Bruised Skins have healthy attitude if nothing else

November 23, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- The Washington Redskins will set up their "M*A*S*H" unit at the Superdome tonight and try to find enough healthy players to face the New Orleans Saints.

The Redskins have put 14 players on injured reserve since the start of the season -- cornerback Sidney Johnson was the latest Saturday -- and have several others who will play, but probably should be letting their injuries heal.

They're likely to start two players -- cornerback A. J. Johnson and guard Mark Schlereth -- who didn't practice last week because of knee injuries. They also have made their weekly offensive line shuffle.

They may even rush cornerback Darrell Green back in the nickel defense on passing downs even though he wasn't cleared for practice until Friday after breaking a forearm in the second game.

Green wasn't supposed to play before next week, but they're short of corners because Martin Mayhew, who sustained the same broken forearm last week that sidelined Green two months ago, and Sidney Johnson went on IR last week.

Trying to play injured players has its drawbacks. For example, safety Danny Copeland, who probably came back too soon against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, aggravated a neck injury and is expected to sit this one out. They also started Joe Jacoby with a back injury last week, and he lasted one quarter before going out.

Jacoby will try to sit this one out -- unless there's an emergency. If this game is typical of the Redskins season, there probably will be one.

All this helps explain why the defending champions, who were favored to win their first 10 games, are underdogs for the first time this season.

The 6-4 Redskins are four-point underdogs.

The one person who's not focusing on the injuries is coach Joe Gibbs.

"We've got a lot of guys who aren't hurt. They've got to take up the slack," Gibbs said.

From force of habit, Gibbs talked last week about how tough the Saints are.

F: "Their quarterback [Bobby Hebert] is very accurate. If

you make a mistake, he's pinpoint. They're great at just making first downs and holding the ball. They're hard to get the ball away from. It's a bad matchup," Gibbs said.

Nobody was arguing with Gibbs this time. After all, Raleigh McKenzie, who is supposed to be a guard and a center, will move to left tackle and take on pass-rushing specialist Pat Swilling. That's another bad matchup for the Redskins. The duel between Ricky Jackson and right tackle Ed Simmons isn't much better. And rookie Matt Elliott, the last player drafted, will make his first start at center.

That's why the real question was whether Gibbs could come up with a scenario to win. He seemed shocked at that question.

"I think every competitor goes out thinking he can win," he said. "Great victories come when . . . "

His voice then trailed off because Gibbs doesn't like to predict victory, but he obviously meant to say that great victories come in times of adversity.

Although the Redskins are the underdog, Saints coach Jim Mora said he doesn't see an injury-riddled team that has scored three offensive touchdowns in the past five games.

"They look real good to me. They're the world champions," he said.

"You see a very talented, tough, fundamentally sound team. These guys are as good [a team] as there is, and they have been for 10-12 years."

Meanwhile, when Mora looks at his 7-3 team that has lost twice to the San Francisco 49ers by a total of seven points and once to the Philadelphia Eagles by two points, he said he doesn't see a team that is 12 points shy of a 10-0 record.

"We haven't beaten a team with a winning record yet," he said.

The Saints should have the advantage with crowd noise indoors, but Mora pointed out the Redskins are 12-2 in dome stadiums under Gibbs (Gibbs is 5-0 against the Saints).

He even came up with another Redskins advantage.

The Saints haven't beaten the Redskins since 1979 and he said, "There's not a player on this team that as a member of the Saints has ever beaten the Redskins."

Unless the Redskins defense collapses the way it did in the first half against Kansas City last Sunday, this figures to be a defensive battle between a Saints' defense that is rated third in the NFL and a Redskins' defense that is rated seventh.

It could turn into a field-goal duel between excellent kickers, Chip Lohmiller of the Redskins -- who has made eight of nine in two games in domed stadiums this year -- and Morten Andersen of the Saints.

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