The Washington Redskins will play what coach George Allen described yesterday as "the best Dallas team I've seen in the last three or four years" Sunday without starting outside linebacker and defensive signal-caller Chris Hanburger.
Hanburger suffered a torn liagment in his left knee in the first half of the Redskin's 10-0 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday and Allen said yesterday he could be out of action for as long as three weeks.
"That's a real blow for us," Allen said at his weekly press conference. "It's not just losing a football player, its losing your quarterback. The decision to bring in Mike Curtis now looks like more than just a routine decision."
Curtis, who started and finished the first two Redskin games while Hanburger recovered from an appendectomy operation, played the second half against Tampa Bay and was awarded a game ball for his efforts. He will start against the Cowboys and safety Ken Houston will be back on the spot calling defensive signals.
The Redskins may also have lost reserve linebacker Stu O'Dell for the season. An examination yesterday by team physician Standford Lavine turned up what appeared to be a torn cartilage in O'Dell's right knee.
A decision must now be made whether to operate on O'Dell - a move that would most likely be followed by placing him on the injured reserve list - or trying to rehabilitate the knee with exercise. Either way, O'Dell, one of the wild-man special-teamers, probably won't play Sunday.
Elsewhere on the medical front, receiver Frank Grant was having his broken nose and broken tooth tended, but he should be available against the Cowboys. He will probably be fitted with a special full-cage face mask to avoid further injury.
Allen also indicated he hoped that defensive tackle Dave Butz (sprained ankle) and cornerback Pat Fischer (Sore back), both of them held out of the Tampa Bay game, would be available against a Cowboy team Allen also said was among the top four in the NFL.
The Redskins know they need all the healthy bodies they can find to play the Cowboys, now 4-0, averaging 386 yards of offense per game and finally giving the ball to rookie Tony Dorsett often enough to exploit his many magical moves.
His first-ever 100-yard day in the NFL - 141 in 14 carries - pushed him all the way to the No. 2 position among NFC rushers and he is averaging 8.2 yards per carry, with four touchdowns including a 77-yard pop in Dallas' 30-24 victory over St. Louis.
Dallas coach Tom Landry has been starting veteran Preston Pearson all season, and bringing Dorsett off the bench in the second and fourth times against Minnesota, seven against New York, 10 against Tampa Bay and 14 against the Cardinals.
Landry said yesterday. "I don't know whether we'll change our pattern or not. We haven't really decided but I would think we'll go with what's been successfull. I like to do it this way because they are both always fresh and they're both playing extremely well. If one was playing worse than the other it would be differrent, but they're both valuable."
"Tony is learning all the time. He doesn't know our system real well yet but he gets better every day and we feel very comfortable with him right now."
Landry's Dorsett-Pearson game plan has worked. Pearson is averaging 4.6 yards in 45 carries and is the Cowboy's second-leading receiver with 16 catches. Between the two, the Cowboys have gained 493 yards rushing and 214 yards pass-receiving from the tailback position. And Allen described the Cowboy offense yesterday as "like a baseball team that gets 15 hits every time they play."
"They have more scoring power and it looks like Dorsett is coming around as an NFL player. They're going to use him more and more and we have to be ready for him.
"We have to stop him. He's in there to carry the ball and catch it, not to block. You have to defense him like you do O.J., Sayers and Metcalf, any of the great ones. You have to have someone keying on him every down.
"The thing he gives them that they haven't had since Duane Thomas and Calvin Hill is a guy who can go all the way. In the past, they had to grind it out or get it with a bomb to (Drew) Pearson. Now they can get it on the ground or in the air."
To complement the fine running attack, Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach is completing 61 per cent of his passes and has recovered from the broken bone in his right hand suffered midway through the 1976 season.
"I try and make myself say it wasn't a problem, but it was," Staubach said the others. "I had to get it taped and shot. I couldn't hold the ball normally. Of course the only really poor passing day I had last year was against the Redskins in Dallas.
"That was really a bad game for me. But we really weren't mentally prepared for the Redskins. We had already clinched the division and we were thinking more about playing the Rams. We didn't have any intensity in that game (a 27-14 Redskin victory). I don't think that will be a problem this week."
Staubach also wondered out loud why Allen and the rest of the Redskins held off the snide remarks and veiled threats last season. "I kind of missed that last year," he said. "Even the year before they weren't too bad. Maybe they finally realized that after a while those kind of things start working against you. Who knows, maybe they'll start up against this week."
Informed of Staubach's comments yesterday. Allen couldn't help sniping. "You just tell him (Staubach) to stay out of that shotgun because it bothers me so much."
Allen was bothered most yesterday by his team's reversal to a stutter-sputter offense against Tamapa Bay.
He tried to joke about it - "I didn't want to be accused of running the score up," he said - but all those dropped passes, penalties, turnovers and botched assignments are no laughing matter against a Dallas defense allowing opponents only 234 yards per game.
The Redskins also went into their prevent offence through most of the second half against Tampa Bay, throwing only four passes in the final 25 minutes. The Redskins had 57 plays in Tampa territory, but managed only a field goal and a touchdown.
"We felt if we could get a field goal or a touchdown that would ice it." Allen said when asked about his team's conservative second-half game plan. "We didn't want to take too many chances. They have a good defense, but the thing that prevented us from scoring 24, 27 points was all those mistakes.
"The big thing in beating Dallas is not to make the mistakes we made yesterday. Yes, we'll be more aggressive (offensively) against Dallas. We'll have to be.
"They're playing better football than we are right now. But that doesn't mean we can't beat them . . . We now have a first-place game coming up.We shouldn't have any trouble getting anyone up for the Dallas Cowboys."
Running back Mike Thomas last night "guaranteed" a victory over the Cowboys. On his weekly debriefing on WRC-TV-4 he said. "We're going to beat Dallas. I guarantee we're going to beat Dallas . . . It's a game that we need to win."
Offensive guard Terry Hermeling should also be available for action against Dallas despite a badly bruished shoulder . . . Allen said yesterday he thought a 10-4 record should be enough for a team to gain a playoff berth in the NFC. He also said he did not think the 1-3 Cardinals were out of the race. "In this division, anything can happen." . . . Allen also moaned about the injuries to Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw and Mike Kruezek because the cowboys play the Steelers at Pittsburgh on Nov. 20. "Pittsburgh was one of the teams with a chance to beat them," he said. "Other than their games against us and St. Louis, Pittsburgh is the only playoff team they play. Dallas has pretty smooth sailing." . . . Allen insisted he decided not to play Fischer against Tampa Bay during the pregame warmups, although he could have played in an emergency . . . Mike Bragg, averaging 38 yards per punt this season, has had 12 of his 28 kicks downed or out of bounds inside opponents' 20-year line . . . The Redskins and Cowboys have split their regular season meeting since Allen came to Washington in 1971 . . . Bill Kilmer is hitting 50 per cent of his passes, with five touchdown tosses and four interceptions . . . Mike Thomas is still the leading rusher with 247 yards and a 3.7-yard average and Jean Fugett leads the receivers with 10 catches.