With five games left, struggling Redskins looking to take step up in class

November 24, 1990|By Vito Stellino

When defensive lineman Eric Williams was traded from the Detroit Lions to the Washington Redskins this year, he said he thought it was a step up in class to one of the better teams in the National Football League.

Williams still says he made that jump, although the Redskins, struggling at 6-5 after a 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day, haven't proved it lately.

"I think we're better than what we're playing," Williams said. "I think we're making mistakes and other people are capitalizing on them. That's pro football. But I'll guarantee you, we'll be back."

Looking at the team he joined, Williams said: "I expected to come to a good team, and I did that. I've met every expectation I ever thought I ever would coming here. Even more. The one thing I thought would be good is the character on this team, and I found out that's even more than I expected. We have such a great character, and that's what going to pull us through."

Williams said he thinks the Redskins will prove it in their final five games.

"I think if we just go out and play ball, [we'll] win all our games and let the chips fall where they may," he said. "All we're going to do win. Everything else will take care of itself in terms of playoffs and whatever."

Can they win the last five?

"I think so," Williams said. "I wouldn't dress up if I thought we'd lose any of them."

The Redskins are taking the weekend off to rest after three games in two hours shy of 10 days, but they'll be facing some tough questions when they return to practice Monday.

The toughest is whether they are really as good as Williams says they are.

Last year, the team was 5-6 at this point, then won the last five games to go 10-6, but still missed the playoffs.

This year, the Redskins will make the playoffs if they win their last five. They'll probably do it even if they win three of five and might make it at 8-8 with victories in only two of the last five.

But there are more serious questions to be answered in these last five games, three of them against winning teams -- the Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills.

The Redskins have beaten only one team with a winning record this season, the Philadelphia Eagles. That might be misleading because only nine other teams in the league have winning records.

This isn't something new, though. In the three seasons since they last won the Super Bowl, they're 23-20. The only teams they've beaten that ended a season with winning records were the Eagles and the New Orleans Saints.

None of the teams they beat in the final five games last year had winning records. This year, they'll have a chance against the Dolphins, Bears and Bills to prove they're still a top-caliber team.

If the Redskins can't beat them, they might have to start coping with he dreaded R word -- rebuilding.

In any case, their running game has to improve. The offensive line is being dominated and with Gerald Riggs hurt, Earnest Byner isn't carrying the running game. Byner rushed for just 39 yards in 14 carries against the Cowboys and couldn't get outside when the Cowboys took away the inside game.

Coach Joe Gibbs said he's sticking with Byner and won't switch to rookie Brian Mitchell.

Byner, though, doesn't appear to be a runner in the John Riggins mold for the one-back offense.

"He can do certain things, but he can't carry the team," a general manager for another team said. "He's not a home-run hitter."

Obtaining a young running back is likely to be a top priority next season, but first, the team has to survive this one. The team may have to stress the passing game again the way it did the final five games last year.

To do that, quarterback Mark Rypien must be steadier than he was against the Cowboys. He played well in his first game back, against the New Orleans Saints, after a seven-week layoff with a knee injury, but appeared rusty Thursday.

One thing the Redskins have going for them is that they've traditionally played well late in the year under Gibbs. It will be a tough challenge this year.

"We're going to be against teams rated a lot better than us," Gibbs said. "It's going to take a real guts effort down the stretch."

One problem could be that the Redskins simply need more good players, but Gibbs isn't ready to concede that.

"I think everybody is a better judge of that than I am," he said. "I think the answer is going to come out of all of this down the road. We're 6-5. We're going to find if we're a good football team and good coaches. We'll find out."

The Redskins may not like the answer.

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