The Chicago Bears' game plan never changes. With such runners as Walter Payton and Roland Harper and such blockers as Dennis Lick, Revie Sorey, Noah Jackson and Ted Albrecht, it would be downright foolish for the Bears to do anything but try to shove the ball down an opponent's throat.
Despite their fine running attack (second best in the NFC in yardage gained), this has not been a good season for the Bears. An eight-game losing streak early in the year took them out of the playoff race, but they still are a good team and will come into RFK Stadium for Saturday's game against the Redskins meaning business.
Washington must win the game to keep its slim playoff hopes alive and then wait and hope Philadelphia loses to the New York Giants and either Green Bay loses to Los Angeles or Minnesota loses to Oakland all games on Sunday.
The Bears plan to make the wait academic.
"It's been a disappointing season as a whole," said Lick, "but a win Saturday will make the offseason a whole lot better."
Payton is the NFC's leading rusher with 1,305 yards and Harper is sixth in the conference with 918 yards. If Harper should get 82 yards Saturday, it will mark the first time two backs from an NFC team have gained 1,000 yards in the same season.
Payton and Harper obviously are gifted runners, but they also are operating behind one of the better offensive lines in the National Football League.
"Having two runners like Walter and Roland is obviously a bonus," said quarterback Mike Phipps. "Both of them are determined runners and block well for each other. Walter is a great breakaway threat, but he also has always been able to get the tough yards."
"They're two of the best backs around," added Lick. "They're just super and we enjoy blocking for them. We know they are going to break one sooner or later."
There is no bigger Walter Payton fan anywhere than Redskin Coach Jack Pardee, who coached the Bears last season.
"Walter is a threat to go all of the way every time he touches the ball," Pardee said. "When I had him, I thought he was the best runner in football. Everthing he does is good-he's a good blocker, a good receiver, a good person, a good everything."
To get Payton the ball more often, and in different situations, the Bears have used him as a pass receiver a lot more this season than in the past. He has caught 49 passes for 473 yards.
The Bears often use a one-back offense, in which Harper is the only running back behind the quarterback and Payton is lined up as a wingback.
"The line knocks peope around, they give the ball to Harper and he picks his hole," Pardee said.
"By putting Payton on a wing, they accomplish a number of things," Pardee added. "One thing it does is pull the defense that way because wherever Walter goes he attracts attention. He's the best decoy there is."
The Bears, a playoff team last year, started this season with three straight victories and then lost the next eight.
"We were just making too many mistakes and turnovers," Lick said. "We're no that great a team, so we can't give the ball up a lot and still win like a Dallas or a Pittsburgh can do. We are a good team, though.
"In most of the games we've lost we've been outscored in the first quarter (71-23), too, and we're a running team, not a passing team, so when we get down early it's tough for us to come back."
The Bears have had their quarter-backing troubles as well, but Phipps played near-errorless ball against the Packers last week and is expected to start again Saturday.
Former Maryland star Bor Avellini has started 12 games this season and Phipps three.
"Phipps did a great job last week with the running attack and play-action passes," Pardee said.
The Bears are no slouches on defense, ranking sixth in the conference in total defense.
One reason for their defensive prowess is Alan Page, who was signed after the Vikings released him early in the season. Page has 11 sacks, three deflected passes, has forced two fumbles and blocked a kick.
Pardee called yesterday's Redskin practice, the first of the week, "a lively one. Everbody know we aren't in the best possible position," he said, "but we have to take care of ourselves first and then just wait and see what happens"...The Redskins, who now have lost four in a row, had a five game losing streak in 1970.