Redskins' parade of division leaders ushers in Colts

Hopes for contention are fading

Matthews back at QB with skid to end

Pro Football

October 27, 2002|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins are stuck in their own version of Groundhog Day.

Like the Bill Murray character in that movie who wakes up every morning to relive that obscure holiday in Pennsylvania, the Redskins find themselves walking down an all-too familiar path.

Washington faces the task of ending its second two-game slide of the season, has returned the starting quarterback role to Shane Matthews, and meets its sixth division leader in seven games when the Indianapolis Colts visit FedEx Field at 8:30 tonight.

The 2-4 Redskins realize that time is running out in their bid to be playoff contenders.

"We've got to win. That's a given," said wide receiver Rod Gardner. "We can't be 2-5 in the eighth week [Redskins had a bye in Week 4]. We need to get it back and turned around quick. I think this week is a good week at home to do that."

Washington, which will celebrate the franchise's 70th year by introducing its greatest 70 players at halftime tonight, is hoping Matthews can make a difference.

Matthews completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 558 yards and four touchdowns in his three starts. Named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after his 327-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, Matthews threw for just 231 yards and one touchdown in back-to-back losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers.

Matthews' tendency to rely on short passes in coach Steve Spurrier's look-downfield-first passing system was part of the reason he watched Danny Wuerffel and then Patrick Ramsey play the next three games -- a victory over the Tennessee Titans followed by consecutive losses to the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers.

"We all want to get the ball downfield, and when the play's there, we've got to hit it," Matthews said. "But we've got to be smart. We can't turn the ball over [16 times, the NFC's third-worst mark]."

Matthews will be complemented by Gardner and Derrius Thompson, both of whom started with Matthews in the first three games.

Matthews' ability to throw the ball away and avoid the sack should help an injury-marred offensive line that has surrendered 22 sacks -- the league's third-worst mark -- and might be forced to play without starters Chris Samuels and Brenden Stai.

If Samuels' left ankle sprain does not improve by game time, the third-year tackle might miss the first game of his career. Stai is still hobbled by tendinitis in his left knee. If Samuels and Stai can't go, Alex Sulfsted would start at left tackle and Wilbert Brown would play right guard.

The run of facing division leaders continues with AFC South-leading Indianapolis (4-2). Powered by quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James, and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, the Colts average 345.5 yards-- good enough for the league's No. 11 ranking.

But the offense -- ranked in the top five in each of the past three seasons -- has marched inside the opponents' 20-yard line twice in Indianapolis' past two games. Over that same span, Manning has been sacked seven times and James has rushed for just 43 and 62 yards.

The defense, a liability over the past couple of seasons, is ranked 10th in the league and is giving up 317.8 yards a contest under new coach Tony Dungy.

"We're not playing as well as I'd like to see us play," Dungy said. "Even in our four wins, we have not slammed the door on people when we've gotten ahead of them."

Redskins tonight

Opponent:Indianapolis Colts

Site:FedEx Field, Landover

Time:8:30

TV/Radio:Ch. 7, ESPN/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line:Pick 'em

THREE KEYS TO THE GAME

1. Run, run, run

Stephen Davis must be licking his chops at tonight's matchup against the Colts, who boast the league's third-worst defense against the run. Only the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets have allowed more rushing yards per game than Indianapolis' 144.5. Davis, the NFC's fifth-leading rusher with 448 yards, could go wild if he gets the ball.

2. Shane Matthews

The keys to Washington's offense have been returned to Matthews, who - despite a three-week benching - is tied as the NFC's 11th-rated passer with an 84.4 rating. Can he guide an offense that didn't score a touchdown last week against the Green Bay Packers?

3. Beware play-action

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is one of the best at faking a handoff to freeze the secondary and throwing deep, usually to wide receiver Marvin Harrison. Indianapolis averages 253.2 passing yards. The Redskins' defense allows nearly 60 yards fewer a game. Which unit will blink first?

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