There was a reason the Redskins ran the ball the first nine plays yesterday. The Dolphins dared them.

"They had all their cover people in," Coach Jack Pardee said. "They have different combinations (of defensive backs and linebackers), guys who are better against the pass than forcing against the run. They had all their force people out."

And the Redskins still could scarcely move forward, which is the worst commentary yet about the offense. The early-season flair is gone, partly because of injuries and partly because nobody -- from the coaches through the players -- seems to have much confidence.

The first half ended with the offensive mind, Joe Walton, and tight end Jean Fugett in a public snit. Fugett caught no passes the second half, quarterback Joe Theismann threw dreadfully at times and the blockers opened no holes for the runners.

Washingtonians who had watched the Jets pass the Dolphins silly last week were dumbfounded that the Redskins were so obsessed early with running.

"We noticed the Dolphins were not high in the league on pass defense," Pardee admitted, "but the Jets were fast enough to get behind them. And to do that you've got to pass protect and all that goes with it."

Early in the season, with a healthy, though hardling awesome Redskin offensive line, there was a sense of anticipation after the first or second conservative series. Walton and his eyes in the scouting boxes did a fine job of adjusting. And Theismann and the blockers were even better at execution.

The offense is desperate for something to go right -- and when that seemed about to happen early in the second half a tipped pass destroyed it. On first down from the Dolphin 31, Theismann's pass, perhaps thrown too hard, bounced off John Riggins and into the eager hands of linebacker Rusty Chambers. There was little offensive zest the rest of the game. The crowd offered hearty boos throughout, for the game plan and the players who assured it would fail. At one point, the crowd actually seemed to want Billy Kilmer at quarterback, an emotion some of us long ago assumed would never resurface.

Could that happen against the Falcons this week in Atlanta? Could Kilmer remain alive more than 10 minutes against the Falcon pass rush?

"He could," one player said, "if they let him call his own plays."

So whence could an injection of confidence come? Both teams entered RFK Stadium yesterday with a serious need for it -- and the Dolphins got it by playing to their strengths, the offensive line and quarterback Bob Griese.

Redskin strengths are less clear. At the moment, they appear to be two kickers, Mark Moseley and Mike Bragg, one kick returner, Tony Green, linebacker Brad Dusek and the defensive backfield.

Also, there is nothing wrong with runners Riggins and Mike Thomas that a few holes would not make obvious. One time Riggins made 11 yards almost unaided, carrying two Dolphins half the way after eluding another at the line. And Fugett insists he gets open more than anyone realizes.

But one major weakness, such as injuries that drain an already weak offensive line, can counter several sturdy areas.

In that regard, Pardee said of the offensive line: "It seems like we've gone through two training camps, one before the season and another around midseason (after injuries to George Starke, Ron Saul and others).

"I hope we're ready for our second season (the final two games of the regular season, at Atlanta and at home against the Bears)."

What could happen, perhaps what must happen, is for the opposition to give the Redskins their needed confidence. Atlanta is just bad enough on offense to provide that. Whatever, it appears that two grim teams will carry the NFC wild-card banner into the playoffs.

"Anytime you start to say you're hoping for the wild-card spot that's just what you're doing -- hoping," Fugett said. "Look at what happened with us last year. We've said now or never for the last month."