Eagles suddenly are a hit on offense, too, this year

The Philadelphia Eagles are notorious for their punishing hits and intimidating tactics on defense, but nobody in recent years has described their offense as ingenious or even being a step ahead.

Now, maybe someone will.


On three successive Sundays, the Eagles have shown creative flair in their offensive game plan. In Week 1, they sprang a two-tight end formation on New Orleans, despite not having shown that set in the preseason. In Week 2, they trotted out a third tight end against Phoenix for a different look.

Against Denver Sunday in Week 3, the Eagles took another step in this offensive progression when they went to a two-back formation. They put Keith Byars, who had been used as a tight end, in the backfield as an H-back with Herschel Walker.


"We used him as a movement tight end in the two-back offense," coach Rich Kotite said. "We went with a lot of one-back in the first and second games. We felt the two-back would give us more options."

Byars' numbers were not great (he rushed for 31 yards and caught six passes for 36 more). But his presence in the backfield helped open the passing lanes downfield for quarterback xTC Randall Cunningham, who threw for three touchdowns in a 30-0 rout of the Broncos.

The Eagles already had a great defense -- the Broncos, with quarterback John Elway having one of his worst games, crossed midfield twice all afternoon. Now, suddenly, they are creating opportunities on offense. And that's without unsigned Pro Bowl tight end Keith Jackson, who may or may not return to the Eagles, pending a decision shortly by a federal court judge in Minneapolis.

For now, the Eagles are doing fine with Pat Beach -- who played in Baltimore with the Colts -- in Jackson's place. Their 3-0 start, the team's best since 1981, has raised Super Bowl expectations in a city that does not like to be disappointed. They get a bye next week, then host Dallas (3-0) in a Monday game that has NFC East title implications.

After Sunday's win, Cunningham talked of how this is a smarter and more mature team than the previous Eagles teams he has quarterbacked.

"We've been to the playoffs too many times to accept losing a first-round game again," he said.

The rest of the NFC is forewarned.

Crossed up


The Los Angeles Raiders' decision to demote quarterback Jay Schroeder and promote left-hander Todd Marinovich for the team's home opener Sunday was a calculated move that backfired.

The Raiders figured they had a soft touch propped up in the Cleveland Browns, who were playing without their starting quarterback (Bernie Kosar) and their best defensive player (Michael Dean Perry). But even though the Raiders won the statistical battle handily -- out-gaining the Browns, 464-231 -- they lost the game, 28-16, when Eric Metcalf broke loose for four Cleveland touchdowns.

Marinovich passed for 395 yards, the third-best total in club history, but couldn't cash in the scoring chances he had. The Raiders may have bigger problems, though. Their defense failed to get a sack or a take-away in either of the last two games, running back Eric Dickerson is averaging 2.8 yards a carry and a crowd of only 48,102 gathered at cavernous L.A. Coliseum Sunday.

At 0-3, the Raiders are working on a seven-game losing streak. What's more, they travel to Kansas City next Monday night, and they've lost five in a row to the Chiefs. Owner Al Davis' famous refrain of "Just win, baby" is beginning to sound like a distant echo.

Bruce's bluff

New York Jets coach Bruce Coslet gets the best tap-dancing award for Week 3 after a 31-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. With the Jets 0-2 coming in, Coslet said, "This is not a make-or-break game for the New York Jets. We're going to go out and win the damn game, though."


After the Jets fell to 0-3, Coslet said, somewhat testily: "I didn't say it to motivate. I didn't say it for canned fodder for Coach [George] Seifert's bulletin board. All I said is we're going to win. What do you want me to say -- we're going to lose?"


Who needs training camp? Not Cowboys WR Michael Irvin, who has 17 catches for 372 yards (21.9 yards per catch) and four touchdowns after missing all of the preseason in a contract squabble. . . . The Eagles defense has surrendered 55 rushing yards to the Saints, 54 to the Cardinals and 52 to the Broncos. The San Diego Chargers have given up 61 rushing yards to the Chiefs, 64 to the Broncos and 67 to the Steelers. The Eagles are unbeaten, the Chargers are winless. . . . After three weeks, the NFC has moved out to a 5-3 lead in the interconference series against the AFC. . . . The Cincinnati Bengals, who had 21 sacks all of last season, have 15 after three weeks this year.