Some things never change. The Washington Redskins have just passed the midpoint of the season running like mad; Dallas Week means everything, and John Riggins, barring further back pain, will start Sunday.
In spite of George Rogers' 124-yard performance in the Redskins' 44-10 victory over Atlanta, Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday at Redskin Park that Riggins will be his starter in a one-back offense against the Cowboys at RFK Stadium.
The I-formation with tight end Don Warren blocking for Rogers may return sometime soon (even against Dallas), but, if Riggins is healthy, Rogers again will play a reserve role.
"We're starting the guy who's led us in big games before," Gibbs said. "If John is healthy and feeling good and rambunctious . . . we'll start John."
Rogers, who started his first game as a Redskin in Atlanta, has gained 558 yards in 109 carries for a 5.1-yard average. Riggins has gained 553 yards in 130 carries for a 4.3-yard average.
And, for the first time in a game this season, Rogers sparkled. He didn't fumble. He wasn't injured, except for a little soreness in his left shoulder. For a change, he was happy with himself.
"George really emerged," said Gibbs. "He played the game he wanted to play."
Early in the second quarter at Atlanta, Rogers took advantage of his notoriety as a fumbler to enhance a long run that set up the first of Keith Griffin's two touchdowns.
Rogers carried several tacklers a good 10 to 15 yards, making it a 34-yard gain to the Falcons' nine. Gibbs said the defenders were trying to strip the ball from Rogers, perhaps neglecting the tackling part of their job.
"I think it cost them 15 yards," Gibbs said.
The Washington running game gained 307 yards Sunday (Griffin doubled his season total with 164 yards), improving the Redskins' league-leading average to 179.6 yards per game.
But Gibbs does not plan to switch from the one-back offense to get more running backs in the game at once.
Asked about using the I-formation more, he said, "My question there is, 'Who blocks?'
"Do you want Don Warren to block? Or Keith Griffin? Or Clint Didier?"
Clearly, Gibbs wants 240-pound tight ends, not 185-pound running backs, doing his blocking. He also likes the "flexibility" the one-back offense gives him.
But, he added, "We'll do whatever we think will get us more production."
Speaking of production, Gibbs said quarterback Joe Theismann has "played better in the last couple weeks," calling his games against Cleveland and Atlanta "solid performances."
In the locker room after the Atlanta game, Theismann, last among NFC quarterbacks in the complicated rating system, had a suggestion for reporters:
"Why don't you look at my rating without the Dallas game and see where I stand?"
Okay. Theismann's rating for all nine games, including his five-interception performance in the 44-14 loss to Dallas, is 60.3. Using last week's rankings, that would jump him from 14th in the NFC to 12th.
Without Dallas, the rating is 67.5 -- good for 11th in the conference.
But, split the season almost in half -- first four games (1-3), last five (4-1) -- and Theismann rises to 74.5 (sixth) in the last five weeks.
Everything has gone better for the Redskins lately.
"I think I feel better about the team now than at any point in the season," Gibbs said.
Yet, all is not well. Tackle Joe Jacoby (sprained right knee) will miss the Dallas game "unless there's a miracle," Gibbs said.
Replacement Dan McQuaid has been quite a pleasant surprise for the Redskins.
Linebacker Monte Coleman, who has been on injured reserve with a strained right hamstring, may return this week, depending on how he practices. That decision will be made late in the week.