Redskin running backs turned in an impressive performance in tonight's 10-3 victory over the Colts, especially since they were missing their top runner, John Riggins.
Washington backs rushed for 204 yards in 40 carries for a 5.1 average, making is a bit easier for the team to ignore Riggins' absence for now. Clarence Harmon had 47 yards rushing, followed by Buddy Hardeman (38), Bobby Hammond (37), and rookie free agent Ricky Claitt (36).
Asked about the performance of the running backs, quarterback Joe Theismann said: "Life has to go on (without Riggins). I'd love to have him back there, but if you gotta go, you gotta go. I'm very comfortable having Buddy and Clarence back there. The backs have worked very hard during the last three weeks and they proved it tonight."
Especially impressive was Harmon, the fourth-year back from Mississippi State, who scored the only touchdown on a two-yard run over left tackle and had three pass receptions. Harmon was the third-leading ground gained for the Redskins last season and believes Washngton management may be worrying needlesssly about making a trade to replace Riggins.
"They're talking about trading for another back," he said. "We don't need any more backs. We've got backs here who play and want to play. Before the game we said we were going to come out here and get off. Listen, John (Riggins) is one of us, but the guys here can do the job."
Harmon, Hardeman and Claitt were quick to credit the surging offensive line for much of their running success.
"The line was coming off the ball unbelievably," Harmon said. "Sometimes I would look up end there was a gaping hole in front of me -- especially on the left side. It was just a question of which hole I wanted to pick."
Hrdeman, the second year all-purpose back from Iowa State, said the Baltimore defense was stunting a lot the entire game, "but the offensive line still gave us a lot of holes up front."
"We didn't have a superstar or any big names in the backfield tonight," Hardeman continued, "but our offense isn't oriented to work for the individual -- it works as a unit. I think we proved the backs wer have can perform as a unit."
Colt defensive end Fred Cook had cautious praise for the Washington backs. "I was real impessed with theirbacks, sure. They ran hard, went to the holes fast, but I've got a lot of respect for Riggins. They got to within a couple of plays of making the playoffs last year and he was a big reason for it, doing all the work. No question, they need him."
Pardee said although he was pleased with his backs' performance, he will still consider trading for a top-line back.
"Harmon and Hardeman had superb night, running, blocking and catching the football," Pardee said. "The road we chose all along was having all of our backs prepard."
Pardee also praised fullback Don Testerman, who gained 20 yards rushing and 20 off the pass. He and rookie Claitt saw considerable action.
"We could easily use all the backs with the way the offensive line was blocking," said Claitt, a free agent from Bethune Cookman.
Cliatt said much of Pardee's attack was aimed at Baltimore's right side and Cook -- usually considered the Colts' strong suit on defense.
"We haven't practiced many plays in camp, but the few we have, we ran them well tonight. The play we kept, running at their right side was called '39 Barbado." It was that play that gave the Redskins runs of nine, 12 and 17 yards twice, most of them in the third quarter when they drove for the touchdown.
The feeling still is that the Redskins need Riggins and his 1,153 yards of last season to contend for the NFC East title. They were 17th in rushing in the NFL last season and seventh in NFC. But for now Pardee feels he can breathe a bit easier.
In the Colt locker room, quarterback Bert Jones said he was able to "shake off" two falls on his right shoulder. "It felt fine. It didn't hurt at all." Jones played two quarters and completed 13 passes in 24 attempts in his first start since last November.