Both Coach Jack Pardee and his offensive coordinator, Joe Walton, strongly defended the Redskins' goal-line offense yesterday, saying that execution, not play selection, is the team's major problem.
Pardee also made it clear that he could not detect any holding by tackle George Starke on a controversial play with two minutes left against New Orleans Sunday.
Although Pardee refused to criticize directly the officials for penalizing Starke on a first-down running play from the two, he said scrutiny of the game films left him puzzled about the play.
"Our films didn't show anything," Pardee said. "Any time you are down there, how do you hold a guy? You jump on top of them and smother them. Remember, the defensive linemen are lined up four inches from the ground and are submarining."
Yet as much as the Redskins fretted about the holding call --one team official labeled it "dreadful" -- Pardee and Walton agreed that Washington had so many chances to score from inside the 10 that no single play should have decided the game.
But neither coach plans to change the current philosophy of using power blocking and running to shove the ball in once Washington moves within the shadow of the goal post.
"People are asking me why we didn't use a rollout with Joe (Theismann) running," Walton said. "We scored on that play and New Orleans would have been completely stupid not to be looking for it again.
"Anyhow, that's not how you consistently get into the end zone. That's not how you make your living. We've got the personnel and we've got the plays to score. We just have to get our rhythm back and work on our techniques and execution, that's how you win."
Pardee said the offense would work more than usual on goal-line plays this week, and that some minor blocking schemes will be changed.
"The biggest thing I look at," Pardee said, "is how can we improve, what do we need to change to help us? What can be done mechanically to make sure we are doing everything possible to take advantage of our linemen's strengths?
"You can't get too cute down there. You have to get movement. We are a stronger team up front than we were last year, but we still have a ways to go. Our personnel can do the job. We can be a good short-yardage team."
At another point, Pardee laughed and said: "Maybe getting it in from the 10 is easier for us than getting it in from the one. We had two nineyard runs to get it up close; too bad we couldn't have gotten one more yard on each one."
Pardee admitted that Washington tried just about every play in its goal-line offense during the New Orleans game. Only one, Theismann's rollout, was successful.
"It was a teamwide breakdown," Walton said. "They each took turns at doing something wrong. All we can do now is pick ourselves up and correct it. dAs coaches, we blame ourselves for this happening and I'm sure the players are going to be self-critical.
"The worst thing that could happen is that they start blaming each other. I don't think they will, especially after they look at the films."
Walton was reliving a football nightmare yesterday. He named at least five occasions when the Redskins should have scored touchdowns on plays near the goal line, only to have either a missed assignment, a late pass or a good rush by the Saints ruin the chance.
A couple of other things late in the contest had to have upset the staff, although no one was commenting on them yesterday.
One was the mixup on the game's final play, when Walton wanted one pass called and Theismann ran another. A breakdown in communication was blamed for the mistake. Pardee said the solution was easy: "We shouldn't get ourselves in a situation where we need to score on the last play to win."
The other was the run by Benny Malone on the play on which Starke was called for holding. A Redskin player said Malone misread the blocking and went over the middle of the line instead of following John Riggins off tackle and through a good hole over Starke's block.
"There is no use pointing the finger at anyone," Walton said. "We just can't let that happen again."
Added Pardee: "We can't have things like holding and sacks when we get to the one- or three-yard line. You can't make all your player assignments down there, it's too hard, but you can't have those big mistakes."
But right to the end of the game, Pardee said, he thought his team would win "and then we'd all be happy today. It was a typical game for this team, the ones we somehow pull out."
It would have been a sweet triumph for the Redskins for a number of reasons.
First, Theismann had his first poor game of the season, yet the team managed to stay close and almost win. Working under a heavy pass rush, Theismann's timing with receivers was off and he seemed to lack the smoothness of the first eight contests.
Second, a victory would have put Washington in a first-place tie with Dallas in the NFC East and have moved the Redskins a game ahead of Philadelphia. Since both the Cowboys and the Eagles lost, the standings at the top of the division did not change.
Third, it would have given the club impetus going into Sunday's game at Pittsburgh with the mighty Steelers. Pardee bravely said yesterday that the defending Super Bowl champions "can be had, just like anyone else, but you have to earn it. I think the way we play and the fact we match up pretty good against them helps. We are a lot better prepared now to take them on than we were a few weeks ago."
Fourth, the defeat wasted another fine efort by the surprising Washington defense, still the NFL leader in fewest points surrendered.
"That was the encouraging thing about the game," Pardee said, "the way our defense played. The defense held up against the run, against a team with a good running attack.
"If (tight end) Don Warren keeps playing like he is and Buddy Hardeman keeps making the catches and we get our timing down and shore up our pass rush defense a little bit, we're going to be all right.
"Our runners are running hard. We've just got to improve our blocking. We're still a pretty good team. But when we get down there near the end zone we have to come away with some points every time."
Pardee said he expects Joe Lavender and Ron Saul to return to the starting lineup this week and he thinks linebacker Rich Milot will be available for special team duty. The Redskins reported no new injuries from the New Orleans game, although Pardee said Karl Lorch "has a bruised leg or something like that . . . Pardee still feels 10 wins means a playoff berth. "Nine might make it but I wouldn't depend on it."