By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 28, 2008
With the score tied early in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, the Washington Redskins turned to place kicker Shaun Suisham, whose 22-yard field goal provided the difference in a 20-17 victory at Qwest Field. The Redskins have struggled to score touchdowns during Suisham's two-plus seasons with them, and his role could increase in the final five regular season games.
Despite their problems on offense, the Redskins are among many teams pursuing an NFC wild-card berth, and field goals have been key to their success. Suisham has not been as efficient as he was last season in helping Washington qualify for the postseason, and he often was ineffective on kickoffs in the victory over Seattle.
Suisham is satisfied with his overall performance, though he acknowledged his kickoffs were better earlier in the season. Confident in his approach, he expects to deliver down the stretch for Washington (7-4), which will host NFC East-leading New York Giants (10-1) on Sunday at FedEx Field.
"I don't play scared," Suisham said after practice this week at Redskins Park. "Everybody is different. I can't speak for other guys on how they feel and think, but I tend to try not to overcomplicate things. The reason I'm here is to kick off and to make field goals when I'm called upon. I want to be perfect, even though I know that won't always happen, and that's what I work towards. That's just my thought process."
On field goals, Suisham has made 21 of 28 attempts with a long of 50 yards. He has not missed a point-after attempt in 18 tries. Against the Seahawks, Suisham also connected on a 26-yard attempt and missed a 43-yarder after the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
A 75 percent success rate on field goal attempts is considered solid for an NFL place kicker, but "obviously, I'd like to have back a couple of those misses," Suisham said. "Like I said, I want to be perfect, that's where I want to be.
"I'm never satisfied or okay with a miss, but it is part of the job. When it does happen, it happens, and it's my job to come back and make the next kick. I know that's what I have to do, so that's the only thing I focus on."
During Week 11 against the Dallas Cowboys, Suisham took the field in the third quarter to attempt a 46-yard field goal that would have extended Washington's 10-7 lead. The ball fell a few yards short of the uprights, and the Cowboys rallied in the fourth quarter for a 14-10 victory. "In the Dallas game, you could always hit the ball maybe a little better, but I didn't hit it bad," Suisham said. "It just hung up and it didn't just quite make it.
"And the last game, they were able to get a hand on it, so I feel like I'm hitting the ball well. Field goal-wise, I feel very good with field goals right now, just with how I'm hitting it. I mean, the last two misses, I wasn't like I hit 'em real bad. Last week, they were able to get a hand on it, which slowed the ball down, and then the week before against Dallas, of course, I probably could have hit it a bit better, but I really didn't hit it bad. It just hung up. I feel good."
Suisham's success on field goal attempts is especially important because Washington's offense has not scored as many touchdowns as head coach and play-caller Jim Zorn would prefer. The Redskins have failed to score at least 30 points (they had a season-high 29 points in a Week 2 victory over the New Orleans Saints) in any game, average only 18.3 points and rank 27th in the NFL in scoring. Seven of the Redskins' games have been decided by six points or less.
In the 2007 season, Suisham made 82.9 percent (29 of 35) of his field goal attempts. The third-year player was productive during a season-ending four-game winning streak that resulted in a playoff berth, and he hopes to have many more opportunities to contribute as Washington pushes to reach the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1991 and '92 seasons.
"You want to be able to be a big part of it," Suisham said. "I'd like to line up and be able to make the game-winner every week. Obviously, it's better for the team if we're not in that situation all the time, but that's why we're here.
"If I didn't like that, I don't think I'd like my job very much. It seems that we're always in tight games, and field goals are very important. I understand that, and that's why it is frustrating when you miss a kick. It's my job to line up and make the next kick."
In the second half of the season, several of Suisham's directional kickoffs have come up short. Some have been fielded around the 20-yard line, which has helped opponents gain good field position against the Redskins. Seahawks return specialist Josh Wilson had a 24.8-yard average on five kickoff returns against the Redskins, including one for 55 yards to open the second half.
"In some cases, not to take nothing away from Suisham, we called some of those directional kicks and he didn't get the ball over there," special teams standout Rock Cartwright said. "And sometimes when we don't do that, you get guys crossing and doing the things we have to do, then you leave holes, and that's what happens. But that guy [Wilson] is a great returner and it's hard to stop him."
Special teams coach Danny Smith uses a color system to inform Washington's coverage team of the planned direction of kickoffs. Smith makes calls based on a variety of factors, and he relies on Suisham to angle the ball far enough outside the hash marks and deep enough to help the unit execute its assignments.
"Sometimes when we want a red kick or blue kick, we need the ball outside the numbers, and it's hard to do that," Cartwright said. "Not many kickers can do that, and Shaun's a great kicker and we definitely depend on him. Hopefully, he can get things rolling again and we can continue to get better as a special-teams unit."
Suisham said he does not have a "tired leg" or an injury that has adversely affected his kickoffs. "My leg's fine," he said, but his production has dropped.
"They were definitely better early on, and that's something I need to remedy and get back to," Suisham said. "As the year gets later, there's maybe more that goes into [strong kickoffs], but I don't attribute it to any one thing.
"It's just important for me to make solid contact with the ball and get in down the field. I have to have a better week."
Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.