George Allen admitted for the first time yesterday what the football fans of the Washington Redskins have been saying for nine weeks. "Right now we're struggling, there's no doubt about it," the coach said.
"We have to improve, he said, and we will, there's no doubt in my mind. It isn't any one thing, one phase, it's all the things we've been talking about all along."
On the day when Allen took great pains to compliment a number of his offensive players, he also refused to go along with the RFK Stadium crowd that unmercifully booed quarterback Billy Kilmer Sunday in the Redskins' 10-6 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. He also chastised those of little faith among the 55.031 in the stands.
"It doesn't help," he said, "No. 1 haven't talked to Billy about it. But you can't let the crowd bother you. It helps to have people pulling for you rather than booing you. I just can't see the home folks booing him."
And what about the crowd's chants calling for Joe Theismann, particularly after Kilmer tossed up two interceptions in the final quarter?
"I was so involved in the game, I really couldn't understand what they were saying," Allen said. That isn't going to bother me. It won't change my thinking. You don't win by doing things like that. Doing that just causes the team more problems."
The oddsmakers apparently believe the Redskins have enough problems to install the St. Louis Cardinals a 2 1/2 point favorite on the early line from Las Vegas, even though the Redskins are playing at home Sunday and defeated the Cardinals both times they played in 1976.
"Billy did not play a poor game," Allen insisted. "Things are going against him - dropped passes, penalties, protection breaking down. He's playing about the same, we've just never had all these mistakes. Our team has always been mistake-proof, where you don't beat yourself. I wish I could explains it, because then we could od something about it."
Kilmer, meanwhile, was still not talking, declining all requests for interviews.
After two games, Kilmer has completed 47 per cent of his passes. He has tossed three interceptions, fumbled once and been sacked five times officially and a dozen more times after releasing the football.
The Redskin medical men insist his training-camp sore arm has completely recovered and that the back problems he had last week have cleared up. His sore left knee, they admit, is going to be a problem all season.
"I'm not going to make any critical statements about Billy Kilmer," said offensive coordinator Charlie Waller. "He's working hard, working as best he can with whatever handicaps he's got. He's setting up better and he's throwing better every week. And he's going to get better every week."
The Redskins are hoping to be able to say the same thing about line backer Chris Hanburger, who will return to practice today for the first time since undergoing an emergency appendectomy operation on Sept. 1.
Hanburger's return also poses still another intriguing dilemma for Allen. if Hanburger is ready to pay on Sunday, what happens to Mike Curtis, the man who replaced Hanburger on the right side and was one of several defensive heroes in the Atlanta game?
The general consensus at Redskin Park is that Curtis will probably head for the bench and be used on a spot basis to give Hanburger or Brad Dusek a breather now and then.
But Allen, as usual, was noncommittal when pressed on the subject yesterday. "He (Hanburger) is weak and he's lost weight. I hope he'll be ready," Allen said. "But I just don't know yet. Curtis is doing a good job and I don't want to rush Chris in here. We'll face that when we come to it."
Hanburger admitted yesterday "it's going to take awhile, I'm sure. Things are going along as well as could be expected and I feel stronger everyday. But I've lost about eight or 10 pounds.
"I haven't done anything other than some short walks and some very easy stretching exercises since I got out of the hospital last Wednesday. I just have to go out there and see what I can do and what I can't do. I'm not worried about the operation bothering me. It's mostly how much strength I've got and how much out of shape I am.
"I'm going to practice, and that's about all I know. If it hurts me and I can't do it, "I'll just walk off the field."
Allen, meanwhile, was asked if he had given any thought to installing a three-rushmen, for finebacker attack.
"I knew someone would ask that," he said, smiling. "No, I don't think so. We might get it ready, but we've been a four-down-lineman defense over the years. To change in the middle of the season wouldn't be the right thing to do."
"No, we haven't even talked about it," added defensive coordinator Torgy Torgeson. "Sure it's always a possibility. We put it in training camp every year. But right now we don't have any plans that way."
What Torgeson would like to see is more pressure on the quarterback from his front four. Though the Redskins got to Atlanta's Scott Hunter three times Sunday, two of them came on linebacker blitzes. Hunter also had enough time to pass for 269 yards.
The Redskins blitzed 10 times in all against Atlanta, and Allen had said all during training camp he preferred not to use that kind of pressure because it left the defense vulnerable in other areas.
The Redskins offensive coaches, meanwhile, were muttering about all those penalties that robbed the Redskins of several big plays, including a George Starke hold nullifying John Riggins' spectacular 51-yard touch-down on an improvised lateral from tight end Jean Fugett.
"They seem to be calling holding more than ever," said line coach Bill Austin. "Nobody is holding purposely. I don't teach holding. I never have and I never will. Eome of these calls are very questionable."
Allen, who put in another plug for full-timer paid officials, said he did not want to criticize the officiating, although he insisted "when they eliminated the head slap (on defense), it was decided they'd call more offensive penalties for holding. I was in the meeting. They felt that one would offset the other. But most of the calls Sunday are justified and there's probably more holding that could be called."
Art McNally, the NFL's director of officiating, insisted yesterday, "We haven't ordered any crackdown on holding, there's been no directive from the league office. And we haven't noticed a great problem with it this year."