McMahon is a rock amid Eagles' roll

September 27, 1991|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Evening Sun Staff

HERNDON, Va. -- With Randall Cunningham, the Philadelphia Eagles" offense traveled in exotic leaps and stunning bounds. Every yard he generated had the potential to be electric.

With Jim McMahon, the Eagles travel the no-frills, punk-rock path. It may not be pretty, but the combative McMahon gets them where they need to go.

If Cunningham is the Nureyev of the NFL, McMahon is the Billy Idol of the league.

The Washington Redskins know where McMahon will be coming from Monday night when they resume their bitter NFC East rivalry with the Eagles at RFK Stadium. More to the point, they will know where to find him.

"He'll sit in the pocket until his receivers get open," said Redskins linebacker Wilber Marshall, a former teammate of McMahon's in the Windy City. "He takes a beating back there, but he's a strong guy."

McMahon, renowned in Chicago for his jousts with coach Mike Ditka and his offensive lineman mentality, has led the Eagles to three victories in four games since Cunningham suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener at Green Bay.

His passes may float a bit, and he may not move as quickly as he once did, but McMahon still brings a winner's attitude to the huddle.

"He's a motivator," Marshall said. "I've seen him give the ball to linemen to spike it after a touchdown. He does that to get guys motivated."

At 32, with a medical history that would chase most quarterbacks into retirement, McMahon has been remarkably effective for a guy who hasn't played full-time since 1989 with the San Diego Chargers.

In four games he has completed 64 percent of his passes for 923 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. He is averaging 230 yards a game and 7.76 per pass attempt.

In the Bears' Super Bowl season of 1985, he completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,392 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. That year he averaged 184 yards a game and 7.64 a pass.

"We're pleasantly surprised he's done as well as he has the last few weeks," said Eagles defensive coordinator Bud Carson.

"It takes time to shake off the barnacles when you've been sitting awhile," said Redskins defensive tackle Eric Williams, who played McMahon on a regular basis while he was in Detroit. "He's done that. He reminds me of the times I played him in Chicago. They [the Eagles] haven't missed a beat."

With McMahon, the Eagles have been more of a ball-control offense, compared to the big-play offense of Cunningham. McMahon favors short, quick passes, while Cunningham often let longer pass routes develop by scrambling in the backfield.

In last week's 23-14 victory over Pittsburgh, McMahon directed a nine-minute touchdown drive. When the Eagles faced fourth-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 2-yard line, he talked coach Rich Kotite out of a field goal and into trying for the touchdown. Kotite listened and Robert Drummond scored on the next play to put the Eagles up 20-14.

Philadelphia leads the NFL in time of possession, averaging 36:13 a game. That's a full minute better than the next-best ball control team, New Orleans, and almost three minutes better than the Redskins.

"In some respects, they have a more efficient offense [with McMahon]," Redskins linebacker Matt Millen said. "It may help the offensive linemen more because they know where he is going to be. They seem to have taken away Keith Jackson from the offense, too."

Jackson, the Eagles' Pro Bowl tight end, has caught only eight passes so far, none for touchdowns. But he isn't complaining. The Eagles will be playing for a share of the NFC East lead on Monday night.

"When Randall went down, we felt everybody would have to make a sacrifice," Jackson said. "If I catch fewer passes and do a little more blocking and we win, that's OK. Everybody has had to change roles."

Asked which quarterback he preferred, Jackson said, "I prefer winning. And McMahon is doing a great job back in the pocket."

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