Over the last few weeks, they all have been a-comin': linebackers, safeties, the whole sack stampede.
It's no wonder Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann has been sacked 14 times in two weeks by packs of Cowboys and Cardinals and that Joe Bugel, the Redskins' line coach, said yesterday, "People are going blitz crazy against us."
Now that they will play the Chicago Bears in an NFC first-round playoff game at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at RFK Stadium, the Redskins' offense is blitzed by some gulp-inducing statistics.
Ponder the 1984 regular-season ranking of the Chicago defense:
The Bears rate first in the league against the run, second against the pass, and first in total defense; they set a league record with 72 quarterback sacks and, yes, these Bears can blitz like the dickens.
All of which made Coach Joe Gibbs shake his head and frown for a moment yesterday. "From the films we have seen, nobody can really block them," he said. "What scares you offensively is that they force things . . . Their interior rushers, nobody can block.
"They have some looks that nobody else in the league has. The one defense that they play the most, they played 80-something times (in the films reviewed) and they blitzed on 50 of them."
There are several ways to measure Chicago's defense. Their sack honor roll reads: end Richard Dent, 17 1/2; tackle Dan Hampton, 11 1/2; tackle Steve McMichael, 10; linebacker Otis Wilson, 7 1/2; end Mike Hartenstine, six; safety Todd Bell four, etc.
To dissect this Bearush even further, 50 1/2 sacks were recorded by linemen, 21 1/2 by linebackers and safeties. This is a very similar ratio to that of the Redskins pass rush, which finished second in the league with 66 sacks (45 by linemen), and tends to show an enormous production by linemen mixed with some effective blitzes.
On the one hand, the Bears' defense has built its statistical Everest while playing in the NFC Central, which is hardly the Murderer's Row of the league.
The Bears played two games each this season against division mediocrities Minnesota, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Green Bay. (Of these four, only Green Bay has not changed coaches). It's not surprising, either, that the Bears finished 7-1 against this foursome, once getting 11 sacks against Minnesota and, in the season finale, 12 against Detroit.
On the other hand, any doubts about the Chicago defense can be erased by reflecting on Oct. 4: Chicago 17, Los Angeles Raiders 6 at Soldier Field.
The Bears limited the Raiders to 181 yards offense, 75 rushing. Chicago had nine sacks and injured two quarterbacks. Blitzes helped, and so did Dent's 4 1/2 sacks.
"They are not a fluke," Bugel says. "They are legit, for real."
And what has been the sack-related problems of the Redskins? Why did they give up just 14 sacks while building a 5-2 record and then give up 34 sacks over the final nine games (6-3 record)?
The turning point came in Week 8, a 26-24 loss at St. Louis. That's when all-pro center Jeff Bostic was lost for the season with a knee injury and when the Cardinals "radically departed" from their normal defensive set, according to Gibbs, by using a five-man front and blitzing often.
"When we ran off that five-game winning streak (to become 5-2)," Gibbs said, "defenses were playing us basic and took a certain approach. Now teams want to gamble more, and when they do, there will be more sacks. This is a year where sacks are way up around the league, too."
Last season, Theismann was sacked 35 times in the regular season. This season, he was sacked 48 times. Right tackle Mark May said yesterday that these last few weeks have been the most difficult time for the offensive line since the Redskins began 0-5 in the 1981 season.
"That was miserable. Nothing is worse than being 0-5," May recalled. And what of giving up 14 sacks in two weeks?
"That's miserable, too," he said.
"A lot of what teams are doing stems from what happened in the Super Bowl," Bugel said. "A lot of people are taking the Raider philosophy -- moving people around and overloading the outside (with pass rushers). A lot of the blitzes are coming from outside the tight ends and it forces (the linemen) to hold up, blocking one on one.
"In the past, we could help out the center (with zone blocking). Now, defenses are isolating every one of our down linemen, so there is nobody there to help . . . Defenses are trying to blitz on first down, too, to get us in long-yardage situations. We feel that as long as we get four yards on first down that we'll be all right. We want to keep (running back) John Riggins in the ballgame and just chip away."
Gibbs and Bugel say they hope defenses will continue to blitz in the future. Their reasoning: if linebackers and/or safeties are blitzing, then cornerbacks are left in man-to-man coverage. With receivers such as Calvin Muhammad, Art Monk, Charlie Brown and Clint Didier, the Redskins like their big-play chances.
Both Gibbs and Bugel point out that the Redskins have reaped many big plays, while exploiting blitzes over the past two weeks: against Dallas, there was a 22-yard touchdown pass to Muhammad and another 14-yard completion to Monk, to the Dallas one, that set up a touchdown. Against St. Louis, there was a 60-yard completion to Muhammad, a 44-yarder to Didier.
"What's happening is that as the frequency of blitzing goes up, you'll have a few more problems," Gibbs said. "But when defenses come after you, you'll also see big plays. Basically, when people come after us, we have to make them pay downfield."
Neither Gibbs nor Bugel feels the Redskins have given up so many sacks solely because of deficient blocking by the line; nor do they feel that the problems have been caused by the mid-season three-position change on the line: Rick Donnalley replacing Bostic at center, May moving from right guard to right tackle to replace veteran George Starke and veteran Ken Huff taking over at right guard.
Instead, they point out that running backs have missed blocking blitzers, that Theismann has waited too long to throw on several occasions and that defenses are good and give them some credit, too.
"What happens is everybody is blocking one on one," Gibbs said. "There's nobody to back someone else up. We're getting more pressure on each individual (lineman) to hold his block every time. Out of our five guys, you start having more problems with one guy breaking down here, one guy breaking down there."
"One dropped head or one dropped hand (by an offensive lineman) can cause a sack," Bugel said. "A lot of people are alarmed by us giving up eight sacks. But we're not panicking. We're not stupid, either. We sit down, watch films, find out what caused the problems and then we correct them.
"We could get in a panic situation and keep everybody back for protection and send only one receiver downfield. A lot of teams have done that. They haven't taken any risks. That's why those teams are watching us on television now. We won't do that.
"Look, defenses are getting smarter. They know that if they just sit back, quarterbacks like Joe Theismann or Joe Montana or Dan Marino will just cut them to ribbons. And once a defense is successful with something, you can expect the next team you play to try the same thing with a little something added."
So will the Bears blitz? Said Gibbs, "They have in every film I've seen."
Otis Wonsley, the special teams standout, was the only player who did not practice yesterday. He has a bruised leg, but is expected to play Sunday. Riggins (back pains) practiced, and Gibbs said, "It's the best he's looked on a Monday in a long time."
Although the team will not practice Christmas Day, coaches will gather around 11 a.m. for meetings . . . Gibbs said the Redskins will "likely" use the one postseason injured reserve reactivation they are allotted late this week. The candidates are wide receiver Alvin Garrett, tackle Morris Towns, defensive end Todd Liebenstein and safety Tony Peters.
Of the four, Towns seems the most likely since the Redskins lost tight end Anthony Jones, a blocker on short-yardage and goal-line plays, to a season-ending injury and because Starke is still having knee troubles. Bugel said that Starke, 36, likely will require knee surgery in the offseason.