'Skins' attack to come out of hibernation?

Matchup with Bears might be the kick-start that Brunell & Co. need

Pro Football

October 17, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The Washington Redskins have spent the past week picking themselves up, telling each other and outside observers that their record is not a true gauge of their team.

Their moribund offense, the most disheartening part of a 1-4 start under coach Joe Gibbs, is close to coming around, they say. Running back Clinton Portis will bust out with a huge game soon, as will struggling quarterback Mark Brunell and his inconsistent offensive line and receivers. The defense, heroic through five games, will not have to keep carrying them.

But the players and coaches know that, no matter what formula they use today, the Redskins must manufacture a victory at Soldier Field against the victory-starved Chicago Bears if they wish to entertain notions of making a playoff run.

Heading into a bye week with a five-game losing streak - which would make Washington 1-5 for the first time since 2001 and the first time under Gibbs since his rookie year as its head coach in 1981 - would basically end any realistic postseason hopes.

"The strange thing about this whole thing is I really don't feel too bad about us as a team. I just feel like we've gotten some bad breaks," said veteran Lavar Arrington, the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker who is expected to miss his fourth game after minor knee surgery.

"This team possesses what it needs to win, and win a lot. It just hasn't come together," he added. "We can turn this around and make a run for the playoffs. By no means do I think this is a bad team. There are so many positives we can draw from."

The Redskins figured to have a strong defense entering the season. That unit, which holds a No. 3 overall NFL ranking, is second among the league's 32 teams against the run, is tops in the NFC in third-down percentage, and has kept them in every game. It allowed only a field goal in last week's 17-10 home loss to the Ravens.

Which brings us to the offense, the group that many assumed would be at least quite competitive under Gibbs. He broke an 11-year layoff to rejoin the franchise where he made his Hall of Fame coaching career, and marked his return by adding two prizes in Brunell and Portis.

Neither has measured up to expectations. Portis, who ran for 3,099 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in two seasons with Denver, has been just another back in burgundy and gold. Since taking his first carry 64 yards for a touchdown in a season-opening, 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay, Portis has averaged a pedestrian 3.1 yards and scored one touchdown on 116 rushing attempts. He declined to speak with the media last week.

Brunell has had a few flashes of his old, glorious days with Jacksonville, but still has lacked accuracy (a league-low 53.4 percent) and has not been able to stretch opposing defenses with the long ball. He has two completions of more than 30 yards.

Losing right tackle Jon Jansen in the preseason was a huge blow, which forced Washington to sign 19-year veteran Ray Brown as his replacement. Dropped passes, turnovers and special teams breakdowns have cropped up at the worst times.

But Brunell refused to blame the struggles of the offense - averaging a paltry 14.2 points - on the Gibbs system, which places a premium on counters and traps.

"I don't believe it's out of date, not at all," Brunell said. "We've got good players. I think I'm a pretty good judge of that. We've just got to make more big plays. That's how you win."

Said Gibbs, who reiterated his support for Brunell: "We were making steady progress. But the last couple of weeks, there's not a lot of progress, which has upset me.

"I've made my share of mistakes. We're all making them together, and we're working harder on getting the basic things done. At some point, we've got to start producing more than what we are. We need this [win] right now."

The Redskins are taking aim at a 1-3 Chicago team that looks beatable. As long as they contain running back Thomas Jones, who has accounted for 41 percent of the Bears' 1,258 total yards with 517 yards from scrimmage, Washington likes its chances. Quarterback Jonathan Quinn, a career backup until recently, makes his second start in place of Rex Grossman, who is out for the year with a knee injury.

But the Redskins probably will need to get Portis and the passing game untracked against a scrappy Bears defense to close the deal.

"We just hope the Redskins don't become the team they will be before the year is out this week," Chicago coach Lovie Smith said. "They'll be a good offensive team before it's all said and done."



CLINTON PORTIS: The running back was supposed to be the heart of the Joe Gibbs offense, but he has been bottled up too often behind his line and has barely made an impact. The Redskins need to establish him more on first down to loosen up the defenses for quarterback Mark Brunell and wide receivers Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner.

CHAD MORTON: Will the kick return specialist finally break a big one? The offense could use some short fields to work with. Morton has averaged just 7.2 yards on 11 punt returns, with a long of 14 yards. He's averaged a respectable 23.1 yards on 11 kickoff returns. Maybe he's due for his first score in 2004.

RUSHING DEFENSE: If the Redskins can take Bears running back Thomas Jones out of the game early, Chicago's fate would be in the hands of quarterback Jonathan Quinn. He backed up Brunell in Jacksonville for years, and the seven-year veteran might be overwhelmed by all the blitzes that assistant head coach Gregg Williams is eager to throw at him.

- Gary Lambrecht

The game

Matchup: Chicago Bears (1-3) vs. Washington Redskins (1-4)

Site: Soldier Field, Chicago

When: Today, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Bears by 1

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