Unhappy with what he called his "three-yard running game," Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs is going to change his starting running back -- again. George Rogers, who didn't play at all in Sunday's loss to San Francisco, will start this week at Philadelphia in place of John Riggins, Gibbs said yesterday.
"I'd like to give George a shot again this week," Gibbs said at Redskin Park. "He didn't get to play last week, we're not making yards right now, and I'd like to give him an opportunity to see if he can step in there and take it, go with it."
It is a curious turn of events. Rogers didn't play because he still had a sore right ankle, which was sprained in his start at Pittsburgh the week before, Gibbs said.
"He was limping some Thursday in practice," Gibbs said. "Both Don (Breaux, the running backs coach) and I felt that way. I thought it would be better to go with John and Keith (Griffin) in this game."
But Rogers, listed as probable on the team's injury report for the 49ers game, maintains he was not injured and was ready to play.
"I am healthy," he said yesterday. "I guess he felt like I wasn't ready, but I felt I could play. It was disappointing."
This was before Rogers was told he would be the starter against the Eagles. It also was before Riggins found out he wasn't.
"I'm fitted for a coffin now," Riggins said on his show on WJLA-TV-7 last night.
Riggins continued: "We're at the point now . . . where a lot of things have to happen for us (to get into the playoffs) . . . There's a certain complexion now that we didn't have at the start of this season. I'm talking about starting with the younger players . . . with a new generation."
Asked if he felt old at 36 (the league's senior running back), he said, "If this (not starting) is the case, I have the whole offseason to get rejuvenated and come back."
Gibbs realizes the situation is trying. "I'm searching through this, too," he said. When he chose Rogers as his starter at Pittsburgh, he planned for him to run in every situation, including short-yardage and goal-line plays.
When Gibbs told Riggins of his plans, he said Riggins told him, "Give it to him. Let's see how George does."
But it wasn't long before Rogers was helped off the field, first with a concussion, then a sprained ankle. He carried 10 times for 17 yards.
In practice last week, Gibbs decided he would go with Riggins against the 49ers.
Then, he said, "In the second half, I thought I would put George in some, but then we were in a passing situation, and George doesn't play on passing situations.
"I know both John and George probably want to play the whole game. I've been wrestling with how to do it. I know nobody will be pleased with it."
Sources within the Redskins organization said yesterday they were surprised Rogers did not play in the team's biggest game of the year, as the Redskins' running game, for the third week in a row, was unproductive, making 87 yards in 22 carries.
After leading the league in rushing most of the season, the Redskins have not gained 100 yards on the ground in the last three games (two victories and one loss). In those three games, Riggins gained 90 yards on 39 carries, Rogers 40 yards on 17 carries, Griffin 116 yards on 34 runs.
Subtract Riggins' 23-yard run Sunday and he gained only 16 yards on nine rushes.
For the season, Riggins has outgained Rogers, 677 yards to 642, but on 39 more carries, 176 to 137. Griffin has 441 yards in 90 tries.
Important to Gibbs is the fact Griffin has no fumbles all season, Riggins three and Rogers five.
For the first time since early season, the passing game has overtaken the running in total net: 2,224 yards to 2,008 through 13 games.
"There's no surge, there's no nothing, we're just getting three yards (per carry)," Gibbs said.
"Right now, we're not getting the job done. I want to give each of these guys the opportunity to get the job done."
Rogers gets first crack at the last three games, all must-wins for the Redskins to have even a remote chance at the playoffs. Said Gibbs, "I'd like (for) him to be healthy and roaring, to see what he can do."
One factor in the state of the running game is the health and well-being of the offensive line.
The status of guard Russ Grimm, who has a sprained left ankle and a bruised right knee, is a major concern. Center Rick Donnalley has a broken left hand and a dislocated left shoulder. Gibbs said it was too early to determine if either will practice or play this week. Both played with injuries Sunday.
Gibbs said the injuries along the line probably have affected the running game more than the passing game. He is happy with quarterback Jay Schroeder. He said he has "confidence" in him and his deep passes, but added he might have "put a little too much pressure on him by letting him throw" a team-record 58 times.
Schroeder made some mistakes, but Gibbs even found a "plus" there.
"He comes right off and tells you when he made a mistake," Gibbs said. "He can talk about things very logically . . . I think that's a plus for a guy. Some guys come off, to be truthful, most of the ones I've worked with, come off throwing and kicking. They're mad. Jay's a little different than that.
"If it's (San Diego's Dan) Fouts, Fouts will be calling me every name in the book for calling the play . . . Joe (Theismann) would come off throwing stuff and kicking, which was his normal reaction.
"Jay will come off and he's a little more matter-of-fact . . . .maybe that's because he's young. Maybe when he's a little older, he's going to come off throwing stuff and kicking."