Three consecutive victories have steadied his once-teetering ship. Now, above all else, Coach Joe Gibbs says he is worried about his Washington Redskins' passing game.
"The first reaction is always to blame the quarterback," Gibbs said, about to redirect any finger pointed at quarterback Joe Theismann, whose statistics have dropped noticeably from last season.
"I think in this case we've had a revolving door with the wide receivers, the guys Joe is comfortable with. We've had a lot of injuries. I think it's just a matter of settling things down there," Gibbs said.
Matters weren't helped yesterday when it was disclosed that all-pro wide receiver Charlie Brown's left ankle was sprained during Sunday's 20-0 victory over the otherwise harmless Philadelphia Eagles at RFK Stadium, putting Brown out of this Sunday's game at Indianapolis.
"I'd say Charlie will definitely miss this week," Gibbs said, naming Virgil Seay the likely replacement. Worse yet, Gibbs added, "And I think it will be touch and go for Charlie next week."
That will be Dallas week, no less, culminating in Cowboys versus Redskins at RFK Stadium Oct. 14 in a game that will be a teeny bit crucial in the NFC Eastern Division race.
"Right now," Brown said late yesterday when reached at his Northern Virginia home, "I'm in bed and I can't get to sleep because (the ankle) is so painful . . . I don't think there's any way I can know when I'll be back. I had this same type of injury last year (and missed one game). At least, there isn't much swelling now."
General Manager Bobby Beathard and his scouting staff were searching for available wide receivers yesterday because of Brown's injury and because Seay (six catches) has been a disappointment to Redskins coaches.
When running back Joe Washington (sprained knee) was placed on injured reserve Saturday, Beathard had said the team was in search of another running back.
"We were," Beathard said yesterday. But he said Brown's injury -- although not serious enough for him to be placed on reserve with its mandatory minimum of four weeks, according to trainer Bubba Tyer -- has made the Redskins' need greater at wide receiver.
"It's a little confusing. We're not sure what we're going to do at this point," Beathard said.
The Redskins' defense, for the time being, has tamed many of its concerns. The pass rush, which made a total of two quarterback sacks in losses to Miami and San Francisco, has turned in 13 over the last three games, including four against Philadelphia. Dexter Manley, at end, has five of the 15 sacks.
"The pass rush has been excellent," Defensive Coach Richie Petitbon said. "And with a better pass rush, the secondary is playing well. It may sound facetious, but the reason (for the recent defensive resurgence) is that we're getting to the passer."
The rush has been so effective that Petitbon barely seemed to mind that rookie defensive tackle Bob Slater, the team's top draft pick from Oklahoma, is recovering slowly and might not return from injured reserve for another few weeks. (Slater has become eligible to return to the active roster immediately.)
Also, Petitbon said he expects free safety Curtis Jordan, who suffered a broken thumb in the Philadelphia game, to play against the Colts. "I think Curtis will give it a try," Petitbon said. "I guess it just means that he won't get many interceptions."
Jordan, who has played deftly in place of injured all-pro Mark Murphy, said he feels certain he will play Sunday. Tyer said Jordan would be fitted with the fiberglass cast he wore for several games last year when he broke the same thumb.
If Jordan can't play against the Colts, Petitbon said Greg Williams, the third-string free safety, would fill in. Reserve strong safety Ken Coffey might practice at free safety this week, just in case, Petitbon added.
Most of the conversation yesterday, though, focused on the Redskins' passing game. At this time last year, the Redskins were 4-1 and Theismann had thrown for nearly 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns, with just three interceptions. Further, he was completing nearly 60 percent of his passes, a sparkling start on Theismann's way to election as the league's most valuable player.
Through five games of this 3-2 season, Theismann has thrown almost the exact number of passes (148 at this time last year, 146 now), but there is far less glitter to the numbers: his passes have gained 904 yards (an average of 181 per game) and just four touchdowns with five interceptions. And his completion percentage has dropped to 54.1.
One reporter asked Gibbs if opposing teams had "gotten a lock" on the offense that scored a league-record 541 points last regular season. "Some people may think they are catching up with us in the (Redskins') passing game," Gibbs said, calmly. "Obviously, I'd say other things. It remains to be seen."
Certainly, injuries have sapped strength from the passing game, forcing receiver Alvin Garrett, tight end Clint Didier and running back Washington to injured reserve and causing Brown to miss parts of two games already with more absences to come.
Furthermore, the retirement of running back Nick Giaquinto, who was so effective as a receiver on third-down passing situations last year, created a void not yet filled.
Consider the dropoffs from the first five games of last year to the first five games of this year: Garrett down from 16 catches to one; Brown down from 26 to 12; Didier down from one 39-yard catch to zero games played (he returned from injured reserve Sunday, but didn't play) and Giaquinto, 29, gone from six catches to a steady job in land development in Rhode Island.
Although Washington caught 11 passes before being placed on injured reserve Saturday (the same amount he had caught at this time last year), his yardage dropped from 169 to 65 and his touchdown catches from two to none.
The beneficiary of all of this pass-catching subtraction has been wide receiver Art Monk, with 31 receptions. This time last year, Monk had just returned from injured reserve and had three catches.
"I figure it like this," Brown said. "When Joe Washington is playing, a linebacker can't cover him one on one, so he has to be double-covered. That means that they can't also double-cover both me and Art (Monk). One of us has to be in single coverage.
"I know at the start of the (Eagles) game, I was getting double-covered a lot. Art must have been double-covered a lot after that."
Gibbs concurred, noting that Monk was double-covered often by the Eagles. He also reaffirmed that his team "has to be well-balanced. You can't live by (only) the run," he said.
"We're moving Art all over," Gibbs said, "trying to keep people from getting a beat on him."
Gibbs reiterated that he was not pleased with Theismann's scrambling, even if it did net 57 yards against the Eagles. "What it shows me is that the things we are trying to work (on the passing game) just were not there."