Now that his Philadelphia Eagles are above .500, coach Buddy Ryan is willing to talk about what he thinks caused the team's slow start.
The Eagles (5-4) lost their first two and then dropped to 2-4, losing to teams they were heavy favorites to beat. Some said Ryan's job was in jeopardy.But the Eagles have won three straight, including a 28-14 triumph over the Washington Redskins Monday night. They are tied for second with the Skins behind the runaway New York Giants (9-0) in the NFC East.
Ryan steadfastly has defended his team, a pre-season favorite to contend for the division title and the Super Bowl. He has refused to make excuses, insisting the club would turn things around.
Ryan at his weekly news conference Tuesday was pressed to explain the team's tardy start.
At first he was mysterious.
"A lot of things go into it," he began. "Some of the things will get me in trouble if I said `em. So, I'm going to stay like I am. You (sports writers) have been around long enough to know what I mean."
No, the reporters didn't really know what he meant. So they kept pressing.
"We put in a new offense with two new wide receivers," Ryan said. "Guys were holding out. The tight end (Keith Jackson) was not in camp.
"You can make all kinds of excuses. If I'd have told you this three weeks ago, it would've still been the truth, but you'd have said, `Oh, he's alibiing.' But that's not alibiing, that's the way it is. That's the slow start.
"I have a good feel for our team now," Ryan added. "I've had a good feel all along. It's taken us a while to get our offense down. I think we're as good as any team in the NFL."
Ryan said the Eagles' victory over the Redskins showed "complete domination throughout the game" by his defense.
Although William Frizzell returned a pass interception for a touchdown, Clyde Simmons did likewise with a fumble recovery and Reggie White set up a score with an interception, Ryan said defensive tackle Jerome Brown set the tempo for the whole defensive line.
"He (Brown) just got after them," Ryan said. "He started tearing up the pocket, creating havoc in there. He set the tempo."
Ryan's praise of the defense fell short of the best-ever category. He said the 1984 Chicago Bears held that honor.
Ryan said extensive use of blitzing tactics charged the Eagles.
"We're blitzing more," he explained. "We were playing soft, double zone early (in the season) and that's what happened to us (lost four of the first six games). The blitz, there is no question about it, gets people fired up. When you got those kind of people and when things are going bad you need to change the tempo. You have to get somebody to make a big hit and change the tempo."
"You can't coach turnovers," Ryan said. "You make them happen. We had a blitz, hit the quarterback in the back. You hit 'em like that they're going to belch the ball out there. That's what you call creating turnovers."
On one turnover, Eagle Wes Hopkins hit Washington quarterback Jeff Rutledge, forcing a fumble. Simmons picked up the ball and rumbled for a touchdown.
"I knew if I got to him before he threw the ball it was going to come out," Hopkins said. "As long as you hustle good things will happen."
Ryan complimented running back Heath Sherman, who gained 124 yards on 35 carries. He has rushed for more than 100 yards for two straight games, the first time an Eagles player has done that since Wilbert Montgomery in 1981.
"Heath Sherman did a great job of running, sometimes on his own and sometimes we had some real nice holes for him," Ryan said. "I think that was the difference in the game."