The Redskins, those television hams who never have lost a Monday night home game with Cosell and company in attendance, will try to keep that streak alive tonight in RFK Stadium against a New York Giant team still searching for its offense.
While this may not be the most attractive matchup ABC-TV will present this season, the 9:15 p.m. game (WJLA-TV-7) could well be one of the more exciting, especially if the Redskins -- a 5 1/2 point favorite -- continue their trend of building, then blowing large second-half leads.
The contest also will be another chapter in the continuing struggle for survival of Giant quarterback Joe Pisarcik, victim of 14 sacks during his team's opening two defeats.
Last week, St. Louis defenders said they could hear Pisarcik groan almost every time he was decked. Washington, supposedly in a youth movement, will try to make Pisarcki uncomfortable again with a front four laden with ancient warriors: 34-year-old Paul Smith (replacing injured tackle Dave Butz), 35-year-old Diron Talbert and 36-year-old Coy Bacon, still a premier pass rusher.
The Redskin defensive front has registered a paltry two sacks in two games. End Karl Lorch, a mere 29-year-old who rounds out the front four, could be the key to improving the pass rush.
Unless the Giants start newly activated Gordon Gravelle, back from brief retirement, Lorch will be going against veteran Tom Neville, who had problems against the St. Louis Cardinals a week ago. Bacon will test inexperienced Gus Coppins, filling in for injured Gordon King at the other tackle.
Of course, the Redskins have more than just a pass rush to straighten out on defense. They have not had much luck halting opposition runners, giving up an average of 208 yards on the ground to Houston and Detroit.
Alas, the Giants' running game has been worse -- if that is possible -- than the pass protection. New York has scraped out a mere 103 yards primarily using backs Emery Morehead (11 yards), Doug Kotar (38) and rookie Ken Johnson (48 yards) who is hampered by a leg pull and may not play.
No wonder Redskin Coach Jack Pardee expects New York to continue to pass a lot (the Giants have thrown 76 times), even against the secondary that is the strength of Washington's defense.
"They throw more than most pro teams," Pardee said. "It's in their offensive plans. Of course, since they have trouble running, they've been forced to pass.
"But I expect them to pass not matter what. And I'm sure they will try to run on us. After seeing films of our games, I'd try to run on us too."
Pardee needs improved tackling from his front four, better pursuit from his young linebackers and quicker reaction against the run from his defensive backs. But he is convinced there is enough talent on defense to reduce the current points-allowed average of 26.5.
So does linebacker Brad Dusek.
"We are better than we've played," he said. "We've got to improve our intensity and aggressiveness. For some reason, when we've gotten ahead, we've relaxed and that has hurt us. We just can't let down no matter what happens in this one."
While Pardee worries about his defense, which was supposed to be improved this season, there is far less concern about the offense. That unit has methodically piled up 54 points while staying with a basic tactic of run-first, pass-when-necessary.
However, the offense has not faced the likes of the Giant defense, which has proved difficult for the Redskins to solve the last three years. In five games during that span, Washington has scored only 54 points while losing four times.
"I don't think it has anything to do with matchups," tackle George Starke reckoned. "It's just that we beat them so easily for so long that we started taking them lightly.
"Even when they started winning, we still took them too easily. Heck, they were beating us more frequently than Dallas and that is ridiculous. But I think we are more serious about them now."
New York does present some formidable obstacles.
Middle linebacker Harry Carson may be the league's best, according to both Starke and offensive coordinator Joe Walton. Fellow linebacker Brad Van Pelt also was a Pro Bowl selection last year and Brian Kelley is hardly a weakling.
End George Martin had the finest day of his four-year career last season when he sacked Joe Theismann four times. Starke missed that game with a knee injury but will be paired against Martin this time. Carson, who had 14 tackles in that same contest (a 16-13 Redskin win), is matched against center Bob Kuziel.
Toss in tackle John Mendenhall, who always plays well against Washington, add a decent secondary and the Giant defense is steady enough to support even an average offensive output, something the New Yorkers haven't been receiving.
"They look a little more like the Redskin defense this year," Walton said. "That's the influence of Ralph Hawkins (a former Redskin assistant). They are solid and tough.
"I think the rivalry has a lot to do with how they play. These two teams always seem to get after it. We just have to go out and make sure we execute and don't make mistakes."
Mistakes have been Washington's undoing. Fumbles and penalties in the late going have blown those large leads despite the steady play of quarterback Theismann, statistically the NFL's top passer after two weeks.
But as long as the offense has stayed error-free, it has been able not only to score but to move the ball steadily on the ground, something the Redskins couldn't do consistently last year.
Theismann probably will have to without his favorite touchdown receiver, tight end Jean Fugett, most of the night. Fugett, slowed by a knee injury, is down for spot duty while rookie Don Warren plays almost full time.
This game will feature an intriguing battle of the special teams, with the Redskins trying to stop their former return star, Tony Green.
Green, cut in the preseason, was immediately picked up by New York. He has returned three punts for a lack-luster 5.7 average and five kickoffs for 17.1. But he has vowed publicly to make Washington pay for his unexpected release.
"I'm sure Tony will be fired up and ready to show us something," said Dallas Hickman, captain of Washington's special teams. "Any athlete would be in his situation. Having played with him should help us. We know what he improvises well, like when he bobbles a kick he seems to get good returns, so we can't let up on him.
"We've got nothing against him. What happened was a management decision. He has friends on this team, but we sure don't want him to have a good night against us. But then, we never want anyone to have a good night against us."
The Metrorail system from RFK Stadium will extend its service past the normal deadline of midnight to accommodate an expected heavy load of passengers after tonight's game. Extra trains will be added to the route.
Trains leaving RFK include the Orange line to New Carrollton and the Blue line to National Airport.