Grading on a Steep Learning Curve, Redskins' Offense Is an Incomplete Pass

Mark Brunell and the Redskins' offense could not score a touchdown against Marcus Spears and the Cowboys.
Mark Brunell and the Redskins' offense could not score a touchdown against Marcus Spears and the Cowboys. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Les Carpenter
Monday, September 18, 2006

IRVING, Tex. -- There's no place to hide. What must Al Saunders think, sitting there in the coaches' box, headset on, his dream offense sputtering and the camera zooming in?

"I'd like to believe we would be farther along at this point," he said late Sunday night, his gaze dropping to the floor of the Redskins' locker room.

This seemed so simple. The final pieces came from everywhere this offseason, providing the Redskins' new offensive mastermind with everything to make the great offense hum. All he needed was to slip Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd into the missing slots, turn on the engine and start the "Greatest Show on Turf" all over again.

But offensive genius can be such a tricky thing. And the great minds who lock themselves in football fortresses all winter and spring dreaming of those amazing schemes that send the X's and Z's dancing across chalkboards also run the great risk of outsmarting their own wizardry.

For all the brilliance of a 700-page playbook worthy of a leather cover and gilded pages, there is also the annoying little matter of making the plays actually work.

Nobody around the Redskins doubts that Saunders has delivered a wonderful offense for his price. But after four exhibition games and two regular season games, the brilliance has yet to manifest itself in a football game. Which is, of course, where the playbook matters most.

All the reverses, the curls, the slants -- the things that justify lavishing a head coach's salary on an assistant -- aren't much good if the team running them is ingrained in smash-mouth tactics.

"I imagine all it takes is one time for your offense to go 'pop' and everything will be fine," a radio reporter said, trying to comfort him last night.

Saunders frowned.

"I think it did pop," he said. "We have to get it right."

The machine never started Sunday night, just like it hasn't started all year. Perhaps it was doomed the moment Mark Brunell lobbed a pass toward Ladell Betts and Betts never turned to see the ball. All evening, the Redskins seemed mired in a bog of missed opportunities and blown assignments. At one point late in the first half, so many players were running in and running off that Brunell, bewildered by the revolving door of burgundy spinning around him, had to call a timeout.

In the end, the most damning statistic in a sea of dreary numbers was this: the team converted 14 percent of its third downs. It was not the stuff of the "Greatest Show on Turf."

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