Redskins Notebook

Better Pass Protection Is the Bottom Line

Quarterback Mark Brunell was sacked only once against Dallas on Sunday after being sacked six times in Week 2.
Quarterback Mark Brunell was sacked only once against Dallas on Sunday after being sacked six times in Week 2. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The Washington Redskins managed to keep quarterback Mark Brunell upright Sunday against some of the NFL's best pass rushers, a big improvement from their first meeting with the Dallas Cowboys. The offensive line has been inconsistent, along with the entire offense, but held Dallas to one sack Sunday after allowing six when the teams played in Dallas in Week 2.

"Everyone rose to the challenge," center Casey Rabach said. "Our backs were against the wall at 2-5 and no one expected us to be there and it was a big rivalry game for us. We showed up and played well. I think we left a ton on the field, though, so there's room for improvement, definitely."

Overall, the Redskins rank ninth in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play, and the line has played better against some of its more formidable opponents, such as Jacksonville. Putting consecutive strong games together is a must given the club's slow start.

"Everybody executed Sunday," guard Derrick Dockery said. "Mark did a good job of getting rid of the ball, there was good protection and good route running. And pass protection takes everybody collectively, and as a group we did pretty well."

Playing It Cooley

Chris Cooley seems to be finding his niche in the Redskins' new offense. Al Saunders, associate head coach-offense, changed Cooley from an H-back to a tight end and has him involved in different routes than in the past. After a slow start, things are improving.

Cooley was Washington's leading receiver against the Cowboys with three catches for 66 yards, including an 18-yard lob by Brunell for a touchdown to tie the score at 19. Cooley had just seven catches for 38 yards in the first three games, but has 17 catches for 246 yards since. He has caught a touchdown pass in each of the last three games, becoming a red zone weapon as he was last season.

"I think I'm coming along," Cooley said. "I feel more comfortable in what I'm doing on offense, with out routes and stuff, so hopefully I'll have a big second half of the season."

The Redskins have yet to incorporate bootleg passes to Cooley around the goal line as they did when Joe Gibbs ran the offense, but Saunders is getting him the ball on screens. At 265 pounds, those plays allow Cooley to gain momentum and to plow into defenders in the open field. Cooley rambled 27 yards on one play Sunday, bouncing off at least four Cowboys in the process, part of the reason he has been wearing large ice packs on his left hand and both shoulders.

"I wish I could just run out of bounds instead of taking a couple of extra hits, but I just can't do it," Cooley said. "It doesn't feel good, but it's worth it."

It's in Their Hands

The Redskins hope a playoff push began with the win at Dallas, but a long climb remains. Ten teams in the NFC have a better record than Washington, but the Redskins get to face many of those teams head-to-head, including New York, Philadelphia (twice), St. Louis, Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta.

"We're 3-5 and we're not close to .500 yet," tackle Jon Jansen said. "We've got to go to Philly and get a big win on the road, but we've still got a long ways to go." . . . The Redskins are the first team in NFL history to score 22 points in three consecutive games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. . . . Brunell's 91.5 passer rating is eighth-best in the NFL.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company