Although a last-minute switch to Mike Kruczek would not be a total surprise, the Redskins are expected to start a gimpy Joe Theismann at quarterback Sunday as they attempt to all but eliminate the Dallas Cowboys' hopes of winning the NFC East title.
Some ominous sounds from the team owner couldn't shake the Redskins out of their doldrums last week, when they lost for the third straight time. Coach Jack Pardee hopes that his players can be properly aroused this time around by perhaps an even-greater incentive: their hatred for this longtime rival.
The Redskins were given another incentive today when veteran tackle Diron Talbert, the team's chief Cowboy hater, said for the first time he realizes he won't be with Washington next season, making this his last hurrah against the Cowboys.
Something better fire up the Redskins. Otherwise, they could easily be blown out of this 4 p.m. (Est, WDVM-TV-9) contest by Dallas, the league's top-ranked offensive club. The Cowboys, favored by 12, are averaging 37 points a game at home this season, where they have won all five games.
Much of Washington's success will depend on how well Theismann can play. He pulled a hamstring last week against Philadelphia and admitted today, "The way my leg felt last Sunday, I thought it was gone." But he has nursed the injury the last six days and says he can start.
"I haven't really tested it at full speed," Theismann said. "If I have to be a runner in this game, it won't help our offense." The fact Theismann won't be completely mobile against a hard pass rush is the one reason Pardee may decide after pregame warmups to turn to Kruczek, who hasn't started an NFL game since his rookie year at Pittsburgh four seasons ago.
The Redskins certainly would love to win this one for Talbert, a former team captain who is finishing his 14th pro season, 10th with Washington.
Talbert told The Washington Post Thursday he wanted to play another year in the NFL and was not contemplating retirement. But he told a reporter for a Dallas newspaper today that, "Obviously, I'm not in the Redskins' plans (for next year) and I don't blame them. They're looking for young talent. I'm not bitter about it.
"Maybe somebody wants a 36-year-odl player who knows the game. On the other hand, I'm also prepared to retire . . . But i don't want anybody feeling that I've given up. I want to go out a winner one way or the other." f
Team sources say that if Talbert doesn't retire -- he says he will not announce a decision until after the season is over -- he will be released by the Redskins in the offseason. Other than a brief starting role earlier this year that lasted five, Talbert has spent the last two seasons as a seldom-used reserve, a luxury the rebuilding Redskins realize they no longer can afford.
Talbert and his teammates know that Dallas must win to stay within striking range of the NFC East leader, Philadelphia. The Cowboys (8-3) trail the Eagles by two games with five to go.
"We'd love to be spoilers," said receiver Ricky Thompson. "A win here wouldn't make up for our disappointment about this season. But it would sure make it a lot happier than it is right now."
"You can see everyone getting more excited near the end of the week. We know this is Dallas we are playing," tight end Don Warren said. "There's something special involved."
When these teams played in the season opener 11 weeks ago, the Redskins were dreaming of the Super Bowl and Dallas was wondering if quarterback Danny White would be an adequate replacement for the retired Roger Staubach.
The Cowboys won that game, 17-3, when Washington was plagued by an inadequate running game, poor tackling, too many mistakes and offensive line breakdowns. White played well enough to get Dallas in front before the Cowboy front four, with Too Tall Jones in his comeback debut, began dominating.
The Redskins never have been able to shake off the same problems that hurt them in the opener, and now they have a woeful 3-8 record. White has gone on to have a superb season. His only really poor performances have been in the three Cowboy defeats, in which he has thrown eight of his 15 interceptions.
"If you can force Dallas into some mistakes, you can have a chance of beating them," Pardee said. "The times they've had turnovers, they've been vulnerable. You also can run on them, but they have gotten ahead of people so fast this year that most teams have been forced to pass."
Pardee's main hope Sunday is that his team can avoid first-half nightmares. In the past three weeks, the Redskins have been trailing by at least 16 points at intermission, far too much for their popgun offense to overcome. Only Cincinnati has scored fewer points this year than Washington, which has been shut out twice this season.
The Redskins have another reason to stay close in the early going. Theismann knows that if he is forced to play catch-up, the Cowboys can concentrate on an all-out pass rush. And he doesn't have the mobility to hold up for long under those circumstances.
Kruczek, who has thrown only four passes this season, says he has a gut feeling that Theismann will start. "I still have myself ready," he said. "I went through this my rookie year when Terry Bradshaw was hurt. It's not easy but I realize I have to be ready if they need me. I've always said I can produce when I play, and I better back that up when I get the chance."
Fullback Clarence Harmon's ailing ankle is hindering him. He is expected to play, but Pardee indicated rookie Rickey Claitt could receive increased playing time . . . the Redskins haven't won here since 1976.