So Far, Penalties Make the Team Its Own Worst Enemy

By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 20, 2006

For all of the disparate statistics, themes and threads that have been used to explain the Washington Redskins' 0-2 start, some players reduced the season to one specific problem on two specific drives.

The problem is penalties, personal foul penalties in particular. In both losses, the key drive that determined the outcome was aided when a Redskins player was flagged for a personal foul in a big situation. This season, the Redskins have committed 18 penalties for 172 yards, second in the NFL only to Dallas.

"We've had chances. Lots of chances," said Khary Campbell, the Redskins' backup middle linebacker and one of their special teams leaders. "We're hurting ourselves with mistakes. That's the bottom line."

Against Minnesota, in a 16-16 game with 11 minutes 48 seconds remaining, the Redskins pinned the Vikings on their 3-yard line. All the Redskins had to do, Campbell said, was play solid defense, keep the Vikings backed up and force them to punt. The Redskins' offense, in turn, would get the ball near midfield with a great chance to take the lead.

Instead of punting from their end zone, the Vikings marched 41 yards to the 44-yard line, aided by two penalties, the biggest being a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on safety Sean Taylor. The Vikings did not score but, just as importantly, were able to escape the shadow of their end zone and punt the ball out of their territory.

On the Vikings' next series, Taylor's 15-yard face-mask penalty on third and nine with 2:50 left put Minnesota in field goal range. Six plays later, Ryan Longwell's 31-yard field goal proved to be the game-winner.

Against Dallas, the Cowboys began their game-changing, 99-yard drive on their 1-yard line, but two penalties -- a pass interference call on cornerback Carlos Rogers and a 15-yard face-mask penalty on cornerback Kenny Wright -- gave Dallas 24 yards on penalties alone.

"Our problem was seven penalties. We reviewed those with our players in detail, not to embarrass someone but to try and show each time we get a penalty what types of things are being called, what the rules are and how we can avoid those," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "That shouldn't happen to us. The seven penalties extended drives. They had a 99-yard drive in the second half and we had two penalties that helped sustain that drive."

As an example of how crucial personal foul penalties were, four such calls against Dallas and Minnesota all helped the Redskins. Two personal fouls against the Vikings led to 10 of Washington's 16 points. Against Dallas, two 15-yard penalties on the same drive contributed to a John Hall field goal.

"We just have to be more careful with the face mask and the grabbing. We have to play more straight-up football," cornerback Mike Rumph said. "They know we're an aggressive secondary, so I think they're watching us real close, and some of the little things that some other team might have gotten away with, we're not. You have to do it within the means, and the team that adapts to the rules the fastest, like the five-yard rules, is the team that's going to win."

Hall Returns to Full Duty

For the first time this season, Hall took over the kickoff duties, and Gibbs said he was pleased. Since Hall had abdominal surgery in the offseason, punter Derrick Frost had taken over kickoffs during the preseason and against Minnesota.

"John kicked off for us in this game for the first time. He was very good directionally. We liked the way he kicked the ball," Gibbs said. . . .

Tackle Jon Jansen said Sunday that his conversation with Commissioner Roger Goodell lasted "less than five minutes. It was more of a get-to-know-you sort of thing."

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