SAN DIEGO, JAN. 28 -- For the early word on how Super Bowl XXII might swing, I defer to a couple of fellow newspaper stiffs, Tom Landry and Howie Long.

"If the Redskins don't commit turnovers," Landry wrote in one of his daily columns, "and they hit a big play or two, which they're very capable of doing, you may see a rare Super Bowl upset."

Compared to the Denver plodders, nearly everybody not wearing orange agrees, the Redskins' frequently sluggish ground attack is the Hornung-Taylor Packers.

Howie?

"The Redskins' only chance {to stop John Elway} might be to bring in The Big Chief from D.C. to do a rain dance," Long penned for USA Today. "It is said the only way to really stop Elway is with a monsoon."

Like everybody else, the Redskins will be attacking Elway with three 11-man waves. They want the defense to keep his passing numbers from rocketing off the charts; they want the special teams to present him with lousy field position; they want the offense to buy both time and points.

"We're gonna need 30 or more points," said defensive coordinator Larry Peccatiello. Smiling, he said: "We don't want to put too much pressure on the offense."

When last the Redskins and Broncos met, in Denver, the next-to-last game of the 1986 regular season, all 30 points got the Redskins was a sad plane ride home. That and a new place-kicker, Max Zendejas having missed an extra point and a 41-yard field goal late in the third quarter.

In that 31-30 Denver victory, the Redskins ran well. Rogers had 93 yards on 24 carries and Bryant averaged 4.2 yards on five tries. They ought to be able to do that again.

Why?

An enormous size advantage on the offensive line. The smallest Hog, 260-pound center Jeff Bostic, is within five pounds of the largest of Denver's three down linemen.

If the Redskins are able to run, quarterback Doug Williams can trigger a pass offense every bit as sophisticated as Denver's.

"Washington does some things that are killers against coverages," said a recent victim, Vikings linebacker Jesse Solomon. "They are the only team I know with a quality catcher at every catching spot and for every role."

Williams is the pivotal player. As a starter for the first time in nearly two months, he was a combined 23 for 55 in Redskins playoff victories over the Bears and Vikings.

That statistic is less negative than it seems, Williams argues. Several of those incompletions were throwaways to avoid a sack. His only sack and interception of the postseason came against the Bears.

Earlier this week, Williams startled some when he said: "I'm happy to be in the Super Bowl and facing a guy like Karl Mecklenburg . . ."

What?

"That's who I face," Williams said of the Bronco who lines up in so many places on defense. "John Elway has to deal with Charles Mann and Dexter Manley."

Early on, the Bears dealt more than adequately with Mann, Manley and the rest of Washington's defense in the shotgun formation Denver features so much. Chicago even ran effectively from that set.

Long and some other defensive specialists figure the Redskins must devise some sort of plan that keeps Elway from improvising on the run.

Many defenses use what the NFL terms a "spy" against mobile quarterbacks. That is generally a linebacker who mirrors the quarterback from the defensive side of the ball.

The spy is about full-shadow distance from his man, moving side to side. If the quarterback sees no receiver open and decides to run, the spy is ready near the line of scrimmage to make the tackle.

"We used {Brian} Bosworth," said the Seahawks' defensive backfield coach, Ralph Hawkins. "He's a guy fast enough to run Elway down."

In the game of their lives, the Redskins insist they will not spy on Elway.

"We don't like using it, as a general rule," said Peccatiello. "We realize Elway's tremendous ability. However, you use a spy at the expense of either your pass rush or your coverage. We're not willing to sacrifice either of those.

"We feel like we've got to take our chances with people doing a better job of rushing and containing. We can't afford to take anyone out of either area."

What separates Elway from Miami's Dan Marino is the ability to improvise on the run. Marino surely would be as adept, if his tender knees allowed him to scramble.

"Really, our offense is much more disciplined than John Q. Public would probably imagine," Denver receivers coach Chan Gailey said. " . . . We have a designed response for everybody when a scramble occurs.

"We run disciplined routes and allow the receivers to use their imagination to get open. With John, he's so creative that you have to be imaginative yourself to get open."

Fortunately for the Redskins, they have enough quality rushmen to pressure Elway -- and enough quantity to keep everybody relatively fresh. Also, the secondary seems better this season.

Elway completed lots of critical passes last year against Barry Wilburn, who led the NFL in interceptions this season. The take-no-prisoners safeties, Todd Bowles and Alvin Walton, are in their first full season.

And Darrell Green apparently is healthy enough for full duty at cornerback and extended use on punt returns.

"We couldn't have asked for better preparation coming into this game," Peccatiello admitted. "We played Marino, who presents passing problems much like Elway does.

"Wade Wilson {of the Vikings} had some maneuverability, although not like Elway. Our players were able to see how that can hurt you if you aren't careful. It's not like we've been playing wishbone teams."

Washington's deep backs are certain to make their re-introductions to Broncos receivers quickly.

"The Amigos are going to get rapped," Buffalo General Manager Bill Polian told The Los Angeles Times. "It doesn't matter if they catch the ball or not, they're going to get it from a more physical secondary than maybe they've seen."

Elway is comfortable in Super Bowl pressure, having completed 22 of 37 passes for 304 yards and a touchdown in that loss last year to the Giants. Only Phil Simms being nearly perfect (22 of 25 for 268 yards and three touchdowns) could dwarf such a performance.

"He's the greatest quarterback to play in a long, long time," Hawkins said. "He can turn disaster into a great play."

Many give Denver the mental edge, their logic being that teams usually follow losses in the Super Bowl with victories. Kansas City won the second time. So did the Raiders, Dolphins and Cowboys.

I think there are enough Redskins, players and coaches, who remember being beaten so badly by the Raiders four Super Bowls ago to narrow that psychological gap.

I also sense Sunday's showdown being closer and more dramatic than any of the previous 21. This is because neither defense has been consistently dominant.

"The Redskins aren't overwhelming," one American Conference assistant coach said. "But they aren't weak anywhere, which shouldn't be overlooked."

Nobody is overlooking the negative impression that shadows Denver's and Washington's place-kickers. Rich Karlis missed a 23-yard field goal at a critical time against the Giants last Super Bowl; Ali Haji-Sheikh missed from 38 and 47 yards in the NFC title game.

Among those willing to offer an opinion about which team skips and which team slinks off the field Sunday, there is this link: the inability to get here on their own.

Landry has yet to choose a winner. As of yesterday, Long also was neutral. I make it Redskins 34, Broncos 31.