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Pro Football : Cunningham Fires Away at Ryan's Game Plan

December 16, 1987|Bob Oates

Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino came out throwing Sunday and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham came out handing off.

And after the Dolphins had won easily on Marino's three touchdown passes, 28-10, Cunningham publicly questioned his coach's strategy.

The Eagles lost, he said, because they spent too much time trying to establish the run.

"We should have played the same kind of game that (the Dolphins) played," Cunningham told Philadelphia writers this week. "We should have taken what they were giving us. We should have thrown on every play."

That didn't faze Cunningham's coach, Buddy Ryan, whose objective was to keep Marino off the field with ball-control ground plays by Philadelphia.

"Nobody has to be a yes man around Buddy Ryan," Ryan said. "I've never been one. I don't expect anyone else to be. I expect them to stand up and be counted."

So Cunningham has been counted. The next question is whether he'll be listened to.

Interestingly, in Sunday's final statistics, Cunningham had thrown 38 passes, Marino 39.

But in the early going, when the Eagles grounded Cunningham and stuck with ineffective runs against overloaded run defenses, Marino was throwing second-down shotgun passes for Miami. Most of Cunningham's passes were late catch-up plays.

There's a difference.

The coaches all talk about the need to run and pass both. And this year, even on Marino's team, the offense has been advancing the ball both ways.

Although the passer remains their dominant force, it is their ability to run the ball, too, that has restored the Dolphins to contention again after a year off.

Specifically, they have been getting big plays from a fourth-round draft choice, Troy Stradford of Boston College.

"(Stradford) runs great routes and is a threat to carry the football (on shotgun plays), which keeps a defense off balance," assistant coach David Shula told Miami fans this week.

A confident, eager rookie, Stradford first got the Dolphins' attention last spring, Shula said. At a mini-camp, he made a clever move on a linebacker, then made a spectacular catch and run.

That stopped practice for a moment, bringing a cheer from the team.

Said Shula: "It's not often that during a practice, players and coaches will applaud a play."

Though Stradford is a bit undersized at 5 feet 9 inches and 190 pounds, he is apparently big enough to fill what's been a void on that team. A playoff appearance could follow.

When the Seattle Seahawks are on their game, as they were Sunday night, they're probably the best team in the AFC West--and in the conference as well.

"They don't have a John Elway," a Denver official said after the Broncos had lost, 28-21. "But Dave Krieg is adequate, which is more than you can say for our running backs.

"The difference between these two teams is that we don't have a Curt Warner."

Warner gained 76 yards Sunday, 4 yards more than Denver's entire ground game produced.

Seattle's front seven also outplayed the Bronco defense.

Seahawk linebacker Brian Bosworth wasn't very consistent, though. He seems out of position inside. Perhaps he should be outside, where he can hotdog it with fewer responsibilities.

Denver, 8-4-1 and scheduled to play home games against the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers in its last two, remains the division favorite over Seattle, which is 8-5 and on the road at Chicago and Kansas City.

John Madden, who is probably the best of TV's football announcers, rarely errs and almost never makes a serious mistake. But he made a quaint one Sunday.

Madden said he couldn't understand how an upstairs official could hand down a definitive ruling on a disputed call even before CBS screened the replay.

The explanation is that in each NFL officiating booth, the league uses two TV monitors and two video cassette recorders. As the game unreels, every play is taped on a VCR. And if the official wishes, he can look at the replay instantly--before the network starts its reruns.

"When the network replay comes on, it is taped by the other VCR," an NFL spokesman said.

"But if the evidence is clear on the first (machine), the official makes a decision immediately."

As he did Sunday.

On the whole, the league's replay system has worked admirably this year to correct some glaringly incorrect calls.

The upstairs officials have, along the way, been wrong a few times themselves.

But who isn't? Jack Smith admits to three mistakes a year. Even Madden proves fallible once in a while. There's even a mistake in this space now and then. But three a year? No way.

The turning point for the Raiders in Kansas City Sunday could have been Marc Wilson's long pass on an early down to Dokie Williams. First ruled a completion in good scoring position, it was overruled by instant replay.

Give the Raiders a touchdown that time and they might have regained the momentum they lost when Bo Jackson was injured.

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