Redskins voice concern about Esiason's ability to bark signals


HERNDON, Va. -- Eric Williams of the Washington Redskins says there is a lot to like about Cincinnati quarterback Boomer Esiason.

There is his slingshot passing arm. There is his ability to dodge the pass rush and his ability to take a hit. There is his poise under pressure.

But what Williams really respects about the former University of Maryland standout are his vocal chords. His booming, baritone vocal chords.

"He's so talented as a quarterback," Williams said yesterday. "He's like a general out on the field. He is able to belt out those signals so that I can't understand them."

Williams, an eight-year veteran at defensive tackle, has made listening to quarterbacks part of his job description. He says he has been able to pick up the audibles of a handful of quarterbacks around the NFL, the most recent of which was Rodney Peete when the Redskins steamrolled Detroit 45-0 in the season opener.

"I love to do it," Williams said. "If you've got something like that going for you, go with it."

Williams will get another chance to decipher Esiason's drill-sergeant calls Sunday at 1 p.m. when the winless Bengals (0-3) collide with the unbeaten Redskins (3-0) at Riverfront Stadium (Ch. 11).

What makes Esiason's audibles more meaningful is Cincinnati's no-huddle offense, which, historians will note, came before Buffalo's famed hurry-up attack.

And while there are similarities between the two no-huddles, there is one big difference.

"From Buffalo's point of view, they're running the offense and firing plays off at a quick rate," said Redskins assistant head coach Richie Petitbon. "Cincinnati tries to cause confusion on the part of the defense. They try to catch you with too many men on the field or get you with a quick snap."

The big similarity is that both teams have the ideal quarterback to operate the fast-break scheme.

"You need a Boomer or a Jim Kelly to run the no-huddle," Petitbon said. "You need experience. And I think Boomer is one of the best quarterbacks in the league."

The Bengals' no-huddle offense has been a no-threat offense for the first three weeks of the season, though. They have scored a total of just four touchdowns in losses to Denver (45-14), Houston (30-7) and Cleveland (14-13). And a year after Esiason threw a career-high 22 interceptions, he has thrown for four TDs and four interceptions so far.

In last week's last-second loss at Cleveland, the Bengals lost three fumbles to undermine the offensive effort. But they achieved rare balance with 134 yards rushing and 134 yards passing. James Brooks led the running game with 111 yards, his second straight game with more than 100.

"They try to keep you off balance," Redskins middle linebacker Matt Millen said. "They keep you guessing. The hurry-up stuff is a good indication of that. Once they settle into a game, they're a good football team."

Esiason likes to share the wealth. Five Cincinnati receivers have caught six passes. Another receiver has five catches. Esiason can go deep to wide receivers like Eddie Brown, who is questionable with a shoulder separation, and Tim McGee. Or he can flick dump-offs to backs like Brooks, Eric Ball or Harold Green. And Rodney Holman has made the Pro Bowl the last three years at tight end.

Whether the Bengals are actually a ball-control team, or a passing team, is open to debate. Esiason prefers to play a wide-open style.

"Personally, I don't think we have the personalities on this team to play a ball-control offense," he said. "We've got James Brooks, who wants to run wide open. We've got Eddie Brown, who wants to go deep. We've got Tim McGee, who wants to go deep. We've got Rodney Holman, who wants to go deep.

"We've got all these guys who want to stretch the field. With all these personalities, you have to show the personality of your offense, and this is ours."

The knockout potential of the no-huddle offense is a real concern for the Redskins this week. They know that the talent-laden Bengals are better than their record would indicate.

"They're a good team," Petitbon said, "and you don't want to play a good team at home when they're 0-3. We're going to get their absolute best shot."

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