By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Coach Joe Gibbs conceded yesterday that the Washington Redskins' offensive approach became too conservative in Sunday's 21-19 victory over Arizona, with a failure to call enough deep passing plays contributing to another second-half collapse.
Washington has struggled to score for much of Gibbs's second tenure as coach, which began in 2004, and the offense has often been unable to gain first downs after halftime this season.
The Redskins nearly wasted a 21-6 third-quarter lead against the Cardinals, with the offense unable to run down the clock and keep the defense off the field. Gibbs has lost 12 games which the Redskins have led at the half since 2004, the most in the NFL. Injuries, turnovers and lack of execution by the players have been part of the problem, but play calling, clock management and second-half adjustments by the coaching staff also have seemed suspect.
Gibbs said he regretted the limited scope of the offensive attack in the second half on Sunday. "In hindsight, yeah, we would all like to have taken a few more shots there," Gibbs told reporters.
The Redskins have scored just three offensive touchdowns in the second half through six games, and have failed to top 130 yards in the second half in five straight games. They have also failed to top 100 second-half yards in three of the last four games.
Though he no longer calls plays, Gibbs has a guiding hand in the primary offensive principles and game plans. He often points to the need to protect the football and run repeatedly when leading, although the running game has been stifled much of this season.
"We've talked about the way you practice, run-pass ratio, all those things," Gibbs said. "You talk about where you think the strengths of your team are, all kinds of things you're going through, and I think it's a little bit of everything really, to be quite truthful. It's the coaches. I don't have a strategy of saying, 'We've got to run it this many more times or pass it this many more times.' I think it's just lots of times, to be quite truthful. It's each series as you play it trying to do things you think give you the best opportunity to move the football."
In Sunday's game, Gibbs said that he and associate head coach Al Saunders, who calls the plays, noted the effort of Washington's defense early in the game, lending a more ball-control bent to the game plan.
Washington ran the ball 16 times in the second half Sunday for just 39 yards, while quarterback Jason Campbell threw just seven times. Campbell was efficient if not prolific -- 5 of 7 for 39 yards in the half -- but attempted only one pass over 20 yards in the second half. The offense stalled again and Arizona had possession for 15 of the final 20 minutes, mustering 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and nearly completing the comeback. Washington started the fourth quarter with three straight three-and-outs.
"The thing we wanted to do there towards the end was keep that clock running," Gibbs said.
A power running game used to define the Redskins' offense under Gibbs, but the offense now ranks 25th in the NFL overall and is tied for 24th in yards per carry. The Redskins have rushed for just 2.8 yards per attempt in the second half of their last four games. The passing game is 12th in yards per attempt.
The Redskins are one of only seven teams in the NFL with more running than passing plays. Washington has run the ball just under 54 percent of the time; only four teams have a higher percentage. Gibbs pointed to the number of attempts against Green Bay on Oct. 14 -- 37 passes to 29 runs -- and said the ratio often is dictated by the opponent and tenor of the game.
"I think it goes game to game," Gibbs said.
Running back Clinton Portis, who missed the entire preseason and offseason recovering from surgeries and injuries, has yet to look as explosive as in the past, while several members of Washington's makeshift offensive line said they formed a cohesive unit in pass protecting rather than run blocking against Arizona.
"I thought the pass protection was pretty good, but we've got to get something going in the run game," guard Jason Fabini said.
"After watching film [of Sunday's game], we just took what was there," said Portis, crediting the Cardinals' defensive line for thwarting the running game. "We've just got to keep plugging, man."
Portis reiterated yesterday that he is in condition and he continues to be the Redskins' feature back. Ladell Betts, a 1,000-yard rusher with Portis hurt in 2006, rushed three times Sunday; one 10-yard burst set up Portis's goal line touchdown. Portis rushed 18 times Sunday for 43 yards, a 2.4-yard average, and has carried 87 times the last five games, with Betts rushing just 27 times.