There's an Upside Going Downfield

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 12, 2007

The Washington Redskins opened up the offense in the second half yesterday against the Philadelphia Eagles. They used four-receiver sets, providing opportunities for wide receivers eager to do more. Coach Joe Gibbs and Al Saunders, associate head coach-offense, floored the accelerator at times, operating in a no-huddle scheme that seemed to surprise the Eagles. And Gibbs and Saunders put more on the shoulders of quarterback Jason Campbell, who remembered how to take shots downfield once the handcuffs came off.

It was a new wrinkle for the Redskins, and it worked well for a while, helping Campbell get into a rhythm while teaming with wide receivers on touchdown receptions for the first time since last season. Just as in the game overall, however, the Redskins failed to sustain their momentum on offense. They stalled late and the Eagles kept charging, rallying for a 33-25 victory in front of 90,218 at FedEx Field.

"We did a lot of good things as an offense today, we did a lot of things we can feel good about, but we didn't close 'em out," said wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, who had five catches for 44 yards. "Jason played great and we [the wide receivers] were really involved today . . . we opened it up.

"We opened up to four wides and it helps a lot. Coach [Gibbs] always talks about he wants to have balance, and I think that's what we got, having that balance today. We had some big plays."

Campbell completed 23 of 34 passes for 215 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Special teams standout James Thrash starred in a rare starting role, filling in for the injured Santana Moss.

Thrash caught two touchdown passes (his first in the second quarter was the first by a Washington wide receiver in 2007) among five receptions for a team-high 85 yards. Thrash, who also made another strong contribution on special teams, suffered a high ankle sprain in the fourth quarter and was on crutches after the game. He will be reevaluated by team medical personnel today.

And Keenan McCardell showed he still can make plays at 37, catching his first touchdown pass since 2005. With Washington trying to rally late in the fourth quarter, Campbell threw a deep pass down the right sideline to McCardell that was ruled incomplete, but "it was definitely a catch," McCardell said. "You could see it on the film. You could see it all the way." The Redskins could not challenge the play because they were out of timeouts.

It was another day of mixed emotions for an offense that's still trying to smooth many rough edges with only seven games left and yesterday's performance was uneven again despite a temporary groove.

"We understood we were going to get a little chance to open it up a little, and we [the wide receivers] accepted the challenge," said McCardell, who caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Campbell early in the fourth quarter. "We saw some things in Philly and we tried to take advantage of it."

Washington was the league's only team whose wide receivers were without a touchdown reception this season, and Campbell had gone more than 43 quarters without teaming with a wide receiver on a scoring pass. Moss, who had the unit's last two touchdown catches last season, was inactive after missing practice last week because of a heel injury, and Randle El was playing despite missing two days of practice because of a hamstring injury.

The Redskins turned to Thrash, who was up to the challenge.

Early in the second quarter, Thrash got behind Philadelphia's defense and caught a four-yard touchdown pass from Campbell in the right corner of the end zone. Campbell connected with Thrash on a 12-yard touchdown later in the quarter, and Thrash also had two 31-yard receptions on the drive.

"It just felt good being part of the offense," Thrash said. "Whenever they [coaches] call my name, I'm going to go out there, whether it be special teams or offense. Tonight it was more offense."

Losing Thrash hurt the Redskins, players said.

"He was big," Randle El said. "He wasn't just big to the offense, he was big for the whole team with what he did on special teams, too. We talk about making a play when you get your chance to play, about one guy stepping up when another guy goes down, and James certainly did that today."

The Redskins face the Cowboys on Sunday at Dallas, and the wide receivers are eager to see if Gibbs and Saunders continue their wide-open approach against another NFC East rival.

"We got a chance to do it," Randle El said. "We've shown that we can do it and that's the biggest thing. We've always known that. It's just a matter of continuing to do it now."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company