At least one thing seems certain: the Washington Redskins have not played well for nearly a month, ever since they deplumed Dallas, 34-14, four games ago.
Today, the Redskins will play the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m. in RFK Stadium (WDVM-TV-9), with oddsmakers predicting the Redskins by 10 points and the weatherman predicting rain.
No one seems certain whether running back John Riggins will play. Riggins, 35, who is bothered by hemorrhoids and lower back pains, took a few handoffs in yesterday's brief, noncontact practice. This was his only workout of the week, but Riggins still is listed as questionable and rookie Keith Griffin has been named as his would-be replacement.
The Redskin Park consensus was that Riggins either will not play today or play only in dire circumstances. The Redskins must play three games in a 12-day span later this month (including a Thursday night game in Minnesota Nov. 29), a grim schedule for Riggins, who needs time to recover from the pains that 25 to 30 carries a game will cause.
No Redskin seems to know why the team's defense has been raising the quarterback sack totals (seven in each of the last two games), while yielding a growing amount of rushing yardage: 120 yards in the loss to St. Louis three weeks ago, 130 yards in the loss to the New York Giants two weeks ago, 148 yards in the 27-14 victory over Atlanta Monday night.
Fifty-seven of the 134 yards that Atlanta's Gerald Riggs gained were achieved on two third-and-one plays that became breakaways, but that hardly explains everything.
"That's not good for us. Defending the run has been our trademark . . . That (rushing yardage) has crept up on us. There's no getting around that," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Our defense is kind of like our offense right now, a little off and on. Our special teams have been playing superb."
Perhaps the monster of grand expectation -- the one that Gibbs has spoken of over the past two Super Bowl seasons -- is finally biting back at the Redskins. Didn't you hear the boos at RFK Stadium throughout last week's victory?
The Redskins are 6-4 and in a four-way tie for first place with the Cardinals and Cowboys (who will meet today in St. Louis) and the Giants (who will play at Tampa Bay). Some teams strive to reach such a level. Since the Redskins have appeared in consecutive Super Bowls, though, 6-4 is hardly cause for celebration. Not to the fans. Not to the Redskins.
Linebacker Rich Milot said, "In some ways, this has been a discouraging year. You're looking at a team that's dominated over the last two years and people want to know why we're not dominating now. We have a lot of new players and I keep saying the intensity is not there. I don't know if that has anything to do with it . . . I just notice that there's something missing, but I'm not sure what it is."
Defensive tackle Dave Butz agreed, saying, "Something's missing, but I can't put my finger on it."
Kick returner Mike Nelms could: "Half our team is missing . . ."
Free safety Curtis Jordan said, "I think we got so used to dominating teams over the last two years. Now, we have to fight to win every game. I also think teams in our division, like St. Louis and the Giants, have improved. Those games used to be gimmes for us."
The Lions are 3-6-1. They have lost running back Billy Sims to a season-ending knee injury and have had so many injuries to the offensive line that Coach Monte Clark said, "It's been a soup line."
The Lions settled for a 23-23 tie with Philadelphia last week after their kicker, Ed Murray, who had made his previous nine field goal attempts, missed a 21-yarder five minutes into overtime.
The Lions' offense, at times a productive blend that has accumulated the fifth most yardage in the league, received an unexpected lift last week from Ken Jenkins.
Jenkins, a Washington, D.C. native, is 5 feet 8, 184 pounds. The second-year player entered to run for 76 yards and to catch eight passes for 128 yards against the Eagles. Jenkins will start today, alongside fullback James Jones (72 carries this season for 298 yards).
Meanwhile, Lions quarterback Gary Danielson is having what is arguably the finest of his eight professional seasons. Danielson has completed 63 percent of his passes, throwing for 11 touchdowns with eight interceptions. His 87.2 rating in the complex quarterback rating system stands ahead of Redskins passer Joe Theismann's 86.3.
"Gary's playing as well as he ever has," Clark said.
Several factors have hurt the Lions on offense: they have committed 22 turnovers (six more than the Redskins), they are the most penalized team in the league, averaging nearly 10 penalties for 81 yards per game (offense and defense), and the offensive line has only two of its original five members still healthy enough to start (right guard Don Greco and right tackle Keith Dorney).
Because the Lions' pass defense has been inconsistent, this might be the day the Redskins' passing game reverts to its old, productive ways.
The Lions have a formidable defensive line, led by all-pros Doug English and William Gay. Yet, Minnesota and Green Bay rushed the Lions defense dizzy, gaining 205 and 195 yards.
Although Theismann completed 19 of 25 passes for 170 yards Monday, he mostly threw short passes. Both wide receivers, Art Monk (lower back pains) and Calvin Muhammad (ankle), seem recovered from lingering injuries and seem ready for the deep passes.
To a man, the Redskins say they did not mind boos that were directed toward them in the Atlanta game. "When I used to play with Tampa Bay, we were lucky if we only heard boos," said Jordan. "We usually got beer thrown at us, too."