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NFC east
Paul Zimmerman
September 11, 1989
Coach Joe Gibbs of the Washington redskins suffered the first losing season of his career last year. The defense was hit by injuries. so were the quarterbacks. The offensive line was in disarray. There was no big, pounding back in the John Riggins tradition. The heavy-duty running attack, which is the heart and soul of Gibbs's football philosophy, was a memory. The Skins wound up 25th in the league in rushing, averaging fewer than 100 yards a game.
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September 11, 1989

Nfc East

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What really lost the game, though, was the failure of the offensive line to keep Simms, who was sacked eight times, upright. The current group looks imposing, but can it pass-block? Elliott, for instance, had trouble with speed rushers from his right tackle spot in '88. He has been shifted to the left, the sacking side. Next to him is William Roberts, who has had five undistinguished NFL seasons. But at 280 pounds, he's big. That seems to matter these days.

Take away two players and the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES are a sub-.500 team. Despite a mediocre line, quarterback Randall Cunningham had a magical year, practically willing his team into the end zone. End Reggie White was the best defensive player in football. But White missed much of training camp in a contract holdout, and the Eagles were on their way to nowheresville.

When he returned in late August, White said that if Buddy Ryan were not coach, he would never have played for Philadelphia again. The players win for Buddy, not for the Eagles. Owners don't like that kind of thinking.

Philly has some noticeable holes. Ryan keeps talking about a heavy running game, but that's all it has been, talk. Even with White's NFL-leading 18 sacks last year, the Eagles ended up last in pass defense, giving up the most yards ever by an NFC team. Philadelphia plays on high emotion. Last year it could beat anybody, but it could go in the dumper against anyone too. It will be another nail-biting season in '89.

Coach Gene Stallings's job is said to be on the line this season, but the PHOENIX CARDINALS have never really given him a chance. He is kept out of the draft, and the team never signed quarterback Kelly Stouffer, its first-round pick in '87, who could have addressed the team's most pressing need.

Until Phoenix finds a quarterback—Neil Lomax is on injured reserve for the season with an arthritic hip, Gary Hogeboom is injury-prone, Tom Tupa is raw, and Timm Rosenbach isn't even defrosted yet—nothing will fall into place. Even with Lomax performing superbly in '88, the Cards floundered, losing their final five games. They have some promising players in top draft choices Eric Hill, a linebacker, and Joe Wolf, a guard; the running tandem of Stump Mitchell and Tony Jordan; a first-rate receiving corps; and third-year strong safety Tim McDonald. But it all starts with the man who takes the snaps.

Jimmy Johnson is an interesting and complex character. Much has been made of the go-go attitude he has brought to the DALLAS COWBOYS, but it doesn't mean much. The old cold-eyed style produced five trips to the Super Bowl. What intrigues me about Johnson, who had been exclusively a college coach, is his ability to think like a sophisticated NFL boss.

Take the way he stockpiled his quarterbacks, Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh. Never in history has a team had two quarterbacks who were drafted No. 1 in the same year. Why pick up Walsh in the supplemental draft when you already have Aikman? The answer, as Johnson explains it, is value. The quarterbacks who will be coming out of college in the next two years don't impress him. Walsh is a stock you keep. He can only go up in value—trade value.

Only one thing could mess up the plan. What if Walsh turns out to be better than Aikman? Aikman is big and poised with an outstanding arm. But Walsh has a kind of sneaky, inspirational quality; he makes you feel that somehow he'll get the team into the end zone. Down by six in the fourth quarter, bad weather, line can't hold—maybe he's the guy you want in there.

I like the way Johnson made it clear right away that he was in charge. Guys who were unhappy—defensive tackle Kevin Brooks, quarterback Steve Pelluer—were erased from his plans. You don't come back from 3-13 overnight, but Dallas bears careful scrutiny.

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