The Redskins may not play a more unorthodox team all season than the Atlanta Falcons, who blitz faster than Joe Theismann talks, thrive on last-second heroics and, of all things, frequently run a two-minute offense when there is still plenty of time on the clock.
The Falcons' daring departures from the NFL's standard procedures have earned them only a disappointing 2-2 record entering today's 1 p.m. confrontation with Washington (WDVM-TV-9). But that doesn't make them any less dangerous, and they are rated a three-point favorite.
"They can be really tough, especially the way Steve Bartkowski is playing this year," said free safety Mark Murphy."He's playing better than he ever has. You can see him mature."
Murphy has gotten to know Bartkowski well this week. He has studied him nightly on film, trying to pick up some clue as to how to slow down this Golden Arm's fast start.
No one in the NFL this year has thrown the ball as deeply and as accurately as Bartknowski. And no team in the league so likes to test free safeties, such as Murphy, with bombs.
"They had so much success running their two-minute drill last season that I guess they decided why not try it at other points in the game, too," Murphy said. "You'll see three wide receivers in the game a lot and a lot of the same patterns they'd usually run in the last two minutes.
"It's important for us to know who is in the game from down to down so we have our assignments right. They like to put in different sets of receivers and tight ends and backs. It makes you stay sharp."
The Redskins, who want to mount a stiff pass rush, added some depth to their defensive front yesterday by activating tackle Perry Brooks.
To make room for Brooks, who has been on the injured-reserve list with a bad arm. Pardee dropped reserve receiver Chris DeFrance, who was picked up on waivers from Dallas early in the season.
Brooks is needed because starting end Karl Lorch (sore foot) and backup tackle Paul Smith (hip pointer) are still hobbled. Lorch probably will play, but Joe Jones, a good pass rusher, will open at left end.
"The Falcons throw more on first down than most teams," Pardee said. "So we have to be conscious of both pass and run all the time. We need to get in on him but we have to make sure they don't run on us, too."
While climbing to the top of the NFC passing statistics, Bartkowski has completed 59 percent of his attempts for a five 8.5-yard average. His six touchdown tosses include a 57-yarder to Alfred Jenkins and a 31-yarder to Wallace Francis.
Jenkins, who is averaging 20 yards a reception, is hindered by a sore ankle and may yield to Dennis Pearson. Pardee won't mind seeing him go. In the World Football League, Jenkins once caught an 85-yard touchdown pass that helped defeat Pardee's team for the league title.
Francis is Bartkowski's favorite target. Against zone defenses, Francis has developed a knack of getting open in the middle and Bartkowski usually throws the ball his way.
"If they use three wide receivers on first down, like they will do, then we will use a nickel defense," Pardee said. "Every play, we have to see where Francis is, where Jenkins is and where (tight end) Jim Mitchell is. They are key guys."
Bartkowski also has been helped by the emergence of rookie runner William Andrews from Auburn, who has picked up 351 yards while beating out Haskel Stanback. Bubba Bean, last year's fullback, is now starting at halfback.
Andrews gained 167 yards in the opening game but has struggled the last two weeks. And the Redskins are coming off a fine showing last week against another rookie standout, St. Louis' Ottis Anderson.
"What you don't want to do is be so conscious of the long pass that you forget the run," Murphy said. "I think I know pretty much when they will run and I'll play accordingly.
"But you just don't want to give up anything deep."
As strong safety Ken Houston put it: "When they start beating you long, that's the ticket out of this league."
As good as Bartkowski has been, the Falcons have still been inconsistent. Four times last week against the Lions, they were inside the 10 but came away with points only once. And Detroit's defense is as feisty as Washington's, which already has caused 16 turnovers.
That Redskin defense has supported the team the last two weeks while Theismann's offense has stumbled. Sunday, the Washington quarterback will be concerned mainly with the Falcons' Grits Blitz, which went after him 55 times in last year's meeting between the two clubs.
"We've got a solid game plan to attack the blitz," Pardee said, "but you still have to be able to get out there and block. They're aggressive; we better realize that."
Opponents have bombed Atlanta for an average of 380 total yards, concentrating mainly on the Falcon secondary, which must cover one-on-one frequently while the linebackers blitz. If Theismann can get the time to pass, the Redskins are confident they can hurt Atlanta through the air.
It would be no surprise if the game is decided in the final minute. Atlanta has lost its last two contests on missed field goals at the end as kicker Tim Mazzetti has lost some of his magic touch. But as long as the Falcons are close, they can strike quickly despite limited time on the clock.
Washington's special teams especially feel they have something to settle with Atlanta. Mazzetti booted field goals at the close of the half and at the end of the game last year to beat the Redskins, who also had a punt blocked for the first time since 1974.
"They do a good job on their teams, especially rushing the punter," Pardee said. "We're aware of it. Just like everything else they do, we think we can stop it. Now it's a matter of executing the way we've practiced."
Pardee said tight end Phil DuBois would begin spending time at wide receiver. The Redskins only have three receivers on their roster now that DeFrance is gone . . . Atlanta sacked Theismann four times last year. In four games this season, Theismann has been dropped only five times.