaten Miami for three quarters last Sunday before losing, 24-23. The Eagles had an extra point blocked with 1:52 left.
And Redskins offensive guard Ken Huff said, "The Eagles outplayed Miami. If the Eagles played that way for an entire 16-game schedule, they would finish 12-4 or 10-6."
However, one might also look to last week's loss and say that even in the Eagles' greatest moment of this season, they still found a way to lose. And one also might say that, even though the Eagles have played the Redskins close, they haven't won in nearly three years.
Consider that the Eagles have the league's worst-rated rushing game (86-yard average at present), but busted Miami for 177 rushing yards. The Eagles' rush defense, among the league's bottom third in effectiveness, held Miami to a 2.9 yards per carry average.
And still the Eagles lost. "The way our season has gone is really hard to describe," said Quick. "I guess maybe it's been awkward. We've been in every ballgame this year except two, against San Francisco (21-9 loss with nine dropped passes) and the shutout at Washington."
Two of the most important Eagles might have limited playing time Sunday because of injuries. Running back Wilbert Montgomery (527 yards rushing, 42 catches for 365 yards receiving) has been battling a hamstring injury and is listed as questionable (50-50 chance he won't play). Montgomery rushed for a team-high 56 yards on 10 carries in the first half against Miami, but was sidelined for the second half.
If Montgomery cannot play, he would be replaced by Michael Williams, a second-year player who has 26 carries for 61 yards this season. This might affect the hopes of Jaworski, who said of Sunday's game, "We have to run enough to keep them honest, but the big plays will have to come through the air."
Jaworski completed 18 of 35 for 170 yards against the Redskins on Sept. 30. Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley, who has been on a tear recently, was credited with 2 1/2 sacks of Jaworski in that game. Manley continually blew by left tackle Dean Miraldi. Don't be surprised to see another big sack day for Manley on Sunday.
Furthermore, Eagles linebacker Jerry Robinson, the team's leading tackler, is suffering from a bruised shoulder and is listed as questionable. Against Miami, Robinson was replaced by rookie Mike Reichenbach.
Not only have the Eagles had a hard time defending the run this season (their 133-yard rushing yield rates 22nd in the league), but they have also had problems defending gadget plays. Philadelphia has yielded four touchdowns this season on trick plays, including the Redskins' flea-flicker.
"This is the hard part of the season. It's just after the middle and, for one thing, you're tired," Kaufman, the Redskins linebacker, said. "The playoff picture isn't that clear. But by the 14th or 15th week, though, things clear up, you get new life and you forget about all your hurts and ouch-ies . . . Right now, we know that Philadelphia will play us tough."