If the Washington Redskins running backs needed a pat on the back to get going, they got it yesterday from Coach Joe Gibbs.

If they needed a swift kick in the pants, they got that Sunday from former Redskins star runner John Riggins.

Riggins, who left the team after the 1985 season, ran roughshod over his successor, George Rogers, during an interview on WMAL radio at halftime of the Redskins' 24-20 victory over Dallas. Riggins said Rogers "doesn't want to run through that stuff," referring to tough-going on the field.

Gibbs refused to comment on Riggins' statement at his Redskin Park news conference, but then took it upon himself to defend running backs Rogers, Kelvin Bryant, Keith Griffin and Timmy Smith.

"I certainly disagree with the guys that say we don't have the guys, we don't have the people," Gibbs said. "I think we can do it. I think we have the people to do it."

The Redskins rushed for only 68 yards against the Cowboys, their second lowest output of the season. They rushed for just 66 yards against the Los Angeles Rams last month. Three times this season, they have gained less than 100 yards in games.

Besides the 66-yard output against the Rams on Nov. 23, they produced 82 yards against the New York Giants on Nov. 29, 180 at St. Louis on Dec. 6, and 68 on Sunday.

Gibbs has numerous explanations: His running backs have not been healthy; Rogers has suffered toe, shoulder and groin injuries; Bryant has had hamstring problems, with a more recent sprained ankle; and Griffin, a sore thigh.

The offensive line also has not been healthy much of the season, although it has been intact the past three games, and apparently will be for a fourth, Sunday night at Miami. Center Russ Grimm, who suffered a knee injury at Philadelphia five weeks ago, might start practicing this week, but will not start against the Dolphins, Gibbs said.

"Our offensive line is healthy," Gibbs said. "I'm not ready to jerk anybody out of there. If Russ plays, it will be in a backup role."

It's also possible Grimm will work out but not be activated for this game, or for the final regular season game at Minnesota Dec. 26. The Redskins already have won the NFC East title, and are playing now for the home-field advantage.

Then, there are the defenses the Redskins have faced. Following the strong lead of the Chicago Bears, more teams are adopting a pressing defense, using up to eight men on the line, including safeties, as Dallas did at RFK Stadium.

It's almost impossible to run against that, Gibbs said. Philadelphia played that way, and so did the Rams, who normally play a softer, zone defense but focused on the Redskins' running game.

When a defense uses so many players on the line, it dares the offense to throw deep, which has been the Redskins' strength. That's how quarterback Jay Schroeder was able to hit Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders deep against the Cowboys, and why the Redskins were upset that Schroeder overthrew so many open receivers against the Eagles last month.

But it also gives the running game a terrible headache.

"Teams that look at us are not ignoring the run," Gibbs said. "The problem is, we have not been as consistent.

"It's been the circumstances, the games, the defenses . . . It kind of runs the gamut. We have a hit-or-miss running game."

Bryant, who was injured against the Giants, missed the St. Louis game and carried only once for eight yards against Dallas, would be helping the Redskins if he were not hurting.

Gibbs figures a healthy Bryant for about seven rushes and seven catches a game. He estimates about five or six yards per Bryant carry. That's 35 yards or so the Redskins are missing from the running game when Bryant is unable to play.

"If he touches the ball 14-15 times, he gives you a couple of touchdowns and teams automatically double {cover} him on passing situations, which gives you a tremendous boost in the passing game," Gibbs said.

Another faction believes the Redskins should try rookie Timmy Smith, who was a summer sensation. Gibbs likes the idea, but hasn't been playing Smith because of game situations, he said.

It's unlike Gibbs to do something outrageous and put a rookie such as Smith into a game to start a second half. But one never knows, especially with the Redskins facing quarterback Dan Marino this week. "You'd like to keep {Marino} from being out there," Gibbs said. A team does that by controlling the ball.

The problem with a move to Smith would be what it does to Rogers' psyche.

"George gets very uptight and worried {about his situation}," Gibbs said. "I'm sure he is today."

Ironically, the Redskins are the third-best rushing team in the NFC and sixth-best in the NFL. One would hate to think what Riggins might be saying -- or what Gibbs might be thinking -- if they were ranked lower.

Then again, one might wonder where they would be ranked if Lionel Vital, who gained 346 yards in three games, had not been on the replacement team.

Redskins Notes: Gibbs said he expects the players injured Sunday to be fine this week . . . The Redskins' home-field playoff picture, already a tad confusing with two weeks left in the season, has a new twist.In addition to all the other permutations, if the Redskins and New Orleans finish 12-3, and San Francisco, having beaten Chicago last night, loses one of its remaining two games, New Orleans wins the West and the Redskins get the home field for the weekend of Jan. 9-10. Staff writer Tom Friend contributed to this report.