A week after spending an afternoon chasing -- and occasionally catching -- the New York Giants and their free-running receivers, the Washington Redskins line up for a different kind of track meet at 1 today against the Philadelphia Eagles at RFK Stadium.

Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham isn't as fast as New Yorker Stephen Baker (80-yard touchdown pass) or as big as Giant Mark Bavaro (61-yard catch), but it's unlikely the Redskins will face a bigger single challenge.

"He's as hard to prepare for as anyone," Redskins linebacker Monte Coleman said. "{Joe} Montana has the quick release and the quick patterns. You can defend him. I'm not saying you can stop him, but you can have a scheme. Randall keeps you guessing the whole game. He's got so much athletic ability it's unreal. Any time he gets out in the open he's a threat. He can also throw it off the run as well as anyone."

It wasn't supposed to be this way. When Eagles offensive coordinator Ted Plumb resigned to join Joe Bugel in Phoenix, former Jets offensive coordinator Rich Kotite was brought in to run the offense. His idea was that Cunningham -- big, strong, quick -- ought to be strapped in the pocket more often, the Eagles would be better served with a more traditional offense. But after opening with back-to-back losses, Coach Buddy Ryan ordered Cunningham to again be Cunningham.

"The number one thing when you have a talent like Randall, you don't let anybody make a stereotyped quarterback out of him," Ryan said. "I've coached defense so long that I know what hurts you -- that's when you've got everybody covered and the quarterback comes out of there and makes a big first down on you like {Roger} Staubach used to do. Randall's probably the best runner to ever play that position."

Cunningham is again a scrambler and a gambler, and he ad-libbed his way to 90 yards in Monday night's 32-24 victory over Minnesota. He leads the Eagles with 251 yards and his 5.7-yards-per-carry average is among the NFL's best. He's also completing 60.7 percent of his passes, the only negative being that he has almost as many interceptions (seven) as touchdown passes (eight). But he had five interceptions and two touchdown passes in Weeks 1 and 2, two interceptions and six touchdown passes since.

"He's got great poise and experience," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said. "You watch the guy and he doesn't even sweat. He's got a great football demeanor, reacts to pressure very well. He's one of the premier players in our league. He's a triple-threat guy and I don't know of another one."

As if the Redskins didn't have enough to worry about. After their latest loss to the Giants (5-0), they're 3-2 and struggling to keep the NFC East title in sight.

The Redskins spend the next three weekends on the road, beginning with the Giants next weekend in the Meadowlands. The Eagles (2-3) may already be aiming for one of the NFC's two wild-card slots, and the Redskins need victories these two weeks to have any chance of catching New York.

"We've both got a lot at stake in this," Gibbs said. "We fought our hearts out and lost last week. We put a lot into that game and played as hard as we could. Now we've got to come out swinging again."

Gibbs is anxious to see how his young quarterback bounces back from a bad game. Stan Humphries threw three interceptions against the Giants, and now is about to face a different kind of challenge.

The Giants played soft pass coverage, let the Redskins complete short passes and forced them to use a dozen or more plays to get down the field. The Redskins got 328 yards but only 20 points.

The Eagles are different. They blitz and gamble and play a lot of one-on-one coverage, betting they can get to the passer before he can get the ball to the open receivers.

It's a tradeoff. The Redskins probably will make some yards and hit some big plays, but Humphries may get an up-close look at all-pro end Reggie White, who has seven sacks and is the biggest part of an offense that has forced 12 turnovers. He'll be matched against Don Warren, Ed Simmons and others as play unfolds.

"As far as pressure and going after the quarterback, I don't think anyone is better than Philadelphia," Gibbs said. "They give you a totally different look. It'll be another growing experience for Stan. When you take chances, you have a better chance of getting a big play, but you also have a better chance of getting pressure."

On offense, where the Giants were quick receivers and a grinding running back, the Eagles are Cunningham and what he can improvise. The original thinking had been different.

"Kotite wanted me to be a system quarterback, basically run the plan the way it's supposed to be run," said Cunningham, whose deep receiving threat Mike Quick went back on injured reserve yesterday. "That means drop back and get the ball off fast. In the past, I just ab-libbed and made things happen. Now they've told me if I see something to take off. Sometimes I still see if the route that's called is there, but I know where the first down marker is. It's just if holes are open, I'm going to take it."

Many teams have assigned one man to shadow Cunningham, but the Redskins may not.

"What we're planning is to keep the defensive linemen in their rush lanes and to let the linebackers lock him up as much as possible," Coleman said. "We're not going to assign anybody specifically to him. A lot of times teams try that and it cuts down on your pass rush enough that you play right into their hands."

Redskins Notes: Joe Howard's left knee has progressed enough that the Redskins decided against a roster move yesterday. However, Howard may be on the two-man inactive squad today, meaning that Walter Stanley would join Brian Mitchell on the kickoff return team.