The Dallas defense kept waiting for the Redskins to run the football yesterday. The Cowboys waited, and waited. All day. Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs' offense passed the ball 49 times and ran only 18. The Cowboys were pleasantly surprised.
"You're only playing into our hands when you try to pass the football that much," said defensive tackle John Dutton. "We were standing there saying to each other, 'When are they going to run the ball? You think think they'll run on this down?' The Redskins just have to run the ball more with John Riggins, Terry Metcalf and Joe Washington in the same backfield.
"It shocked me. You can't just throw, throw, throw the ball without running. But that's what they did."
"Their team is just super against the run," Gibbs said. "We wanted to spread them out, run a lot of formations and get our people in the open field. They are just very tough to run against."
Of Riggins, playing his first regular-season game in two years, Dutton said: "I bet he is frustrated carrying the ball so few times (eight carries, 25 yards)."
The Redskin fullback was not available for comment afterward, having left by the time the Redskin locker room was opened to the media.
A young, largely inexperienced Dallas secondary that has been maligned this preaseason as being the weakest component on this championship-caliber team, intercepted four Joe Theismann passes, including three that could have been Redskin touchdowns in a 26-10 Cowboy victory at RFK Stadium.
"They thought they were going to work on our defensive backs," Dutton said. "I know Joe Gibbs is from San Diego. But I still can't get over the number of passes. Joe Theismann ain't no Dan Fouts. And they don't have any John Jeffersons or Charlie Joiners."
Mike Downs, a rookie free agent safety from Rice, intercepted a Theismann pass in the first quarter. Steve Wilson, the left-side cornerback from Howard University, prevented a long gain with a lunging interception in the third quarter.
Three Redskin possessions later, Everson Walls, another free agent rookie cornerback, picked off a Theismann pass intended for Ricky Thompson at the goal line. Finally, fourth-year right cornerback Dennis Thurman stepped in front of Art Monk at the goal line and returned the ball 96 yards.
"The guys in our secondary can run, make plays, and do a lot of things people didn't think they could do, as the Redskins found out today," defensive end Harvey Martin said. "The secondary was excellent. They stood up to a lot of passing. A whole lot."
The defensive backs felt their performances will quiet critics.
"We don't listen to that stuff," said Bennie Barnes, the 10-year veteran safety to whom the youngsters look for leadership.
"I'm was getting a little tired of hearing about the 'Suspect Dallas Secondary,' " said Thurman, said to be too small and too slow to play safety. "Anytime people talk about Dallas' weaknesses, they talk about the secondary. We're looking for respect. And anytime you get respect, you've done your job."
It looked as if Thurman would have a 100-yard interception return, but Joe Washington caught up with him at the four. "I felt like I had run 200 yards," he said. "I saw two blockers on Washington, and I figured, two on one and one of our two is Harvey Martin. It's got to be six points. But Joe just spun off the block and stayed on his feet."
Wilson, a converted receiver in his third pro season, made a play almost as electrifying as Thurman's. Redskin receiver Thompson, running a sideline fly pattern, opened a three-step advantage and needed only to catch the ball for a touchdown.
"About 15 yards into the play, I began to cramp in both legs," Wilson said. "But after I saw him getting too far ahead, I forgot about the cramps and just ran." Wilson caught up and tipped the slightly underthrown ball, before pulling it into his chest.