One of the Myths about the Washington Redskins is that they're a great Rushing team. They're not. Oh, they'll grind you, if you show you're having trouble stopping the run. But when they made their move in '89, winning their last five games, they averaged 311 yards in the air, more than any other team over that span.
Myth No. 2: The Skins are still a true one-back offensive team. Well, they were 5-6 using one back and two tight ends last year, and 5-0 after they switched to three wideouts and opened it up. Guess which alignment they'll rely on this season?
Myth No. 3: Washington's defense runs out of steam. Try this one: In their last seven games of '89, the Redskins allowed a total of 10 second-half points—a touchdown to San Diego, a field goal to Atlanta.
The message here is that assistant head coach Richie Petitbon is a heck of a defensive coach and that coach Joe Gibbs can switch gears and put up a big-league air attack when he has to. Gibbs has a way with quarterbacks. Doug Williams had his best years under Gibbs. Jay Schroeder has done nothing since being traded to the Raiders. Now Mark Rypien is the man.
And what a nice group of receivers Rypien has to throw to. Each of the three wideouts—Art Monk, Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark—had a 1,000-yard season in '89. The last time three pass catchers from the same team had more than 1,000 yards in a season was 1980, when Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson and Kellen Winslow did it for San Diego. The Chargers' offensive coordinator at the time? Gibbs.
Washington suffers from a case of the shorts on the offensive and defensive lines and injuries in the secondary. But I like the way the Skins finished in '89, and I think that will carry over. Their biggest hurdle may be a freak bit of scheduling. Over a five-week stretch in October and November, the Redskins face the Eagles twice and the Giants twice. Someone ought to investigate.
I'm not going to sit here and tell NEW YORK GIANTS coach Bill Parcells and coordinator Ron Erhardt how to run their offense. They were 12-4 last season doing things their way, and that way was to give the ball to 32-year-old O.J. Anderson 20 to 25 times a game, run him inside behind a massive, heavy-footed zone-blocking line and pass as needed. That produced some strange numbers indeed.
New York lived by the run but averaged only 3.4 yards per carry, second-worst in the NFC, and Anderson's 3.1 ranked him last in average among the top 47 ground gainers in the league. Rushing teams aren't supposed to give up a lot of sacks, because the defense is hesitant, but only five teams had a sack-to-pass ratio worse than the Giants' one sack for every 9.65 throws.
New York fans loved the Giants' powerhouse brand of football (did any team go for it and make it more often on fourth-and-one?), but they didn't like the pounding their quarterback, Phil Simms, took every week. Torn pectoral muscle, sprained ankle, broken bone in his right thumb—Simms was a wreck by season's end. Big, zone-blocking linemen are not the best pass blockers in this era of speed rushers and complex blitzing schemes.
You can look for more ball control this year. Rodney Hampton, the No. 1 draft pick, joins a mob of backs. Someday he'll be terrific. Little Dave Meggett is an excellent third-down possession receiver, just as tight end Mark Bavaro, who is coming along slowly after off-season knee surgery, was in the Super Bowl year.
Receivers are a weird story on this club. Who's the last great wideout to wear Giants blue? Del Shofner? They're a faceless, anonymous group. The passing game simply doesn't control the tempo. It's something the Giants fall back on when they're trying to catch up, and by then it's generally out of sync. That's when the sacks start coming.
New York will be good again because the defense is sound—even though Lawrence Taylor held out the entire preseason—and the offense will outmuscle some teams. But what of the playoffs, when it's third-and-long in the fourth quarter and the Giants are down by six?
I can close my eyes and see the pass rush of the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES nailing Joe Montana eight times and knocking him groggy—and Montana rallying San Francisco with four touchdown passes in the last quarter to beat them. That's what happened last September. And it was a capsule of the first half of the Eagles' season. Then I can see the playoff game against the Rams, when Los Angeles defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur bamboozled the Philly offense by playing a pure zone. Quarterback Randall Cunningham and the boys were strategically overmatched.
A lack of speed in the secondary and a predictable offense must be overcome if the team is to make what owner Norman Braman calls the quantum leap he expects this year. When you're already a playoff team, there's only one place to leap.
Speed in the secondary was the cry on draft day, but the first-round pick, safety Ben Smith, set back Philadelphia's plans a step when he became a holdout. Coach Buddy Ryan's defensive system is not easy to learn overnight. The offensive flaws were addressed when Richie Kotite, formerly of the Jets' staff, was brought in to coordinate an attack in which Cunningham had been the leading rusher for three straight seasons, an offense that ran the ball on the first play of every game last year and on the first two plays of every game except one.
The pass rush from the front four, led by Reggie White and Jerome Brown, remains the heart of the team. The Eagles still appear to be one leap away.
I'm trying to think of the last coach who wasn't fired by the PHOENIX—formerly St. Louis—CARDINALS and I'm back to 1961: Pop Ivy. They wanted him to stay but he quit. Gene Stallings, who was canned last year, was the best in quite a while. Trouble was, he was too popular around Phoenix. The fans liked Stallings and disliked owner Billy Bidwill, who had gouged them with those outrageous "premium" tickets. Goodbye Gene.
The new coach, former Redskins assistant head coach Joe Bugel, is upbeat. Smiles at everyone. Keeps things positive. But he doesn't have enough players. He hired an old pro, Jerry Rhome, to help break in quarterback Timm Rosenbach. He tapped West Point for strength and conditioning coach Bob Rogucki, and everyone is working out like crazy these days.
The top draft pick, running back Anthony Thompson, was a holdout until Aug. 22, but the Cardinals are raving about seventh-round pick Johnny Johnson, another running back, who was kicked off the San Jose State team for cutting practice. The Cardinals also like third-round pick Ricky Proehl, a wide receiver, and free-agent Eldonta Osborne, a linebacker.
Two more good drafts and the Cardinals may join the big boys of the division. Maybe Bugel will even be around to enjoy it.
Tom Landry was bronzed in Canton. Jimmy Johnson was scorched in Dallas. The DALLAS COWBOYS are rebuilding, and they're working from a 1-15 base.
No more cool Pacific breezes in Thousand Oaks, Calif. The Cowboys moved their camp to Austin, Texas. No more fancy locker room with the partitions that divided the team into four groups. Everything is open now. No more easing off in the drills. Johnson says there will be full contact from July through December, just the way he did it when he coached Oklahoma State and the University of Miami.
And no more slow people. The top two draft choices went for burners: running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Alexander Wright, who were unsigned during the preseason. Quarterback Troy Aikman proved last year that he can stand up under anything, and he should run a lively offensive show. But he can't rush the passer, and last year the Cowboys were next to last in sacks in the NFL.
That's for next year's draft.
NFC EAST FORECAST
2 NEW YORK
The NFC East is the only division with four teams using the 4-3 defense. And the only 3-4 team, the Giants, uses a modified 4-3, with linebacker Lawrence Taylor often lined up as a pass-rushing end.