HOUSTON -- Here's a clue to what the Philadelphia Eagles will confront tonight (9, Ch. 13) in the Houston Astrodome.
Curtis Duncan, a steady 26-year-old wide receiver for the Houston Oilers who writes poetry in his spare time, is currently tied with the Eagles' leading receiver, Fred Barnett, with 49 catches.
Duncan is not the Oilers' leading receiver. He's not even second or third. He's the Oilers' fourth-best pass catcher, behind the flashy AFC-leading Haywood Jeffires, the masterful veteran Drew Hill (fourth in the AFC) and Ernest Givens.
The game will feature the NFL's best passing team against its best pass defense. The 9-3 Oilers are hoping to clinch the AFC Central Division championship. The 7-5 Eagles seek to extend their four-game winning streak, and keep pace in the crowded race for a wild-card ticket to postseason play.
"The Oilers are a very, very complete football team," Eagles coach Rich Kotite said. "They have a great offense, and their defense is among the strongest in the NFL. They're a real good home team, although they haven't been as good on the road. They're an excellent team."
Expectations for the Oilers are sky-high at home. On the strength of quarterback Warren Moon's arm, they have been in the playoffs for four straight seasons.
The good news for the Eagles is that the Oilers have been fading during the last month. They have lost two of their last four games, and had their worst outing this season last week in losing, 26-14, to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team the Eagles beat.
After reviewing tapes of that game, Oilers coach Jack Pardee reportedly lashed out at his squad and accused the players of slacking off.
"Usually when you watch film of a game the next day, you're not as good as you thought you were, or as bad as you thought you were," Pardee said. "We were probably worse than the score indicated."
The Oilers offense is almost all by air. Moon himself has thrown 497 passes this season (the team total is 507). The second-highest team total in the NFL is the Miami Dolphins, who have thrown only 411. By comparison, the Eagles have put the ball up a mere 369 times.
"The whole thing is, you've got to be able to put some pressure on Moon," Kotite said. "He's a great quarterback. He has real good vision, and he's extremely accurate. It's going to be a great matchup for our secondary."
If Houston's defense is vulnerable, it's to the passing game. The Oilers rank just 18th in the league at stopping the pass, and the Eagles' offensive strength all season had been Jim McMahon's uncanny ability to read defenses, adjust, and find Barnett, Calvin Williams, Keith Jackson and Keith Byars.
"If we can keep their pass rushers off Jim, and we can control the ball, we can keep that offense on the sidelines," Kotite said. "That's always been our game."