By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 1, 2008
The Washington Redskins' disappointing trip through an encyclopedia of special teams mishaps began early in yesterday's 23-7 loss to the New York Giants. Washington's first possession ended with punter Ryan Plackemeier dropping the ball too far to the outside of his right foot and mis-hitting a poor 31-yard kick. The Giants' first possession ended with a mishandled extra-point snap, but the Washington rush was slow to develop, so holder Jeff Feagles steadied the ball, place kicker John Carney reset his stance, and the conversion was ugly but true.
"With that extra time that they gave us," Washington special teams coach Danny Smith said, "we expect to block it."
In fact, little went according to expectations for Smith's charges on an afternoon dominated by the Giants in virtually every way. The special teams mishaps were both routine -- a high snap on a missed field goal -- and bizarre, as when lineman Ryan Boschetti was flagged for illegally waving both arms to signal a fair catch of a short New York kickoff. "I'll be straight-up honest, I really didn't" know that rule, Boschetti said. "If I had known, I wouldn't have put both my hands up."
There were recurring special teams problems; Washington's punting unit, ranked near the bottom of the NFL, again struggled to down the ball inside the 20. And there were problems that hadn't previously cropped up. After committing only seven special teams penalties in their first 11 games, the Redskins had three yesterday, including a 15-yard face-mask call that preceded a Giants touchdown drive. "Those things have a tendency to come in bunches," Smith said.
The most obvious questions centered around place kicker Shaun Suisham, the third-year pro who entered the week with the most missed field goals in the NFL. Suisham's 75 percent accuracy rate was tied for last among full-time place kickers, and yesterday he missed his only attempt, from 42 yards. The snap was high, and the kick was long enough but wide right.
"Our job is to make it as smooth as possible for Shaun, give him the best opportunity, and on that particular one it wasn't that smooth," said Plackemeier, the holder. "It was a kickable ball, but it wasn't smooth, and that's our job. So we'll look at that and try to make it better for him."
In the last three games, Suisham also has come up short on a 46-yarder (against the Cowboys) and had a 43-yarder get tipped and hit the crossbar (against the Seahawks). But Smith said that his faith in the 26-year old hasn't wavered.
"I'm hard as hell on Shaun, but I've got a lot of confidence in Shaun," Smith said. "We just got to establish a consistency there because he's a good enough player. . . . He's a good young player with a good leg. It's very important to him, he works his butt off. I mean, he's got a lot of upside to him, it's just he's got to get experience. I have all the confidence in the world in the guy."
The punting game, meantime, continued to struggle. The unit entered the week with the second-worst gross average and the worst net average in the league. Plackemeier, signed midseason to replace Durant Brooks, landed three punts near the goal line. But two bounced into the end zone for touchbacks, and the third slowly trickled past gunner Justin Tryon for another touchback.
"If I had gotten all three of those bounces, it's an amazing game," the punter said. "I'm not disappointed with how I hit the ball, I'm disappointed with some of those bounces."
Tryon, a rookie, has served in the gunner role for the past three games, after Leigh Torrence was waived. Smith said Tryon -- who also was flagged for a false start in punt coverage -- "should get that ball" that bounced near the 10, but that the Giants returner made an effective fake. "We've got to punt the ball better," Smith said. "We made a switch there, and I don't know if we've hit it or not. I call it execution under pressure. I mean, you've got to execute under pressure, you've got to execute in pressure situations. . . . You've got to establish a consistency there, and in my opinion we haven't established a consistency there."