Backs must fight each other to play against the Redskins. If John Anderson could run against them, he would be president in a landslide. The opposition has discovered that Victory Road against Washington goes in three unguarded directions -- right, left and up the middle.
Before yesterday in RFK Stadium, the Vikings had the most impotent offense in the NFL. With its best runner averaging 47 yards a game, Minnesota had all but abandoned its ground attack. Then the starting quarterback suffered a thumb-and-finger injury and somebody named Dils played.
In such circumstances, the Redskins could have won big. They lost badly. Season-long witnesses had assumed the team could not play more poorly than that shutout loss to Seattle five weeks ago. They were wrong.
Yesterday was worse.
The Redskins vacillated from pathetic to disgusting. By the second half, they managed to get the proper number of defenders on the field each play. John McDaniel did not drop any passes this week, but he did drop the Viking punter at exactly the wrong time, when victory still was possible midway through the third quarter.
Awfulness was sustained for so long that the emotions of the customers ran from frustration to irritation to boredom. Midway through the fourth quarter, the human dots were scattered in such small clusters one could imagine a soccer game in progress.
By the time his press conference started, Coach Jack Pardee merely was subdued. He had been publicly angrier at least two other times. His bite yesterday usually came at the end of what little positive there was to offer. Such as:
"We ended up with the (defensive) matchups we pretty much wanted. But you've still gotta tackle."
On the first play of the game, the latest Jim Jodat, Ted Brown, ran around the Redskins' right side for 12 yards. Then they ran left again and up the middle twice for 14 more yards. Exhilarated, they kept right on running. They had rushed for an average of just 84 yards in eight prior games. Yesterday they got 201.
"Probably what happens is that teams might be keying on the personnel we're bringing in," said defensive tackle Dave Butz. "They (the Redskin coaches) are platooning everybody -- and everybody is supposed to have different advantages in certain situations.
"The other teams are seeing our personnel and knowing our thinking as to pass or run. They know the players noted for playing pass might have a little trouble with the run."
This is the reference to the situation substitutions that worked so well last year. Because he is not blessed with much defensive talent, Pardee uses players to their best strengths. He tries to match what players with limited ability do best against what the opposition seems likely to try.
Mix 'n' match might work well for Johnny Miller. It is failing this season for Pardee, because the fellows who defend passes well might not be able to tackle Jack Kent Cooke and his bride.
On third and 10, for instance, the Redskins send in a lot of Rich Milots and Turkey Joneses. Once upon a time, they were hoping the other team would run. They would gladly settle for a nine-yard run -- and did last season. This season is dramatically different. Instead of a nine-yard run on that third and 10, usually ordinary runners are gaining 11 yards -- and a first down.
What will happen when the team faces a genuinely gifted back?
We will see in less than a week.
If Jodat, Jimmie Rogers and over-the-hill Otis Armstrong can run through these wooden Indians, what will Walter Payton do Sunday in Chicago? Has a back ever gained 1,000 yards in one game?
A year ago, the Redskins could go confidently into a game such as that, because the Bears in fact are a one-dimensional team. They go as far as Payton's legs will carry them. They have used three quarterbacks quite often in recent years -- which means they really have none.
But if the Redskins cannot stop the Vikings, whom can they stop? If the Bears are one-dimenstional, the Vikings yesterday should have been no-dimensional. No running and no passer. Or at least no passer that had been trusted to pass more than eight times that counted the last two years.
This Steve Dils surely won't last more than a few plays, the reasoning went when he started in place of Tommy Kramer. The Redskin pass defense, merely the best in the free world, will have him for an early supper, scramble his mind so badly early that Bud Grant will be forced to go with the more experienced Mike Livingston.
It was Dils who had the Redskins in a pickle. This pup threw for some Jurgensen-like numbers, with 18 completions in 29 tries for 200 yards -- or nearly 30 more than anyone had mustered in one game against the Redskins this season.
What did Dils look like? A clever Redskin might say: "Don't know. Nobody got close enough to see."