Must-win For Eagles Vs. Redskins Ryan: Beating The Skins Is A Must

Posted: November 12, 1989

Buddy Ryan has made it clear that today's game is a "must win" if the Eagles are to salvage their hopes for the NFC Eastern Division crown. Washington coach Joe Gibbs' tone has implied that his team has to win just to salvage his sanity.

If desperation were the only ingredient for great performances, today's Eagles-Redskins matchup at Veterans Stadium (Channel 10, 1 p.m.) would be a classic.

"We've got to beat them," Ryan said last week. "We don't want to bury (ourselves). . . . It's like a playoff game; it's one we have to have."

After stumbling in San Diego last week, the Eagles find themselves at 6-3, two games behind the division-leading Giants. A loss today, coupled with a New York win over the Rams, would have Philadelphia thinking almost exclusively of winning a wild-card berth rather than the division.

Meanwhile, Gibbs would love to have such problems. At 4-5 and coming off a 13-3 loss to previously winless Dallas, his club is looking at a second straight postseason at home.

"I'd just like to win a game," said the always fretful Gibbs. "I'm not so much worried about playoffs as I am about winning a game."

Even though the Redskins are riddled by injuries and potentially demoralized by their dismal playoff prospects, they still present one of the most dangerous passing challenges the Eagles will face all year.

Wide receivers Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders have been tough for most teams to handle (Redskins receivers have a league-high seven 100-yard games), but they drive the Eagles absolutely crazy.

In the teams' first meeting this year, a 42-37 Eagles win, Clark opened the scoring with an 80-yard catch over Eric Allen and Todd Bell.

"You can't stop those three, but you do try to contain them," strong safety Andre Waters said of the Redskins' receivers. "You try to keep them

from getting that big 30-yard-plus catch. Try to limit them to the underneath stuff, the hitches, then whack 'em so they look for you the next time. But you don't stop them, you contain them by staying deep when you're supposed to and not letting them get behind you."

Three key elements are different in the Washington offense from the day the two teams traded touchdowns at a pulse-racing pace in September.

For one, Doug Williams has replaced Mark Rypien at quarterback. For another, Gerald Riggs, who rushed for 221 yards in the first game, is sidelined by a foot injury. And the Redskins' offensive line is missing three stars, Jim Lachey, Mark May and Russ Grimm.

Last week, Williams appeared rusty in completing 28 of 52 passes against Dallas, which is understandable, since he had been sidelined all season after having back surgery. He doesn't have much mobility, but the Eagles have come to respect his arm and savvy.

"You're not going to rattle him, he'll stay cool," said Reggie White. ''He'll stand in there and take the punishment. You have to admire him for that."

Jamie Morris, at 5-foot-7, 188 pounds, will replace Riggs, and that would appear to hurt Gibbs' one-back attack, which relies on a big, pounding runner. But the situation that would seem to give the Eagles' defense special cause for optimism is on the offensive line, where backups Ed Simmons and either Ray Brown or Mark Schlereth will fill the holes at tackle and guard, respectively.

Asked if having his patchwork line going against White and company worried him, Redskins offensive assistant Joe Bugel said, "Am I worried? Worried is the minor word. How about sleepless nights?"

Nevertheless, the Eagles, smarting from that 20-17 upset last Sunday in San Diego, are taking nothing for granted these days.

"The guys the Redskins have replacing the people who are hurt are better than the (offensive line) we played against last week," said defensive tackle Mike Pitts. "And look at what happened there."

Linebacker Al Harris compared the battered Redskins to last year's Bears team - a team on which he played - that overcame an incredible series of injuries to go to the playoffs.

"Wounded but dangerous," Harris decribed it. "When we had those injuries in Chicago last year, people thought we'd go down, but we just played harder. What it comes down to is we can't worry about Washington's state of mind, what they're going to do. We have to be concerned with what we're going to do."

A key question is what the Eagles will elect to do on offense. The game plan for more than a month has been to run the ball, but the Redskins may have the weakest set of cornerbacks Philadelphia has faced to date - Brian Davis on the left side and rookie AJ Johnson on the right. Both Darrell Green and Barry Wilburn are out of action.

Plus, the Eagles just added ex-Kansas City wideout Carlos Carson to the

roster. While it's unrealistic to assume the two-time Pro Bowler can be immediately assimilated into the offense, Ryan wants him in the game for nickel situations.

An offensive tool the Eagles have generally exploited against Washington is running back Keith Byars as a receiver. Effectively picking their spots, the Eagles have gotten the ball to Byars 18 times on passes for 252 yards in the last three games between the teams.

While Byars and Anthony Toney are scheduled to start in the backfield today, rookie running back Robert Drummond is also likely to get a chunk of playing time after rolling up 151 yards from scrimmage (77 running, 74 receiving) against the Chargers.

"After what he did, he deserves some playing time," Randall Cunningham said. "I don't know if it'll be split as a wide receiver or in a nickel spot taking (Gregg) Garrity's position . . . but when a guy has a performance like that, you have to use him. And this would be a good game to use him."

NOTES. Tight end Keith Jackson's ankle and knee problems have left him listed as extremely doubtful for today's game. Late last week, Ryan said he might deactivate Jackson or, at best, start Jimmie Giles and have Jackson in uniform in case he's needed and is able to perform. . . . While Williams doesn't have a sterling track record as a Redskins regular-season starter (4-9), one of his wins was against the Eagles. Williams is also 4-0 in relief, and two of those victories came against Philadelphia. . . . Washington is 5-10 since last Nov. 13.

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