Five Keys For The Redskins

Nfl Preview 2004

The Redskins

September 09, 2004|By JEFF BARKER | JEFF BARKER,SUN STAFF

Acquiring a home-field edge

Maybe it's the relative lack of noise. Or maybe the stadium is too new to have forged a winning tradition. Whatever the reason, the Redskins have been mediocre at FedEx Field.

The problem isn't attendance. Redskins games have been sold out for the past 37 seasons. In the games attracting the seven largest FedEx crowds, Washington is 2-5.

In fact, two of the team's biggest collapses the past two seasons - a 35-13 drubbing by Tampa Bay last year and a 37-7 loss to Philadelphia in 2002 - came at home.

Coach Joe Gibbs often said in training camp that he'll encourage fans to turn it up a notch to restore his accustomed home-field advantage.

Winning the turnover battle

This used to be a Gibbs specialty. While some teams feel fortunate to get as many turnovers as they surrender, Gibbs' teams turned fumbles and interceptions to his advantage like nobody else. In 1983, his Redskins were plus-43 in the turnover battle.

Last year, by contrast, Steve Spurrier's Redskins had a turnover ratio of plus-two.

Gibbs focused in training camp on getting the team to hold onto the ball. He joked that he was almost pleased the Redskins lost to Carolina in the preseason because they turned the ball over four times and needed to learn the consequences before it became a bad habit.

Getting quarterback consistency

Does left-hander Mark Brunell still have it? It's not just his age (he turns 34 on Sept. 17) that is a question. He also sat out most of last season when he backed up Byron Leftwich with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Redskins' coaches say his arm is just fine, and that he can still move out of the pocket - although they hope he doesn't have to very often.

Shoring up the defensive line

Last year, opposing teams exploited the Washington line for huge rushing games. There was Troy Hambrick of Dallas rushing for 189 yards. And there was Deuce McAllister of New Orleans slashing for 165 yards.

The Redskins brought in defensive end Phillip Daniels from the Chi- cago Bears and defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin from the New York Giants to try to plug the holes. They are also hoping for help from tackle Brandon Noble, who missed last season after tearing ligaments in his knee during the preseason.

Mending Coles' toe

Much of the focus of Washington's offense will be on newly acquired running back Clinton Portis, who has rushed for more than 1,500 yards in each of the past two seasons. But the Redskins need a deep threat, and wide receiver Laveranues Coles - if healthy - is it.

Coles began last season with three straight 100-yard receiving games. He was named to the Pro Bowl, but his production tailed off somewhat partly because of a lingering injury to his big right toe. It still bothers him sometimes.

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