Red-zone troubles leave 'Skins blue

1-for-3 in loss to Dallas adds to '04 trend

status of Portis, Smoot in doubt

Redskins notebook

Pro Football

December 28, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - The Washington Redskins have been seeing red lately, and it has nothing - well, almost nothing - to do with their 5-10 record.

Part of the Redskins' offensive struggles - the team's 219-point total is the second-worst mark in the NFL - can be linked to their inability to convert opportunities inside their opponents' 20-yard line - the red zone.

Of 41 trips Washington has made inside the opponents' 20 this season, the offense has walked away with just 20 touchdowns. The team's 48.8 percent conversion rate is the fourth worst in the NFC and the eighth lowest in the league.

"We're not getting in," coach Joe Gibbs lamented yesterday at Redskins Park.

The Redskins' performance in the red zone in their past two games has been particularly revealing. The offense converted just one of four chances into touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 18 and went 1-for-3 against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Although Washington managed to post three field goals along with that lone touchdown to defeat the 49ers by 10 points, the team's ability to muster just 10 points in those three trips against Dallas contributed to the Cowboys' 13-10 victory.

"We should've scored more points," said quarterback Patrick Ramsey, who watched Sunday's opening drive end when safety Lynn Scott snatched a pass that bounced off tight end Brian Kozlowski's hands at the Cowboys' 5-yard line. "You're not going to win [by] not putting the ball in the end zone."

Gibbs said scoring touchdowns once the offense has entered the red zone is more difficult than it appears. As the amount of turf to cover shortens, opposing defenses can bunch up their coverages.

"As the field gets condensed, it becomes [about] playmaking, and you've got to make big plays if you're going to get into the end zone," said Gibbs, whose offenses have never scored less than 297 points outside of the strike-shortened 1982 season. "The closer you get, the more confined you get, the more an individual move or athletic play takes precedence."

Washington's red-zone rate is lower than those during the Steve Spurrier era when his offenses converted 61.0 and 53.3 percent of their red-zone trips in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

But Ramsey preached patience for the offensive schemes installed by Gibbs.

"This is a new system," Ramsey said. "We had an injury [to running back Clinton Portis], we had a couple turnovers, we had a couple penalties. So in that respect, I think we certainly didn't step forward, but I'd hate to say that we took a step back."

Speaking of Portis, Gibbs said the running back's sprained SC (sternoclavicular) joint that connects the shoulder to the sternum didn't appear too serious and that tests on cornerback Fred Smoot did not reveal anything more serious than a bruised kidney. Although Gibbs did not rule out either playing Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, an Associated Press report later yesterday said both would be sidelined.

If so, Portis, who has 1,315 yards, would miss a chance of becoming the first back in NFL history to run for 1,500 yards in each of his first three seasons.

Gibbs did say that it was unlikely that cornerback Ade Jimoh's sprained ankle would allow him to play.

A shot at Taylor

Cowboys wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson couldn't resist taking a swipe at Redskins rookie free safety Sean Taylor on Dallas' game-winning touchdown pass during Johnson's post-game comments Sunday.

On that play, Taylor stepped to the inside to cover Johnson. That allowed Cowboys wide receiver Patrick Crayton - who was initially jammed by cornerback Shawn Springs - to scamper down the right sideline uncovered, and Vinny Testaverde floated a pass to Crayton for the 39-yard score with 30 seconds left.

"Taylor was more worried with what I was doing the whole game," said Johnson, who jawed with the safety during the game. "He tried to make the hit instead of making the play. When young guys lose their focus and worry about one player, that type of thing happens."

Taylor, who has given the local media the silent treatment much of the season, did not respond to Johnson's comments.

End zone

After surrendering 306 yards to the Cowboys, the Redskins' second-ranked defense is 94 yards behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the race for the NFL's top-ranked unit.

Next for Redskins

Matchup: Minnesota Vikings (8-7) vs. Redskins (5-10)

Site: FedEx Field, Landover

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Off the board

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