Whether they win or lose Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Redskins would at least like to regain some self-respect.
Washington has not only lost three of its first four games, but the players also have been embarrassd by their performances, especially last week against Seattle. There is a leadership and emotional gap on the club that has left everyone, from starters to coaches, both perplexed and dissatisfied.
"But I think you are going to see a different Redskin team this weekend," Assistant Coach Richie Petitbon said. "Everyone was sufficiently embarrassed last week to want to make sure it doesn't happen again."
"Embarrassment can be a great motivator. I think they'll be much more spirited, much more emotional."
Yet no one is boldly predicting that the Redskins will beat the powerful Eagles at Veterans Stadium in the 1 p.m. confrontation (WDVM-TV-9) between these NFC East Division rivals. And for good reason. Despite halfback Wilbert Montgomery's injury problems, Philadelphia is a club on top of its game. Washington, quite the contrary, is, as Coach Jack Pardee put it, "not a very good team right now." The oddsmakers make the Eagles 71/2-point favorities.
"We're going to have to play our best game, because the Eagles are the best team we've faced so far," Pardee said. "The thing I'm looking for right now is for us to play with pride and toughness. We have to start with that. If we play them physically tough, we can be successful. But if we go up there and get pushed around, we don't have any chance at all.
"I'm talking about real toughness, the desire to put your head in there and bang away. Right now, they are in better shape than we are, so the only way to overcome that is to be aggressive and not concede anything."
Pardee has taken this low-key, intellectual approach with his players all week. There has been little screaming or yelling but a great deal of patience and review during practices. He is appealing to their pride, not their raw emotions, to help straighten out what has become a most disappointing start.
Until Washington gets back all its key people from injuries, the team does not have the talent to compete with either Philadelphia or Dallas. Given that, the Redskins realize their only chance to beat the Eagles rests on two factors: they have to generate some consistency (and scoring) on offense while shutting down their opponent's running game.
The Redskin offense didn't score last week and had generated only 47 points this season. The scouting report hasn't changed: if the Redskins can't run, they seem incapable of passing their way into the end zone with any dependability. And Sunday, Washington will be trying to move against the league's No. 1-rated defense, which has allowed only 100 yards per game on the ground through four contests.
To further hinder the Redskin game plan, fullback Clarence Harmon is hobbled by a spraine ankle and seems certain to watch from the sidelines. He is their No. 1 pass receiver and clutch third down player, a role Buddy Hardeman now will have to fill.
"We need good days from Mark Moseley and Joe Theismann," Pardee said, "and I think that's what we will get."
Theismann had a difficult afternoon against Seattle, his poorest of the season. And Moseley has managed to convert only two of nine field goal attempts, although he says he now feels "I'm right on track. I'm ready to snap out of this and start being consistent as always."
With the offensive line getting progressively healthier, Theismann thinks he'll get improved pass protection. To help the running game, Washington has simplified its complex offense and has concentrated this week on perfecting its bread-and-butter plays against the Eagle 3-4 defense.
The Redskin defense found out last season the secret to defeating Philadelphia. In the first game against the Eagles, Montgomery romped for four touchdowns and 127 yards and his team won, 28-17. In the rematch two weeks later, Montgomery was held to 33 yards, quarterback Ron Jaworski was sacked seven times and Washington won, 17-7.
But Pardee's players have had trouble this year even controlling the likes of journeyman Jim Jodat, who gained 117 yards last week for Seattle. If Montgomery, who has a hip pointer, can't play at full speed, his spot will be taken by another journeyman, Louis Giammona, who is the only entirely healthy back on the Eagle roster.
Pardee feels his rush defense has been strengthened by the return of middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz, who has been sidelined by a bad knee. Olkewicz was instrumental in shutting off Montgomery last year and he lends-much-needed toughness to the unit. But he also is not playing at full strength, a status he admits "may not change the rest of the year. I don't think my knee will heal completely until after the season, but I can move on it good enough to play."
Olkewicz is a more accomplished middle linebacker than Rich Milot, who was switched to that spot from the outside primarily to play on passing downs. Instead, he found himself starting four games, which turned into a rough kind of on-the-job training.
"This is no reflection on Rich, because he's a heck of an athlete, but he just wasn't ready to be a starter," said one team source. "Neal should upgrade us there just with his experience."
And to help improve leadership not only within the defense but within the team itself, Pardee has promoted veteran Diron Talbert to his old starting tackle position, which he will share with Paul Smith. On passing downs, Perry Brooks and end Joe Jones, just off the injured list, will be sent in, a repeat of the substitution pattern used in 1979.
The Redskins would love to shut off Montgomery, force Jaworski to pass frequently and then take their chances that their experienced secondary will hold up, even against receiver Harold Carmichael. Similar strategy worked successfully against many opponents last year, but that was when Washington's defense was functioning well enough to turn defensive turnovers into points.
"We are capable of playing a heck of a lot better than we've shown," safety Ken Houston said. "It comes down to a matter of confidence. It we can put some points on the board and get everyone hitting and hustling, I think they'll be some surprises in this game. We all know we have to get things straightened out fast."