Joe Gibbs, hired as the Redskin coach in large part because of his success with San Diego's aggressive passing offense, found himself in the strange position yesterday of defending his decisions the last two weeks to run more and throw less, much less.
"We are doing what we can do best," Gibbs said of the new emphasis on running, even Sunday in Miami against a highly suspect secondary. "If we had tried 49 passes against Miami, we would have been eaten up. I don't think we would have done well in that game if we had thrown a lot.
"We are trying to play to our strengths. I want to do what we do best. If the best thing for us to do was to throw the ball and if our team was best suited to throwing the ball, then we would. It's simply what we feel we can do the best, to get the ball in the hands of the best players.
"When you are losing, people are always going to look at the other side. They said 49 times was too many times to throw the ball and I agree with that. Now we are running more and, I think, doing a good job with it and not making as many yards with it and people have a tendency to say you should throw more. You are always riding that ragged edge."
Gibbs said the Redskins are running more for three reasons: the talents of Joe Washington and John Riggins, the considerable number of injuries and the lack of big plays by his outside receivers.
In an attempt to remedy the latter, he said, he is moving Terry Metcalf from halfback to wide receiver. He said that either Metcalf or Virgil Seay, the team's No. 3 receiver who has caught only three passes, will replace Ricky Thompson, who is hindered by floating knee cartilage.
But even with that switch, Gibbs will continue to emphasize running over passing, at least until his offensive linemen heal and his receivers prove they can be more productive.
"I realize some people may look upon this as being conservative," he said. "We aren't throwing the ball as much as we were earlier in the year, but we are much more balanced. All we are trying to do is win games. A coach would be crazy not to try to let Joe Washington and John Riggins handle the ball a lot; they are our most productive people right now and the line is coming off the ball.
"We came out wheeling and dealing earlier in the year and we just didn't play good football. We were inconsistent and we were making too many turnovers. The last two weeks, we've been much more consistent and we've played our two best games. The caliber of this team is not nearly what it could be because of all the injuries.
"If you are sane as a coach, you keep reevaluating your personnel and you try to do some things to make it better than it was before. By (alternating) using our two running backs and by using a two-tight end formation like we have, it puts us in the best position to win."
Of course, the irony of seeing the Redskins emphasizing the run more is that owner Jack Kent Cooke found a similiar approach by then-coach Jack Pardee to be extremely dull, one reason Cooke replaced Pardee with Gibbs.
But Gibbs has discovered he can't turn this team's offense, with its present players, into another Charger bomb squad with just his play calling and innovative diagrams. He tried by averaging 42 passes and only 24 running plays the first five games, all losses. In the last two games, one of which the Redskins won, the other which they lost by a field goal, Washington has averaged 42 rushes and 24 passes. The Redskins were averaging 382 yards passing and 116 rushing the first five games; the last two, those numbers are 108 and 194.
Washington also committed 21 turnovers those first five weeks, compared with only three the last two. And after getting 41 penalties in five games, they have had 12 the last two.
Gibbs said he analyzes his current offensive approach this way:
"You think that if you play good defense and cut down the chances of putting them in bad postions with offensive turnovers, you can win. You have a beaten-up offensive line, so you don't want to ask them to do things that may cause long sacks. So one of the smartest things we can do offensively is to get the ball to Riggins and Washington, try to get off some long, consistent drives that take a lot of time and give the defense a chance to rest.
"With the injury situation the way it is, it limits us a lot in the play calls that we are comfortable with and the way we go about doing some things. You stand on the sidelines and you think, 'If I call that, will it get us in trouble, will we have a sack?' "
Gibbs said he realized, for example, that Miami's secondary had been especially vulnerable the last three weeks, when it had surrendered almost 1,500 yards to passes and 10 touchdown passes. But he said he thought a balanced offensive approach was the best way to exploit the Dolphin weaknesses.
"Maybe it didn't seem like it, but we went after them with some long shots," he said. "They just didn't work. It's apparent we aren't getting any big-play production from our outside men. Terry should be able to help us there and Virgil has speed. We need to get more points out of the yards we are gaining. We do that and we'll be in a lot of games."
Thompson, a starter since coming here from Baltimore in 1978, has caught 18 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns, but apparently has been having trouble getting open. Gibbs said Miami concentrated its zone coverage on Art Monk. Metcalf has not carried the ball the last two weeks after fumbling early in the season. But he has caught 24 passes for 322 yards as a halfback.
Linebacker Rich Milot has strained ligaments in his left knee and probably will not be able to play for four weeks. He most likely will be placed on injured reserve . . . Gibbs said defensive end Mat Mendenhall continues to have knee problems and could undergo an arthroscopic examination this week.