Offensive Coordinator Joe Walton knew that criticism would follow the Redskins' dismal showing in their second preseason game. He heard the same barbs last year when Washington could not score a touchdown in its first two exhibitions.
"It's predictable," he said. "We go out and try to accomplish certain things. We want to score, too, but there are other goals. I wasn't very happy with what happened against Cleveland, either, but to think of that game as any indication of what this offense can do is a joke."
Walton realizes he has a far more serious problem than remedying the comedy of mental errors that marred the team's 12-3 victory over the Browns. Like many other Redskins, he is reconciling himself to the fact that fullback John Riggins probably won't play this season. Living without the man he calls "my No. 1 horse" could tax even a coach as resourceful as Walton.
"How do you replace a 1,000-yard rusher? That's something we are probably going to have to fool around with for a long time," Walton said. "I haven't really decided how to do it yet. There are a lot of options, a lot of things we have to explore."
Much of Walton's offensive thinking last year centered on getting the most from Riggins, who responded with 1,153 yards and nine touchdowns, both highs in what already had been an outstanding career. When the Redskins needed touch yards, especially as the season wore on, Riggins was the man they turned to for help. And his percentage of success was outstanding.
Riggins gained 50 percent of Washington's running yards in 1979 and half of the rushing touchdowns.His 66-yard scoring scamper against Dallas in December also was by far the team's longest run from scrimmage.
"He was my horse, the man I turned to," Walton said. "But maybe now we better have a lot of horses replacing the one big horse. Who says you need one guy to gain all the yards? What if three of our guys gain the same total as he did last year?
"I'll tell you this, we won't change our offense just because he isn't here.
We might have to do some maneuvering but the principles remain the same.
"You have to run the football to win. Only a few teams can pass and be successful. If you can't run, it makes everything else awful tough to execute. We found that out two years ago."
Walton is convinced that fulback Clarence Harmon is capable of gaining a large amount of yards this season. But the Redskins also do not want to overwork Harmon and leave him open to injury.That is why they must have another fullback to share time with him. That player either will come through a trade or from the duo of rookie Rickey Claitt and veteran Don Testerman.
"We're going to have to use a lot of people back there, keep running them in and out," Walton said. "I have faith in Clarence. He's a heck of a player. But he can't do it by himself.
"It may be that we'll run some more halfback plays. We'll need more yards from that position. And by playing everyone, maybe we can find a hot back every week. If you have one guy who is going good, you stay with him. He can be a Riggins for a week.
"We can switch up formations, give them different looks so they can't concentrate on anyone in particular. A lot of what we can do will depend on the play we get from halfback."
Buddy Hardeman is the No. 1 halfback, and he is being pushed by Bobby Hammond, Ike Forte and Benny Malone. Had the Redskins known that Riggins might not play this season, they almost certainly would have drafted a back in May. Instead, they took wide receiver Art Monk.
Hardeman seems capable of gaining more than Malone's 472 yards of last season. But Hardman also is a valuable third down receiver, which means one of the other three halfbacks have to emerge. Forte, off his showing against cleveland, and Hammond, who has had a steady camp, currently are running ahead Malone, the best blocker of the quartet.
Forte could develop into a partial solution to the running question. When he is healthy, he is a fine back, but he has a history of injuries that have slowed him every time he has threatened to gain more game action.
Without Riggins, the Redskins seem likely to rely more on their passing attack than Walton might like. Especially short passes. He concedes that "our job is to move the football and if that means doing it more through the air without going crazy, than that's a possibility."
Monk could ease some of the difficulties by having a productive rookie season. He has shown he can catch the ball over the middle, an ability the Redskins lacked last season. He also is bigger and stronger than recent Washington ends.
However, he has yet to exhibit blinding outrun-the-secondary speed in either scrimmages or exhibitions, which could limit his game-breaking potential. It may well be that his strength will come from his ability to break tackles after catches and not from his quickness to speed past cornerbacks.
Still, the receiving corps is stronger than last season. That should take some pressure off the running attack. Quarterback Joe Theismann is showing signs of added maturity; as he gets better, even without Riggins, the offense should be better.
"It doesn't take a genius," said one team source, "to figure out that there is a big void without Riggins. Walton has to do some deep thinking. He's got players and his offense already is geared to nibble away and utilize a lot of different abilities.
"But if everyone doesn't play up to their talents, that will create a problem. They are going to need a lot of good seasons from a lot of people."
Walton's immediate concern today, of course, was straightening out the errors made in the Browns' game. He said the Redskins "missed too many assignments, made too many mistakes and didn't have a lot of concentration. Other than that, things were great.
"You go into these preseason games looking to play alot of people, looking for backup players, working on blocking combinations, looking to feature different aspects of the offense. You aren't going to look pretty all the time, but when the season comes, you should be prepared," Walton said.
"What happened against Cleveland doesn't change my mind. But if it happens in the regular season -- now that's a different story."