What in tarnation has happened to the Philadelphia Eagles? They can't run the ball, they can't block anybody, they can't rush the passer. Without Randall Cunningham, the Eagles wouldn't be as good as the Cowboys. Wait a minute, the Eagles aren't as good as the Cowboys even with Randall Cunningham.
Stop Cunningham and you beat the Eagles. Battle Plan B? Buddy Ryan hasn't heard of it. Cunningham sprint out to avoid the rush, Cunningham roll out to avoid the rush, Cunningham run the ball because nobody else can. Who's Ryan's offensive coordinator, Joe Walton?
The Redskins are too good and too cerebral to let one man beat them, even though they would never admit they've figured out how to stop Cunningham. "Not even close," Redskins linebacker Monte Coleman said. "That guy runs me crazy."
But Cunningham knows it's happening. He was sacked five times by the Vikings last Monday night, five times by the Redskins Sunday at RFK. "Teams are coming up with schemes," he said. "Teams keep coming up with different schemes every week because they know that if I can get out of the pocket, I'm dangerous. The Redskins, they were working my offensive linemen, trying to flush me out to the right side. It was a different scheme of trying to contain me" than the Redskins normally use.
The stats say Cunnningham led all rushers with 54 yards on five carries and he threw for 220 yards and a touchdown. Still, the Redskins undid the Eagles with a difficult-to-execute combination of rush-and-contain.
The Redskins have trouble with a fast receiver like the Giants' Stephen Baker, but Coleman and Wilber Marshall can cover a tight end like Keith Jackson and a back like Keith Byars all day. So with no burner and nobody to hand off to, the Redskins knew if they kept Cunningham in the pocket, even a wide, rolling pocket, they could keep him from taking over the game.
"You have to discipline yourself to slow your rush and keep an eye on him," defensive tackle Eric Williams said. "It's a Catch-22: You have to go quick enough to go by your man, but you have to keep him in your eye. He just wears you down."
Maybe. But by the time Cunningham wore down the Redskins with an alley-oop touchdown pass with a minute to play, the Redskins had built a big enough lead and the Eagles had settled into last place in the NFC East. That's right, the 2-4 Eagles trail the 3-4 Cowboys. They are tied with the 2-4 Cardinals.
One would think the Eagles would be very, very upset about their state of affairs. Instead, they moaned from locker room to bus about the officiating. Specifically, they were upset about four major penalties, including one, they claim, for cursing an official. "That was a cheap penalty in a close game like this," Cunningham said. "It seems like every time we go to New York, Washington or Dallas the referees are for the other team."
Cunningham's frustration is understandable, and perhaps it's less destructive directed at the officials than his underachieving teammates.
At the end of a brilliant 28-yard run by Cunningham on third and 25 from deep in his territory in the fourth quarter, veteran safety Wes Hopkins undid it all by running off the bench and getting a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct for cursing an official following what he believed was a late hit on the quarterback.
That's the extent of the Eagles' offense: Cunningham does something that raises goose pimples on your arm, then searches the turf to see if one of his teammates did something stupid to draw a penalty. (In fact, he had a first-quarter touchdown pass called back because of a holding infraction.)
The Eagles say it takes time to get used to this new offense, installed in the preseason by Rich Kotite, who came from the Jets. You might think that seven weeks into the season the Eagles would have it down. You might think they'd at least protect the franchise; in addition to the passing yardage, if you take away Cunningham's running, the other Eagles carried 13 times for 40 yards on Sunday.
Asked if he could survive being sacked like this much longer, Cunningham said, "Remember, I was here the year we gave up 104 sacks and we were still winning."
Ryan said he's not worried about his team's offense because the Redskins' defense is so good. "We'll be in the playoffs," he said. Remember, though, this is the same man who said last week, "Who in the NFL has done a better job than I have?" Oh, let's see: Seifert, Gibbs, Reeves, Parcells, Ditka, Noll, just to name a few.
Apparently, Ryan also was happy with his team's defense, because "at least we made them punt. The Giants didn't even make them punt."
Some of the Eagles aren't facing one rather significant fact: They're much closer to being a bad team than a good one. Not only have they already lost at home to the Cardinals and Colts, but their only victories are over the 1-5 Vikings and the 2-4 Rams. At least defensive tackle Jerome Brown recognized the urgency of the situation. "We can't lose any more," he said.
The Redskins exposed the Eagles for what they are: a myth. In Ryan's five years they've won zero playoff games. Now, unable to run the ball, Cunningham no longer has his Cris Carter, the team's best receiver, whom Ryan cut after he led the team in scoring last season.
"We're a good football team," Ryan said. "We're a playoff caliber team. All we've got to do is win some games." Ryan's credibility, like the Eagles' chance of having a winning season, keeps fading.