By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 12, 2005
The Philadelphia Eagles accomplished everything a defense aspires to against the Washington Redskins on Sunday night. They negated top receiver Santana Moss as a deep threat, holding him without a catch of 30 yards or more for just the second time this season, and stuffed the run, with the Redskins held to 2.7 yards per carry, a season low.
Yet the Redskins (5-3) still won the crucial NFC East game, in large part by taking advantage of the rest of the field. Quarterback Mark Brunell sprayed intermediate passes to all areas, with Washington using screens and slants to work the ball downfield to multiple receivers and capture a 17-10 victory. It was a complete reversal from the week before, when the New York Giants focused on Moss -- using double coverage with a deep safety to prevent big gains -- and ended up shutting down the entire offense in a 36-0 win. The Eagles tried to duplicate that blueprint, keying on Moss, the NFL's second-leading receiver, but this time the Redskins were better prepared and feasted on their other options.
Tomorrow's opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-3), has the NFL's top-ranked defense and is second against the run and second against the pass. Opponents are averaging less than 76 yards rushing per game with just one carry of 20 yards or more. The Buccaneers have allowed just three passing touchdowns and only two completions of more than 40 yards.
"Most teams will not give you the plays downfield," said Brunell, who had a sparkling 94.6 rating Sunday, "particularly when you've got a guy like Santana, who has made big plays. You've got to be patient, and you've got to take what's available to you with the underneath stuff. So it's about being patient, but sometimes that's really hard to do, because you want to get that ball downfield."
Brunell, who expertly managed last Sunday's game, may have to navigate a tight affair again. Last weekend, a quick start was imperative. Brunell hit Moss on a 14-yard screen on his second attempt, and it set the tone for the evening. Moss was unable to get behind the defense -- and the Redskins only really went deep once, with David Patten drawing a pass interference penalty to set up their first touchdown -- so instead Brunell got him the ball in positions where he could utilize his speed and elusiveness to pick up yardage after the catch.
Brunell's third pass went to athletic H-back Chris Cooley for 18 yards. Cooley, a second-year pro, became a consistent target, taking pressure off Moss and catching seven balls for 85 yards, a career high. For the first time this season, Moss was not Washington's leading receiver.
Six of Brunell's first seven completions went for 14 yards or more -- three each to Cooley and Moss -- and nine of his 13 first-half completions were between 14 and 20 yards. He was a smooth 8 for 9 in the second quarter, when Washington turned a 7-0 deficit into a 10-7 lead.
"It's a lot like a chess match," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "When they choose to lay back, hopefully you're running the football or throwing underneath. When they're going aggressive, you're hopefully going to be going downfield or hitting man-type routes. I think what happened in this game as opposed to the [New York Giants] game is that Cooley had a big day and I think [H-back] Mike Sellers just played himself silly. Other people stepped up and made plays there."
Cultivating that diversity in the passing attack was mandatory. Moss entered the game with more than twice as many receiving yards as anyone else on the roster, catching 10 balls of 30 yards or more in the first six games, equaling Washington's entire output from 2004. But as the weeks went by, the Redskins knew those plays might dry up. "You have to know what teams are going to give you," Moss said, "and you can't just sit back and beat them with the Hawaiian punch every week."
Moss had just five yards receiving in the second half Sunday, but Cooley and Sellers picked up the slack, continuing to make clutch plays to run down the clock and retain possession. Cooley's sure hands and innate ability to find a seam in the defense have endeared him to Redskins quarterbacks. Like Moss, he was productive out wide or in the slot, and can punish defenses for extra yards once the ball gets in his hands. Now, he and Brunell hope to build on that chemistry.
"Mark did an awesome job," Cooley said. "He puts the ball where it has to be. He's a great quarterback and he threw it perfect for me. I'm just running the routes; he's throwing it."
"Chris is always in the right place at the right time," Brunell said. "He's a good check down if things aren't open down the field. He's just a smart player that has the ability to be in the right place. I certainly look for him, and most of the time it's going to be a linebacker on him, and for the most part he's going to win those."
Brunell's protection wilted in New York, which had much to do with his awful 32.4 rating in that game, but he had more time to pick the Eagles apart, finding refuge in the intermediate routes. He never threw more than two straight incompletions in the game -- doing that only once -- and finished with a rating of 94 or better for the third time in four games.
The Buccaneers are holding opposing quarterbacks to a 65.4 rating this season, while intercepting seven passes, and running backs are averaging 3.1 yards per carry. It may take another poised and calculated day from Brunell for the Redskins to prevail.
"The biggest thing for Mark right now is he has a lot of confidence," tackle Jon Jansen said. "He's got confidence in the receivers, in the offense and in himself, and I think it has made a world of difference this year."
Redskins Notes: Several players were fined for uniform violations Sunday in addition to Sean Taylor ($5,000) and running back Clinton Portis ($20,000), who had obvious infractions by wearing different socks from the rest of the team.
Safety Ryan Clark, linebacker LaVar Arrington, safety Pierson Prioleau and linebacker Lemar Marshall said they are appealing their $5,000 fines, which league sources said were for wearing a "cut, un-tucked" jersey, meaning they were altered for game use. Linebacker Warrick Holdman, who did not participate in a single play, was also fined $5,000 for a "cut" jersey, league sources said. Cornerback Shawn Springs was fined $5,000 for wearing black shoes, league sources said, bringing the total to eight players and $55,000 from Sunday's game.
Defensive end Renaldo Wynn, Washington's union representative, said he urged several of the players to appeal, saying in some cases they were not given a warning first.
Gibbs said he spoke with Taylor and Portis, who are third-time offenders for their socks, about the incidents. "We had a little talk about it," Gibbs said. "I think we have a good understanding on it. You hate to see guys get fined. Up here you have to kind of abide by the rules."