Will Sunday mark the start of a total collapse of Redskins?
That is what Coach Jack Pardee will be trying to prevent when he returns to face his former team, the Chicago Bears, and their troublesome running back, Walter Payton, today at 1 p.m. (WDVM-TV-9).
Washington certainly is a prime candidate for further self-destruction. With virtually no playoff hopes, the Redskins have to find new motivation for the rest of the season. Pardee has told them that their jobs are at stake, but he isn't certain that will be enough incentive to avoid a replay of last week's debacle against Minnesota. The Bears are favored by three .
In earlier games, Washington has shown signs of giving up. The defensive unit has let inferior teams march the length of the field in the fourth quarter en route to important touchdowns. And there was not a great deal of spirit from any part of the team during the fourth quarter last week.
The Bears also have the combination of run-oriented offense and pass-rushing defense that has proven most troublesome to Washington this season. Payton is the best back the Redskins have faced, and they already have let players such as Jim Jodat, Ken King, Jimmie Rogers and Otis Armstrong perform like all-pros. If they can't control Payton and if the offensive line can't keep Alan Page and Co. off Joe Theismann, it could become a very long afternoon for Pardee and his players.
A poor showing would increase the pressure that is mounting around Pardee and General Manager Bobby Beathard. Owner Jack Kent Cooke certainly won't tolerate any lackluster efforts from his team. The Redskin record already has been a major disappointment to him. Pardee has worked one minor miracle so far this season. He righted the club after injuries had contributed heavily to a 1-5 start and it seemed Washington was incapable of beating its own second string. He appeared to have the Redskins on the path back to respectability, thanks to two straight victories, before the inexplicable 39-14 loss to Minnesota.
This, however, is an even greater test of his strong will and his players' desire. Before, there was definite hope at Redskin Park that a final playoff wild card spot still could be salvaged. Now that seems unlikely. So if Payton runs wild early today, that could take the spirit out of the Redskins.
"This will be a test, no doubt about it," said center Bob Kuziel. "We've got to stake out new things to push us. It's a different situation for us.. We've always had the playoffs to think about, but that's not much of a factor anymore."
Kuziel says the key for the Redskins will be whether they can approach the Bears with the attitude of trying to have some fun in the game.
"Every time we've played well this season, it's been because we have just gone out and played football and had fun," he said. "Why not do that now? What have we got to lose?
"We should play as hard as we can, we should have fun and we should be enthusiastic about what we are doing. You shouldn't have to try to do any of those things, they should come natuarally, but that's easier said than done. o
"The theme of the entire week has been to be aggressive, be physical and enjoy it. If we hang back, the Bears will take it to us. They are an aggressive bunch themselves and they really force you to play hard."
To hear Pardee talk this week, the Bears sound like defending Super Bowl champs instead of a team struggling through the same kind of season as the Redskins.
The Bears are also 3-6 despite the talents of Payton and a defense that is second in the conference behind Philadelphia. They haven't been able to score enough to take advantage of the defensive unit's play, even after Mike Phipps was replaced at quarterback by Vince Evans.
Payton was held to 30 yards by Cleveland last week but still has 792 for the season. And in two previous games against the Redskins, he has gained 194 yards on 34 carries. To control him, Pardee probably will modify his multiple-substitution policy on defense and stay longer with his first-string players, figuring the Bears will run more than pass anyway. And who can blame them, considering Washington's record this season?
"We can't let Walter Payton dominate things," Pardee said. "He'll get the ball every play if we can't slow him down.
"But we also have to be concerned about Evans. He has good running ability and he's not afraid to take off either on scrambles or on planned runs. He also has thrown bombs of more than 50 yards in the last seven games. You can't forget about his receivers if he scrambles out of the pocket."
Theismann, meanwhile, can also expect a rugged afternoon. The Bears have amassed 31 sacks through nine games, due mostly to a number of defensive sets designed to confuse opposing quarterbacks. Their favorite is a 5-1-5 alignment on passing downs that features only one linebacker and five pass rushers.
To counter the pressure, Theismann certainly will roll out frequently and there will be even more short passes than usual. The last thing Pardee and offensive coordinator Joe Walton want to do is have Theismann drop back and throw deep often. If he does, he might not last through the first half. Foes have had more success running than passing on the Bears, which means halfback Wilbur Jackson will be asked early in the game to give Chicago some rushing problems. If he fails, the burden again will fall almost entirely on Theismann.
One factor might work in Washington's favor. The Bears are not an especially effective first-half offensive team. That could help the Redskins, because the longer they stay close, the more their confidence will grow. "I'd like to start out quickly," Pardee said. "I'm sure the Bears want to show me they can play. If we can wipe out that added emotion, it would help a lot."