HERNDON, VA. — Darrell Green likes one thing about the run-and-shoot offense.
"Maybe I can play a little bit longer [because] they're going to need some corners to cover all these guys," the 31-year-old Washington Redskins cornerback said with a smile yesterday.
On a more serious note, Green knows the Redskins have to do a better job against the run-and-shoot than they did last year. They open the season Sunday night against the Detroit Lions.
"We beat them last year, but they really should have won the game," Green said in reference to the Redskins' 41-38 overtime victory over the Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome.
The Redskins seemed befuddled by the run-and-shoot, falling behind, 35-14, in the third quarter before Jeff Rutledge came off the bench to rally them to an overtime victory.
"We just didn't have a lot of understanding of the run-and-shoot," Green said. "I hope a little better knowledge will help us out."
The Redskins' problem with the run-and-shoot helps explain why this game will be TNT's first national Sunday night telecast of the year.
A Lions-Redskins game usually isn't an attraction. The Lions are 3-20 against the Redskins, never have won in Washington in 13 tries and were a 6-10 team last season.
But the prospect that the teams might play another exciting game prompted the NFL to feature this opener on national television.
The Lions' use of four wide receivers in the run-and-shoot neutralizes one of the Redskins' strengths -- Green's ability to cover the opponent's top receiver one-on-one all over the field.
Shutting down one receiver isn't that important when the Lions have three others on the field. The Redskins need solid play from their other three cornerbacks, especially since their second best corner, A.J. Johnson, is on injured reserve.
That leaves Martin Mayhew, the other starter, and backups Alvoid Mays and Sidney Johnson on the spot. The Redskins know Green can cover. How the other three cornerbacks do will determine the team's fate Sunday.
Mayhew wasn't talking yesterday, but the Redskins have to be worried that he'll be talking to himself Sunday night.
Mayhew struggled throughout the preseason and was a frequent target of New York Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien in Saturday night's final exhibition game.
For Mays and Johnson, this game is special because they get a chance to start. The only other start of their careers was against the Lions last year. To get four cornerbacks on the field, the Redskins usually line up with just one linebacker.
Mays, who had been cut by the Houston Oilers in 1989 and was working in an orange juice factory in Florida when the Redskins invited him to training camp last year, said: "You can't be worried about it. The run-and-shoot puts a lot of strain on the defense. But I think we learned a lot from last year. We made a lot of adjustments, and I think we should be ready."
Johnson, who cleared waivers Tuesday, then vaulted his way into the starting lineup because the Lions are the opponent, said: "It's a down-and-up type thing. I'm looking forward to it."
Johnson said he doesn't feel a lot of pressure.
"I'm doing well in practice, and I feel if I do well, I'll do well in the game," he said.
Discussing the challenge of the run-and-shoot, Johnson said: lTC "It's going to be like a fire drill back there. It's going to be a lot of guys going here and there. Everybody has to be on the same wavelength. That's going to be tough, but we ironed it out pretty well in practice, so I think we're going to do pretty well."
Neither team was particularly effective in the exhibition season. The Lions were 2-3 and the Redskins 1-3.
Lions quarterback Rodney Peete hasn't played since the first quarter of the first game of the exhibition season because of groin and rib injuries. Running back Barry Sanders held out, suffered a rib injury and carried the ball just four times.
Sanders accounted for 232 yards of offense in last year's game, running for 100 yards in 10 carries and catching 11 passes for 132 yards.
Both are expected to play, but they may not be at top form.
Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the Redskins defense, said Washington held the Lions without a first down in nine of their 14 possessions last year, but let them score the other five times.
Petitbon has a simple explanation for the challenge the Redskins face in this game.
"Covering is our problem," he said.
NOTES: LB Kurt Gouevia (sprained knee) is the only Redskin who's questionable for the opener. . . . Coach Joe Gibbs closed practice to the media, a move he often makes at this time of the season.