Redskins' Blockers Unable to Hold the Line

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 6, 2008

SEATTLE, Jan. 5 -- Stephon Heyer called the noise that swirled through Qwest Field "deafening." Pete Kendall said it was so loud that he couldn't hear a word Todd Collins was saying, despite standing next to the Washington Redskins quarterback. Antwaan Randle El said the clatter was "piercing." And Chris Samuels said the offensive line was "a tick slow all day getting off the ball, just because of the crowd noise."

The Seattle Seahawks have often boasted of the number of false starts caused by their roaring crowd; the Redskins only jumped once during their 35-14 loss Saturday, well below average for visiting teams. But the largest postseason crowd in stadium history affected Washington's offensive line in other ways. The Redskins were forced to use a silent count whenever Collins dropped into shotgun. They struggled to create movement on short-yardage running plays because they couldn't burst as quickly as they would in quieter environs. Collins said it was even difficult to call plays in the huddle.

The noise, players said, helped explain the pressure Collins faced for much of the afternoon. He was sacked three times, driven into the ground after several other plays, and had a defender in his face before throwing the crucial late-game interception that helped the Seahawks pull away. Collins said Seattle "did a great job rushing the passer," and his coach agreed.

"One of the things that happens to you when you are hesitant about snap counts and everything is that it makes it hard for your guys to get off" the line of scrimmage, Coach Joe Gibbs said. "It was extremely hard early in the game. It was very costly to us. We got off late in short yardage and some things like that, which makes it extremely tough on you."

The pressure on the quarterback abated when the Redskins moved to a no-huddle offense in the third quarter -- "we finally found our rhythm," center Casey Rabach said -- but Collins was harassed in the fourth quarter.

Much of the focus before the game was on the matchup between right tackle Heyer -- an undrafted rookie thrust into a starting role because of injuries -- and Seahawks defensive end Patrick Kerney, whose 14 1/2 sacks this season are the most of anyone in the playoffs. Heyer had help from tight ends, running backs and fullback Mike Sellers for much of the afternoon, and yet Kerney still roamed the backfield several times and was credited with four quarterback hurries.

"It's something you have to will your way through," Kerney said. "They were keeping a tight end and back in on me. The tackle would go down and check back out, in case I beat the first two guys, but that's life. I came into this game expecting that, I know that's going to happen and I expect the same thing to happen this week."

"He got me a few times, but it's a battle," Heyer said. "Today probably wasn't the best day I ever had out there. I can look back and say I did some good things here and there, but I always want more."

Teammates were more positive about Heyer, whose season in some ways typified the ups and downs of an offensive line that worked in a new left guard, right guard and right tackle. "I thought he played tough, man," Samuels said of Heyer. "I really like the young guy. He got his opportunity and he stepped up like a man."

"He's an undrafted rookie, you know what I mean, and he's going against one of the classier players in the league," assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel said, referring to Kerney. "That guy beat a lot of people . . . you know what I mean? I thought Stephon held up real good. I think he's going to be" dominating.

As they reflected on the end of their erratic season, the offensive linemen took pride both in Heyer's development and in their ability to weather the season-ending injuries to guard Randy Thomas and tackle Jon Jansen. Samuels went up to Bugel after the game and told him he loved him. "He whipped this line into shape. He's a tough old man, and he's the best coach I've ever had," Samuels said.

But the linemen also acknowledged that this was not their finest game, from the second-half sequence in which the offense failed to gain the one yard needed for a first down on three consecutive chances, to the Seahawks defenders who piled on Collins.

"Obviously we try our best to keep people off of him," Kendall said. "It's a difficult situation in this league when you're down and you're forced to pass, when you have to use a silent count and you're playing on the road. All that stuff, that's the reality. It's not an excuse, professionals have to deal with that stuff. But we weren't able to make enough plays."

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