Third Man Still a Mystery for Redskins

Santana Moss, above, is combining with Chris Cooley to form an unusual two-man receiving corps for Washington.
Santana Moss, above, is combining with Chris Cooley to form an unusual two-man receiving corps for Washington. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 30, 2005

When Joe Gibbs looks at the Washington Redskins, he sees characteristics indicative of his classic offenses. The backs run with power and speed, assuming a greater share of the load as the season progresses. His quarterback throws short but can go deep. The coaches free up receivers from stifling defensive schemes with constant motion and movement. The offensive line crushes anything in its way.

The formula is all so simple and familiar that Joe Theismann, who played for Gibbs for five seasons, analyzes the Redskins' offense and can't tell if the year is 1985 or 2005. "He does a lot of the same stuff we used to do," he said. "It's amazing."

There is a concern, however, over the lack of production from the second wide receiver position. While the Redskins have two legitimate threats in wide receiver Santana Moss and H-back Chris Cooley, limited contribution from the number two wideout has left the impression that their offense could have difficulty against the sharp defenses in the postseason should the Redskins advance to the playoffs by beating Philadelphia on Sunday.

It is an imbalance unheard of for a Gibbs team and extremely rare for winning teams in general. Before this season, the two leaders in receptions for virtually every one of the 13 Gibbs-coached teams have been wide receivers. The exception was the 1987 Super Bowl team, but only because injuries slowed Art Monk, leaving running back Kelvin Bryant the second-leading receiver with 43, behind Gary Clark.

With this team, the last time a wide receiver not named Moss caught a pass was Dec. 11, when Taylor Jacobs caught one pass for seven yards in Arizona. The last time a secondary wideout caught two or more passes was more than a month ago, when Jacobs caught four passes for 44 yards Nov. 27 against San Diego.

Not having that second wideout has given defenses little reason to fear the deep threat outside of Moss and illustrates the lack of production from Jacobs, the third-year pro who after injuries to David Patten and James Thrash seemingly has squandered a golden opportunity to ignite his career.

"It really hasn't materialized," Redskins wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said of Jacobs. "At times, he shows his ability, but he has to transfer it from practice to the game. The effort is there. The determination is there. He needs to get it into the game."

Of the 14 teams that have either clinched a playoff spot or are in contention entering this final weekend of the regular season, no team's passing game has relied on two players as much as the Redskins. Moss and Cooley have combined for 149 of the 269 passes the Redskins have completed, or 55.4 percent.

No team in football has gotten less production from its secondary wide receivers than the Redskins. Thrash, Patten, Jimmy Farris and Jacobs have combined for 47 catches. Even teams such as Kansas City and Dallas, which feature marquee tight ends, have found a way to extract production from at least two wide receivers.

"I think by read or by coverage, the ball just moves back to their side," Hixon said of Moss and Cooley. "Chris is having such an awesome season, he's been getting the balls other receivers catch. And Santana, we've been going to the well a lot. When we have a chance to get Santana the ball, you get him the ball."

A dearth of production from the Redskins' second wideout might appear to be nothing more than a statistical oddity. It could be argued it does not matter which players are contributing as long as someone -- whether a wide receiver, running back or H-back (a hybrid tight end/fullback under Gibbs's offense) -- is catching passes. Even more important is that their reliance on Moss and Cooley has not seemed to cost them.

"When you ask if they can continue winning without production from the other side of the field, you have to say yes, because they are," Theismann said. "When you look at it, the games they lost weren't because of a lack of offense, but from the defense giving up big plays late. Can they do it? Absolutely. Not only can they, but they have."

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