By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 28, 2006
A day after the Washington Redskins' 41-0 demolition at the hands of the New England Patriots, Coach Joe Gibbs seemed to have reassessed his winless football team, a self-searching exercise that simultaneously tempered his praise of the Patriots and challenged his players.
Gibbs spoke in generalities about the Redskins' daily operation, from analyzing the practice schedule to his frustration with the special teams units, which for the second consecutive week suffered significant breakdowns (including a blocked field goal). Gibbs was specific in his disappointment with the punting game. Usually publicly optimistic about players, Gibbs did not offer even a tepid defense of punter Derrick Frost, whose struggles were highlighted Saturday night by a 23-yard punt in the second quarter.
According to league sources, contact has been made between the Redskins and player agents for the purpose of possibly bringing in competition for Frost for Thursday night's exhibition finale against the Baltimore Ravens at FedEx Field.
"Derrick needs to be more consistent. I noted that. He knows that and needs to work hard on that," Gibbs said. "Up until this point, you've been alternating guys. I think we need to do a job analyzing that whole situation. So I think that's something we need to look at. Certainly we need a smoother performance, a more consistent performance out of him."
The Redskins are 0-3 in a preseason that, barring a reversal of tradition, effectively ended Saturday night for the starters. Most NFL coaches do not risk injuries to their starting players in a final preseason game. Gibbs declined to estimate how much his starters will play Thursday night. In last year's exhibition finale at Baltimore, Gibbs's regulars played half of the first quarter.
After the Redskins' 27-14 loss to the New York Jets nine days ago, many Redskins players and coaches said they looked forward to playing the Patriots as a true marker of progress. The first-team starters would play against New England's best players for a larger part of the game than either of the two previous exhibition games. In addition, they said, the third preseason game was the most important because it was generally the last time starters would take significant snaps before the regular season begins.
On Saturday, both offensively and defensively, the Patriots' starters dominated the Redskins' regulars. Tight end Ben Watson caught eight passes for 97 yards, virtually all inside the hash marks without being physically challenged by Redskins safeties Adam Archuleta and Sean Taylor. Gibbs watched as his first-team offensive line was confused by stunts that led to two sacks by Patriots linebackers and a third by defensive lineman Ty Warren. The Patriots did not punt with their first team on the field. Four Patriots players caught passes of at least 20 yards, and quarterback Tom Brady sat relatively comfortably in the pocket.
"From a Redskins standpoint, the first thing for us to do is give a thumbs-up to New England," Gibbs said Saturday. "I think they have a heck of a football team and played very well tonight and you have to give them a lot of credit and so we do that."
But yesterday, Gibbs suggested that the Patriots' success was more attributable to the Redskins' breakdowns.
"Offensively, we were not productive. We kind of felt like it was more us and our operation there than necessarily what New England was doing," Gibbs said.
"When you look at that film the other night, there were things we should have gotten done that would have helped us have a chance to be in that game and we didn't get it done," he said. "I don't think they did anything outlandish. They were pretty straight up. They played extremely well. Their quarterback played great, and so I look at it as that's where we should be."
The Redskins were the last team to open camp, and early in camp were less physical than in recent years. Gibbs relaxed the atmosphere as something of a reward to the players who attended the offseason workouts in high numbers.
"Our players have to say to themselves, just like I have to say to myself, 'What can I do to help the football team?' Certainly when you look at it right now, the offense, the defense, the special teams are not playing the way you want to play, and that starts with me," Gibbs said. "So getting something like this, and I'll tell our players, each of our players have to ask, 'What can I do?' Are they where they were last year at this time? Are they conditioning-wise, play-wise, mentally, are they where they should be?"
But the approach to date hasn't produced the kind of results Gibbs has sought. The Redskins have been outscored, 87-17, in three games. Their first-team offense has not produced a point, while in three games the largely first-team defense has given up 46, including 27 against the Patriots.
"We have been basically game-planning one day a week for our opponents. Obviously, I could have changed that. We could have done a lot earlier in the week. I think that I could have made [different] decisions on each practice, how we go about it, how hard to practice, how easy, whether we have pads or whether we don't," Gibbs said. "So I think it starts with me. I need to do the job of analyzing myself. We're in a tough situation having lost three games the way we did. And so hopefully as we evaluate the team it will be the same for each player."