The Redskins tried to put their best face forward yesterday in the aftermath of their embarrassing loss to Dallas Monday night, but behind the optimistic statements about the future looms a deepening concern about the club's running in the absence of John Riggins.
"We'll be able to run the ball this year," Coach Jack Pardee said, "and I feel we'll start doing it this week against the Giants. We just have to pick ourselves up and win that game and then we'll be right back where we should be."
But Pardee also readly admitted that a good deal of work remains to be done on the running attack, which was held to just 58 yards by Dallas, before Sunday. The Redskins never have won in the Meadowlands. They have failed to score a touchdown there in three of their last four trips.
There is no question the Redskins need to run consistently if they are going to entertain any playoff hopes. "You have to run to win," said Joe Walton, offensive coordinator. "But first we have to be physical and go after people. We didn't do that against Dallas. We have to gain control of the game. We didn't do that. We never got a rhythm, we never got things together."
Fulllbacks Wilbur Jackson and rookie Rickey Claitt, neither of whom contributed much in the opener, figure to see more action this week, giving Clarence Harmon, a workhorse in the Cowboy game, some rest.
Jackson's involvement is critical, although Claitt could prove just as valuable. The Redskins gave up two secondround draft choices for Jackson in hopes he would replace the retired Riggins and then they ran him only twice against Dallas. Claitt played, but did not handle the ball.
"Wilbur will get some more carries in," Pardee said, "He didn't know the system as well as Clarence and Buddy (Hardeman). We'll be using both him and Rickey more. But Monday night we just didn't get to it. There were a lot of things we didn't get to in that game."
The Redskins have said they thought Jackson was capable of gaining 1,000 yards this season. He is also a reliable pass receiver. Claitt was the club's most consistent preseason rusher and is probably its most explosive runner, but the coaches were reluctant to use him against the Cowboys because of his inexperience.
Washington also is expecting more production from the halfback spot. Hardeman, who is replacing Benny Marlone, gained just 11 yards on six carries. And his replacement, Ike Forte, tore rib cartilage and probably will miss the Giant game. The Redskins most likely will add Bobby Hammond, who was cut last week, to the roster today to bolster that spot, although Harmon could begin receiving more work at halfback.
The Redskins could recieve a boost this week should tight end Don Warren return from his hairline fracture in his leg.
"We missed Don's blocking on our strong side running game," Pardee said. "I just hope he can play." He was far less optimistic about the availability of middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz, out with a knee injury.
Pardee first expressed his concern about the running game the last week of training camp, when he said in an interview that he could not predict how far his team would go this season until he could see how his new backfield responded in the regular season.
He saw very little against Dallas to encourage him. Not only did the backs have a bad night, for the most part, but the offensive line was inconsistent. The Redskins couldn't handle the Cowboy front four, which shut off the rushing attack and put constant pressure on quarterback Joe Theismann during passing situations.
"We just played very, very, poorly," Walton said. "They just out hit us. We were flat, we weren't aggressive or confident. We have a lot of work to do.
"We can't block like that and get manhandled and expect to run. But this offense is going to score a lot of points some weeks and some weeks it won't score that many. We just have to get back to doing what we do best."
Pardee and Walton have to search no farther than the Dallas game film to find a model offense for their club to imitate. Pardee said that Dallas "did things on offense that I want to do. I'd like to take the ball and control it by running the ball and mixing in pllay-action passes. That's how you control games.
"We aren't going to be a bomber team. We can't afford to get too far behind. We still don't have a very big margin for error. We can't constantly get into third and 10 or 12 or longer situations like we did against Dallas and expect to win. We were hesitant. We seemed worried about making mistakes instead of playing recklessly."
Pardee said that Redskins faced a different Dallas team, one that went far less for the big play -- a Roger Staubach strategy -- and took pressure off new quarterback Danny White by concentrating more on running.
"They kept White out of having to do more than he might have wanted," Pardee said. "But that's over with now. It's only one game out of 16. We can't let that loss kill our season. We lost our opener last year, too, and we did okay after that."