Turner keeps balance despite Redskins' slide Coach cites inexperience, youth as factors in decline

December 15, 1996|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

While Norv Turner stands on the sideline on Sundays and watches his Washington Redskins football team fall apart in front of him, the pain and frustration is evident in his face.

He looks like a man who is ready to lash out at his players for their sometimes uninterested performances.

But Turner refuses to blast a team that has lost three in a row and five of its past six, falling to 8-6 after a 7-1 start and needing help in the final two weeks to make the playoffs.

He prefers to attribute the second-half fade to factors such as the team's overall youth, and inexperience at maintaining a high intensity level for 16 games.

He insists his players haven't quit on him and that they still are playing with enough confidence to win games.

The third-year coach also won't use injuries as an excuse, saying, "We have enough players to go out and play well."

It's obvious Turner hopes to ride out the bad times to wins today over the Arizona Cardinals at Sun Devil Stadium (4 p.m.) and the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday at RFK Stadium.

If Washington can win its final two games, the Redskins will make the playoffs if Philadelphia loses next week, if Minnesota loses one of its final two games or if Dallas falls to New England today.

If the Redskins don't make the playoffs after a 7-1 start, Turner will bear the brunt of the collapse and will be second-guessed for not trying to shake up his players with some well-chosen words.

Redskins running back and kick returner Brian Mitchell ripped his teammates last week for missing tackles and being interested only in "collecting their paychecks."

It does appear that the Redskins have lost a lot of confidence since blowing a 34-20 fourth-quarter lead against the then-3-6 Cardinals on Nov. 10 at RFK and eventually losing, 37-34, in overtime.

They have won only one game since that stunning setback. That loss exposed a lot of weaknesses in the Washington defense, which has plummeted to last place in the NFL rankings.

While the defense has seemed confused at times, the offense has not been clicking as it did in the first half.

Opponents have taken away Terry Allen as an option in short-yardage situations, Gus Frerotte is throwing under a heavy rush on almost every play and for the first time this season, the constant pressure seems to have rattled the third-year quarterback.

"We have to look in the mirror and see how we look," said middle linebacker Rod Stephens, who drew a lot of criticism for his play in a 24-10 loss to Tampa Bay last week. "I know I need to prove something in these last two games. I didn't play well but it wasn't all my fault. Tampa Bay was supposed to break a lot of plays outside but they came inside on us."

NOTE: WR Leslie Shepherd (left Achilles' tendon) will miss his second straight game today, but WR Michael Westbrook has been upgraded to probable and is expected to play for the first time since the second play of the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Pub Date: 12/15/96

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