The Cowboys practically begged to be upset today. But even their six turnovers could not revive a Redskin offense that has forgotten how to score.
The Washington cause was not helped when quarterback Joe Theisman aggravated his hamstring pull late in the first half of this 14-10 loss and had to leave the game, allowing the Cowboy front four a chance to tee off on his substitute, Mike Kruczek.
But even with Theismann in the contest, Dallas all but eliminated the pass from Washington's offensive repertoire, reducing the Redskins to a one-dimensional running team that was impressive at midfield but dreadful within scoring range.
The result was another struggling performance from the Redskins, the NFC's lowest-scoring club. They have now lost four straight for the first time since 1963, scoring 45 points in those games.
Because of five Dallas sacks, the Redskins were limited to 38 net passing yards, the lowest total since the Cowboys held them to one yard in 1977. And until Kruczek completed three straight passes with less than four minutes to go, Washington's passing total was minus nine.
Despite reaching Dallas territory nine times, the Redskins could manage only a 34-yard Mark Moseley field goal until linebacker Monte Coleman intercepted a Danny White pass and returned it 34 yards to the Cowboy eight with 1:27 left. Wilbur Jackson, who had a career-high 128 yards, then ran around right end for his club's first touchdown in two games.
The Redskin defense, in its best effort of the season, forced White into four interceptions. The Cowboys, who once were stopped on four downs inside the Washington six-yard line, also lost two fumbles. The mistakes helped hold the league's best offense to an unimpressive 199 total yards.
Neither Dallas touchdown resulted from a sustained drive. The first, in the first quarter, followed a James Jones punt return of 52 yards to the Redskin nine. Tony Dorsett eventually scored from the three. The Cowboys' second score came in the fourth quarter after Kruczek was hit by defensive tackle Randy White while trying to pass. The ball popped up, banged Cowboy tackle Larry Cole in the helmet and bounced into his hands. Cole ran 43 yards with his surprise to give his club a 14-3 lead with 14:50 to play.
With games against playoff contenders Atlanta and San Diego coming up the Redskins appear to have little hope of reversing their offensive difficulties. rAnd now Theismann again becomes a major question mark just as he was most of last week.
Without him, Washington struggled. "We called the plays our players could handle," said Coach Jack Pardee, admitting he realized his line couldn't stand up against the hard-charging Dallas front four.
So the Redskins ran, and ran some more, using two tight ends and a wingback to spring Jackson outside with success -- between the 20s. But, despite repeated good field position because of the Dallas turnovers, Washington got no closer than the Cowboy 16 until the Coleman interception.
In all, Washington tried just 18 passes. Theismann was four of nine for a mere 26 yards, and he didn't complete his first pass until three minutes were gone in the second quarter, when the Redskins also picked up their initial first down of the game. Kruczek tossed only three passes in the third period and did not complete one until the last play of that quarter. He finished five of nine for 63 yards as the Redskins ran 29 rushing plays after intermission.
The Redskins apparently felt that Kruczek wasn't ready to handle the Cowboy defense. Despite Theismann's injury, he was given the starting nod, according to Pardee, because "he's had the majority of the time this year and he's familiar with what Dallas does. He knows what is going on."
"With Mike in there, we had to limit what we could do. Mike's timing with his backs, his cadence, knowing where to go on pass plays aren't the same as Joe's."
Added offensive coordinator Joe Walton: "Once they started going after Mike, we had to pull off the pass. Yes, we just didn't think it would work. We were limited."
The sequence that wound up dictating Washington's offensive strategy for the majority of the game came after Theismann was hurt when tackled on a blitz by linebacker Mike Hegman with 1:03 left in the first half.
The Redskins were at the Dallas 16 at that point, having recovered a Tony Dorsett fumble at his 37. Hegman smacked Theismann from behind and the quarterback came up limping badly. He asked Pardee to leave him in the game but Kruczek began warming up and came in for his earliest appearance since joining the team in preseason.
Immediately, Washington began having problems. Tackle George Starke jumped offside. Then Kruczek ran a bootleg to the left and was sacked by end Harvey Martin for an 11-yard loss. On third down, Too Tall Jones burst by Starke and dumped Kruczek before he dropped back four steps. Suddenly, the Redskins were faced with a fourth and 46 from their 48.
"I was using a longer cadence than Joe," Kruczek said. "It was messing up the line. I changed after that." Said Starke: "His cadence was different, he has a difference in his dropbacks, he was running plays differently. We just hadn't had a chance to get used to him, even though he practiced with us all week. Games are different."
With the Cowboys misfiring and leading by only 7-3 at the half, Pardee and Walton decided to play very conservatively after intermission. No reason, they said, to put more pressure on Kruczek by making him pass, especially when Dallas was, as Pardee put it, "smelling blood with a new quarterback and blitzing and dogging and doing everything they could to get to him and mix him up."
"As I look back, we probably should have gotten into a game of field goal and field position with them. It got to where all we could do was off tackle right and off tackle left. That gave us success."
But that tactic never could get Washington in front. The team wasted opportunity after opportunity in the second half despite having White admittedly confused by its changing defenses. sMike Nelms forced a Jones fumble on a punt return and the Redskins recovered on the Cowboy 43, but Washington wound up losing two yards before punting. Lemar Parrish intercepted his second pass at the Washington 48, but the Redskins could gain only three yards before punting. Mark Murphy intercepted a White pass at the Washington 47, but the Redskins could gain only one yard before punting.
In fact, on all seven of their secondhalf possessions, the Redskins wound up penetrating Dallas territory, yet couldn't score until Jackson's late touchdown.
Kruczek's troubles with the offense even contributed to the Cowboys' winning touchdown. On the play before the Cole interception, Kruczek called an audible. Then he yelled out the same audible on the next down. Guard Ron Saul said his man, White, "knew what was coming" and slipped by his cut block before slamming into Kruczek, who wanted to go deep to receiver Art Monk.
The errant toss wound up in Cole's possession and the veteran tackle recorded his fourth career touchdown, all against the Redskins.
"I never felt like this in my life," Kruczek said afterwards. "But things will get better. I just need more workand I have to work with everyone else more. I know I can play better than I did in this one."
Other than Theismann, the Redskin injuries were tackle Perry Brooks, sprained right ankle; tackle Fred Dean, sprained right knee ligaments; fullback Clarence Harmon, sprained thumb, and center Jeff Bostic, bruised hip.