The last thing Jack Pardee wants is to have the Washington-Seattle game turn into a track meet. If that happens today in the game scheduled to start at 4 p.m. at RFK Stadium (WRC-TV-4), he knows the Redskins may not have the quickness out of the blocks or the endurance over the long haul to defeat the explosive Seahawks.
That's why he has been talking to his team frequently this week about consistency.
"We've got to be consistent in what we are doing," he said. "We can't think about it or question it. We have to go out and believe in it and execute it. If we can do that, we'll be able to start playing the kind of football we are capable of playing.
"We shouldn't get involved in a track meet with them. I don't think it will happen if we can get our running game and short-passing game going. But that means coming out right away and playing well from the start and not taking a while to get going. And it means doing something with the ball every time we have it.
"We should be able to run the ball on them, but we have to do it with consistency. Otherwise, a lot of things might happen that we won't like."
The Redskins cannot afford to lose today. That would drop their record to 1-3 and would severely threaten their hopes for a playoff spot even though 12 weeks would remain in the regular season. They are favored by four points.
"Let's say this is a highly important, crucial, must game," quarterback Joe Theismann said with a laugh. "I think we are all well aware of its importance."
It will be Theismann's task to provide the consistency Pardee has been emphasizing. So much of the talk about this game during the past week has concerned quarterback Jim Zorn's expected dual with the Redskins' experienced secondary. But Washington is convinced that no matter how well its defense plays, it won't matter unless Theismann and Co. can put together its first standout showing of the season.
"We're making progress," said the beleaguered offensive coorinator, Joe Walton, who has had to deal with a seemingly never-ending rash of injuries. "We've simplified things some more this week and I thought we worked well in practice. We just can't have the mistakes we had last week, especially from our new guys. If we can eliminate the mistakes, I think we can play well."
Last year, when the Redskin attack was rolling, games had a familiar pattern. The defense would force an early turnover, giving the team good field position. Then the offense would either score a touchdown or Mark Moseley would kick a field goal. Rarely would Washington come up empty, and that meant a quick lead in almost every contest.
But this season, the Redskins haven't been able to capitalize on their eight interceptions. Injuries have destroyed offensive continuity, the running game has been spotty and, last week against Oakland, even pass protection broke down. As a result, only inept Green Bay is ranked lower in total offense statistics among league teams.
"We need to jump on any mistakes Seattle makes," Pardee said, "and get some fast scores and get ahead for a change. It would be fun for a change to see what we can do in that position. Seattle has shown that once they get behind, they put the ball up a lot. It would like to see our secondary in that type of situation."
Walton and Pardee have no way of really knowing if the offense is capable of fulfilling Pardee's designs. The return of tackle Terry Hermeling will help, and new center Dan Peiffer, who is replacing Bob Kuziel, is supposed to be a masterful blocker on the run.
But the benching of Kuziel, a popular figure on the club, caused some resentment among the players. And the team still is starting five players on the unit who did not figure to be first-stringers prior to training camp, including tight end Rick Walker, who continues to make costly errors while trying to excel at the position Walton considers one of the keys to his attack.
Adding to these headaches is the tension that surrounded Redskin Park this week, partly because of the importance of this game and partly because of the news that two members of the club are under investigation by Fairfax authorities for off-the-field activities.
"We need this one badly just to get everyone to smile around here," one offensive team member said.
Seattle's defense could bring the Redskins the happiness they need. The Seahawks are last in the AFC in both rushing defense and total defense and they are coming off a 37-31 loss to New England in which they surrendered 474 yards.
As usual, Washington wants to run and will use halfback Wilbur Jackson and fullbacks Rickey Claitt and Clarence Harmon early in the game to see if Seattle's young line and linebackers can stop them.
There should be less running when Zorn gets his hands on the ball. With leading ground-gainer Sherman Smith sidelined with a knee injury, the Seahawks are reduced to inexperienced Jeff Moore (45 yards gained) and full-backs Jim Jodat (74 years) and Dan Doornink (52) as their primary ball carriers.
"I still think they will check us out running," safety Mark Murphy said, well aware of Washington's defensive problems against the run. "They just have to take a look at the Oakland film and it would be dumb for them not to test us."
But cornerback Lemar Parrish thinks the left-handed Zorn, who already has thrown for 741 yards this season (completing 57 percent of his passes), will try "from 40 to 45 passes against us." And Washington is concerned greatly about Zorn's scrambling ability.
He also has two excellent receivers, sure-handed Largent (14 receptions) and Sam McCullum (11 catches, four touchdowns). Zorn tends to concentrate more on them than on Theismann's favorite targets, his running backs.
But Seattle hardly is conventional on offense. The Seahawks line up in a myriad of formations and will go long stretches with three wide receivers and no tight end.