This is the week the Washington Redskins have torn their running game apart and put it back together, the week they've again said they must reestablish the run as a bigger part of their offense.

Remember those long-ago days? Fans wearing Hog T-shirts, John Riggins slugging 60-gut into the heart of the defense a few dozen times and the Redskins grinding out 17-3 victories. Oldies but goodies.

What has happened? The Redskins haven't had a 100-yard rusher since Week 5 of last season. This season they've had a total of 100 rushing yards only once, and overall only 32 percent of their 889 yards has come on the ground.

Their three-week backfield totals -- 118, 87 and 79 yards -- once would have been at least automatic for Riggins.

The easy answer is that the cast of characters has changed. Riggins recently celebrated his 41st birthday and spends mornings doing drive-time sports for a local radio station. The money may not be as good, but there is a lot less wear and tear on his knees.

Another marquee name, former Boss Hog Joe Bugel, has left to coach the Phoenix Cardinals, who'll be hosting the Redskins Sunday night at Sun Devil Stadium.

So perhaps the Redskins aren't as good running the ball because the people are no longer as good.

However, the Redskins say they've seldom felt better about their personnel. Their offensive line is big, strong and quick with a nice blend of young and old. The new Hogs coach is Jim Hanifan, who in 16 years has gained a reputation for developing all-pro offensive linemen.

Dan Dierdorf, Conrad Dobler, Ed White and Bill Fralic all say Hanifan was no small part of their success and veteran Hog Russ Grimm said: "He has changed some techniques, but nothing significant. We're still out there doing the same basic things."

And the running backs are Earnest Byner and Gerald Riggs. Byner is a slashing, elusive runner; Riggs is the straight-ahead power back the Redskins traditionally have loved, and before he was injured last season, their running game had seldom been better.

Instead, the Redskins say the problem isn't with personnel or technique. They say they have had trouble running the ball because circumstances have changed and because a lot of the rest of their offense has failed to click. They say too that the game has changed.

They point to the rest of the NFL and the fact that league-wide rushing numbers are down. The Chicago Bears are the only team with more rushing yards (532) than passing yards (392) and some teams -- Houston, Denver and San Francisco -- seem only moderately interested in running the ball.

"It's a lot of different things and it's not limited to the Redskins," Bugel said. "When teams first began the one-back offenses, they were chewing a lot of people up. Teams did their research and defenses responded by deciding they had to stop the run. They put eight men on the line of scrimmage, and offenses have adjusted by going to three and four wide receivers."

The Redskins say they've seen this trend several times, especially in San Francisco, where the 49ers jammed the middle and dared them to throw the ball. The Dallas Cowboys did the same thing on Sunday and those defenses worked when the Redskins couldn't get their passing game going.

"You hit a few passes and it will look different," Hanifan said. "That's one of the problems. When they're jammed in the middle, they're going to stay there until you give them something else to adjust to."

The Redskins believe it'll be more of the same this week in Phoenix, where the Cardinals likely will stack the line and make first-time starter Stan Humphries hit a pass or two.

But if Humphries gets the passing game cranked up, what difference does it make if the Redskins are having trouble running?

"You'd better be able to run in the NFC East," Bugel said. "You're going to play games late in the year where the wind is blowing 50 miles per hour and there's snow blowing. The conditions are going to take the passing game away and you'd better have confidence that you can stick your face in there and knock people down."

The Redskins believe they're still capable of knocking people down, but with receivers dropping passes, quarterbacks missing receivers and penalties being called, they haven't had a chance to find out.

"It has been a couple of things," Gibbs said. "We were behind in the 49ers game and had to throw. Early in the game, the running plays were being audibled to passes because of the way the defenses were stacked. The other two games, I didn't call as many runs as I should have."

He said the offensive line has not blocked as well as it should, "but if we give them more opportunities they'll probably get it done. Our offense has just been so hit and miss. We've missed so many third-down plays that we just haven't kept the ball long enough to establish anything. You don't get a chance to run in those situations."

Gibbs began this season saying he probably would play both Byner and Riggs, and after opening with a 31-0 home victory over Phoenix, it looked as if he would. Byner carried 17 times for 63 yards that game, Riggs 13 times for 51 yards.

But in the two weeks since, Byner has 24 carries, Riggs eight. Gibbs said again this week that he wants Riggs more involved and that he intends to give him the ball more on Sunday.

Riggs has been a workhorse back his entire career and says standing on the sideline is a new experience. But he constantly reminds himself it's a long season and that he knows his chance eventually will come.

"It's about the only way I can feel," he said. "I've just taken what has been given to me. I'm trying not to get too emotional about it because it wouldn't do me any good. I want to be out there and the coaches know that. I've decided to be patient and do what I can. Sometimes it feels I'm not even part of the game, but you want to be ready when your chance does come."

That chance probably will come Sunday, especially if Humphries hits a few passes and the Cardinals are forced to spread their defense. What the Redskins still hope for is a day when they begin with three wide receivers, hit a few passes, then get into a grind-it-out running game.

"I still think we just need to run a few plays," tackle Jim Lachey said. "We've done pretty well at times. We probably do need to sustain our blocks a little longer. But the running and passing games go hand-in-hand. It's hard to have one if you're not doing well at the other. We've been in situations so far where we haven't been able to balance it out."