Reality check off the starboard bow. Undefeated Art Shell and the Raider era of good feeling sail into stormy seas today to see who they are in this latest incarnation.
They are 6 1/2-point underdogs to the Philadelphia Eagles who are at once fearsome but beatable.
If the Raiders are truly back, they could win this game and make a run in their division. If they don't have themselves together for Reggie White and that howling pass rush, they'll be leaving town with their smiles upside down and their quarterbacks bandaged.
Great tests await:
--Of the Raider offensive line. The Eagles have 26 sacks--by comparison, the Raiders have 11--of which the awesome White has only 4 1/2. But don't waste time worrying about him. He's coming back after having been double-teamed and blanked in the first two games. White has an unheard of 1.2 sacks a game in his five-year career and almost single-handedly retired Henry Lawrence in the teams' last meeting in 1986.
White trails teammates Clyde Simmons, who has 6 1/2 sacks, and Jerome Brown, three last week and six overall. Eagle Coach Buddy Ryan likes to blitz, too, so if you're going to worry about anyone, let it be Jay Schroeder.
--Of the offense, particularly Schroeder and the Raider passing game.
The Eagles will challenge and the Raider offensive unit will have the answer, or wish it did.
The offense is coming off two sub-par performances, but in Mervyn Fernandez and Willie Gault, the Raiders have the kind of receivers that no one, but no one, should be able to cover man to man.
"They'll come after you," Shell said. "Buddy believes in coming after you. He hasn't changed since he left Chicago (where Ryan built the great Bear Super Bowl defense) and he won't change.
"He's going to attack us. I know that and our team knows that. By challenging you, sometimes they leave themselves open. It's one of those things: 'I'm going to get to you before you get the ball off,' that type of thing. It's going to be a fun game. It really is. They're going to come out with all barrels firing. We're just going to have to take our time and do what we have to do."
--Of Bo Jackson. He had a vintage debut last week, but he's been at this point before, where he shows off a world of talent and then when it looks as if the world is spread out before him, and the Raiders will receive the benefits of his romp through it, he fades, or gets hurt.
Having repeatedly passed tests of flash greatness, can he pass the test of consistency?
Just how good are these Eagles, anyway?
They have the dreaded Reggie, and Randall Cunningham, the new most- dangerous-quarterback-in-the-game, succeeding John Elway. They are defending NFC East champions and supposed Super Bowl contenders. They are No. 7 in total offense but, ominously, No. 25 in defense.
If the officials hadn't let them get away with a forward lateral on a fumble recovery against the Washington Redskins, they would be an inglorious 3-3.
How to describe them?
"We don't feel like we're inconsistent," said the courtly-in-victory Ryan, curtly. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Ah, those skeptics.
Take his own Eagle publicist, who said this in his press release:
" . . . The running game has been inconsistent thus far. . . . The offensive line has allowed 16 sacks over the first six weeks of '89. . . . Although not piling up huge numbers in recent weeks, the Eagle wideouts have come up with key receptions. . . . After being the victims of several big plays through the first four weeks, the Eagles' secondary was able to contain the Giants' and Cardinals' receivers for the most part. . . . Randall Cunningham is off to a typical start in 1989: starting slow in games as a passer. . . . "
Buddy's right, inconsistent is the wrong word.
Erratic, like their coach, is better.
This is a club that can't run the ball, except when the quarterback doesn't hand the ball off. Cunningham, the No. 1 rusher, is also the only back with an average of better than 3.5 yards. He's at 5.6.
Trying to establish the run, unsuccessfully, Ryan is slowing down his offense . . . and irritating his superstars?
Both Cunningham and Mike Quick are chafing under the rein. Cunningham masks it with his stellar play late in games, but he's actually off to a quiet bad start, with 11 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. In the last two seasons, his totals were 47 and 28.
Two weeks ago, he completed 10 of 24 passes against the Giants--and won the game with a somersault into the end zone and two fourth-quarter scoring drives. Last week in Phoenix, he threw three first-half interceptions--and two touchdown passes in the third quarter, bailing the Eagles out again.
Cunningham has also just lost his top receiver, Quick, to knee surgery. The man he went to in a similar emergency last season, tight end Keith Jackson, has had back problems.
As always, or more than ever, the load descends upon Cunningham's shoulders.
History: the Los Angeles Raiders have never played in Philadelphia. Their last meeting was in 1986, the game that started the Raider decline. The Raiders were 8-4 and seemed a playoff lock. The Eagles were a shambles, en route to taking a record 104 sacks, but they beat the Raiders in overtime, when Andre Waters returned Marcus Allen's fumble 81 yards.
The Raiders lost the rest of their games, missed the playoffs, went 5-10 in 1987, saw Tom Flores leave, hired Mike Shanahan, went 7-9, started 1-3 and fired Shanahan. . . . Art Shell is hoping that center Don Mosebar, out except for one game with a knee injury, can make it back. Reggie White often lines up over center, and one of his favorite tricks is throwing the center at the quarterback.