The Hogs knew Dallas would blitz. But they never thought the Cowboys would go after Joe Theismann so frequently using so many different rushers.
The Hogs knew Dallas would be stingy against the run. But they never thought any defense could shut down John Riggins so effectively.
The Hogs have thought often of that Sunday afternoon in early December, when the resourceful Cowboys marred what otherwise has been a delightful season for the Redskins' offensive line.
"You remember what happened," said guard Russ Grimm yesterday after the Redskins began preliminary preparations for Saturday's NFC title game against the Cowboys in RFK Stadium.
"They've been a thorn in our sides since I've been here and you'd like to do something about it . . . This is a big game for both teams. We don't like them and they don't like us. It's going to be very, very physical."
Dallas had seven sacks that December day. Riggins was held to 26 yards. The Redskins gained just 66 yards on the ground. Joe Theismann threw three interceptions. The Cowboys dominated, 24-10, in Washington's only loss in the last 14 games.
Offensive breakdowns weren't the only problem in that first Dallas game. The Redskins defense intercepted Danny White twice, but couldn't prevent him from making crucial third-down passes. Washington couldn't recover two fourth-period Dallas fumbles. And the Cowboys gained far too many rushing yards--160, highest against the Redskins this year--to allow the Washington pass rush to go after White full force. The result: he was sacked only once.
Nor did the usually solid Redskin special teams do well. The most telling play was White's 20-run with a fake punt in the fourth period. But Doug Donley also had a 31-yard kick return, one of the three longest against Washington all year. And Mike Nelms was controlled adequately by the Cowboys coverage squads.
Dallas ultimately disrupted Washington's success formula. Under Coach Joe Gibbs, the Redskins usually win when they don't commit more than two turnovers, when they have at least 30 running plays (they had 17 against the Cowboys), when they have at least three sacks and when they limit opponents to less than 100 rushing yards. They achieved none of those goals against Dallas.
"Against the blitz, we just didn't execute very well but it was a breakdown by the entire unit, not just the line, " center Jeff Bostic said. "They blitzed a lot more than we expected and they used a lot of things we didn't anticipate. The came at us with safeties and all such things. Maybe they caught us by surprise.
"But we are playing better now. We should be able to execute better and we've seen everything. I don't believe they can catch us by surprise again."
Joe Bugel, offensive line coach: "They caught us off guard on some blitzes. We had (receiver) Art Monk in some pass protections and a couple of times they got by him. The line missed some blocks and we had some cases where we waited out a pattern too long.
"We've got to run the ball better. We overcoached some things that first game, we anticipated they would do some things on defense that they didn't and it backfired. We're just going to worry about ourselves this time and not get away from what we do best, which is power block . . . You know they are going to blitz sometimes, no matter what. If they do, you have to make them pay with the big play."
Theismann tried to make Dallas pay in the first game. If an opponent blitzes and leaves Redskins receivers with single coverage, Gibbs wants his quarterback to forget short tosses and instead go downfield for long gainers.
Theismann barely overthrew three or four deep passes against blitzes and had a probable touchdown pass intercepted at the five when he didn't lead Monk enough. A month later, Theismann threw three scoring passes against Detroit, all against blitzes.
"We need to stay out of long yardage situations against them," Grimm said. "That's when they can tee off on you. If we run the ball like we have been lately, we can keep them offbalance. We can't keep coming up third and 12 or second and 10. Riggo's on a roll and we have to keep him going."
When the Cowboys had the ball, they worked on young linebacker Mel Kaufman, scoring two touchdowns on his side. "I had a feeling they went after me, because I am inexperienced compared to Rich Milot on the other side," Kaufman said.
"They caught me on a pass play (to Ron Springs) when I closed too fast looking for the run. It was a new look for me, but now I know to worry about the pass first and then the run, and not go for the play fake. I'm a lot more comfortable and confident. I shouldn't react the same way this time."
And even though Tony Dorsett was limited to 57 rushing yards, the Redskins still gave up five rushing plays of at least 13 yards, including a 46-yard scoring run by Springs. "We can't let them run that much on us," Defensive Coordinator Richie Petitbon said. "They had too many big plays. We're better against the run now . . . we are going to stay aggressive and try to force turnovers, like we always try to do."
The Redskins have been searching their last six games against the Cowboys for a winning formula. Ever since Roger Staubach rallied Dallas in the final two minutes to pull out a 35-34 win in the 1979 season finale, Washington has been dominated in this series.
The Dallas defense has been the difference in each of the ensuing five defeats. In 1980, with Riggins sitting out the season, the Redskins could score only 13 points in two games. Last year, Gibbs' first with Washington, Theismann completed 22 of 48 passes for 281 yards in the season opener, but was intercepted four times in the 26-10 loss. Eleven weeks later, a more balanced Redskin offense still scored only 10 points after gaining just 64 yards in the second half. Dallas won, 24-10.
"You don't have to be a genius to figure out we have to score more points," Grimm said. "But the point is, we have to run the ball and not make turnovers. If we are going to lose, let them beat us. We don't want to give it away."