Players in the Eagles' locker room are getting used to this. Bad
defeat, coach Ray Rhodes erupts; Philadelphia wins the next
week. One day after Philly's season-opening 31-17 loss to the
Giants, Rhodes blistered the team "like I've never seen before,"
third-year defensive end Mike Mamula said on Sunday. "It was
total rage. I was worried something would happen to him." The
Rhodes rage went something like this (but considerably more
profane): "I'm going to start firing guys around here. I don't
care how long you've been here. You don't bust your rear end
this week and you're gone."
The "pep talk" worked, as these things usually do for Rhodes. In
the two-plus years he has been in charge, the Eagles have
suffered six double-digit losses. In the game following those
defeats, they are 6-0. The latest win, a 10-9 decision over the
Super Bowl champion Packers on Sunday, was a product of three
things: raw emotion, the type of hard work by Rhodes that has
made him one of the league's most admired coaches and, perhaps
most important, the schemes of defensive coordinator Emmitt
Thomas, who had been preparing for the Packers game since the
last weekend of April.
After tearing into his players on the Monday after the loss to
the Giants and giving them Tuesday off to let his message sink
in, Rhodes spent the next two days building his squad back up,
telling them they could beat the team that had shellacked them
by 26 points a year ago. On Wednesday night Rhodes walked into
the defensive coaches' meeting and sang sweet music to Thomas.
"Emmitt," Rhodes said, "we've got nothing to lose. Let's take
the gloves off and go after 'em with everything." He okayed
Thomas's plan to play a lot of "zero dog" defense, which is one
of the riskiest things a team can do: blitz the house without a
safety in the middle of the field to support single coverage by
cornerbacks. "We could do that because we felt we had four
NFL-caliber cover corners for the first time since we've been
here," Thomas said afterward. Starters Bobby Taylor and Troy
Vincent were supplemented by journeymen Willie Clark and Charles
"Every day in training camp we'd practice against the Packers
attack in seven-on-seven drills," strong safety Mike Zordich
said, referring to the kind of passing drills every team uses.
"It worked so well because our offense is the Packers offense;
it mirrors Green Bay's. So when we got to this week, we felt
like we knew everything about them."
In addition Thomas figured the only way to frustrate Green Bay
quarterback Brett Favre was to hit him with an assortment of the
most confounding schemes he'd ever seen. "We sent three-man
fronts and four-man fronts, and we sent them from five different
defensive groupings," Thomas said. "The idea was to never let
him get a read on us." It worked. Thomas estimates that the
Eagles blitzed on 35 of 42 passing downs. They sacked Favre only
once but hit him 18 other times, six by an inspired Mamula. In
the end Green Bay was held without a touchdown for the first
time in almost five years.
"The key to beating the Packers," outside linebacker William
Thomas said, "is to jam their receivers at the line, get great
coverage on them and break up their timing. Their offense is all
timing, all rhythm. If you study them long enough, you can
figure it out."
Emmitt Thomas should have a Ph.D. in Favrology by now. Which
begs the question: Why isn't this talented defensive coordinator
a head coach? He is 54. He is black. He had three job interviews
in the off-season, with the Giants, the Lions and the Rams, and
he is one of the leading candidates put forth by those
advocating more black coaches in the NFL.
Asked on Sunday if he yearned to be a coach, Thomas replied,
"Yes, but it's not a situation where I'll be ticked off at the
league if I'm not one. I just hope I get a chance because I know
what kind of job I could do."
NO LONGER A SAP
Warren Sapp may no longer be a legend only in his own mind. The
Buccaneers' third-year defensive tackle has put together strong
back-to-back games (a total of 13 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks
against the 49ers and the Lions) and might be the brightest new
star to emerge early this season. The most amazing aspect of the
283-pound Sapp's play has been his speed and quickness. Jerry
Rice couldn't elude him on a reverse, and when Sapp made a
face-mask tackle, Rice lost 10 yards--and was lost for the
season with two torn knee ligaments. Sapp also dragged down
Steve Young from behind. Not bad when you consider that Young
may be the NFL's best running quarterback of all time.
Last season Sapp believed he was the best defensive tackle in
the league, but the numbers said otherwise. During one
eight-game stretch he had only half a sack and 21 tackles. This
season he has already made a statement--and has backed it up.
"John Randle rushes the passer great, and Eric Swann and Chester
McGlockton are great run-stoppers, but I see myself as a
complete defensive tackle," Sapp says. "I feel I'm the best. I
think I can wreak havoc in this defense."
The Bucs know what they have in Sapp, and last week general
manager Rich McKay began negotiations on a long-term extension
of a contract that pays Sapp $600,000 this year and $700,000
next. Leery of a player who tested positive for marijuana as a
collegian at Miami and was arrested for marijuana possession in
June (a court date was scheduled for this week), the Bucs want
to include a clause for substance-abuse testing in any new
contract. "If that's what they're thinking, it doesn't bother
me," Sapp says. "As long as they make me a fair deal, let's do
Considering the divisiveness of the issue of race in America
today, it will be interesting to see how the leader of the
Panthers, quarterback Kerry Collins, is received when he returns
later this month from a broken jaw. In August it was widely
reported that Collins referred to wideout Muhsin Muhammad as a
"nigger" and, on another occasion, used a racial slur when
referring to tackle Norberto Davidds-Garrido, who is
Mexican-American. Davidds-Garrido reportedly responded by
slugging Collins in the eye, though the team claims Collins's
black eye came from horsing around in training camp.
Davidds-Garrido denied that any racial incident occurred, and
Muhammad says he holds no grudges. Collins has publicly
apologized for disrupting the team.
While the organization is downplaying the whole affair, two
former Panthers, both of whom signed with the Broncos in the
off-season, say the incidents won't be so easy to dismiss. "No
matter how it's sugarcoated," says fullback Howard Griffith,
"I'd be willing to bet that most of his teammates don't [forget
it]. It's inexcusable, and I think it's going to haunt Kerry for
years to come."
Wideout Willie Green believes Collins's behavior is related to
his drinking, which was detailed in Year of the Cat, a book
about Carolina's 1996 season by Charlotte Observer reporters
Charles Chandler and Scott Fowler. "People got on [linebacker]
Lamar Lathon last year because he stood in a meeting and said
Kerry had a drinking problem," says Green. "I think the coaches
got mad at him. But Lamar was telling the truth, and now it
shows he's telling the truth."
STAT OF THE WEEK
Niner Garrison Hearst's game-winning 35-yard touchdown run
against the Rams in St. Louis was worth $300,000, the value of
an incentive in the contract he signed in March for scoring a
rushing touchdown in 1997.
Cleveland apparently hasn't fallen out of love with the NFL.
Former Browns season-ticket holders have already bought 26,000
personal seat licenses at up to $1,500 per seat, and with PSL
sales to be opened to the public this week, officials would like
to sell another 14,000 for the team that begins play in 1999.
All 7,500 club seats are gone, as are 85 of the 116 luxury
boxes.... One great game didn't transform Lawrence Phillips into
Mr. Responsible. After his 125-yard, three-touchdown performance
against New Orleans in Week 1, Phillips skipped a required
weightlifting session last week and was fined by coach Dick
Vermeil.... For the first time in 19 years the Steelers have
gone sackless in consecutive games.... Mellow Mike Ditka broke
his headset during the Saints' home opener, a 20-6 loss to the
Chargers. He also had a heated argument with offensive
coordinator Danny Abramowicz. "Agitated?" Ditka said afterward.
"Gang, you haven't seen agitated. With Danny, we had what I
would call a friendly discussion."
THE END ZONE
Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher has enough to worry about with his
transplanted Oilers, but having relocated in one of the
country's music hotbeds he couldn't stand the fact that lining
up someone to sing the national anthem was a low priority for
club officials. So Fisher took action. He got the Commodores for
Week 1, and he plans to recruit country stars for the rest of
Send your NFL questions to Peter King, and read more of Dr. Z at
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS With help from Zordich (top) and James Willis (50), the Eagles suffocated the Pack. [Mike Zordich and James Willis in game]
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Bledsoe's 2-0 start: his best as a pro. [Drew Bledsoe in game]
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO With the Pats' secondary out of position, Rison was alone in the deep middle. [Andre Rison and others in game]
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Sapp believes that he's tops at his position. [Warren Sapp and others in game]
THE INNER GAME
CALLING AN AUDIBLE
Two-time league MVP Brett Favre estimates that of the 65 or so
plays the Packers run every game, he calls an audible on only
three or four. Most quarterbacks make more changes, but Favre
has such faith in coach Mike Holmgren that he believes almost
every play sent in will work. Nevertheless, in last season's
Super Bowl XXXI win over the Patriots, Favre called two audibles
that went for touchdowns. Below he describes the thinking behind
the first audible, when he changed 322 Y Stick, a pass designed
to go to tight end Mark Chmura on a short, sideline route, to 74
Razor, a throw to wideout Andre Rison on a deep post pattern
that resulted in a 54-yard score on the Packers' second play
"322 Y Stick is a safe pass--except when the defense is
blitzing, because the tight end and one back are out. That
leaves five linemen and one back to block. The 'three' in 322
means three-step drop, so it's a quick pass, but if the defense
is blitzing, it's still tough to get it off. Plus, if they cover
Chewy [Chmura] with a safety instead of a linebacker, we'll
never throw the ball there; he'll be covered too well. As I came
to the line, I saw the safeties cheating up, and the linebacker
over Chewy looked like he was coming. I figured they had seven
guys rushing me. Incredible. We had never seen this from the
Patriots on film, and if I couldn't get out of the play, we'd be
in trouble. I checked to see that we had enough time on the
clock to audible--you need at least seven seconds to change a
play and get everybody to hear you--and we did. I knew I had to
check to something with great protection and something that
attacked the area the safeties were leaving open.
"It's not like I have a Rolodex in my head and just flip through
plays till I get to one I like. After you've been in a system
for a while, boom, the right play just comes to you. And 74
Razor just came. Chewy and both backs stayed in [to block]. And
the second I took the snap, both of the safeties charged to
cover a back and Chewy. The linebackers came. They had seven
guys rushing and only two corners covering deep. That second, I
thought to myself, Yeah! Just what I expected! We say that when
the defense blitzes, you have to gash 'em. Make 'em pay. And
Andre beat his guy and scored.
"A lot of people have made a big deal of how much I celebrated
after that play, running around the field with my helmet off.
It's because it was the biggest game I'd ever played in, and I'd
just outsmarted the defense in front of the whole world. I just
wanted to go nuts. You get pretty jacked up when you go out on a
limb, call an audible, and it works. That's one of the real fun
things about playing quarterback." --P.K.
RUNNING ON EMPTY
The Bengals are closing in on a dubious NFL record. Not since
Dec. 20, 1992, when Harold Green ran for 190 yards against the
Patriots, has Cincinnati had a 100-yard rusher. The streak
reached 67 games in Sunday's 23-10 loss to the Ravens, two shy
of the mark set by the Browns, from Dec. 4, 1988, to Sept. 13,
1993. A weak line was to blame in the early years of
Cincinnati's streak, but the Bengals are showing signs of coming
around. They were 13th in the league in rushing last year, as
Garrison Hearst, Ki-Jana Carter and third-down back Eric
Bieniemy split time in the backfield. With Hearst having signed
as a free agent with the 49ers, Carter, who has rushed for 98
yards in his first two games, is getting most of the carries.
"We could have gotten Garrison 100 yards in a game easy last
year," coach Bruce Coslet says of Hearst, who ran for at least
88 yards in three games. "But obviously this is a record that
has some meaning." Here are the teams that have the longest
current streaks without a 100-yard rusher.
TEAM Games Last 100-yard rusher
BENGALS 67 Harold Green, 190 yards, Dec. 20, 1992, vs.
CHARGERS 21 Aaron Hayden, 127 yards, Dec. 3, 1995, vs.
GIANTS 19 Rodney Hampton, 187 yards, Dec. 17, 1995, vs.
CARDINALS 14 LeShon Johnson, 214 yards, Sept. 22, 1996,
BILLS 9 Darick Holmes, 122 yards, and Thurman Thomas,
107 yards, Nov. 3, 1996, vs. Redskins
FALCONS 9 Jamal Anderson, 109 yards, Nov. 3, 1996, vs.
THE HOT LIST
THE BUZZ AROUND THE LEAGUE THIS WEEK
1. STEVE YOUNG'S BRAIN A neurologist tells him to take a week
off after his third concussion in 11 months. "Steve is close to
doing the unthinkable," his agent, Leigh Steinberg, says.
Marriage? No, retirement. The 49ers' reluctance to build a line
through the draft or with significant free-agent money is coming
home to roost.
2. JETS-PATRIOTS Once-beaten Parcells at unbeaten Kraft. Rumor
of the Week: Mills Lane will referee. Drew Bledsoe sure seems to
miss his old pal Parcells. He's on pace to throw 64 touchdown
passes, and his eight scoring tosses have gone to eight receivers.
3. BARRY SANDERS The game's highest-paid running back has rushed
for 53 yards in the Lions' first two games. That's Sanders'
lowest back-to-back, two-game total in his nine-year NFL career,
so maybe Bobby Ross should junk that fullback he put in front of
Barry. Better yet, Ross would be wise to give Sanders more than
the 25 carries he has had in those two games.
4. CHRIS PALMER A year after improving Bledsoe's football life,
the Jaguars' offensive coordinator has tutored two quarterbacks
with no previous starts--Rob Johnson and Steve Matthews--to a
2-0 record and a combined 117.6 passer rating. Palmer is among
our early leaders for a coaching job in '98.
5. CARDMANIA With their team fresh off its first win in a home
opener since moving to Arizona in 1988--a 25-22 overtime victory
over the Cowboys--Cardinals fans ripped down one goalpost,
lugged it more than a mile and planted it in the dry Salt River
bed. "Next year we're tearing down the stadium," said a fan. Now
there's a way for owner Bill Bidwill to get his new facility.