At midseason, with a perfectly acceptable record, Redskin watchers still are asking the same questions they did before game one: can Joe Theismann get them to the playoffs? Where is the outside running back speed on offense? How long can the secondary cover for the defensive line?

Although he accepted more blame than necessary after the 17-6 loss to the Giants yesterday, Theismann has not played well for three weeks. Some snipers within the team privately say a change to Billy Kilmer is in order.

"If Joe did it once," said offensive coordinator Joe Walton, "he can do it again." A moment earlier, he had said: "Personnel decisions are entirely up to Jack (Pardee). I just try to get the plays ready."

One team source said Coach Pardee probably would stick with Theismann this week, but surely would switch to Kilmer if no improvement was evident against the San Francisco 49ers in RFK Stadium.

"I assume we probably will (start Theismann this week)," Pardee said, "but I'm not going to make any player changes today."

Although several passes were dropped yesterday, the offense has been ineffective enough lately to suggest that the Walton-Theismann combination might be getting into a pattern defenses can sense.

This notion corresponds to the once-around-the league theory of baseball, that a new pitcher or hitter might do well until the opposition has a chance to study his tendencies and devise counters.

With about four minutes left in the first half and the Giants seven points ahead, the Redskins had second and two at the New York 18 yard line. Theismann went for the touchdown - and Ricky Tompson saved an interception in the end zone.

On third and two, Washington again went for the touchdown instead of the first down, with Theismann throwing into what seemed double coverage on John McDaniel and missing high.

"He (McDaniel) was open," Walton said. "It doesn't make any difference what it (the coverage) was. He was open. We take calculated chances on home runs. You're not going to score unless you do.

"Earlier we made plays like that. Now thye're not there. We've got to get them back. The problem is not one guy, not me or Joe or the offensive line. The best I can say is that we're getting people open, but for one reason or another we're breaking down.

"I don't think we're a great offensive team yet, although we did things better earlier. And remember, the wide receivers (Thompson and McDaniel) weren't with us in training camp. (Tight end) Jean Fugett has a knee injury, we haven't had Mike (Thomas) for two weeks and Riggins got a hip pointer this game."

Also remember that the Giants just might be as good as the Redskins. After four straight victories, that seems a decent notion. Their offensive and defensive lines seemed more than a match against the Redskins.

"What we did today was no big secret," said defensive end Jack Gregory. "We just went out and outplayed 'em, that's all. We just wanted it a bit more than they did. They used to beat hell out of us, rub it in.

"That's the way we want to be. We've learned a lot from Washington over the years - and one of the things we've learned is how to win."

Linebacker Brad Van Pelt continued the theme, adding: "They didn't have much of an offense, so I guess we did something right. I'm not going to say we've arrived (as a playoff team), but we're close."

Two plays supported Gregory. Both were third and short, one of less than a foot. The Giants stopped each for a loss.

Theismann's frustration was heightened by the field. He never has thrown well here and one reason, he said, "is that crown down the middle of the field.It just drives me crazy. I was all right during warmups, but then the balls I threw down the sidelines just stayed up.

"I also was a little indecisive. I don't know exactly why, except I might have had my steps a little screwed up. I was a little bit hesitent."

Should there be a quarterback change?

"Yes," Theismann said. "Joe (Theisman himself) will have to make the change. "Evidently, the work he's put in hasn't worked. I promise you he'll change."

He'll have to.