Of all the stadiums in the NFL, the Meadowlands is hardly the place Jack Pardee would pick to cure the Redskin offensive woes.
Perhaps that's why Pardee has done an about-face for Sunday's 4 p.m. meeting with the Giants (WDVM-TV-9). He says he hasn't talked very much about New York in meetings this week. Instead, the concentration has been on what ails his struggling club.
"We've worried about the Redskins and not about the Giants," Pardee said.
"It's just been a change in emphasis for us, but we had to go that way. We've got enough problems to straighten out without getting mixed up too much with the Giants.
"Besides, if we take care of ourselves, that will be good enough to win. Then it won't matter what New York does."
"The Redskins, listed as 2 1/2-point favorites are trying not to view this game as one of those make-or-break-the-season affairs. But certainly a loss to the team picked to finish last in the NFC East, six days after the stunning defeat at the hands of the Cowboys, wouldn't bode well for Washington.
Pardee has had plenty of problems to ponder since that horrid showing against Dallas before a national TV audience Monday night. Many were the same questions he had before meeting the Cowboys. Unfortunately, he says, "we get the wrong answers to a lot of them Monday."
Heading his list of problems is dismal running game that could muster only 58 yards against Dallas. He will attempt to improve that total by going with a drastically altered backfield: newly converted halfback Wilbur Jackson and rookie fullback Rickey Claitt. Clarence Harmon, one of the few Redskins who performed well Monday, will be employed extensively on second and third downs and likely will wind up playing more than Claitt.
Buddy Hardeman, who has been starting at halfback, has been limping all week on a sore ankle. If he can play Sunday, he will be used mainly in passing situations. If he can't go, then newly activated Bobby Hammond, the former Giant, will take his place.
"This has been a good week in the backfield because we finally have some stability," said quarterback Joe Theismann, who has never won a pro game in this, his native state. "We've been shuffling players in and out so much since training camp because of injuries and (John) Riggins' retirement. It helps to know who is playing where."
Pardee had hoped the Redskins would be able to shrug off the loss of Riggins, but it was obvious against Dallas that his departure left a gaping hole in the club's attack. If Jacksonand Claitt can make this major lineup gamble work Sunday, Riggins' absence will be somewhat easier to take.
But it will take more than a revitalized running game to completely cure the Redskins. On Monday night, Pardee tried to get by with a second-string tight end, Phil DuBois, who had a dismal blocking game, and a new middle linebacker, Rich Milot, who sruggled from lack of experience. The Cowboys successfully exploited both, despite the Redskins' hopes that at least one would turn in an unexpectedly strong performance.
For Sunday's game, Pardee will go with regular tight end Don Warren, who is still nursing an ailing leg, and hope he can hold up. Milot remains the middle linebacker since Neal Olkewicz is sidelined with a bad knee, but Pardee says the ex-Penn State star "is a quick learner who will profit by what happended to him against Dallas. I expect a much better game from Rich this time around."
There also is a chance that linebacker Brad Dusek, a key element in the Redskins' defensive success, could start taking a regular turn now that his sore leg is nearing full strength.If Dusek can play, he'll be paired with Monte Coleman, who finally has earned a permanent starting berth. Otherwise, Pete Wysocki will line at his normal outside linebacking position for at least one more game.
Despite Washington's dismal history here -- four straight losses, no touchdowns in three of those games -- the Giants remain a highly vulnerable team despite their surprising 41-35 triumph last week at St. Louis.
More than half of the players on New York's roster were not there last season. The first-string running backs has been lost for the year and Coach Ray Perkins now is using former Eagle Mike Hogan and youngster Eddie Hicks as starters, with ex-Charger Bo Matthews as the No. 1 backup. The secondary features starting rookie Mark Haynes, a No. 1 draft choice, and former Redskin Don Harris, who hardly ever played in Washington. And the usually strong Giant defense surrendered 419 total yards in the opener.
Quarterback Phil Simms had a marvelous game against the Cardinals (280 yards, five touchdowns), but still is plagued by inconsistency.The Giants were so concerned last year about letting him throw into the Redskins' veteran secondary that they went mainly to a running game here. Billy Taylor, now injured, performed like a Pro Bowler for one afternoon.
"We thought they'd pass a lot last year and they ran a lot, instead, which was surprising," Pardee said. "So we can't expect them to do any one thing this time, either. I'm sure when they saw how Dallas ran on us, they'll try to move it on the ground."
Opponents always are trying to run on the Redskins. But the Giants managed only 104 yards against a weak St. Louis defense, which has to give Pardee hope. He wants to force Simms to throw on long-yardage situations, no matter how talented receiver Earnest Gray (four TD catches against the Cards) might be.
At the same time, Washington needs to improve its pass rush, which didn't drop Danny White once and hardly mounted any pressure on him throughout the game. "Dave Butz didn't play up to his standards and we need a better game from him," said defensive coordinator Doc Urich. Added Pardee: "Until our offense comes around, we need a strong showing from the defense. It has to play better than it did against Dallas."
Theismann never has played well here. He was hindered last season by a horribly conservative game plan that tried to reduce any chance of mistakes. Instead, it all but eliminated the Redskin chances of scoring.
"I'd love to win in New Jersey but I don't think it's an obsession," "Theismann said. "Ralph Hawkins (the Giant defensive coordinator) used to coach down here and he loves to beat me, just as I love to beat him.
"Sure, their secondary has some changes but so did Dallas and they held up well. They still have those linebackers (Harry Carson, Brad Van Pelt, Brian Kelley) and Gary Jeter is a heck of a pass rusher. They've always matched up well against us, but I think we're ready for a good game."
Pardee hopes his club finally has overcome the turmoil of the past few weeks and is ready to perform up to his standards.
"We were right on schedule until the last week before the season opener," he said. "We aren't back yet where I want. But there would be nothing better for our health than a win in this game. You'd be surprised what it could do for us." CAPTION:
Picture, Wilbur Jackson, fighting for yardage against Cowboys, will assume halfback's duties as starter against New York today. UPI