ATLANTA, SEPT. 19 -- The Washington Redskins arrived here today to play a football game that shouldn't be very difficult and to prepare themselves for a strike. There is one common thread running between both objectives: a 2-0 record.
Does this sound familiar? Back to the past for a moment: in 1982, the NFL players began what turned into a 57-day strike after the second game of the season. The Redskins were 2-0, practiced together better than any other team during the layoff, lost only one game after the strike and won the Super Bowl.
On Sunday at 1 p.m. at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, only the lowly Falcons (0-1) stand between the Redskins (1-0) and their pre-strike goals.
Coach Joe Gibbs paid the Falcons quite a compliment the other day when he said his "only thoughts" this week were of beating the team that lost to Tampa Bay, 48-10, last week. If this is true, the man has an incredible ability to narrow his focus. His team does not.
The Redskins have been trying to forget the impending strike and forget that last week Atlanta looked like one of those prospective strike teams the owners plan to assemble. It hasn't been easy, but quarterback Doug Williams, for one, took the reverse-psychology approach: "The fact that Atlanta had such a terrible game last week means we could be walking into an ambush."
The Falcons should hire the Redskins to do their public relations. The Redskins should hire the Falcons to be their weekly opponent. Even with all the injuries, the Redskins' B-team appears to be stronger than anything the Falcons can offer.
A few salient statistics tell just how bad Atlanta was last week. The Falcons' 38-point loss to Tampa Bay (no Super Bowl contender itself) was their second worst opening game. They gained only 63 yards rushing and have the second-worst offensive and defensive teams in the league after the first week.
When new quarterback Scott Campbell, the former Pittsburgh Steeler, was asked what went wrong, he answered, "Where do you want me to start?"
It's not all bad. Running back Gerald Riggs, who gained 52 yards on 12 carries last week, has given the Redskins trouble in his two starts against them, gaining 134 yards in a 1984 game and 127 yards in a 1985 meeting. The Falcons had been hoping to use a two-back attack more often, with rookie Kenny Flowers, but Flowers' progress has been slow and Riggs still is the workhorse of the offense.
The Atlanta defense, which wasn't supposed to be awful, was just that last week, giving up 460 yards on 75 offensive plays. The Falcons allowed scoring drives of 84, 71 and 90 yards the first three times Tampa Bay had the ball. The Redskins, who will start running back Keith Griffin and plan to rotate in Kelvin Bryant and Timmy Smith, naturally think this might be the game their running attack gets going. It has happened here before: in the Redskins' 44-10 win in 1985, Griffin rushed for a career-high 164 yards on only 16 carries, and George Rogers, who now is on injured reserve, added 124 yards on 16 rushes.
The most pressing questions for the Redskins are injuries and their effect on the starting lineup. Williams is starting his first NFL game since the 1982 playoffs, when his Tampa Bay team lost to Dallas, 30-17. "That's too long ago," he said. Atlanta's three starting defensive linemen each said Williams was vulnerable to their pass rush; Williams didn't look that way last week against Philadelphia. The only apparent weakness Williams has is that he is not particularly mobile and doesn't scramble. But he said this does not concern him.
It appears as if starting center Russ Grimm will return after missing more than half of last week's game with a strained back. Defensive tackle Darryl Grant, who has a pulled right calf muscle, will be evaluated in pregame warm-ups. If he can't start, Dean Hamel will. Barry Wilburn is expected to start in place of Tim Morrison (bruised right calf and ankle) at right cornerback, but Morrison will play, the coaches say.
Even quarterback Jay Schroeder will be on the sidelines, in uniform, Gibbs said, in case he is needed as a holder for new kicker Ali Haji-Sheikh. Haji-Sheikh kicked for the Falcons last year and was released by them before this season. "I don't know if it's ironic," he said of returning to Atlanta, "but I think it's humorous."
The Redskins refuse to discuss what, if any, preparations they have made for a strike, but, given team officials' penchant for planning and organization, it's unlikely they wouldn't have a strike team ready to report for meetings and practice Tuesday.
Gibbs maintains he won't say anything about strike specifics until Tuesday, but he is talking in generalities.
"It's a matter of who handles it the best," Gibbs said. "That's what we want to try to do. We want to try and handle this better than anybody else can handle it. We want to come out of this the best football team that we can be."