Until the last couple of weeks, opponents had little success running against the Washington Redskins.
Then, the lowly Detroit Lions rushed for 231 yards against Washington Oct. 8. The Philadelphia Eagles followed with 180 yards on the ground against the Redskins last Sunday and it looked as if there might be a chink in the Redskins' armor.
Partly because of the success the Lions and the Eagles had, the Redskins are expecting an all-out ground attack from the New York Giants Sunday at The Meadowlands.
"Both Detroit's and Philadelphia's game plans were to run against us," Redskin Coach Jack Pardee said yesterday. "Detroit even ran against the mighte defense. I expect the same sort of thing from the Giants. They throw the ball a lot on first down and then they try to shove the ball down your throat."
Despite the yards piled up against them on the ground the last two weeks, the Redskins are not that bad a team against the rush. They have had some breakdowns and their tackling has been poor at times. Depite the yards given up, they are keeping teams out of the end zone.
The Redskins rank ninth in their conference in defense against the rush, but are fifth in the National Football League in fewest points allowed.
"Yards allowed is one of the most misleading stats there is," said middle linebacker Harold McLinton. "But if teams keep gaining yards on you, you're having a breakdown somewhere and you better correct it.
"Right now, teams are just attacking us. We had a breakdown in our running defense against Detroit, and when our next opponent sees that, they are going to put in a lot of running plays.
"Philadelphia ran a lot against us, but they're a good running team, anyway, and I expect the Giants will try to run a lot on us, too. Everybody we play will until we show that we can stop them."
The Detroit game is not one the Redskins are very proud of.
"We just weren't playing the run very well," said Pardee. "We had both breakdowns and missed tackles."
In the opening game of the season, the New England Patriots ran for 161 yards on 40 carries against Washington. Then Philadelphia gained 128 on 27 carries, followed by 132 on 26 by St. Louis, 102 on 25 by the New York Jets and 109 on 33 by Dallas.
Then the trouble started. Detroit ran for 231 yards on 46 carries and Philadelphia got its 180 yards on 42 carries. Their game plans were clearly designed to beat Washington on the ground.
"Detroit had a real good offensive game plan," McLinton said. "They pass-blocked with their guards and their center came out on me.It created a natural hole. They were successful with it because we hadn't seen it before.
"Philadelphia is a bit of a different story. Wilbert Montgomery just naturally outran us."
Montgomery, the NFL's leading rusher, gained 125 yards Sunday.
"He is one of the premier backs in the league," McLinton said.
The Redskins have improved their tackling, partly because they get extra work on certain days of the week after regular practice is over.
"Right now, I'm tackling better than I ever have," McLinton said. "Tackling is desire. You have to want to tackle. But you also have to be in a position to tackle before you tackle. It's all playing off the blocks."
Last season, the Redskins gave up an average of 145.6 yards rushing a game and 3.8 yards per rushing play. This season, after seven games, they have yielded 149 yards a game and a 4.4 average per rush.
The two teams have basically the same personnel, but linebacker Chris Hanburger missed nine games last year and the Redskins didn't have the pass rusher they do now in Coy Bacon. The secondary took a giant step forward with the acquisition of Lemar Parrish to play left corner back.
The overall strength of the secondary also has contributed to teams running more against the Redskins. Washington is 10th in the NFC in defense against the pass, but those statistics, again, are based only on yards yielded. Washington has given up only three touchdown passes all season, the best record in the league.
Whereas the Redskins have been hurt on the ground by teams breaking a big run, the Giants "don't always count on breaking the big one," said Pardee. "They have the speed to get outside, but they'll beat you with five yards a crack."
Running back Mike Thomas went to team physician Stan Lavine's office yesterday to have his injured foot looked at and did not practice. X-rays were taken of his ankle but diagnosis was uncertain. There is a possibility of small crack or a sprain. The injury will continue to be treated as a sprain. Everyone else worked out in what Pardee called "probably the best workout we've had in two or three weeks. Everyone ran real hard and they were working hard to improve their recognition of the things the Giants do." Wide receiver Danny Buggs continued to look good in practice and Pardee said he definitely will play Sunday and probably will be used to shuttle in plays. The Giants reported five injuries to the league yesterday: Cornerback Ray Rhodes is doubtful with a shoulder injury, safety Ernie Jones is questionable with an ankle problem and wide receiver John Perkins and defensive tackle Gary Jeter are probable with leg injuries, middle linebacker Harry Carson is probable with a back bruise.