Kotite's spread-the-wealth offense is paying big dividends to the Eagles

December 02, 1990|By Dave Caldwell | Dave Caldwell,Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- Less than 24 hours after the Philadelphia Eagles' most satisfying victory of the season -- a 31-13 thrashing of the previously undefeated New York Giants -- offensive coordinator Rich Kotite was stopped in a corner of the team's locker room, had a microphone thrust under his chin and was asked for a forecast.

How would he alter the offensive game plan for today's game against the Buffalo Bills, who have a ferocious defense and who play in a city renowned for its horrible weather?

"We will not change it," Kotite replied quickly. "You always have in your game plan a number of plays that take care of bad-weather situations."

As the Eagles have reeled off five straight victories for the longest winning streak in coach Buddy Ryan's five-year tenure, Kotite -- the balding, effervescent, 48-year-old first-year offensive coordinator -- seems to have included in his game plans a number of plays that have taken care of every situation.

Never was that more apparent than in last Sunday's victory over the Giants, in which Kotite seemed to have an offensive solution to every defensive challenge issued by New York, which still has the top-ranked defense in the National Football Conference.

By controlling the ball for an overwhelming 38 minutes, 39 seconds, and amassing nearly as many yards rushing as passing -- 176 on the ground, 226 in the air -- the Eagles beat the Giants at their own game.

The secret, said Kotite, was not in the X's and O's and arrows and squiggly lines that he had highlighted in the Eagles' playbooks. The Eagles' offense worked because his players not only knew it, but believed in it. Kotite not only has installed an attack, he also has instilled confidence in the attack.

"We have a better feeling," tight end Keith Jackson said of the offense. "We understand it. We're not saying, 'Why are we making these calls?' . . . This is the way we pictured it at the beginning of the year. At the beginning of the year, we were frustrated with it. But Richie said, 'Hang in there. It'll work.' "

The Eagles' offense turned in such an impressive performance that Ryan decided to award a game ball to Kotite, who was the New York Jets' offensive coordinator last year. Kotite's spread-the-wealth offensive philosophy had been slow to pay off in big plays early this season, when the Eagles won just two of their first six games.

Usually, Ryan hands out game balls after a victory the way a poll worker hands out campaign brochures, but Kotite was the only member of the Eagles' offense to get a football after the Giants game.

"I think he was held back a little when he was with the Jets," quarterback Randall Cunningham said after a 24-23 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 18. "Now, you see more of the characteristics of what he does. He doesn't give you a tendency of what we're going to do. We're working 90 percent of the offense the way it needs to be. He's got a lot of options with this team, and he hasn't used it all yet."

To thwart the Giants' aggressive pass rush, the Eagles used two tight ends more often than usual on passing downs, and kept in a back to block more often than not. And they mixed up formations. Cunningham also had more success finding receivers running crossing patterns under New York's two-deep zone, which the Giants had used so successfully in their 27-20 victory over the Eagles in the season opener.

But the Eagles also did many of the same things that they have been doing since the winning streak began with a 21-20 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 28. With Jackson drawing a crowd of Giants defenders Sunday -- he had only one catch, for 7 yards -- Cunningham dumped the ball to Keith Byars in the flats, and the runner-receiver hauled in eight passes for 128 yards.

Cunningham also threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to rookie Fred Barnett and a 6-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Williams that first glanced off Barnett's shoulder pads. Besides completing 17 of 31 passes for 229 yards, with no interceptions, Cunningham scrambled for 66 yards on nine carries.

"We don't like to be predictable in what we're doing," Kotite said. "They do a great job of scouting their opponents, and every week, you want to put wrinkles in there that give you a look of what we've done in the past. Then, we'll do something a little different. We did that [Sunday]. But we've done that every week."

The offense did not always work this effectively earlier in the season. Until they drove 85 yards for a last-minute touchdown to beat Dallas, the Eagles were not sold on the idea that Kotite's stretch-the-coverage system would be effective if the team needed a quick touchdown.

"You need a game like that for everybody to believe," Byars said Monday. "You can do it all you want on a chalkboard, and you can do it all you want in practice, but until you go out and do it on the field in a game, that's when everybody starts to believe."

The Eagles' offense had started Sunday's rematch against the Giants precisely the way it had started the season opener on Sept. 9. Turnover, punt, turnover.

But this time, there was a difference. The Eagles had faith that the system would work.

"Nobody's panicking," Kotite said. "Everybody's saying, 'We're going to get the job done.' That's what happened."

For his game against the Giants, Cunningham was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

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