Coach Jack Pardee thinks his Redskins have progressed enough, especially on offense, to have a "decent chance" of surviving four straight road games with their playoff hopes intact.
"I think we can win all four," Pardee said yesterday, "even though I don't think we are near being as good a team as we can be.
"We've shown enough in the first games to give me optimism. I've liked the way we've worked and our attitude. We have a ways to go but I think we have the ability to play with the teams coming up on our schedule."
When the Redskins finish playing at St. Louis, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Cleveland, they will be one game short of the season's halfway mark. To have a reasonable shot at postseason play, they probably will have to split the four, at least.
All four opponents have playoff potential. Atlanta and Philadelphia were wild-card teams last season. Cleveland and St. Louis have improved enough to make a run at wild-card selections.
"These are good, solid football teams," Pardee said. "It's tough playing them on the road. It certainly is a challenge. But I've seen enough good things to feel good about our future."
In winning two of their first three games, the Redskins have proven they are capable of beating two winless opponents. And they've shown their conservative-oriented offense is capable of scoring more consistently than probably even Pardee thought possible.
Although the Washington defense shut out the downtrodden New York Giants Monday night, there still are questions surrounding that unit's ability against a running game. All four of the upcoming opponents will test that weakness, especially the Cardinals and their sensational rookie, Ottis Anderson.
Until the defense is better established, the burden over the next four weeks will remain on the offense. Pardee said yesterday the high Redskin point production so far is no fluke "as long as we don't make mistakes."
Washington's offensive statistics through three games are impressive. While scoring 27 points in each of the contests, the Redskins have allowed only five sacks (compared to an average of three a game last season), have lost four fumbles, have been penalized 122 yards and have been intercepted three times.
They had trouble moving the ball on the ground early against New York, then put together two marches of almost eight minutes each in the second half. That had Pardee smiling. Their mixture of short passes by Theismann and grinding runs by a quartet of backs have accomplished more than many of the NFL's flashier offensive machines.
"As long as we don't hurt ourselves, I think we can keep scoring," Pardee said. "But with the type of personnel we have, it's tough to come back if we put ourselves in a hole through errors.
"Last year, when we couldn't run, we were getting ourselves in second-and-long situations all the time. Now, even when we don't pick up a lot of yards on first down, we are still going forward.
"If we can keep coming up with third and three, four or five, the way Joe is passing and with the type of receivers we have, I think we can keep picking up our first downs."
here has been little gaudy about the Redskins offense, but Pardee said as early as the second week of training camp that his team would be cautious and play the percentages.
His approach has worked because the line has held up, the team has avoided major injuries, John Riggins and Benny Malone have run consistently if not spectacularly and Theismann and his receivers have combined effectively on those eight- to 14-yard pass routes.
Newcomer Buddy Hardeman has proved a pleasant surprise. Cut two weeks before the season, then brought back when Tony Green was released, Hardeman has filled the all-purpose role many thought Green would play.
Hardeman has rushed for a 5.3 average, caught seven passes for an 8.7 average, completed his only passing attempt and proved steady returning both punts and kickoffs.
"He's doing what we were hoping we could get out of a back this year," Pardee said. "He's a pretty good runner, a pretty good blocker and a good receiver. He's hard to cover one on one coming out of the backfield. We'd like to use him like Dallas uses Preston Pearson."
Theismann, continuing his fine play, has hit on 38 of 61 passes this season (62.3 percent). Just as significantly, he is averaging on 6 1/2 yards a completion while spreading his successes among eight receivers. His short-pass accuracy has enabled Washington to convert on 51 percent of its third downs.
There probably is no reason why the Redskin offense can't move the ball against St. Louis Sunday. The Cardinals, who barely lost to Dallas and Pittsburgh and beat the Giants, 27-14, have given up 60 points from their 3-4 defensive alignment. Opponents have been especially effective passing, averaging 205 yards a game.
Coach Bud Wilkinson's players are as explosive as Houston offensively. The addition of Anderson, who has gained 339 yards, and fellow rookie Theotis Brown has given quarterback Jim Hart new weapons to accompany an already good passing attack.
That line has changed. Gone are Conrad Dobler, Roger Finney and Dan Dierdorf (knee injury), but it still has allowed only five sacks.
"You can see the Wilkinson influence," Pardee said. "It took someone with character to hold them together last year. Now they've got a heck of a team."
Pardee hopes Dave Butz can play Sunday after sitting out the Giant game with a knee injury. His replacement, Paul Smith, had nine tackles . . . Terry Hermeling has pulled a hamstring but said yesterday he will be okay . . . Pardee said the defense improved. He praised cornerback Joe Lavender "for being more aggressive and more physical." . . . Clemson rookie Joe Bostick starts at right tackle for the Cards, replacing Dierdorf . . . Card fullback Wayne Morris missed the Steeler game with a knee injury but is expected to play Sunday . . . Game balls Monday night went to Theismann, Mark Moseley and Karl Lorch.