Formerly in neutral, 'Skins offense in gear

Effort in loss to Eagles last season seen as turning point for unit

Pro football

November 20, 2005|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

The Washington Redskins' offensive resurgence didn't begin with the acquisition of wide receiver Santana Moss, coach Joe Gibbs' decision to promote Mark Brunell over Patrick Ramsey or the introduction of Clinton Portis to the backfield.

According to left tackle Chris Samuels, the seeds for Washington's offensive germination took root last December in a 17-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that dropped the team to 4-9.

"We moved the ball up and down the field," Samuels said of a game in which the Redskins had four more first downs and almost eight more minutes of possession than the Eagles while posting the same yardage (312).

"We didn't score enough points to win the game, but we still moved the ball well against them. That's when we knew we were capable of being a great offense."

While "great" might be a stretch, there's no debating that Washington's offense has found a rhythm.

And as the Redskins (5-4) prepare for a game with the Oakland Raiders (3-6) today at FedEx Field at 1 p.m., the offense's performance could determine whether the team secures its first playoff berth since 1999.

"We've been in big games, close games, and we've performed in those pressure-type situations," Brunell said. "I think we're getting better. Hopefully, we'll be good enough to make a run at this thing and maybe get into the postseason, shifting gears and moving forward."

For at least this decade, the spotlight has been trained on a Washington defense that has been ranked in the top 10 in four of the past five seasons.

But this year, as the defense has had to answer questions about giving up big plays and not forcing turnovers, the focus has shifted to an offense that finished last season near the bottom of every major category.

This year, the Redskins are 10th in yards (347.8) and 17th in points per game (20.7) and yards per play (5.2). The team has scored 183 points and completed six pass plays of 40 yards or more and 25 of 20 yards or more.

Washington scored 240 points all of last season and had four pass plays of 40 yards and 27 pass plays of 20.

The Redskins' yards per game is the team's best average since 1999, when they averaged 372.8 yards en route to the franchise's last playoff berth.

"We've come a long way in this offense," said Brunell, who has completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,007 yards, 14 touchdowns, five interceptions and an 89.0 passer rating.

"We've got some guys that can really play, and that's the way it should be. We should be moving the ball, and we should be running it and throwing it and scoring some points."

Credit can be spread among Brunell, who appears stronger and more mobile than last year, when he was benched after guiding the team to a 3-6 record; Moss, whose speed and route running has propelled him to second in the NFL with 935 receiving yards; and Portis, who has four 100-yard rushing games.

The offense's drawbacks have been turnovers and pass protection. Only eight other teams have surrendered more than the Redskins' 24 sacks, and only nine other offenses have more turnovers than Washington's 18.

"I'm pleased we're making improvements, but we haven't made the leaps we need to make, and that's controlling the ball and not turning it over and committing penalties," said right offensive tackle Jon Jansen. "Those are facets of the game that if we want to turn our season around, if we stop doing that, there's no question we'll be a playoff team."

The offense could pad its statistics today against Oakland's 24th-ranked defense, which is giving up 334.8 yards and 24 points per game and has a league-low two interceptions.

Those numbers would seem to benefit the Redskins, who accumulated 35 points and 389 yards (185 rushing) last week against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that had been ranked first in yards allowed.

"It says we're capable of rushing the football and getting yards against a good defense," Gibbs said. "So that's a confidence thing for us."

For Brunell, however, the ultimate result would be a victory.

"We're pleased with some things, but at the same time, you've got to win games," he said. "We just have to get better, but I'm confident that that will come. Over time, you get these things ironed out and pretty soon you're a very good offense."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Keys to the game

Go after Collins

If Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach for defense, is going to continue blitzing his cornerbacks, the defense must pressure Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins so the safeties and linebackers aren't hung out to dry. Collins, who was sacked four times by the Denver Broncos last week, also was intercepted three times in the 31-17 loss.

Lock down Moss

Wide receiver Randy Moss is always a dangerous downfield threat, especially considering Collins' strong arm. The Redskins, who limited Moss to five catches for 66 yards and a touchdown in his final game as a Minnesota Viking last December, must limit him again.

Protect Brunell

Last week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers harassed Mark Brunell to the tune of two sacks, two interceptions and a fumble. The offensive line must do a better job of keeping Brunell safe in the pocket so he can find his receivers.

Prediction

Oakland's last visit to Washington in 1995 resulted in a win, but the Raiders have fared poorly on the road this season, losing three of four games away from the Coliseum. The Raiders' offense can be potent, but their defense is paper-thin in the secondary. That should provide Washington with the recipe to put the ball up and post points quickly. Redskins 24, Raiders 17.

[Edward Lee]

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