What worries the Washington Redskins most? The Giants easy schedule, based on last season's fifth-place finish. What can the Skins do about it? Try to beat New York twice and let the chips fall where they may.
The best thing about Washington is its consistency. The Redskins are the only team in the 1980s to win a playoff game in the year following a Super Bowl victory. Both their championships came in strike years, and there's a reason. While other teams were in turmoil, the Redskins hung together.
On another club, linebacker Wilber Marshall's $6 million contract as a newcomer might have raised all sorts of hell. On the Skins, Dexter Manley was the only public complainer, and he had to do most of his bellyaching from home because he was suspended for a month for a reported "minor" drug infraction. When a superteam arises—the Giants in '86, the Bears in '85, the Niners in '84—Washington loses. When the rest of the league is having problems, the Redskins step in and take it all. That's their history. They're consistent.
Here and there you can find nagging little questions. If 33-year-old Doug Williams's left knee doesn't hold up (he has had surgery five times), will Jay Schroeder, provided he isn't traded, be ready to take over again at quarterback? Is wideout Gary Clark's pulled hamstring a chronic injury? Is Timmy Smith (204 yards rushing in the '88 Super Bowl) the tailback of the future—or a guy who can't stay in shape? And why has Kelvin Bryant turned into such a wimp in the backfield?
But the pluses far outweigh the problems. Washington has big league offensive and defensive linemen, wide receivers and linebackers. Its secondary is the best in the NFC. General manager Bobby Beathard was reluctant to stand pat; George Rogers, Vernon Dean and Rich Milot are all gone. The coaching staff remains intact. One other thing. No books were written. No videos.
The draft? Well, free agent Marshall was a draft choice of sorts, but keep your eye on a trio of exciting little runners: Jamie Morris. Mike Oliphant and Willard Reaves, a 29-year-old refugee from the CFL. They're Beathard types all the way.
Here's what will happen to the NEW YORK GIANTS in 1988. In the first six games, the tough part of their schedule, they'll go 3-3. It will take them that long to get their legs back after Bill Par-cells' merciless training camp. Everyone will write about another Giant slide.
But just one of their final 10 games (New Orleans) is against an '87 playoff team. The run begins with Detroit, Atlanta and Detroit again and ends at home with Phoenix. Kansas City and the Jets. How can the Giants fail to make the playoffs?
One way: if the offensive tackles break down. It happened last year. Brad Benson got old in a hurry on the left side. William Roberts, filling in for Karl Nelson on the right, had a miserable season. Parcells said he didn't coach very well, either. I know what he means.
Remember? Giants at Dallas in a Monday-nighter last November. Roberts is getting overrun by Too Tall Jones. On the sidelines Parcells is standing with his arms folded. No help is in sight for Roberts, either from the tight end or the blocking fullback. No rest for a series. Too Tall crashes in again, quarterback Phil Simms goes down with a knee injury, and the season is over.
Actually, it was over before that. In 1986 the strength of the offense, in addition to Simms's miraculous work, was the power toss right—Joe Morris running behind tight end Mark Bavaro, Nelson, and right guard Chris Godfrey, with left guard Billy Ard pulling and leading, along with fullback Maurice Carthon. For much of '87 Nelson and Godfrey were sidelined. Bavaro was playing on one leg, and Carthon was benched for George Adams, a nonblocker. Who got all the blame? Why, Morris, naturally.
So the Giants selected tackles with their first two draft choices. No. 1 pick Eric Moore isn't challenging Roberts, who is on the left side now but has yet to prove he can play in the NFL. Nelson, a terrific drive blocker, is back on the right side after battling Hodgkin's disease last year.
The defense should improve, thanks to added depth. Lawrence Taylor had his usual good exhibition season. If the Giants can block people, they'll go far. It's as simple as that.
Coach Buddy Ryan of the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES says his defensive front four is better than anything he had at Chicago. Well, let's see: Left end Reggie White has a big edge over Dan Hampton; left tackle Mike Pitts loses to Steve McMichael: right tackle Jerome Brown gets the nod over William Perry; and right end Clyde Simmons is not the impact player Richard Dent was. Final score, 2-2. At least it's close. Buddy knows that the front is the best place to start building a great defense.
Todd Bell, who was cut as a strong safety by Chicago, is the weakside linebacker at 212 pounds. No one knows how he'll hold up over 16 games. But both cornerbacks, Roynell Young and rookie Eric Allen, looked fine in the preseason, and Pro Bowl free safety Wes Hopkins is hitting people with authority again. Yep, the defense is there.
The offensive line is still not top grade. That's less of a problem for the Eagles than for other teams, because Randall Cunningham has the zippiest legs of any NFL quarterback. But still, it's a worry. Call the offense a maybe.
The real reason pickers like the Eagles is that, after all those nasty things Ryan said about the scab team during the strike last year, the players will do anything for him. So call the Eagles' season a test of dedication.
Let's talk about Michael Irvin, No. 1 draft pick of the DALLAS COWBOYS. from Miami. The Cowboys struck it rich here, because Irvin is a wideout who can burn you deep or make the possession reception. Plus he has a nasty streak—several scuffles in a scrimmage with the Raiders and a fight with San Diego cornerback Elvis Patterson that carried across the running track and into the parking lot. He'll catch 60 to 80 passes this year if he stays healthy.
The offensive concept is to use the hammer—Herschel Walker behind a mammoth zone-blocking line—to set up passes from Steve Pelluer, or Danny White if Pelluer falters. The defense is in trouble. The outside linebacking corps got wiped out by injury in the preseason. The whole picture looks like another sub-.500 season, with Walker, Irvin and maybe a nifty little rookie halfback named Mark Higgs supplying enough excitement to attract some fans to Texas Stadium. Last year the strike games had a higher average attendance than the real ones did. The overall season average of 49,201 was the worst in the stadium's 17-year history. Dallas has always been a front-runner's town.
The stories about how PHOENIX CARDINALS fans have been getting ripped off are well documented. The club has added premiums to the season-ticket package, driving up the cost to as much as $2,000. In any other business someone would go to jail. In Phoenix they're complaining because there aren't enough prime-location tickets to go around. Only in the NFL, right?
What are these fans getting for their two grand? A team hurt by a series of erratic drafts, the result of a system in which the coaches are told to keep hands off. Coach Gene Stallings has complained about the problem ever since he joined the club, but no one listens. Player personnel director George Boone's '88 draft has produced one impact player, fifth-rounder Tony Jordan, an O.J. Anderson clone who runs with power and speed. Typically, the running back drafted three rounds ahead of him. Tony Jeffrey, has been a bust.
Quarterback Neil Lomax is a good story. He looked burned out after getting sacked a total of 113 times during the 1985 and '86 seasons. He was trade bait. He responded with a Pro Bowl season in '87, passing for more yards than anyone else in the NFL. He has a good line in front of him and decent receivers, but the Cards are a defense away from making any kind of serious move.
HOW THEY'LL FINISH
2 NEW YORK