Right now, Eagles are best team in NFL

September 22, 1992|By Rich Hofmann | Rich Hofmann,Knight-Ridder

PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles are playing better than any team in the NFL after three weeks of the season. This is impressive. This also is pretty much irrefutable.

Without Jerome Brown . . .

Without Keith Jackson . . .

Despite summer contract problems . . .

Despite Randall Cunningham's year away . . .

There was every reason to believe that this team would be good eventually. But good early? And scary-good early at that? There weren't too many people outside of the Eagles' locker room who believed that was possible. But here they are, with a week off before the Monday night game against Dallas, with a perfect record and as imposing a resume as exists in the NFL.

As linebacker Seth Joyner said, "We have the confidence . . . We feel like we can do anything on both sides of the ball."

Buffalo? The Bills haven't matched the Eagles defensively.

Dallas? Same thing.

Pittsburgh? Nope.

Anyone else? Sorry.

The Eagles have played well in stretches in the past, of course. And everyone knows that they won't be handing out any of the accolades that matter until the last Sunday in January. But still, none of the anticipated problems has materialized. None of the midsummer premonitions has come true.

As cornerback Eric Allen said, "I didn't get a feel for it during the summer because I wasn't in training camp (because of a protracted contract problem). But with all of this talent, you just knew something was going to click."

Defensively, the Eagles have put together three dominating efforts. Nobody has been successful in attacking the middle of the defense. Leon Seals has turned out to be a fine pickup. Mike Golic and Reggie White have been excellent. And what can you say about Clyde Simmons, who has five sacks and is a weekly quarterback terrorist?

Then there's the secondary. The unspoken rap on that group has been, yeah, well, what would it look like without the killer pass rush? Yeah, well, Sunday John Elway managed to escape the pass rush and get outside six times, by my count. This, as everyone knows, is when he's most dangerous.

Well, he got outside six times against the Eagles, but he completed only one. And even that one didn't count because Elway was over the line of scrimmage when he threw it.

"We're just dominating," White said. "And we're just going to have to keep doing it."

On the other side of the ball, it can be said with a fair degree of certainty that this Eagles team is the franchise's most offensively creative in the last, well, probably 30 years. The teams from the mid-'60s to the mid-'70s really weren't good enough to worry about.

Dick Vermeil's teams were pretty much bread and butter on offense; Marion Campbell's often were stale bread and rancid butter. Buddy Ryan's teams had the magic of Randall Cunningham, but the formations and approach were pretty standard and fairly predictable before Cunningham dropped back. Last year, under Rich Kotite, the offense offered some variety, but nothing like this.

The Redskins run only about three or four basic plays, but offer a million formations because of motion. The 49ers go the other way, running a million different plays out of a relatively small number of formations. The Eagles have kind of split the difference this year, running a series of different plays from a different dominant formation every week.

Against New Orleans, it was two tight ends. Against Phoenix, it was three tight ends. Against the Broncos, it was two running backs.

Against Dallas? Who knows?

Kotite says they've had 11 formations in the playbook since he arrived in 1990 as offensive coordinator, and that this team is not offering "a whole different look." And that's true. But while the formations aren't new, the usage is. And if the Cowboys have even half a clue about which formation the Eagles are going to feature on Oct. 5, well, they'll be the first team that does.

The Saints had no idea about two tight ends because the Eagles hadn't shown it all summer. The Cardinals couldn't have anticipated three tight ends for the same reason. And the Broncos, who saw only films that showed this preponderance of multiple tight ends, couldn't have expected that Keith Byars would be back in the backfield most of the time Sunday.

Then, in the third quarter, after the Broncos had a chance to make some defensive adjustments to the Eagles' use of two running backs, what did Kotite do? He opened the second half with a bunch of stuff run from a three-wideout formation, mixing things up just a little bit more.

This variety has been constant. "And once we get Keith Jackson back, it isn't even going to be fair," middle linebacker Byron Evans said.

The good judge willing . . .

More than anything else, what these first three Eagles games speak to is the team's maturity. The mistake made by everyone who talked about this team's advancing age during the summer -- myself included; myself especially -- was the failure to take into account the benefits of its experience.

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