The Washington Redskins, having virtually settled on their final roster as well as their regular season starting lineup, have other matters on their minds for tonight's final preseason game.
The Redskins again will test themselves against a 1989 playoff team, with the Los Angeles Rams coming to RFK Stadium for an 8 p.m. kickoff.
The Rams last were seen in the East escaping Giants Stadium with a knockout of the NFC East champions before losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC final. They still appear to be the team most capable of keeping the 49ers from a third straight Super Bowl.
But the team the Rams will put on the field tonight does not much resemble the one they hope to have in December. Four veterans, including three defensive starters, are out of camp with contract disputes, and nine others, including wide receivers Aaron Cox and Henry Ellard, will not play because of injuries.
However, the Rams are not making the coast-to-coast flight empty-handed. They are bringing quarterback Jim Everett, who led the NFL with 29 touchdown passes and directed six come-from-behind victories last season. He comes not only with perhaps the NFC's quickest release, but with a new six-year, $13 million contract that makes him the highest-paid Ram in history.
Everett should provide more than enough of a test for a Redskins defense that allowed 354 yards but only one touchdown against the Cleveland Browns last week. Overall, the Rams should be enough of a challenge for a team that still is trying to find its offensive legs.
"It just hasn't come together yet," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said. "It's not one thing, it's everything."
For that reason, Gibbs likely will treat this as more than a dress rehearsal for the Sept. 9 regular season opener against the Phoenix Cardinals. For one thing, his offensive starters will play deep into the game, perhaps well into the fourth quarter unless the running game starts to click.
It was again stuck last week until Gerald Riggs broke a 72-yard run in the fourth quarter, and while the Redskins were happy to have that one, they pointed out that when the Cleveland starters were out there, the running game did not exist.
Gibbs has refused to point fingers, saying only that the backs at times have not done their job and, at other times, the offensive line has not done its job. Others agree.
"It's a little bit of everything," guard Russ Grimm said. "They've caught us with some good defense. We've also not done the job on a play here and there. There's some situations where we have to do a better job, and we will."
That same offensive line has yet to allow a sack, but line coach Jim Hanifan said: "I'm concerned about the run blocking. We haven't done as good a job as we should. We're doing a real good job with pass-blocking and that's usually what you're behind on at this time of the year. The run-blocking will come. We know that. That's just a matter of work, and we're continuing to do that."
Gibbs said the running problems have been the main reason the passing game has not gotten off to a sizzling start. Washington quarterbacks have thrown three interceptions and four touchdown passes while completing 53 percent of their attempts.
The passing, too, was having a forgettable night against the Browns until veteran backup Jeff Rutledge came in and threw for 106 yards, including a 44-yard strike to Gary Clark on his first play.
Quarterback Mark Rypien, who is wrestling with the Redskins over a new contract, has thrown two interceptions and two touchdown passes. Gibbs has praised two of Rypien's three preseason performances, pointing out that the passing game will give him a lot of headaches if the running game does not get cranked up.
Tonight's game will be about other matters, as well. The Redskins will trim their roster from 60 to 47 players on Monday, although many of the decisions may already have been made.
There are still a handful of spots -- including tight end -- where final decisions could be influenced by tonight's performances. The Redskins begin this game with seven tight ends/H-backs, and are likely to keep only four or five.
Jimmie Johnson and Don Warren definitely are on the team and John Brandes, who is a long snapper, appears to have the inside track. That could leave Ron Middleton and Terry Orr fighting for the final spot, and Mike Tice and Ken Whisenhunt victims of a numbers crunch.
Otherwise, up and down the roster, the Redskins probably have made up their minds, and several players may not even get into tonight's game.
Likewise, decisions on the starting lineup appear to have been made. The only defensive competition appears to be at middle linebacker, where incumbent Greg Manusky is trying to hold off Kurt Gouveia.
Neither of them played very well against the Browns, but Gouveia has had a terrific camp.
"He has probably had the best camp of anyone on this football team," linebackers coach Larry Peccatiello said. "One thing is that no matter who starts, they'll both play."
Gouveia's advantage is that he is quicker and better on pass coverage. Manusky's main attributes are that he is bigger and that he finished last season as the starter. Gouveia would need a terrific game to get the job.
Even more attention will be devoted to cornerback Brian Davis when he trots onto the field. He returned to practice this week after missing virtually all of camp with a pulled quadriceps muscle. That is the same leg problem that has sidelined him three times in four seasons.
Davis was concerned enough about reinjury that he visited a St. Louis specialist for a second opinion and therapy to reduce scar tissue in the leg. Davis has held up well through a week of practice and his next test will come tonight.
If he is healthy, the Redskins will have four veteran cornerbacks to play against all the multiple wide receiver formations. If he is not, the Redskins may spend a week looking seriously at names on the waiver wire.
Offensively, there appear to be fewer decisions. Earnest Byner probably will start at running back against the Cardinals, although Riggs and James Wilder both may play some.
On the offensive line, the group that started training camp -- Jim Lachey, Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic, Mark Schlereth and Ed Simmons -- probably will open against the Cardinals. Raleigh McKenzie has become the ace backup and will play more than three quarters, rotating among left guard, right guard and center.
Hanifan never has used a rotation of linemen before and, at the beginning of camp, wondered how it might work out. He has fewer questions now.
"I think these guys know each other well enough that it'll work out," he said.