Redskins have week to weigh positives

After 3 straight wins, no major adjustments planned in bye period

November 06, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Normally, the week after a three-game winning streak would be among the worst times for a team to take off, but since very little about the first half of the Washington Redskins' season has been normal, the players seem to be willing to risk a break in their karma.

"We've got a little momentum, and people may say that the bye is coming at a bad time, but I think it's coming at a good time because we've got some guys nicked up," said running back Stephen Davis.

"Hopefully, we can come back and, with a tough game on the road, we can take advantage of the momentum."

Before the Redskins (3-5) defeated Carolina, the New York Giants and Seattle in succession - all at FedEx Field - the idea of them heading into the bye with momentum would have been laughable.

But markedly improved offensive efficiency and a defense that has bent in some instances but has not broken have given Washington a reason for hope, particularly given that the Redskins are only 1 1/2 games out of first place in the NFC East, with half a season to play.

"We've got three out of eight wins, and we're on our way somewhere, we hope," said cornerback Darrell Green. "We hope we get to our destination, but we're not there."

Getting "there" doesn't seem as problematic as it did four weeks ago. Davis has run for 249 yards in the last two games, and quarterback Tony Banks has thrown for a touchdown in each of the last four games. Both seem to have found a comfort level in coach Marty Schottenheimer's offense.

Defensively, ends Marco Coleman and Bruce Smith are working their way back from elbow and shoulder injuries, respectively. The unit is getting stops at key moments, and with four turnovers in Sunday's 27-14 win over the Seahawks, the defense has moved to fourth in the NFC in take-away/giveaway differential, with a plus-3.

The result: The team is playing its best since Schottenheimer arrived in January.

"When you bring in a new regime and there's a lot of change, everybody's resistant to change. You have to develop that trust and we're starting to develop that now," said guard Ben Coleman.

"When the defense struggles, we know they'll make the big play and the defense believes that we're going to make the big play and both of the units believe that special teams is going to make the big play.

"When you have that kind of trust, you make some things happen. Right now, we feel good about what we're doing. We're grinding, and it's been a tough year. But we're starting to get better.

"That's when you want to become a good team, in November and December, because that, ultimately, is going to determine your fate as a team."

Because play has improved and the team seems to better grasp his system, Schottenheimer is looking more toward fine-tuning things in the time before a Nov. 18 game at Denver, rather than introducing new concepts.

"That's what we're dealing with, progress," Schottenheimer said. "We're getting a little bit better in a lot of different ways. That's been the charge since the outset."

"Overall, we're not going to make a lot of changes. This week that we're into is not about reinventing the wheel for us.

"What we're wanting to do is spend some time focusing on the details of some of the things that we've done so that we can do them even better."

One other positive as the Redskins hit the off week, which falls perfectly in the middle of the season, is that there are fewer injuries to nurse than one might figure.

Tight end Stephen Alexander, who has missed the last three games with a high-ankle sprain, is apparently getting closer to returning to the lineup, and could be ready for Denver.

Of larger significance is an ankle sprain incurred by linebacker LaVar Arrington in the third quarter of Sunday's 27-14 win over Seattle.

Arrington's leg was rolled by a Seahawks offensive player, and the second-year linebacker was taken from the playing area on a cart.

Arrington left Redskin Park yesterday on crutches, and Schottenheimer said he didn't know whether he would be ready for Denver.

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