'Skins' Brunell armed, ready for 2nd chance

After solid preseason, veteran hopes to halt revolving door at QB

Nfl Gameday

Week Two

September 19, 2005|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,sun reporter

The offensive philosophy for the Washington Redskins remains the same even if who's starting at quarterback hasn't.

As the Redskins prepare to meet the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium tonight, coach Joe Gibbs and the players are united in their belief that placing the offense under the direction of 35-year-old quarterback Mark Brunell does not mean the unit is abandoning its goal of long gains downfield.

"We have had tons of work with OTA [offseason training activity] days and all those days [in the preseason]," Gibbs said. "We threw thousands of balls. ... We think Mark has plenty of arm."

Added wide receiver David Patten: "We'll hopefully take our shots downfield, run the ball and make plays."

Washington's throw-it-deep plan was supposed to bloom under 26-year-old Patrick Ramsey and his strong arm. But after less than a half of play in last week's 9-7 win against the Chicago Bears in which Brunell replaced an injured Ramsey in the second quarter, Gibbs opted to promote Brunell over Ramsey because, in part, of Ramsey's tendency to turn the ball over.

For Brunell, who celebrated his birthday Saturday, the move represents what could be his last chance at a starting role with the Redskins. If Brunell falters and Ramsey's time with the Redskins is -- as suspected by some -- limited, rookie first-round draft choice Jason Campbell is waiting in the wings.

"I want to be successful for this team," Brunell said. "There's a lot of weight on the quarterback position as there always has been. So I'm going to go out there and give it everything I've got."

Production, not effort, has been the question since Washington traded for Brunell and gave him a seven-year, $43 million contract before the 2004 season.

Brunell started the first nine games, throwing nearly as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (seven) and establishing career lows in completion percentage (.498) and passer rating (63.9).

When he was pulled in favor of Ramsey with Washington at 3-6, Brunell's passer rating was the worst among NFL starters.

Although Brunell declined to talk about last season ("I'm tired of that," he said last week), Gibbs said that those numbers were affected by a hamstring pull Brunell suffered in the second game of the season, a 20-14 loss to the New York Giants. Gibbs cited Brunell's preseason in which he completed 58.6 percent (34 of 58) of his passes for 406 yards, tossed one touchdown, did not throw an interception, and was sacked just once.

"I think he's been real consistent with his play since we started back this year," Gibbs said. "I think he's been confident and sure."

Brunell had his best game of last season against Dallas, completing 25 of 43 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think he's a threat," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "He's still got some mobility. He's a smart quarterback. He just hasn't played in a little while and just getting thrown in last week, that Bears defense is pretty good. I think he'll improve from here."

Brunell played decently against the Bears, connecting on eight of 14 passes for 70 yards without any turnovers.

But his only long pass of the game was intercepted (a pass interference call on Chicago wiped out the play), and running back Clinton Portis acknowledged that opponents may stuff the run and dare Brunell to beat them through the air.

"Teams are going to make us beat them passing until we complete long balls and establish that we're going to get things going," Portis said. "But here, you know what our motto is: We want to establish the line of scrimmage and always out-rush the other team."

Wide receiver Santana Moss said he doesn't understand the questions concerning Brunell's arm strength.

"His ball comes at you a lot stronger than people think," Moss said. "It gets there, and it gets there with force. You can't sleep on it because it will hit you fast."

Since 1999 when Brad Johnson led Washington to its last playoff appearance, the team has made 11 changes at quarterback, starting eight different players in that span. Whether Brunell can stop the trend is a mystery, but the formula is simple, according to Brunell.

"You bring stability by playing the position the way you're supposed to -- by winning some games and moving the team," he said. "That's our job, and every guy that's been in there for the last five or six years and anybody who has ever played this position has tried to do that to be successful. That's my focus."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

The Keys to the game

Run

Dallas surrendered 103 yards on the ground to the San Diego Chargers last week. That's music to the ears of Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who likely will call on the tailback duo of Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts to set a tone for the game and keep the defense off quarterback Mark Brunell.

Red zone

Driving into the red zone three times and coming away with just field goals might not be enough against the Cowboys. Washington will have to be a little bit creative finding routes to the end zone. The Chargers were 2-for-4 in the red zone against Dallas.

Pass rush

No one would mistake Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe for Michael Vick. Bledsoe, who was sacked four times by San Diego, is slow-footed and has a tendency to stay planted even when the pocket around him is collapsing. The Redskins should be able to apply tremendous pressure throughout the game.

Redskins tonight

Matchup: Redskins (1-0) at Cowboys (1-0)

Time: 9 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/1430 AM, 106.7 FM

Line: Cowboys by 5 1/2

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