By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
With their season hanging on a precipice, the Washington Redskins will approach their final three games without Chris Samuels, their best offensive lineman, who suffered a season-ending injury in Sunday night's loss to the Baltimore Ravens. In addition, Jon Jansen, the tackle opposite Samuels and the Redskins' longest-tenured player, is doubtful for this weekend's game against Cincinnati, leaving the offense with a stitched-together line at a time when a single loss will all but eliminate Washington from playoff contention.
"We have to hold our team from getting so frustrated they pack it in," Jim Zorn, the team's rookie head coach, said yesterday. "I don't see this as a team that, in any situation, has that sense of packing it in. . . . Now, I think we've become more fragile with our confidence.
"We've got to get our confidence [back]. It's hard to get your confidence up unless things can be successful, so the thing that will turn us is if we can have some success in this next week. If we can get some success, I think we'll rebound."
To do that in their final three games -- at Cincinnati, home against Philadelphia and then at San Francisco -- the Redskins will have to figure out a way to increase their productivity without Samuels, the left tackle who will have surgery to repair a torn triceps in his right arm.
Samuels was injured while pass blocking on the first play of the fourth quarter of Sunday's 24-10 loss in Baltimore. The five-time Pro Bowler, who has struggled with a nagging knee injury all season, will be replaced by Stephon Heyer, a second-year player who won the starting right tackle job during training camp but was later beaten out by Jansen. Heyer played for the first time in five games Sunday night.
"It's tough when you haven't played in a while," Heyer said. "You got to get the game speed back and read stuff differently."
Jansen suffered a grade-two sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee against the Ravens. The 10-year veteran will be monitored during the week and has not been ruled out against Cincinnati, but both the front office and coaching staff were preparing to play without both tackles against the Bengals.
If Jansen can't go, Zorn said 11-year veteran Jason Fabini, who has been active in only four games this season, would take his spot at right tackle. Rookies Chad Rinehart, a third-round pick who has yet to play in an NFL game, and Devin Clark, an undrafted free agent whom Zorn said the team will likely activate from the practice squad, would provide competition at the position.
"We've got to slide guys in," Zorn said. "They've just got to rise up and play well. That's it."
All this mixing and matching comes at a time when the Redskins -- losers of four of their last five games -- have fallen to 29th in the 32-team NFL in scoring, and it will put a tremendous strain on the group entrusted with protecting quarterback Jason Campbell and opening holes for running back Clinton Portis.
"The communication, it has to be more," said left guard Pete Kendall, who normally plays alongside Samuels. "There's obviously much less chemistry. I've seen however many looks I've seen with Chris next to me pretty much the whole way. You get to a point where it's just assumed that he's seeing it the way I'm seeing it and so on and so forth, and now it'll be different."
Despite their predicament, the Redskins spent yesterday trying to be resolute. There is, though, growing frustration in the locker room with the offense's inability to score. Washington's defense is still ranked sixth in the NFL in both yards and points allowed. It is the offense, with just five touchdowns in its last five games, that has not produced. That situation is wearing on the defense.
"There are a lot of teams that have a dominant offense or a dominant defense, and one side of the ball has to rely on the other one to get the job done . . . and get that spark for the other side," cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "I don't think it's fair, but it's football, and it's something we have to deal with."
They will deal with it under Zorn, who was figuring out his best tactics yesterday. His team, meanwhile, is watching him as closely as he is watching them. As Rogers said, "This is our first year going through this with him."
"There's going to be some critical questions asked," Kendall said. "But in my opinion, guys are still listening to the message, guys are still working very hard during the week to get ready to go play on Sunday, which makes it that much more frustrating to have some of the performances that we've had."
Zorn is frustrated as well. During his weekly appearance before reporters, he paused several times, strumming his fingers on a lectern, reflecting at the most infuriating moments not only against Baltimore, but from the last five weeks. He planned to show those moments to his team. Then, somehow, the rookie coach will have to build them back up.
"That sinking pit in your stomach just wears on you each week," Zorn said. "It drives you down a little bit more. But I've got to come in to our group this afternoon, and we've got to tell it like it is [and] take the medicine before us, because the picture's going to speak loudly as we watch the video.
"We have to make the corrections. But we can't get so low. . . . If you can believe it, we're still alive. We're playing for something. And I think that part's exciting."
Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.