Coach Jack Pardee placed the fate of the Redskins' playoff hopes in the hands of his defensive unit yesterday while also defending his conservative fourth-quarter offensive strategy against the Eagles Sunday.
Pardee also said the veteran Diron Talbert, benched in the second quarter against Philadelphia, would continue to start at defensive tackle. But he said he wanted to begin using even more players at various defensive positions, including Talbert's.
And he claimed that despite Philadelphia's success with a wing-T running formation, Washington would continue to use strong safety Ken Houston to help his front four stop rushing plays.
"If our offense keeps playing the way they are and our coverage teams keep doing well, this ties it down," Pardee said. "Our defense has just got to play better and stop good runners on early downs. If that happens, we'll be where we need to be."
Philadelphia's running success came as no surprise to Pardee or his staff. The Redskin rushing defense, a major problem last year, has improved this season but remains the club's major weakness.
Until stronger players can be drafted to fill in holes along the front line, Washington is forced to compensate with gimmicks, such as maneuvering Houston to catch opponents off balance.
"We just have to play good defense every week," Pardee said. "We have to keep looking for our matchups and watch as much as we can for size and speed. We just can't allow a player to dominate us as much as (Wilbert) Montgomery did.
"I don't care how many people copy the Philadelphia offense. What they did to us, you better be doing when you have the people they do. They made a couple of offensive adjustments that nullified our matchups a little, namely taking (Harold) Carmichael, who had been a weak-side receiver, and put him on the strong side as a wing or get Kenny Houston out of the middle.
"Other teams will do that. But we did about the same thing in Chicago for three years with our safeties. Since I've been coaching I've had to worry about sets to change defenses."
Pardee maintained that Philadelphia's dominance was not a result of any poor play by individuals, but rather a teamwide breakdown. He said some minor technical adjustments would correct the situation.
"We just have to do the same things we've been doing. We just have to try doing them a little better. We're not going to throw away everything we've tried to accomplish since July 15."
That same premise, according to Pardee, also governed the Redskins' approach to the fourth period against Philadelphia when they trailed, 28-7.
The coaches felt that the offense is at such a fragile stage in its rebuilding program that an all-out attack in that quarter, with its accompanying risks of interceptions, mistakes and a big blowout by the Eagles, was not warranted.
Although Pardee denied his run-oriented approach was conceding the game to Philadelphia, he admitted it made catching up much more difficult, if not impossible.
"We just weren't going to get away from everything we had been trying to accomplish since July," Pardee said. "I'm not saying we didn't want to catch up. I thought we'd be able to break something long on the ground and I felt that the Eagles had to make a turnover. They had played perfectly for 3 1/2 quarters.
"When you see teams falling apart and having injuries and getting their quarterback hurt is in this type of situation. You toss your game plan out the window and go crazy.
"And down the line, if we do get into a playoff situation, we wanted to be concerned about scoring differential. We didn't want a blowout in our division.
"They were playing us for long passes, so it makes sense to run and take what they give you. What's important, valor or trying to go about this smartly?
"We are going to do the things we need to do to get better. We are better than we were yesterday and we'll be better tomorrow. We don't want to be a grab bag out there and hurt ourselves for the rest of the season."
The Redskins remain a team that has difficulty -- because of its short-pass offense -- overcoming deficits. And it remains a team that does not have the personnel to overpower more talented opponents. In order to win against these foes, they have to force turnovers while playing mistake-free football themselves.
Philadelphia performed errorlessly, leaving the Redskins with no alternative but to win by playing straight-up football. And with the team's defensive problems, that put Pardee's club at a disadvantage.
"We played them when they played perfect football," Pardee said. "How many times is that going to happen? Not one mistake. Give them credit.
"That gave them an advantage because they had Montgomery. When we couldn't dominate the line, he could pick his spots and go from there. He's an unusual runner, he is as good inside as outside, so where do you try to turn him?
"They took advantage of our pursuit. They were cutting back while we were overrunning the play."
Pardee said he would stay with Talbert as a starter, but planned to use both Paul Smith and Perry Brooks at defensive tackle.
"We just need to stay strong inside," he said. "Diron played hard, very hard when he was in there. We took him out after Philadelphia played their hand and said they were going to run straight at us and use man-to-man blocking.
"They had a rookie in there against him and he was just firing straight out at us. We were looking for extra size and strength against that situation and Paul is pretty strong.
"We just need to keep looking at our personnel and use them according to the time and situation. We've been doing that and we have to do even more of it. We need to use every one of our strengths as best we can."
Of the Redskins' remaining 10 games, beginning with Sunday's contest at Cleveland, five are against opponents -- like Philadelphia -- currently above .500. The other five foes are 3-3 or worse. For Washington to make the playoffs, it probably needs to beat all five in the latter catagory.
Pardee says the most important thing for his team now is to start winning again immediately.
"We're in good enough position, we just can't get into a losing streak here. When you lose a game, you have to bounce and start another winning streak."
Tight end Jean Fugett's injured knee was examined by Dr. Stan Lavine yesterday. No ligament damage was discovered, but Pardee said the knee was very sore and Fugett looked doubtful for the Cleveland game. "But the last time (against the Giants) Jean was able to play when his knee hurt, so we'll have to wait and see," Pardee said . . . The league trading deadline is 4 p.m. today. Pardee said the Redskins were contemplating no trades. "Well stay with the players we've trained," he said . . . . Pardee said he expected receiver Ricky Thompson to play against Cleveland after sitting out the Eagle game with a hip pointer . . . Guard Jeff Williams has a sore back but should be able to play . . . The coaches thought quarterback Joe Theismann again had an outstanding game . . . Washington expects Cleveland back Greg Pruitt, who has sat out the last two weeks with a knee sprain, to suit up Sunday. Former Redskin Calvin Hill has been playing in Prutt's place . . . The game Sunday will end a string of four in a row on the road for Washington. Six of its final nine will be at home . . . While Brian Sipe has been an outstanding passer this season, Cleveland has struggled defensively, surrendering 82 points the last two weeks while losing to Houston and Pittsburgh.