Redskins looking for playmakers at wide receiver with Pierre Garcon hurting

October 19, 2012

When the Washington Redskins open NFC East play Sunday against the New York Giants, they likely will be playing without wide receiver Pierre Garcon for the fourth time in seven games this season. Even when Garcon has played, he most often has been hindered by the foot injury he suffered during the Redskins’ season-opening triumph at New Orleans.

So, the Redskins and their rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, have had more experience than they’d like this season trying to run a smooth offense without Garcon, the speedy wideout the team signed on the opening day of free agency in March to be its top receiver.

The numbers say the results have been mixed for the team’s wide receivers without Garcon. But the Redskins maintain they’re confident in the group.

“Pierre, he’s a great player,” wide receiver Leonard Hankerson said this week at Redskins Park. “Unfortunately, he had to go down with this injury he has. But everybody, we have to be a team. Somebody has to step up. Somebody has to come in and make plays. We all have to fill that role.”

Overall, the Redskins have been highly productive on offense. They’re ranked fifth in the league in total offense, based on yards per game, and are tied for third in scoring offense. Griffin is the NFL’s third-rated passer. The Redskins have a record of 3-3 after beating the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday and have a chance to gain a share of first place if they defeat the Giants, the defending Super Bowl champions, who are 4-2, at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

But the production of the team’s receivers has not been overwhelming. Tight end Fred Davis leads the team with 23 catches and 312 receiving yards. Among wide receivers, Santana Moss, Josh Morgan and Hankerson are tied for the team lead with 16 catches apiece, 93rd in the league in that category.

Moss leads Redskins wideouts with 223 receiving yards. He is 74th in the league in that department.

That wasn’t supposed to happen after the Redskins moved quickly in the offseason to upgrade at wideout, where they lacked a 1,000-yard receiver last season. They signed Garcon, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, to a five-year, $42.5 million contract. They also signed Morgan on the opening day of free agency and tried but failed to land fellow free agent Eddie Royal. They moved Moss into their third-receiver role and welcomed back Hankerson from hip surgery.

Redskins coaches spoke not only of the production they would get from Garcon, but also about the space he would open for others because of the attention he would draw from defenses. The early returns were promising for the Redskins. Garcon had an impressive preseason and an 88-yard touchdown catch in the season opener against the Saints. But he hurt his right foot on that play and has been plagued ever since by an inflammation near his second toe.

Garcon didn’t practice this week and has been listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game. Coach Mike Shanahan said Friday that Garcon would play only if another wideout becomes unavailable at the last minute.

“I think he’s a legit number one receiver,” Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said this week. “But I think when you’re missing a guy like that, it obviously hurts. You have to do different stuff and other guys have to step it up. I think they’ve done that so far.”

The Redskins say as long as they’re churning out yards and points on offense and winning games, they’re pleased.

“I think we’ve been doing good,” Morgan said. “All of us have been getting a lot of reps. And when we have been in there, we’ve been producing.”

Hankerson said that when the Redskins won at Tampa Bay last month, the Buccaneers assigned cornerback Aqib Talib to cover Garcon no matter where Garcon lined up. But for the most part, both Hankerson and Morgan said, the Redskins have seen little difference in the coverages used by opposing defenses when Garcon has played and when he hasn’t.

“Yeah, Pierre is a great player,” fullback Darrel Young said. “We know that. But someone has to step up. . . . Guys stepped up and made plays. That’s what we needed. It’s about wins and losses up here, not about individualism.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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