'91 Skins built along the lines of '83 model

Pro football

October 22, 1991|By Ken Murray

As another wave of Joe Gibbs' offensive terror sweeps over the NFL this season, carrying the Washington Redskins to 7-0 heights, you are reminded of another team with tidal wave force.

You are reminded of John Riggins slamming through openings created by the original Hogs, of Joe Theismann slinging touchdown pass after touchdown pass, of Joe Washington stutter-stepping his way through the heart of a defense.

Remember the 1983 Redskins?

It was probably the best of Gibbs' three Super Bowl teams, yet, ironically, it was the only one that didn't win its last game. Remember the Rocket pass, the Raiders and 38-9?

It was a team that went 16-3, winning nine times by two touchdowns or more. It was a team that led the league in points scored and possession time. It was a team that sent seven players to the Pro Bowl.

Eight years later comes another Gibbs-coached team that matches up neatly in a number of places.

Running back Earnest Byner is not the brute that Riggins was. But Byner is more proficient, and more versatile, at moving the ball.

Quarterback Mark Rypien is no Theismann on those rollouts. But you can't fault his bottom-line production as the Redskins take an unblemished record to the Meadowlands next Sunday night to resume their unholy war with the New York Giants.

And scatback Ricky Ervins has a long way to go before he deserves mention in the same breath with Joe Washington. But time may prove that the 5-foot-7, 200-pound rookie can inflict the same kind of indignities on a defense with his fleet feet and that whiplash burst of speed.

It was after the Redskins' fourth game of the season, a 34-27 victory at Cincinnati, that Theismann, now a commentator on ESPN, began to chart the similarities between his 1983 Redskins and the 1991 bunch. What he came up with was a mirror image -- refined and fine-tuned.

"If you lay blueprints down on top of one another, you really see two very similar football teams," he said. "But I know Joe [Gibbs] will not compare them."

In Gibbs' place, there is the testimony of two other Joes -- Theismann and Washington -- to make the comparison.

OFFENSE

"The biggest difference," said Washington, "is that we had a seasoned quarterback. That is the key. Even though Mark has the talent to do all the things Joe did, Joe Theismann had already done them. We had a seasoned veteran with all the world of confidence. This year's team is in the process of getting to that stage."

Theismann and Rypien are a study in contrasts. At 6-foot, 198 pounds, Theismann was effusive and elusive and always a threat to scramble. At 6-4 and 234, Rypien has a strong arm, a low-profile approach and a history of being erratic.

Theismann could throw the ball, too, though. In 1983 he had an MVP year, throwing for 3,714 yards and 29 touchdowns. This year Rypien has averaged 8.05 yards a pass (to Theismann's 8.26) and completed 63 percent of his throws (to 61 ).

"Mark is starting to come into his own," Theismann said.

Up front, three of Theismann's bodyguards remain with the Redskins -- center Jeff Bostic, tackle Joe Jacoby and guard Russ Grimm. Only Grimm is a non-starter. Altogether, eight players remain from the '83 team.

The advent of huge offensive linemen -- along with the counter trey -- underscored the success of the '83 team. Riggins rushed for 1,347 yards and 24 touchdowns. Yet, Byner has more total yards (787) than Riggins had (680) at the corresponding point.

"We wanted to send a 240-pound back behind 300-pound linemen," Washington said. "Now, they're not so set on running the ball. Joe [Gibbs] realizes he has one of the most sophisticated pass schemes in the league. They could pass on every down."

Washington and Theismann give the '91 Skins an edge at wide receiver. Art Monk, who started in '83 with Charlie Brown, still is amazingly productive, but the arrival of Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders make pass defense against the Skins impossible.

DEFENSE

Washington gives the '91 Skins an edge at linebacker because Wilber Marshall and Andre Collins. "They're better athletes," said Washington, whose '83 team had Neil Olkewicz, Mel Kaufman and Rich Milot at linebacker.

Theismann gives an edge to the '83 defensive line of Dave Butz, Dexter Manley, Darryl Grant and Todd Liebenstein (Charles Mann was a rookie who started one game).

Darrell Green started at cornerback as a rookie in a secondary with Vernon Dean, Curtis Jordan and Mark Murphy. Outside of Green, the secondary appears the most vulnerable part of this year's defense.

Nevertheless, this year's defense already has logged three shutouts. The '83 defense gave up 48 points in one memorable Monday night loss to Green Bay alone.

SPECIAL TEAMS The '83 Skins had place-kicker Mark Moseley. The '91 Skins have Chip Lohmiller. "We felt the same way about Moseley they feel about Lohmiller," said Washington.

The punters (Kelly Goodburn now, Jeff Hayes then) are nondescript, but Brian Mitchell gives the '91 punt return team a place of prominence. Mitchell's two returns for touchdowns tied Mike Nelms' 1981 record.

CONCLUSIONS Washington remembers the '83 team having "an aura of athletic arrogance and confidence." The '91 team, he says, is developing that.

"I see them being real good," he said. "The key is how well Rypien continues to play."

Theismann believes the Redskins are on course to claim Gibbs' third Super Bowl trophy.

"If they stay healthy, I don't see anybody beating them," he said. "I don't believe there's a better big game coach in football today than Joe Gibbs . . . I'm still looking at Buffalo in the AFC and I think the Redskins will get there [to the Super Bowl].

"If it's Buffalo and Washington, I think the Redskins will get a third one."

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