Things were so grim for the Cowboys before their 13-3 win over the Redskins on Sunday that they had been reduced to letting the fans determine who starts at one defensive end (Too Tall Jones, who was briefly benched before a popular outcry forced coach Jimmy Johnson to restore him to the lineup). Now they are 1-8 but still facing the fact that the possible top pick in next year's draft has been spent on a quarterback—Steve Walsh, taken in last summer's supplemental draft—who can't throw a 50-yard spiral.
The Lions (also 1-8 after being defeated 35-31 by the Oilers on Sunday) got rid of most of their conventionally sized offensive skill players before the season. So Detroit is stuck with the run-and-shoot—either that or the Lions fire everybody and become an expansion-team offense.
Leon Hess, owner of the 2-7 Jets, who eked out a 27-26 win over the Pats on Sunday, is a lot like his friend Wellington Mara of the Giants was 15 years ago—a nice guy who hated to fire people more than he loved to win. But Hess has to face reality and put one strong man, instead of the current management-by-committee, in charge of football operations.
...AND THE MADDENING
The Vikings (6-3) finally have a franchise running back, Herschel Walker, but now their passing attack is on the skids. Receivers Anthony Carter, Steve Jordan and Hassan Jones have combined for only three touchdown passes, and even after Sunday's 23-21 overtime victory over the Rams, Minnesota was last in the NFC in passing.
The Rams (5-4) are a nervous, shaken team. They were leaky defensively while going 5-0, but now the offense has gone on the fritz, and quarterback Jim Everett is throwing the way Steve Sax did for the Dodgers a few years ago.
The Seahawks (4-5) have outstanding offensive weapons, but they are 24th in the league in scoring. "I've coached several teams," says Seattle's Becker, "and each week you had an idea what to expect from your players. But this year, I have no idea what I'm going to see out there. None."
TREND OF THE YEAR
In the old days—back, oh, about 1983—the 3-4 defense was the rage. Teams got widebodies like the Giants' Jim Burt and the Bengals' Tim Krumrie to play nose-tackle and occupy a couple of offensive linemen, while speedy receivers consistently faced double coverage.
Seen the game in 1989? Defensive variations on the line of scrimmage, prompted by Buddy Ryan's pressuring 46 defense when he was defensive coordinator for the Bears in mid-decade, have been adopted by almost every team in the league. Now there are three or four down linemen, with the outside linebackers lined up on the outside shoulders of the ends. Some inside linebackers have almost become extra defensive tackles, and strong safeties (or, in Denver's case, either strong safety Dennis Smith or 213-pound free safety Atwater) play up close, ready to support against the run, to blitz or to retreat into coverage. In effect, this is an eight-man front, and everybody is dabbling in it. "I would say probably every team uses it 20 percent to a quarter of the time," says Chicago scout Jim Dooley.