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Peter King
November 12, 1990
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November 12, 1990

Halftime: Analyzing The 1990 Season At Its Midpoint

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Before the season, Eagle coach Buddy Ryan said. "You check with anybody who knows anything about football, and 99 percent of them will tell you this is one of the greatest (coaching] jobs that has ever been done." Well. Ryan's vaunted defense has failed miserably three times in the fourth quarter against poor offensive teams.


Here are three players whose careers have taken off.

Marion Butts, Chargers—In the 1989 draft 24 running backs were picked ahead of Butts, who had only 64 carries in two years as a part-time fullback at Florida State; he was taken by the Chargers in the seventh round. Butts had a 176-yard rushing day against the Chiefs in '89, but he still had to beat out a handful of veteran backs in training camp to win a starting job this year. So here's blue-collar Butts, getting his 18 rushes a game, pile-driving defenses and trying to carry a mediocre team. Butts is surprised that he's the NFL's leading rusher, with 713 yards for a 4.5-yard average. But then, he says. "I'm surprised I was drafted at all."

Reyna Thompson. Giants—The Giants were mining for Plan B free-agent prospects in February 1989 when coach Bill Parcells saw a tape of Reyna (pronounced Re-NAY) Thompson smashing through wedges and fighting off double-team blocks on Miami's special teams. "I saw three plays, and that was enough." says Parcells. "I said, 'Sign him.' " A part-time cornerback and a full-time pursuit player on punts and kickoffs. Thompson has excelled on New York's special teams for a year and a half. But he didn't catch the country's attention until he made three solo tackles against his old team in Week 3 of this season. All three stops came after he had beaten double coverage to get to the return man. "I want everyone to know," Thompson says, "that I'm out there to lay the hat on people."

Trace Armstrong, Bears—Throughout the off-season Armstrong bugged his coaches for tapes of other defensive left ends to play on his home VCR. One day he would ask for Reggie White. A few days later, Charles Mann. A week later, some vintage Howie Long. Then some old Dan Hampton. "It really helped," says Armstrong, a second-year pro. "In fact, I switched from a righthanded stance to lefthanded after watching Mann." After arriving a month late for camp because of a contract holdout, Armstrong showed promise in 14 starts in '89, but—as was true for the rest of the Bears—the season was really a washout. This year Armstrong, a 6'4", 270-pound speed rusher, has a team-high seven sacks and leads Chicago linemen, with 39 tackles.


Is this league bottom-heavy or what? Here are the league standings, with the 28 teams split into four groups. After Sunday, there were 10 teams with winning records.

The top seven: 49ers, Giants, Dolphins, Bills, Bears, Raiders, Redskins.

The second seven: Chiefs, Steelers, Bengals, Eagles, Jets, Oilers, Chargers.

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