Above all, there is the Fouts Factor.
"If I'm ready to play, I'll play. If the shoulder isn't any better, I won't play," Dan Fouts, the quarterback and energizer of the San Diego Chargers' offense, said a few days ago.
The Washington Redskins will play the troubled Chargers Monday at 9 p.m. (WJLA-TV-7) at Jack Murphy Stadium. Fouts, who has an injured rotator cuff, is listed as "doubtful," which in National Football League terminology means there is only a 25 percent chance he'll play. One San Diego official cut those odds even farther today, saying, "It's 99 percent certain Fouts won't play."
Ed Luther, a fourth-year pro, would replace Fouts. In a 14-6 loss at Denver last week that dropped the Chargers to a rare and distasteful 3-5, Luther completed only 22 of 48 passes for 193 yards. Fouts, hurting on the sideline, made the entire San Diego offense hurt.
Luther threw three interceptions in the defeat. Furthermore, San Diego Coach Don Coryell noted, "Luther threw more passes in that game than he did in his entire four-year career . . . There's no way we're going to take a chance (Monday night) on doing any kind of permanent damage to Dan. The doctors will be very, very cautious."
Thus, logic would lead one to believe that Fouts' absence would cause happy thoughts to dance through the minds of the Redskins (6-2), who are 6-0 on Sundays and 0-2 on Monday nights this season.
After all, the Chargers do possess the league's best pass offense when Fouts is playing. They average 38 passes for 305 yards per game. Even Green Bay (297 yards) rates only second-best to the Chargers in pass offense and you remember what the Packers did to the Redskins' pass defense (now 27th best in a 28-team league) in that 48-47 Green Bay victory.
Of course, logic doesn't always fit well into a football team's pregame preparation. No room. The Redskins prefer caution, even if they are 6 1/2-point favorites.
"I think Dan Fouts will play," said Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, three years removed from his job as Chargers offensive coordinator. "I think Chuck Muncie (the running back with a groin injury) will play, too. At least, that's the way we're preparing."
San Diego's game plan has had many gaping holes this season. Nearly one-third of the 49 men on its roster are listed on this week's injury report.
Both Muncie and running back James Brooks (hamstring) are listed as questionable. Together, they account for 838 of the Chargers' 901 rushing yards. If neither is able to play, the replacements would be Sherman Smith and Earnest Jackson, who between them have 57 yards rushing this season.
"It's been a feeling of frustration this year," Fouts said. "San Diego is not really used to any of this losing."
The Chargers' defense, the inept faction that has kept the team from reaching the Super Bowl the past few years while Fouts was setting all those passing records, is young now and has been typically gracious to opposing offenses all season.
"We have two rookie corners, two rookie inside linebackers and sometimes we start a rookie nose guard," said Coryell. "Also, we have a second-year player at strong safety . . . They are very young and inexperienced. But we're not going to give up on anybody. We're going to hope for miracles."
The way the Redskins' offense has been producing points, a league-best 33.7 average, the Chargers' defense might need some form of divine intervention. San Diego ranks 23rd in total defense. It has difficulty stopping the run, great difficulty stopping the pass.
"When we started out 0-5 2 1/2 years ago, people looked at our offense and said, 'What's the deal here?' " said Redskins tight end Don Warren. "We had three or four rookies on the line. It takes a while to get used to playing with the people next to you.
"Now, we've been together for 2 1/2 years and we have confidence in each other. We also have confidence we can move the ball on pretty much everybody."
The Redskins' coaches say running back John Riggins (660 yards on 178 carries) will start Monday. Riggins' hip injury caused him to miss last week's 38-17 victory over Detroit. This gave Joe Washington the opportunity to run for 147 yards. Coaches say Riggins is fully healed.
"We'll go back to the same approach we used in the first seven weeks of the season," said Don Breaux, the running backs coach. Translation: expect the return of the Riggo drills.
After marveling over game films of Joe Washington's performance last week, Coryell said, "One of the most disappointing things that ever happened to me here was, when I took over this job six years ago, they traded Joe Washington (to Baltimore) a week or so before they hired me. He's the exact type of back I love . . . Of course, we lost him and they (the Redskins) are getting all of the benefits."
From underneath a heap of midseason troubles, Coryell added, "All I know is that we try to do what we do best. We think we can throw . . . There's no way we would have the record we have now over all these years without throwing the football."