The offense lurches toward another Sunday, hesitant and hopeful.

The special teams search their ranks for answers, wondering how much longer it will be before they begin to tackle and block like the Washington Redskins again.

These are two problems that, so far, have not been quite as serious as they might have been because of one factor: the defense.

Perhaps the Redskins' defense has been so good because it has had to be so good. Six times last week in Washington's 16-13 victory over Houston, the Oilers started a drive inside the 50.

They scored on just two of those drives, and one score was only a field goal.

"I certainly think our defense bailed out our offense and special teams last week," said Coach Joe Gibbs.

The Redskins (1-1) are ranked second in the NFC and fourth in the league in total defense. They are fourth in the conference against rushing and passing and rank seventh and fifth, respectively, in those categories in the league.

"If we are helping them out, fine, that's our job," said defensive end Dexter Manley. "You win games on defense. You go to the Super Bowl on defense."

Defenses usually start a season quicker than offenses. "Defense is more reaction," said middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz. "Offense is more technical. That's why."

But a curious statistic has emerged in the first two weeks of the season. The Redskins have given up 10 turnovers, their opponents just one: a meaningless fourth-quarter fumble by Dallas running back John Williams in that 44-14 Redskins loss.

Last season, in 16 games, the Redskins had 28 turnovers to 43 for the opposition, a plus-15 ratio. Now, the ratio is an unRedskin-like minus-nine.

"We've had such a drought of turnovers," said free safety Curtis Jordan. "But the odds will turn it back in our favor."

You can coach running and tackling and blocking, but you can't coach forcing turnovers.

"It's a matter of having the ball bounce right, or having guys catch passes that hit their hands," said Richie Petitbon, assistant head coach for defense. "Those things will come."

Gibbs hopes they come Sunday between 1 and 4 p.m. at RFK Stadium against Philadelphia (0-2) and rookie quarterback Randall Cunningham.

"You can play solid and sound but not have the kind of performances where you're really shaking things loose," Gibbs said. "That's where we are now."

Perhaps, too, it's a matter of a defense finally reaching its potential. It's too early to tell how good the Washington defense will be this season, but it's right about time for training camp-holdout Dave Butz, a tackle, and rookie defensive backs Raphel Cherry and Barry Wilburn to start playing the way they are expected to throughout the season, Petitbon said.

"Dave Butz has just about gotten in shape," Petitbon said. "The way he played against Houston (three tackles, one sack) is how he should play."

As for Cherry and Wilburn, Petitbon said, "This week, they started to get in the groove."

Sometime soon, it is expected the Redskins will be able to say the same about their offense and special teams. Until then, players like guard R.C. Thielemann keep everything in balance.

"Somewhere down the road," Thielemann said, "we'll have a 50-48 game where we'll have to score the last time we have the ball to win. Things always turn around."

Running back George Rogers' status has been upgraded to probable for Sunday's game.

"Probable?" exclaimed Rogers, who strained a muscle in his lower back Sunday and spent a day in traction at Sibley Memorial Hospital. "I can play. I'm a little sore, but it ain't nothing you can't play with. You better ask Coach Gibbs, though."

Gibbs' answer was: "I think he can play. We'll talk to him tomorrow and make up our mind tomorrow how much."