By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder embraced friend and former Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Theismann in the corridor outside the visitor's locker room at Raymond James Stadium last Saturday evening, exchanging knowing smiles following the team's playoff victory. "Was that ugly or what?" Snyder said to Theismann. "Was that ugly?" Theismann answered in the affirmative, and they shared a hopeful sentiment the Redskins' moribund offense would produce better results Saturday in Seattle.
While everyone within the organization was thrilled by Washington's first postseason victory since 1999, the 17-10 nail-biter hardly went according to plan. The Redskins set several team and league records for playoff offensive futility and required repeated turnovers and touchdowns from their defense to hold off the Buccaneers.
Seattle (13-3) is the top seed in the NFC and has one of the most potent offenses with running back Shaun Alexander, the NFL's most valuable player. So it stands to reason Washington's offense must shatter Saturday's 120 yards to extend a six-game winning streak.
"You can't leave them out there," Coach Joe Gibbs said of Seattle. "This is one of the most explosive offensive teams in the NFL. They've got a star running back and a heck of a quarterback [Matt Hasselbeck] and you go right down the line. So if you were to draw it up, certainly I would say today the best way for us to win the ballgame is to move the ball ourselves, and keep them off the field."
Saturday's offensive ineptitude was staggering. The Redskins set a franchise playoff low with 120 yards -- the fewest by an NFL postseason victor -- and averaged 2.4 yards per play, including 1.4 yards per completion. While clinging to a 17-3 halftime lead, the Redskins gained three first downs in the second half and did not have a drive over nine yards in that span. They ran 26 plays in the second half and gained 17 yards. Their seven drives in the second half consisted of five punts, an interception and quarterback Mark Brunell kneeling to run out the clock.
"Offensively, we really struggled," Gibbs said. "We didn't really sustain things like we'd like to."
Washington's longest drive went 40 yards and ended with a field goal. The only offensive touchdown the Redskins scored against Tampa Bay's top-ranked defense came off an interception return to the 6. That marked the only time in the game in which the Redskins ran a play in the red zone. The Redskins' longest play from scrimmage went 15 yards, and Brunell finished 7 for 15 for 41 yards -- the fewest in team postseason history (37 games dating from 1937).
"I would have told you our season is over," Brunell said of that meager production.
Coaches are spending this week devising ways to enliven the offense. Ball control has been vital to the Redskins' turnaround, and tailback Clinton Portis had topped 100 yards in five straight games before being held to 53 yards on 16 carries while hurt on Saturday. The Buccaneers surprised the Redskins by stacking both safeties and a cornerback in run support, aligning their linebackers in unusual styles and stationing their defensive tackles wider than usual to thwart Washington's key sweeps and outside pitches.
"They blitzed a lot less and played their safeties in the box a lot more than we expected," center Casey Rabach said. "We really struggled, and thank God our defense came through for us."
The Seahawks, who held Portis to 3.6 yards per carry in Washington's 20-17 overtime win in Week 4, surely will dissect the game film and try to duplicate some of the techniques used by Tampa Bay's esteemed defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin. Portis's shoulder and wrist injuries limited his effectiveness as well, and the Redskins have been at their best when he carries 27 times or more as he had during the final five games of the regular season.
"I don't think offensively we did a good enough job of adjusting to be successful on the football field," 20-year veteran right guard Ray Brown said, "because those type of things are really going to come back and haunt us if we're on the field less time than Seattle's offense. We have to win field position, and we have to figure out really quickly what these guys are fielding and how they're going to play us, and really lock into the type of plays that can be successful against that scheme."
Washington fared no better through the air. Gibbs wanted to take time off the clock with the run and not risk turnovers while nursing a second-half lead, hence fewer attempts for Brunell. Santana Moss, who set the franchise receiving yardage mark in the regular season, caught two screen passes for 18 yards. He was ineffective downfield with Tampa Bay -- when not putting a safety at the line -- shading a safety his way in double-coverage in its deep zone.
Seattle regularly plays more single coverage, which Moss believes is easier for him to exploit, but he is bracing for different looks. "Teams are not stupid," Moss said. "They know what we've been doing, and they know our different formations and different sets, and they're pretty much going to try to stop the passing game and not let us go deep."
H-back Chris Cooley, the only other receiving threat on the team, was limited to two catches for 12 yards and has nine receptions for 61 yards in three games since grabbing three touchdown passes against Dallas.
"I've had a lot more attention since the Dallas game as far as everything goes," Cooley said. "I've seen a ton of man coverage. A lot more than I ever have before, for sure."
The Redskins' offensive woes also stemmed from becoming predictable with the lead ("That figures into what your thought process is," Gibbs said of the quick lead). Of the 17 first- and second-down plays in the second half, 13 were runs; of the seven third-down plays, five were passes. The failure of the running game left Washington routinely in third and long and led to a 4-for-13 conversion rate (28 percent over the past two weeks).
"We got up early, and I think that altered our game plan," Portis said. "We basically ran on first and second down and threw on third. And any time a team figures out what you're doing, it's going to be pretty hard to do it against them. We just wanted to keep the lead and find a way to win, and we did."