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Redskins Can't Find Their Offense in St. Louis

Rams 28, Redskins 3

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 28, 2004; Page D01

ST. LOUIS, Aug. 27 -- Joe Gibbs's old protege, quarterback Doug Williams, sat in the press box above the 50-yard line of the Edward Jones Dome Friday night, picking his former offense apart. Williams, now a player personnel executive for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, watched every nuance of the Washington Redskins' 28-3, blowout loss to the St. Louis Rams with a keen eye, preparing to face Gibbs and the Redskins in the regular season opener two weeks from now.

Williams, who led Gibbs's Redskins to a Super Bowl championship in 1988, admitted that his former coach was still revealing little of his offense in the exhibition -- Washington's fourth of five preseason games. But with the NFL anticipating the return of the Hall of Fame coach after an 11-yeaer absence, opponents are seeking any possible insight into what to expect.


Rookie safety Sean Taylor's third interception of the preseason was one of the few bright spots of the Redskins' 28-3 loss to the Rams on Friday night. (John McDonnell - The Washington Post)

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What Williams and a fellow scout from Tampa Bay observed was another tepid performance from the offense (107 total yards and five first downs for the first-string offense), the defense's worst showing this month (435 yards allowed) and another shaky outing from quarterback Patrick Ramsey, who started but seems destined to back up veteran Mark Brunell when the season begins. Brunell will start Friday's preseason finale against Atlanta.

"It was a very dominating performance by the Rams," Gibbs said. "It just wasn't us, wasn't Redskins football. . . . They dominated every portion of the game and it starts with me right on down."

The Redskins also suffered another injury to a starting offensive tackle, as Chris Samuels sprained his right ankle in the second quarter and did not return. Team officials are calling the injury minor -- X-rays were negative -- and Samuels said he would be back to face Tampa Bay on Sept. 12. But with right tackle Jon Jansen out for the season with an Achilles' injury, an offensive line that struggled last season could be a potential trouble spot again.

Starting guard Randy Thomas did not play because of a strain in his neck suffered lifting weights, Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense, said. He is expected to return to practice shortly.

Gibbs did expose a few more wrinkles, using some of the motion that perplexed defenses during his first tenure in Washington en route to three Super Bowl wins. Wide receiver James Thrash occasionally lined up in the backfield, moved to the line, then went out wide. One of those shifts had the Rams confused in the first quarter, as cornerback Aeneas Williams waved his hands and shouted to get the attention of his teammates and Thrash quickly found himself open in the back of the end zone, but Ramsey overthrew him.

"I felt pretty comfortable," Ramsey said. "There were some things that weren't there at times, there was a throw or two I could have made better. But overall I felt pretty comfortable."

Ramsey, entering his third NFL season, finished the game 5 for 10 for 81 yards and missed open receivers on several occasions.

Gibbs maintains the decision on a starter will not be made until the end of training camp, but Ramsey has provided only one real flash of brilliance thus far. The Redskins were pinned at the 12 yard line Friday night when he spotted Taylor Jacobs in man-to-man coverage down the left flank and lofted a perfect toss over the wide receiver's shoulder. But Jacobs fumbled after the 44-yard gain and St. Louis recovered, a mistake that could loom large for Jacobs with teams forced to cut their rosters down to 65 by Tuesday.

Starting running back Clinton Portis carried just three times for 13 yards before making way for Ladell Betts, who made his preseason debut after recovering from a hamstring injury. Betts, facing stiff competition to be Portis's backup, broke off a 10-yard gain on his first carry and quickly exited the game, as the Redskins are taking no chances with the injury.

Nothing was going unnoticed by Williams, who has watched at least half of Washington's games to this point. Every personnel change and tendency was charted and the scouts scanned the sidelines with binoculars trying to discern any hand signal that might indicate what play was coming next. It may mean nothing come Sept. 12. "They aren't showing much," Williams said.

The Redskins' defense, which had looked good up to now and played the game without injured starting linebackers LaVar Arrington and Mike Barrow, was woeful Friday. St. Louis's complex attack and speedy receivers carved away chunks of yardage at a time and used the artificial turf to their advantage. The Rams' first scoring drive in the second quarter included an 18-yard run and receptions of 18 and 19 yards. One play after Jacobs fumbled, wideout Torry Holt beat cornerback Fred Smoot to the inside and backup quarterback Chris Chandler hit him for a 58-yard pickup down to the goal line. Holt finished with seven catches for 143 yards and one touchdown.

"Point blank, we needed this," Smoot said of the defeat. "We just didn't have too much today."

St. Louis went ahead 21-3 early in the second half and had its way with Washington's second team defense as well. Rookie safety Sean Taylor again provided the defensive highlight, scaling high to intercept a pass just before halftime to give him three interceptions -- one of which he returned for a touchdown -- and two forced fumbles in four preseason games. Other than that, it was a poor performance on both sides of the ball.

"Its only preseason," Bugel said. "Don't throw dirt on us yet."


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