What do you make of a football offense that huddles like a basketball team on the sidelines during timeouts, then doesn't huddle at all between certain plays?

A team that puts tackles at wide receiver and wide receivers at running back? That gains 570 yards in one game against Dallas? That has scored 394 points, third best in the NFL? That uses a quarterback named Boomer?

What would you think if you were the Washington Redskins, playing defense against all that Sunday at 1 p.m. at home against the Cincinnati Bengals?

"They're so young and good that they really don't know any better as far as how it's supposed to work," Redskins middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz said yesterday at Redskin Park. "They put people completely opposite of where somebody should be. It confuses a defense at first."

But who's to say this isn't fun? Variety being the spice of life and all, the Redskins' defense, ranked third overall in the National Football League, can't wait for this.

"This is supposed to be a hot quarterback and offense now," said nickel back Barry Wilburn. "It'll be interesting to see how we do against them."

It's the return of Boomer Esiason, who played college football at Maryland, then became the first quarterback selected in the 1984 draft when he was taken in the second round, 45 players before Washington picked Jay Schroeder.

Esiason, fairly bursting under the guidance of Coach Sam Wyche, a former Redskins quarterback, is completing 60 percent of his passes. And he has thrown a ton of them: 353, completing 211. He is the second-ranked quarterback (to the New York Jets' Ken O'Brien) in the league at 96.2 passing efficiency.

He's got the arm, the looks -- and the legs (to scramble). Perhaps more than anything else, the Redskins fear his ability to move from the pocket if hotshot receivers Eddie Brown and Cris Collinsworth are covered.

"He's surprised me," said Olkewicz, always one to know what a fellow Terrapin is doing. "He's very confident for a young guy."

The Redskins don't take too well to passers. They lead the NFL in allowing the fewest passes, and the fewest completions: 397 (28 per game) and 198 (14 per game), respectively.

A large part of the credit for this must go to the Redskins' pass defense, particularly the nickel.

The Redskins (8-6) are quick to make changes on second or third and long. But the Bengals (7-7) don't like defenses changing on them and have done something about it.

Earlier in the season, in a 35-30 victory over the New York Giants, Wyche got angry when the Giants put several extra defenders into their huddle during timeouts, just to confuse his offense.

So he installed a hurry-up, no-huddle plan with the sideline meetings, and that solved that.

Coach Joe Gibbs said the Redskins expect to see it during most timeouts. The Bengals' entire offense, linemen and all, will trot over to the sideline and gather around Wyche.

"We do the same thing basketball players do," Wyche said.

They will call a few plays, then send the offense back to line up and go.

After one, two, or even several plays, the offense likely will go back to normal until the next timeout.

The Redskins have been getting ready for this and know what to expect.

"I think it would bother us if we weren't prepared for it, but we know all about it," Olkewicz said.

However, it's possible it could cause some problems for Redskins substitutions.

"Especially against us," Olkewicz said. "We substitute a lot, so they might try it and stop us from substituting certain people."

If the Bengals huddle on the field before the third-down play, obviously, it's no problem for the Redskins.

"Now, if they did the no-huddle for a whole series . . . " Olkewicz said.

There certainly should not be any other disruptions for the Redskins. Calling plays is no big deal.

"It's just a word, or a hand signal," Wilburn said.

"Actually, (the offense) is about as much at a disadvantage as we are," Olkewicz said, "because they're limited to what they can do."

Wyche is known for pulling trick plays now and then, like the time last season when he won a game on a pre-Refrigerator tackle-eligible play. Anthony Munoz, who weighs 278 pounds, purposely slipped, then got up and caught a touchdown pass to tie the game with one second to play. The Bengals won it in overtime.

"(The no-huddle offense) is just a wrinkle to hopefully keep the defense guessing," Wyche said.

The Washington defense, nearing the end of one of its finest seasons in recent memory, will play with just five linebackers Sunday after the release of Chris Keating to make room for quarterback Steve Bartkowski. (Earlier in the season, they went with five linebackers for several games).

It's a risk, sure, says Gibbs, but what's a coach to do?

"At 45 (the roster limit), you're running risks all the time," Gibbs said. "I don't want to do it at linebacker, but we felt like we had to."

Schroeder, who has a cracked rib, worked almost the entire practice yesterday, with backup Babe Laufenberg taking over at the end . . . Bartkowski worked individually with quarterbacks coach Jerry Rhome again and did not take any snaps during offensive drills.