HERNDON, Va. -- Charles Mann, who sacks and hurries quarterbacks for a living, sounded like a radio sports show host.
"Randall Cunningham is the Eagles' leading rusher," he said, "with 942 yards."
On the money. Not 941 yards, not 943. That is how attentive the Washington Redskins are this week to the versatility of the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback.
Cunningham is in fact the fourth leading rusher in the National Football Conference. His average of 8.0 yards per carry is 2.4 yards better than Bo Jackson's, and Bo has the best average of any running back in the whole National Football League.
Cunningham has scampered out of the pocket 118 times this season, but he says he doesn't expect to do that very often on Saturday, when the Redskins and Eagles meet in Veterans Stadium in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs.
"Their [the Redskins'] scheme is not to let me out of the pocket," Cunningham said. "So I'll just have to stay in there and take a few hits."
"He said that?" Mann asked, and shook his head.
"Next week he'll say something else," said Richie Petitbon, the Redskins' assistant head coach/defense. "It doesn't matter what he says, but he does so many things.
"I think he's the best player in the league."
There is a current of opinion around the NFL that even moderate success in the playoffs could win Cunningham the league's MVP award. But consider Petitbon as a source of support. He has been of the defensive persuasion since he left Tulane in 1958. He spent most of his 13 playing years under the aegis of the late George ("DEE-fense wins") Allen, and he is credited with the development, if not the concept, of the strong safety position.
"We've been lucky with Randall," Petitbon said. Coaches and players on both sides of the Redskins-Eagles showdown are blowing smoke this week, but Petitbon meant lucky.
Cunningham ran only five times in each of the two games with the Redskins this year, gaining 54 yards the first time and 42 the second, exceeding his average. The Skins also sacked him five times and four times.
Such "containment" helped the Skins survive the first one, 13-7, and nothing could help them in the mauling they took the second time.
"But there's no scheme to stop him," Petitbon said. "Yeah, we used a spy. We've tried everything. We have no secret."
A "spy" is a defender directed to shadow an offensive man on every play, with no other responsibilities. An example was Sam Huff's assignment by the New York Giants to the great Jim Brown. It sometimes succeeded, to a degree.
Wilber Marshall, the Redskins' $1.2 million-a-year linebacker, used the word "afraid" in his appraisal of Cunningham. He practiced as a stand-up end of a five-man line yesterday, the way he did against Buffalo, and had fun. It was the kind of free-lance work he did with the Bears, when Eagles coach Buddy Ryan was in charge of defense there.
Mann, who passed the Buffalo game with a sore knee, practiced at the other end. Markus Koch, who had missed two games since wrenching a knee on the wet artificial turf in New England, joined in.
Mann could have played against the Bills, he said. But that game didn't matter. Now he is "ready and willing," and if anything goes wrong, "I have the rest of the offseason to recover."
Koch felt the same way. "I'm trying it out today," he said. All able men were willing, and getting ready. There was nothing to lose.
Defensive tackle Eric Williams was feeling that way yesterday morning. The foot he hurt in the Indianapolis game still hurt, a lot, but he was trying to laugh.
"I took on a dummy yesterday," Williams said. "And I didn't do too well. I don't know what I can take from somebody who can push back.
"But maybe it'll be better today. I have to go out there and find out. If I don't they're going to put me on IR [injured reserve], and I've got the whole offseason to heal.
"I don't even know," Williams said, "if I can get out of a stance. I'm going to find out about myself this afternoon, and it's scary."
At practice time Williams was all dressed up with no place to go. Defensive back Sidney Johnson was on his way to Redskin Park. Before practice ended he was on the field, playing nickel back as Mark Rypien ran the first-string offense.
Williams was on IR. His season, after waiting seven seasons to reach a playoff game, was over.
"Eric understood," Joe Gibbs said.
Jerome Brown, the 295-pound defensive tackle who made 12 tackles in the first game against the Redskins and generally made them miserable in the second, is "doubtful" with a shoulder injury.
"He'll play," said Redskins guard Raleigh McKenzie, who must deal with Brown when he does play.
"I doubt it," said a man who was with the Eagles Monday. "It's a rotator cuff. He dived for the [Phoenix] quarterback and landed on his arm."
Baseball pitchers with abused rotator cuffs have said they couldn't comb their hair. "Jerome couldn't put the top on his deodorant bottle," the man from Philadelphia said.