By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Over several days this week, in between Sunday's drubbing in Indianapolis and the upcoming bye weekend, when the coaches and players will take a needed respite, the game the Washington Redskins will be playing won't take place on the field but in the front office, the film room, the coaching rooms and, equally as important, the trainer's room.
While Coach Joe Gibbs said the Redskins would use this week to dissect the events that have resulted in a dismal 2-5 start to the season, two days of practice were more noteworthy for the number of star players who did not practice because of injuries.
Gibbs said the practices would emphasize the passing game, but his top quarterback, running back and two best wide receivers did not practice. Quarterback Mark Brunell did not practice Tuesday or yesterday. Brunell injured his ribs in Sunday's loss at Indianapolis. Wide receiver Santana Moss has a hamstring injury and fellow wideout Antwaan Randle El has a heel injury. Running back Clinton Portis did not practice because of a left high ankle sprain.
Left tackle Chris Samuels did not practice because of what Gibbs described as "general soreness." Linebackers Marcus Washington and Lemar Marshall also did not suit up.
In Brunell's absence, another curious and possibly important event took place: For the first time in his young career, quarterback Jason Campbell took all the snaps with the first team on consecutive days. The move could be significant, a sign that the Redskins acknowledge that the disastrous events of the first seven games have accelerated their timetable for getting Campbell prepared to play. Or it could just mean that Campbell merely was filling in for Brunell and is no closer to being activated for his first NFL game, never mind his first start.
"I don't know if it means anything, but it's just good to get out there and be on the field," Campbell said. "It's one thing to read the plays and study the plays, and another to actually execute them, to do it and try to develop a rhythm for the offense."
Gibbs said he also would focus on the running game, but since Sunday night Portis has been wearing a walking boot on his left ankle.
Tactically, the Redskins took a first look at the Dallas Cowboys, whom they will play Nov. 5 at FedEx Field, but the attention of the coaches and players primarily was focused inward, at a Redskins team that may not be so radically different statistically than Dallas but seems to lack the chemistry and cohesiveness that allows a team to incrementally improve.
More delicate is the acknowledgment of both the coaching staff and players that, at least offensively, statistics can be misleading. The team is producing similar numbers, but not similar results, as last season. The coaches want to work more closely with Brunell, especially on his dropbacks on passing plays and his reading of defenses. While Brunell is a more accurate passer this year than a year ago, the coaching staff wants to emphasize to him that, in associate head coach Al Saunders's offense, decision-making must be immediate. Brunell's habit of dropping into the pocket, scanning the field and then patting the football has disrupted the timing of the offense, coaches say, and forced him to throw to a safety-valve receiver, most often a running back.
Last season after seven games, the running back tandem of Ladell Betts and Portis had combined for 20 receptions. This season, Betts and Portis have 38 catches.
"The emphasis has been a review of the season up to now and the things that we want to correct, and then redefining offensively where we want to go and the things we want to major in over the next nine weeks," Gibbs said. "That's really where we are right now."
Some of the coaches dislike overall statistical comparisons. They say monitoring the rhythm of a football game, of action and reaction, is more accurate. Too many times, the Redskins have given up a big play or a score and have not responded positively. They've allowed the action to be taken to them instead of forcing it.
Worse has been the backbreaking nature of opposing teams' scoring drives in all five losses. Leading 13-9 against Minnesota on Sept. 11, the Redskins yielded an eight-play, 56-yard touchdown drive on the Vikings' first second-half possession. Brunell was intercepted near the goal line against Dallas a week later, and the Cowboys responded with a 99-yard touchdown drive to break open the game. On Oct. 8, the Giants broke open a 9-3 game with a bruising, 15-play touchdown drive to open the second half of what would become a 19-3 New York win.
On the first drive of the second half against Tennessee the following week, the Redskins, leading 14-13, punted after failing to get a first down on three plays, and the Titans immediately engineered a 10-play, 74-yard touchdown drive. And Sunday in Indianapolis, the Redskins led 14-13 at halftime but gave up touchdowns on each of the Colts' first three second-half possessions.
The Giants did not punt in the first half against the Redskins, and the Colts did not punt in the second half on Sunday.
Over 16 regular season games in 2005, the Redskins yielded only one touchdown on an opening drive and produced three interceptions. It was the kind of the statistic that energized both assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams and his players going into this season. It underscored that they believed the personality of the team was defensive in nature, capable of changing the tenor of a game even when the offense wasn't on the field.
This season, the defense has been bullied. In 16 games last season, the Redskins gave up 52 drives that resulted in points. Only 11 of those drives lasted 10 plays or more. This season, after only seven games, the defense has given up 34 scoring drives, 13 of them lasting 10 plays or more.
"It's a matter of consistency," said Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense. "You sit down and look at the film and numerically, it might all look the same, but the difference is the effect those plays had on the game, at that time. A play here, a play there and we're back in it. But you have to make those plays happen."