In years past, the arrival of the Houston Oilers for an opponent's must-win game was a perfect match -- for the opponent.

Today, that is not necessarily so. Hard as this would have been to believe even a week ago, the just-out-of-college Oilers will run into RFK Stadium at 1 p.m. on a roll after upsetting Miami, 26-23.

And the Washington Redskins come in as first-game losers for the fourth time in Coach Joe Gibbs' five seasons, with, as Gibbs says, "our backs to the wall, again."

For the Redskins, there could be nothing grander than taking out that 44-14 loss to Dallas on Texas' other team. The Redskins (0-1) believe they have worked out the kinks in a passing game that had one of every four completed passes last Monday night go to the wrong team. They figure the offensive line will play as well as it did against Dallas, with guard Russ Grimm ready to start after sitting out most of the week with back spasms and with guard R.C. Thielemann available as perhaps the best backup in the business.

And they want George Rogers, who went on a four-day running binge on the Redskin Park treadmill to try to drop eight pounds from his 225-pound playing weight against the Cowboys, to finally unwind himself into the long run he needs so badly.

"I've got heavy feet," said Rogers, who again is expected to back up John Riggins. "I've got to lighten my load."

But this may not be so easy against the Oilers. What their defense (average age of starters: 25) did to Miami quarterback Dan Marino had not been done in nearly two seasons. He didn't throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 23 consecutive games, dating to Nov. 13, 1983. His 159 passing yards also were his lowest since that day at New England. And, when Marino was benched late in the game, it was the first time in his pro career that's ever happened.

Certainly, some blame must fall on the 37 days he missed in a contract holdout. But not all of it.

The Houston defensive secondary (total experience for four players: six years) scares the Redskins. They didn't like what they saw in the films this week. Wasn't there a mix-up at the post office? Who sent the Raiders' defense here by mistake?

The jamming, pressing, nose-to-nose moves those defensive backs put on Marks Clayton and Duper last week reminded the Redskins of two people who occasionally pop up in their nightmares: Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes.

"That's it," said Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense. "Their coverage was just like the Raiders' -- excellent. The old press. They lined up on their noses and surprised Duper and Clayton, really surprised them."

The play of cornerbacks Steve Brown and Patrick Allen and safeties Bo Eason and Keith Bostic might look very familiar. Their coach is Ken Houston, who went to the Pro Bowl seven times as a Redskin. His one-on-one preaching has worked wonders in Houston. The only time the Oilers were beaten long for a touchdown was on Don Strock's 67-yard pass to Duper late in the game, when the Oilers were in a zone defense and the safety did not come up to make the play.

It is obvious the Washington passing game must do what Marino could not do if the Redskins are not to fall a likely two games behind someone (Dallas, New York and St. Louis all are 1-0) in the NFC East.

Another game of turnovers and mistakes almost surely would mean defeat for the Redskins. If Miami had not been intercepted twice and had not fumbled once, it probably would have won.

But, possibly even more important, the Redskins cannot allow themselves to be smothered in a college-type atmosphere.

"They sure do have a lot going for them," said Washington's resident enthusiast, Pete Cronan. "The trouble with an emotional team like Houston is that they will play into a highly volatile situation. If we go out and do some things quick, their emotion, their rah-rah cheering, is over with and it's down and dirty now."

It is fitting that the Oilers are led by quarterback Warren Moon. He runs like a college wishbone quarterback. He stops and pops a pass. He throws off balance. He's exciting.

"We're worried about him," Gibbs said. "Miami had him directly in their sights several times and he got away. He's a scrambler. He turns a broken play into something big."

Moon threw for 270 yards and ran for another 18 against Miami. Perhaps the fact that he no longer is the Oilers' only real offensive threat is his biggest advantage. Running backs Mike Rozier and Butch Woolfolk and wide receiver Drew Hill are new. And anything is better than old in Houston.

"He's going to make plays and I'm going to make plays," Washington defensive end Dexter Manley said. "The one who makes the most plays wins."

Moon's ability to "steal a first down or two," as Cronan puts it, is not as worrisome as his penchant for finding the open receiver the moment the defense thinks Moon is running.

But for all the Oilers' youthful enthusiasm, for all kicker Tony Zendejas' hopes of revenge after losing his summer competition to Mark Moseley, for all Houston's sky-high hopes, the Redskins seem to have an answer. This is an older team (average age: 27), a wiser team. This is a team that outgained Dallas on offense, 369 yards to 304. Take away the mistakes and the offense moves like it's 1983. And, although this is a team that almost never makes mistakes, there's one thing even more certain: It hardly ever makes the same mistake twice.