The Redskins will take on the Oakland Raiders Sunday with a patchwork offensive line that they are counting on not to break under stress and an improving defense they hope won't crack under the bombs-away thrusts of quaterback Dan Pastorini.
Those offensive line problems -- tackles George Starke and Terry Hermeling are sidelined with knee injuries -- have made the Redskins heavily dependent on the defense, which showed signs last week against the Giants taht it was developing into a cohesive unti.
"The defense has to carry us until we can get all of our offensive people healthy again," Coach Jack Pardee said. "I was very happy with the way we played against the Giants' offense. Except fro three long pass plays, we did just about everything right."
But that vulnerability to long passes could prove fatal in this 4 p.m. (EDT) game (WDVM -TV-9) against the gambling Raiders, who long have thrived on quick air strikes and are rated three-point favorites.
"We like to go long," Coach Tom Flores said, "but that doesn't mean we just throw the ball around wildly. But when you have a quarterback like Dan Pastorini and a receiver like Cliff Branch, it's crazy not to put it up once in a while."
Washington came into this season hoping to cut the number of long passes if allowed last season. But both Dallas' Danny White and New York's Phil Simms have burned the Redskins' talented secondary in the first two games with 30-yard plus completions. And neither of them has an arm like Pastorini's.
"You've got to play a couple of steps back just because you know he like to throw long," free safety Mark Murphy said. "I have to be very conscious of not letting anyone get behind me."
But don't be deceived by the Raiders' flamboyance. Pardee says they remain "a pick and shovel running team." Oakland will mix both run and pass in equal portions, concentrating mostly on trying to jam the ball through the center of Washington's defense with the power thrusts of fullback Mark van Eeghen. And when the Redskins start thinking about his runs, new halfback Kenny King, an offseason acquisition from Houston, will try the ends.
To be able to control Partorini's passing, Washington first must stop the running game. And the key player in pursuit of that goal will be middle linebacker Rich Milot, who has improved since a stumbling opener against Dallas. If Oakland can't run, then Washington is convinced it can halt the Raider aerial thrusts.
But with Lemar Parrish still less than 100 percent because of shoulder and foot problems, the Redskin pass defense may not be up to its usual efficiency. fAnd the club has yet to show it is effective stopping a quality ground game.
The last thing Washington can afford to do is give up a couple of quick touchdowns and fall behind before the offensive line has had a chance to settle in. If quarterback Joe Theismann is forced to go to the air to catch up, the line may not be abled to supply him proper pass protection.
"We want to stay close and get our running game going," Offensive Coordinator Joe Walton said. "It's vitally important that we run the ball like we did against the Giants.
"We need to control the clock and keep them off the field. That way, our new tackles won't be asked to pass protect every play. And besides, we always want to be able to run the ball on everyone we play."
Adds Pardee: "It will be a game of clock and field control for us. We can't let them run off huge blocks of time. And we can't always have the ball deep in our territory. We need turnovers and a good game from the tackles."
Those new tackles, Fred Dean and Gary Anderson, are decent enough run-blockers. And Walton is confident that Dean, the team's No. 1 backup tackle, can handle pass protection adequately. But Anderson, normally a guard who hasn't played tackle in four years, was struggling this week learning the techniques of an unfamiliar position.
The line's chances have been hindered even further by Don Warren's ongoing struggle with his fractured leg. The young tight end wants to play, but his leg didn't respond this week to rest and it is likely that newcomer Rick Walker will wind up with most, if not all, the work at the position.
These injury problems come at a time when halfback Wilbur Jackson and fullback Rickey Claitt have injected new life into the Redskin running game. Washington might start Clarence Harmon at fullback as a reward for his value to the club, but Claitt will receive most of the carriers from the position.With Buddy Hardeman still limping on a sore ankle, Bobby Hammond likely will be Jackson's No. 1 backup.
Although it seems the Redskins are entering the game with severe handicaps, Pardee insists that "as long as we play hard and aggressive, we can win. I like the way we match up with them physically, but we can't be tentative. We need to go after them and not hold anything back."
This is the start of an important stretch in the schedule for Washington. After Oakland, the Redskins play host to Seattle, then travel to Denver and Philadelphia. Considering their battered condition, a victory in any of the away games would be a significant achievement.
Oakland certainly looms as an unlikely place to register an upset. The Raiders are 25-5-1 against NFC teams and have won 70 of their last 86 home games. And although this was supposed to be a rebuilding year, Flores' club whipped Kansas City in the opener and outplayed San Diego for much of the afternoon last week -- it gained 435 total yards -- before losing in overtime.
The Raiders have a massive offensive line and two fine tight ends, Dave Casper and Raymond Chester, to go along with Branch's deep threat. While their defensive line is not one of the league's best, their 3-4 alignment still works, thanks mainly to the play of the Mad Stork, linebacker Ted Hendricks.
"Hendricks is playing as well as he ever has," Pardee said. "He's tough to run on and even harder to pass over." It is doubtful the Redskins will test Hendricks much, concentrating instead on the right side of the Raider defense, wher linebacker Jeff Barnes plays.
Cornerbacks Lester Hayes and Monte Jackson are the best Washington has seen so far this season, but safeties Mike Davis and Burgess Ownes could prove vulnerable. Last week, the Raider secondary was riddled for 389 yards by the San Diego's Dan Fouts, but Theismann throw the ball less often and much shorter than the Charger quarterback.
"I hope we don't have to go through the rest of the season in our present condition," Pardee said. "I certainly don't want to go through many weeks like this last one. But if we play up to our capabilities, we can play with them. If we don't, we can get killed."