To the burning question of whether the Redskins have the brains and strategy to defeat the Bears in their NFL playoff test Sunday in Chicago comes this notion: It all depends on whom they are matching wits against.

Bear quarterback Jim McMahon is close to unmatched as a leader, sort of a Billy Kilmer in a punk hairdo and shades. Inside a head that affects outrage and rebellion is a creative football mind and cool presence under pressure.

Trouble is, McMahon gets hurt a lot -- and the Bears are quite vulnerable without him. If he plays and stays healthy the entire game, the Bears ought to win, because he improvises so well.

McMahon's backup, Mike Tomczak, is not nearly so effective.

Look for the Redskins to haul out everything in their cerebral repertoire. In addition to being ornery, Washington's defense is so extensive that it sometimes uses a 275-pound tackle (Markus Koch) to drop off the defensive line and cover elusive running backs in passing situations.

This is meant to scramble thought during the three or four seconds a quarterback has to recognize coverage downfield and, more important, the angles of pursuers intent on doing him harm.

If the defense, with a powerful rush or chest-to-chest play by the secondary, can create a moment of confusion, it usually will prevail. Often, hurrying a quarterback is as effective as throwing him to the ground.

Former Redskin Diron Talbert said he thought linemen could gain a small edge against clean-living quarterbacks like Fran Tarkenton and Roger Staubach by getting close enough to yell a naughty word.

It will be helpful to Redskin quarterback Doug Williams to realize that the Bear defense has not been playing well enough of late to satisfy coach Mike Ditka.

Even as innovative a strategist as Redskin coach Joe Gibbs is, he would have his troops run the ball every play in Soldier Field if that were possible. Smart guy Gibbs knows the wisdom in a cliche' older than the Redskins. Or the NFL. On every pass, three things are possible -- and two of them (incompletions and interceptions) are bad.