Coach Jack Pardee, who thinks nine victories will get Washington into the playoffs, said yesterday that his offense must stop its "roller-coaster" habits and gain more consistency for the Redskins to advance into postseason play.
Pardee also said that Ike Forte, who was dropped earlier in the season by Washington, will be polishing his skills as a kick returner and third-down receiver-runner as the replacement for Buddy Hardeman, who is out for the rest of the regular season with a fractured jaw.
"Ike will have to take up the slack for Buddy," Pardee said. "Ike is capable of doing it. We kept him instead of Buddy in training camp because we liked him. We just can't afford another injury at those spots."
The Redskins still were deciding yesterday who they would add to the roster to fill Hardeman's position. Pardee said it would be either a running back or a wide receiver who probably could also double as a return man.
"Whoever we bring in won't be able to help us immediately," Pardee said. "We've got to go with what we've got.
"Our goal right along has been to make the playoffs. We are capable of doing that, we have to forget about the Pittsburgh game (a lopsided 38-7 defeat) and concentrate on our last six games. This is when the playoff teams will be determined.
"Ten victories will do it (make the playoffs). But nine is very realistic when you look at it." The Redskins are 6-4.
It also seems likely that the Redskins will abandon a one-game experiment that had Ken Houston moving from strong to free safety in place of Mark Murphy while Tony Peters moved into the strong safety spot.
The new-look Redskin secondary was riddled by the Pittsburgh passing attack for 372 yards and had problems in missing assignments and tackles.
Murphy, the team's leading tackler entering the contest, also is responsible for changing coverages before the snap. Until the Steeler game, the secondary had had an outstanding year.
"We just didn't play well," said Richie Petitbon, the secondary coach. "Let's just say they all picked the same game to be below par. Hopefully, we all have it out of our system.
"Our missed tackles really hurt. We might have cut off a couple hundred yards just by making a tackle once the guy caught the ball."
The exact alignment of the secondary for the Cardinal game Sunday will not be determined until Lemar Parrish tests his injured ribs. If he cannot play, then Peters will move to cornerback. If Parrish can suit up, then Peters probably will again become a utility man, getting in as much as the starters.
Ironically, Murphy wound up playing more at free safety Sunday than Houston, who moved back to strong safety once Peters had to take Parrish's spot at cornerback in the second quarter.
"I felt a little awkward," Houston said about the move to free safety, which he learned about just minutes before the start of the game. "I'm sure it would take time to adjust to the spot. I know one thing, you run a lot more at free safety. But after spending so much time at one position, it would be natural to not feel that comfortable."
This most likely will be Houston's last year. He already has indicated he will think about retirement after this, his 13th season, especially now that Peters looms as heir apparent to the strong safety spot.
Injuries and secondary, however, were not Pardee's only headaches yesterday. He also was putting out two other messages: The offense has to get off its roller coaster and improve and the Redskins cannot let Pittsburgh's lopsided win interfere with their primary goal of making the playoffs.
The Redskins, after scoring 27 points in each of their first three games, have not scored more than 17 in any of their last seven. In three of the last four, they have managed no more than 13, low outputs that put a tremendous strain on a good, but hardly great, defense.
"We are doing things right on offense," Pardee said. "We are moving the ball but a dropped ball will stop us or not being able to score at the goal line.
"John Riggins in running well; he's got to get the ball 20 to 25 times a game. But we also have to catch it, no matter where it is.
"If we move the ball consistently, we are going to get points, but not if we drop so many passes.
"Earlier, Mark Moseley was getting two or three shots at field goals in games, but we haven't been able to get Mark as many chances recently. If we get down there and get points, we'll give the defense a chance.
"We just don't have a lot of margin for error. We can't make many mistakes. We just have to execute better."
Hardeman's absence will hurt. He was the No. 1 kickoff and punt returner, No. 2 receiver (21 catches for 197 yards, No. 4 rusher (124 yards on 31 carriers), showed the best outside speed on the team and rarely even juggled a kick.
Forte, a four-year veteran from Arkansas, played well as a running back against the Eagles two weeks ago and returned three kickoffs for 93 yards against the Steelers. He made the Redskins off his training-camp performance, then was dropped after recovering from a knee injury.He returned after clearing waivers when Lonnie Perrin was cut.
"We just have to forget Pittsburgh and our injuries and get back to our goal to be a better team at the end of the season than we were at the beginning," Pardee said. "Everyone we have left is as good as we are. Our goal is to make progress and get better. If we do, we'll be able to win.
"Even with losing to Pittsburgh, we are still in a good position to get into the playoffs. It will be my priority to forget the Steelers. That will make it the team's priority."
Hardeman underwent surgery yesterday at Washington Hospital Center to repair two jaw fractures . . . Margaret Perryman, mother of Pardee's wife Phyllis, died Sunday night in Gatesville, Tex. Her funeral will be today in Gatesville . . . Clarence and Allie Mae Harmon are the parents of a girl born Sunday morning . . . Pardee praised three things from the Steelers game: The Redskins' effort, their rushing defense and their pass prtection (just one sack) . . . Pardee called the films of the Steeler game "a horror show."