WASHINGTON — These are tough times for the coach. He squirms, worries, searches, aches. Where did the promise of a season go? Why him? Why his team? Why the strike? Will things ever be as they were?
"Winning is such a fleeting thing," the coach says.
Isn't it though? And if not for the turmoil and controversy of a rather tumultuous season, what might they be saying of his team? They'd be talking Super Bowl, that's what.
"I don't feel our team right now is playing consistently," the coach says. "We've got some things we have to get ironed out. . . . We're searching, trying to find the answers. I'm not sure we have or even know what they are. I just think you work as hard as you can to get in the groove. . . . I'm concerned about the way we're playing."
No, it can't be easy leading your division by two full games with a 7-2 record, not when you're favored by 10 points headed into your next game.
But that's what Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs is up against tonight when his team meets the streaking Rams at RFK Stadium.
Now, never mind for a minute that the Redskins have won five more games than the Rams this season, or that the Redskins are on the top side of the NFC East standings while the Rams roam the bottom of the NFC West.
The Redskins are in trouble. They're knocking news stories off the front page of the Washington Post. They're winning, yes, but not as well as they'd like.
It has reached such heights that starting quarterback Jay Schroeder was replaced this week, Gibbs asking veteran Doug Williams to cut off an offensive malaise that might lead down the road to, oh, perhaps a loss (the Redskins, remember, beat Detroit last week, 20-13).
Schroeder's accuracy has slipped in recent weeks (40% completion ratio overall), Gibbs attributing the rustiness to everything from the recent players' strike to an early Schroeder shoulder injury.
So is this see you later Schroeder?
"As far as how long, it's always up to me," Gibbs said. "It's just something I feel. At some point if I feel Jay can do a better job than Doug, then I'd go to Jay. I've always been slow to change. I don't like doing it, but I will if it helps the team."
Forgive the Rams if they leave their crying towels at home. This team's coming off its first regular-season win in almost a year. And it took an 11-minute, 23-play drive at game's end to do it, the Rams escaping St. Louis with a 27-24 win over the Cardinals.
Problems? Yes, the Rams still have a few, particularly on defense, where the team is allowing opponents an average of 125 yards rushing per game.
Most teams are busting right up the middle of the Ram defense these days, a tendency Redskin runners George Rogers and Kelvin Bryant may have noticed in the films in the past week.
On offense, the Rams have been buoyed by the resurgence of Charles White, the team's third-string tailback only a season ago. White leads the National Football League with 703 yards, 361 more than he'd ever gained in an NFL season.
Ram Coach John Robinson has spent the week campaigning for White's legitimacy, refusing to listen to those who point out that White gained 339 of his yards during the strike.
Robinson claims White's rushing numbers, under the right conditions, compare admirably with the game's best backs.
Do they? Well, here's a look inside the numbers. White has gained 364 yards this year against regular competition and has averaged 4.4 yards per carry. His per-carry average during the strike was 4.6.
In the nine games since 1985 that White has either started or been the primary Ram ball carrier, he's gained 939 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Eric Dickerson, in four seasons with the Rams, gained 7,245 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
The career per-carry averages of some of the NFL's greatest backs: Walter Payton (4.4), Marcus Allen (4.2), Tony Dorsett (4.4).
White, obviously, has not sustained his numbers over time.
"I just said to myself, I know what I can do," White said this week. "Give me the opportunity, and I know I can go and gain 1,000 yards, if I had whole entire season to play. Now, I'm getting the opportunity to do it, and I hope I'm not sticking my feet in my mouth because something might happen next week."
Ram Notes Punter Dale Hatcher will kick off tonight for the Rams in place of Mike Lansford, who is still bothered by a sore back. Lansford, who's having a big season, may be limited to shorter field goals. Lansford has made 12 of 13 field-goal attempts and ranks second in NFC scoring with 53 points. . . . .Wide receiver Henry Ellard has been nursing a sore knee all week but is going to give it a try tonight. Ellard has been fitted with a special brace. "I'm wearing the brace to keep it secure," Ellard said. "There's a little soreness when I move from side to side, other than that it feels fine." . . . With Greg Bell out with a shoulder injury, White's replacement at tailback tonight would be strike player Jon Francis, released last week but re-signed on Friday.