By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2006
By Monday morning, Earnest Byner had studied the troubling sequence of plays on three occasions, and had mapped out a week's worth of primers for his players. Washington Redskins running backs carried the ball six times inside the 4-yard line on their opening drive Sunday, and failed to get into the end zone, something the running backs coach and the rest of the team are not likely to forget anytime soon.
Washington is trying to restore its identity as a forceful running team, and while last week's opponent, Dallas, had a strong run defense, there are no excuses being made for their failure around the goal line. It has been a topic of meetings and practices this week, and is something the 3-5 team knows it can not afford to replicate.
"That's as disappointing a thing as I've ever been around in football," said Al Saunders, associate head coach-offense.
Coach Joe Gibbs has ceded play-calling to Saunders, but said he agreed with Saunders's approach to this drive, pounding the ball on the ground relentlessly and trying to make a statement about the wobbling running attack. Tailback Clinton Portis rushed five times and Ladell Betts once, and neither could pick up more than a yard on any carry.
Portis gained a yard to the outside on first down, then was knocked for a one-yard loss. A Dallas penalty gave Washington a first down from the 2, and Portis nudged ahead for another yard, then was pounded for no gain. Betts was thumped for no gain on third. On fourth down, the Redskins tried to fool the Cowboys, sending fullback Mike Sellers diving left, but Portis, with the ball, was hit for no gain. (He claims that he crossed the goal line but that officials missed it.)
Gibbs said the inability to gain that final yard came down to different players at the line failing to win their matchups. He also gave praise to the Cowboys.
"Some of it was them, and some of it was us," Gibbs said.
Byner wanted to determine whether his backs may have been somehow tipping off the Cowboys or allowing them to get a jump on plays. He and the rest of the staff feel that the team should always be able to get a yard in these situations, particularly with the chance to set the tone with a 14-play scoring drive.
"We do a lot of additional self-study and look at some things other people are doing and definitely try to get better," Byner said. "And I think the challenge is showing guys on tape and finding out what we can do to get better. It's always something here or there; we don't make a block or they run through some people. But I think we did the right things. I think going for it on fourth down was the right decision."
The Redskins are specifically looking to address the left side of their goal-line offense. Dallas safety Roy Williams was allowed to slip in from that side on several occasions and hit the ballcarrier before he crossed the line of scrimmage, doing enough to hold him up until the linebackers and linemen finished him off.
"Roy was getting in a lot from the edge," Byner said. "He was definitely blazing around that edge and if that's going to be the case we have to watch that and make note of that as well."
Several team sources said that should similar instances arise in the future, tailback T.J. Duckett stands a better chance of getting a carry.Lloyd, Moss Hoping to Play
Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd missed practice with a mild groin strain but said he will play Sunday. Quarterback Mark Brunell returned to practice after resting Wednesday. Tight end Christian Fauria remained in a walking cast and did not practice. Santana Moss practiced again and is optimistic about being able to play Sunday. . . . Portis said a "bogus" lawsuit has been filed against his mother for an altercation with an Eagles fan in the stands in Philadelphia last season, but she will be back at Lincoln Financial Field, wearing the same rhinestone-studded No. 26 Redskins jersey she always wears, sitting in the same section as last year. "Ain't nothing going to change," Portis said. "She's going to continue cheering me on."