The once-respected Washington Redskins offense, which ranked among the NFL leaders the previous few seasons, is struggling. Worse yet, from the coaches' perspective, the Redskins have been their own worst enemy (12 turnovers). In their first three games (1-2), they have only two touchdowns rushing and two passing and have been outscored, 76-36.

Time to panic?

"It's never time to panic. We have a lot of football left," quarterback Joe Theismann, who is off to a slow start, said yesterday. "We just have to stay with it and work. This week, I felt like we picked up the tempo a bit. We needed to. It's hard to walk around with a grin on your face when you're not winning."

Coach Joe Gibbs isn't about to go off the deep end, either.

"We've been through lulls like this in the past," Gibbs said after yesterday's workout at Redskin Park. "We operate on a formula and, when something gets off course, we go right back to that formula. We just have to work out a few things.

"We placed a bit more emphasis on our passing game this week, in addition to a few other things we felt needed work.

"On defense, it's been our tackling. When we have a team backed up, we have to work on keeping them in the hole. We know we haven't played great, and we're playing a great team Sunday."

Should Washington not be ready Sunday in Chicago, the much-improved Bears (3-0) could turn the game at Soldier Field into one long, miserable afternoon for the Redskins.

In the last meeting between the teams, in the first round of last season's playoffs, Chicago's defense was the key to the Bears' 23-19 victory. The Bears are off to another good start -- 12 sacks, eight interceptions, an average of 75 yards rushing allowed and a 50 percent completions-against rate.

"We don't plan any major changes for this game," Gibbs said. "We know the Bears have a great team, but we have to be concerned with how we play. We have to go out and play hard and play our way."

Center Rick Donnalley said one good way to get back on track is to bust a few big plays.

"So far, we haven't done that. But once you bust a big one, another one often follows." Donnalley said. "It sort of feeds on itself. We need to go beyond doing just an adequate job and get downfield for that extra block or put in that extra 100 percent.

"We've run the ball pretty well, and I've been happy with the way the offensive line has performed," he said. "But we can play better, too. We haven't gotten the big plays by running the ball in critical situations. Against Philadelphia, we had a lot of second-and-seven situations, instead of second-and-fives. When you have long yardage, you're forced to pass."

Washington's passing game has left a bit to be desired. Theismann has completed an uncharacteristically low 49.5 percent of his throws and been intercepted seven times. Add the five fumbles for the season total of 12 turnovers and it's little wonder the Redskins are worried going against the sack-happy Bears.

"At least, Chicago won't catch us by surprise. We know they're going to blitz us," said Donnalley, who probably will see Chicago's top draft choice, 300-pound-plus tackle William (The Refrigerator) Perry lined up against him. "Perry usually plays on short-yardage and goal-line plays. I hope they play him more. That way, (Dan) Hampton and (Steve) McMichael wouldn't play. They are both so good."

Theismann also is eagerly awaiting the big play or that one little spark that may awaken the offense.

"We just haven't found the one thing missing on offense. We need to pop some big stuff. A big play gets everyone excited and into the game," he said. "And, it doesn't have to be a pass. It can be a kickoff return, a fumble recovery. Just something, anything. We just have to stay with it."

Gibbs said safety Tony Peters' sore back has improved, enabling him to play Sunday . . . Chicago has won nine of its last 11 games at Soldier Field. The last time the Redskins played there, in 1981, they beat the Bears, 24-7, for Gibbs' first NFL victory.