O.K., the line might be better now, and Herschel Walker might—repeat, might—give Philly the burst out of the backfield it has lacked for so long. But the team remains lopsided in the defense-offense equation. One area that should improve is punt and kick returns, which will be handled by Vai Sikahema, a Plan B pickup from Green Bay.
That New York Giants quarterback thing just won't go away, will it? It appeared to be settled last year, when new coach Ray Handley selected Jeff Hostetler to be the starter over Phil Simms, but in the third preseason game this summer, against the Jets, Hostetler went down with a bruised back and pelvis.
In came Simms, who put two quick touchdowns on the board against the Jets' second string. It was quickly noted that in the 12 possessions Hostetler had worked before he was injured, the Giants' point production was zero and that last year Hostetler threw only five TD passes, three fewer than Simms did with half as many throws. And people are telling Handley to face facts: He made a mistake in benching Simms for Hostetler.
But explaining last season's 8-8 finish is not that simple, folks. New York's fall from grace was more of a defensive collapse—poor tackling, an aging Lawrence Taylor, the early-season loss of noseguard Erik Howard to a back injury. That last one was bad. When Howard wasn't in there driving people back into the quarterback's face, quarterbacks could step up in the pocket and throw downfield against the Giants.
In 1990, New York's Super Bowl season, the Giants allowed the fewest yards per completion in the league. Last year they ranked 21st. Long passes killed them. But so did the fourth quarter, when the defense was tiring and the offense couldn't get anything going. No other team gave up as many points in the final period. Only two scored fewer.
Handley was strapped in '91. When Bill Parcells left in May, it was too late to change much of anything. This year it will be Handley's system and his people, including new offensive and defensive coordinators. But who's the quarterback?
The Phoenix Cardinals are bound to improve, now that quarterback Timm Rosenbach has returned from knee surgery, which forced him to miss last season. How much better will they be? When the Cards had Rosenbach in '90, they finished 5-11; without him, they were 4-12.
Clearly Phoenix is hurting in other areas, and you don't have to look much further than the running game to find two. Last year Phoenix ranked 26th in the league in rushing and 26th in stopping the rush, and in the infantry warfare of the NFC East, that's curtains. So even if the Cards are a better team with Rosenbach in the lineup, they must figure a way to compete with their division rivals, who have gone 13-3 against Phoenix since coach Joe Bugel's arrival two years ago.
Fortunes rise and fall in the East. Dallas recedes, the Giants and Eagles surge. Then those two slip, and Washington takes over. Now all four of them are playoff-caliber teams, while the Cardinals remain constant—doormats. They haven't had a winning team since '84, and unless you count the strike year of '82, when they were 5-4, they haven't had a playoff team since the Don Coryell era of the 1970s.
All of which says something about the personnel who've been coming through the door all these years, not to mention the personnel director, George Boone, who was fired after last season. The new man is Bob Ackles, who came from Dallas, and that's a beginning.