By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2007
After practice at Redskins Park a few weeks ago, a raucous session of locker-room hijinks was well underway when quarterback Jason Campbell joined in. From across the expansive room, Campbell directed playful barbs at wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, teasing his friend for having been tackled short of the goal line four times in the first four games. Seated at his dressing stall far from the action, wide receiver Santana Moss turned the tables on the instigator, jabbing Campbell about deep passes he had overthrown while Moss sprinted uncovered in games.
But the joking has ended. With the schedule half completed, Washington's wide receivers still are without a touchdown reception, making them the NFL's only unit still shut out. In the last four games, the offense has been devoid of the big plays by Moss and Randle El that were among the highlights of the team's strong start, and the situation has stirred frustration from the locker room to Coach Joe Gibbs's office.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't shocking that our guys don't have any touchdowns. I know it's definitely shocking to me," Campbell said. "I used to joke around with Randle El because he's been tackled at the 1 four times, but I try not to tease him anymore. It's not going our way right now as far as that standpoint goes, and I feel bad about it. Hopefully, things will start to turn for us in that area and we'll get a chance to start hitting some touchdown passes and hitting some big plays. It's been awhile now."
Moss and Randle El have been slowed because of injuries, Brandon Lloyd hasn't emerged as the productive receiver the Redskins envisioned and Campbell's growing pains are evident in his first full season as a starter. Moreover, Washington is one of the NFL's most run-oriented teams, leaving few opportunities for Campbell and the receivers to take shots downfield. But regardless of injuries and restraints on the passing game, the Redskins said, getting the wide receivers more involved is high on the to-do list for the final eight games. The Redskins (5-3) face NFC East rival Philadelphia (3-5) today at FedEx Field, and Campbell said he's eager to help his receiving corps get rolling.
Moss has the last touchdown reception by a Redskins wide receiver, catching a 48-yard pass from Randle El, who took a handoff from Campbell on an end-around play during the first quarter of a 34-28 loss to the New York Giants in the final game of last season. Campbell hasn't teamed with a wide receiver on a scoring pass since throwing a 31-yard touchdown to Moss in the first quarter of the 14th game of 2006, a 16-10 victory over the New Orleans Saints. That's a span of more than 43 quarters. Of Campbell's six touchdown passes this season, five have gone to tight end Chris Cooley and the other to fullback Mike Sellers.
"We've had some opportunities in the passing game that we've missed, which is the best way I can put it," said Randle El, who leads the team with 27 receptions for 479 yards (a 17.7-yard average). "But we know that with the talent we have, we're going to score and we're going to make plays. We've already done it."
In the season-opening overtime victory over the Miami Dolphins, Randle El teamed with Campbell on 49- and 54-yard receptions while catching five passes for a career-high 162 yards. And once in each of the first four games, Randle El made big plays on deep balls that resulted in the Redskins reaching the opponent's 1-yard line.
Randle El, in his second season with Washington, has become the productive complementary receiver the Redskins have sought to go along with Moss. But in the fourth game against the Detroit Lions, Randle El suffered a hamstring injury on a 37-yard pass that ended (where else?) at the Detroit 1. He aggravated the injury this week, missed practice Thursday and Friday and is listed as probable for today's game.
Then there's Moss. A dependable big-play receiver since he joined the Redskins before the start of the 2005 season, Moss has played at less than full strength because of a groin injury. He missed the game against Detroit and has rarely been in top health. Last week against the Jets, Moss, who has 24 receptions for 297 yards (a 12.4-yard average), suffered a heel injury. He did not practice in preparation for the Eagles and is listed as questionable.
Lloyd has two catches for 14 yards, and was prohibited from accompanying Washington to face the Jets because he missed a meeting. As for the rest of the unit, James Thrash (three catches, 16 yards) makes his biggest contribution on special teams. At 37, Keenan McCardell (four catches, 69 yards) is most valuable as a possession receiver and Reche Caldwell has been active twice since joining the Redskins after the first game.
For the most part, if the unit is going to produce big plays and touchdowns, Moss and Randle El will have to make it happen. The duo connected with Campbell on six receptions of at least 35 yards through four games. Since then, they have none.
Although Gibbs espouses the benefits of a power-running game, having no touchdowns from the wide receivers or big plays recently is a problem "that we would like to fix," he said. "Certainly getting a couple of long-range passes to our receivers would make a huge difference for us."
Of course, it's not as if Washington is among the league's top teams offensively in other categories. The Redskins rank ninth in rushing with an average of 128.9 yards, but are 20th in total yards at 310.2, tied for 22nd in scoring average at 19 points and 26th in passing yards at 181.4.
Al Saunders, associate head coach-offense, has had to readjust things often, working with a reconfigured right side of the offensive line because of injuries. The lack of production from the wide receivers has occupied much of his time, too.
"It's been a long time since I've been with a team where they haven't had any [touchdowns] at this point," said Saunders, who formerly directed the high-scoring Kansas City Chiefs. "It's easy to say you don't really care who scores touchdown as long as you score 'em, but I think we'd all like to see our receivers be more productive in that area. We'd like to score more touchdowns, period. Certainly when the receivers start breaking some long runs, making some catches and getting in the end zone, it'll be a lot better for all of us."
But the Redskins' wide receivers have had fewer chances to shine than many of their counterparts throughout the league.
With 257 rushing attempts, the Redskins have more carries than any team in the NFC, and the fourth-most attempts in the NFL. Washington rarely spreads the field with three- and four-receiver sets, so Moss and Randle El must make the most of few opportunities.
"If you're not getting the opportunities then you can't fault yourself," Moss said. "I see that, of late, Coach [Saunders] has been trying to give us chances to get touchdowns. We get in the red zone [within an opponent's 20-yard line], we try to take attempts. But if a guy is covered you can't throw at 'em. Jason doesn't throw at guys who are covered."
Overall, Gibbs and Saunders say they're pleased with the development of Campbell, 25, who has made 15 career starts. But Campbell has struggled in the last two games against New England and the Jets, dropping his passer rating to 74.8, 25th in the league.
And he's still trying to improve his touch on post patterns to Moss, which has been a problem.
"It's just something we're going to have to keep trying," Moss said. "Jason knows and I know where we're at when it comes to that pass. It's not like we haven't hooked up on it before, we just haven't done it this year yet. I feel that if we keep trying, we'll get it."
Again, though, the Redskins don't throw the ball as much as most of their competitors. "We started off the season moving the ball really well, throwing the ball well, and had some big plays," Campbell said. "The last couple of weeks, we've been running the ball a lot. You run the ball a lot, you know how that goes."
Eagles all-pro quarterback Donovan McNabb, a friend and mentor to Campbell, said having no touchdowns scored by wide receivers so late in the season would be bothersome to any team, but the won-lost record is all that matters.
"Stats are something for people to be 'ooh and ahh' about. But when you look at the big picture, the big picture is that they have a winning record," McNabb said. "You could pass for a million yards, but if your winning percentage is low, your team is not good and you're not going to the playoffs every year, who cares? It's all about wins and losses. Great quarterbacks are measured by their bodies of work."
The worth of wide receivers, though, is measured in receptions and touchdown catches, and Moss and Randle El are eager to play bigger roles for the Redskins.
"It's going to come, and it ain't going to be" just one touchdown, Moss said. "We're going to get some."