Redskins Come Up Short Near the End Zone, but not on the Scoreboard

The Redskins host the St. Louis Rams in their home opener at FedEx Field.
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 21, 2009

As some of his teammates hurried to dress and others answered reporters' questions after a 9-7 victory Sunday afternoon over the St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins right guard Randy Thomas seemed preoccupied with more than the struggles of an offense still searching for answers under second-year Coach Jim Zorn.

And Thomas did have a lot to consider after learning he had torn his right triceps early in the game and might miss the remainder of the season, according to multiple NFL sources. Thomas revealed little publicly -- "MRI [exam] tomorrow," he said -- after the Redskins struggled in winning their FedEx Field home opener in front of 87,780 fans, many of whom booed often as the team failed to produce touchdowns in four trips inside the 11-yard line.

The Redskins said they would withhold comment on Thomas's injury until after Monday's exam. People familiar with the situation, however, said the team does not expect Thomas -- who missed most of the 2007 season with a left triceps injury -- to return, presenting another hurdle for an offense that, through the first two games, has not demonstrated the improvement the Redskins envisioned in the offseason.

Players expressed disappointment about losing a key member of an offensive line considered responsible, in large part, for last season's 2-6 collapse because it wore down in the second half.

Now, the Redskins (1-1) are likely to face their final 14 games without an 11-year veteran who was considered among the keys to their hopes on offense.

"To fill Randy's shoes is gonna be tough," said left guard Derrick Dockery. "And whoever steps [in] has to be ready to play. It's gonna be hard, we're gonna miss him, but that's just part of the National Football League. Injuries happen. We just have to find a way to rebound."

The strength of the Redskins' offensive line without Thomas is a major concern because "you're not talking about a lot of depth at the offensive line position," said quarterback Jason Campbell, who said he did not know the extent of Thomas's injury. When Thomas tore his other triceps two years ago, the team opted not to place him on the injured-reserve list; he returned Dec. 6, re-injured himself and was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 13. "That was one thing that we was hoping that we would get through the year with[out].

"It's definitely tough, because Randy has that experience, and experience teaches you a lot in this game. You seen a lot of different looks that you might not even have practiced on. If you see it in a game, you've seen it somewhere before in your career, you know how to react to it. You put a younger guy in there, now it's totally different."

Although third-year guard-center Will Montgomery replaced Thomas in the second quarter, Montgomery might not be the team's long-term answer this season because he is center Casey Rabach's backup as well. Second-year guard Chad Rinehart took most of the first-team practice plays in the offseason as Thomas, 33, recovered from neck and knee surgeries. Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, is high on Rinehart, who could move into the starting lineup next week against the Detroit Lions despite not having been active in the first two games.

On Sunday against the Rams (0-2), Montgomery was called for holding on a third-down halfback option pass at the St. Louis 5-yard line in the third quarter. The gadget play involving running back Clinton Portis and tight end Chris Cooley failed, however, as did many plays that Zorn, Washington's play-caller, tried in trips to the red zone that ended in Shaun Suisham field goals of 21, 28 and 23 yards.

Although the Redskins outgained the Rams in total yards, 362 to 243 -- and Campbell passed for 242 yards while again operating effectively out of the shotgun formation and in a no-huddle offense -- it took another late defensive stand for them to hold off the Rams, who lost, 28-0, to the Seattle Seahawks in the opener and went 2-14 last season. Rams running back Steven Jackson rushed for 104 yards and had a 6.1-yard average.

Of course, one of the Rams' two victories last season occurred at FedEx Field, so overall, that's progress for the Redskins.

"It's the scoring that's the frustrating" thing, Zorn said. "Fortunately, we've got a kicker that's making plays, because we need every point we can get right now. We're not going to stay there. That's really the bottom line here.

"I've got to look at this thing really hard because it's my responsibility. I can wave all kinds of magic wands, but I've got to come up with the right play and put our guys in the right position. As we look at it, then we'll figure more and more of what we have to do to finish these drives."

In 18 games under Zorn, who brought his modified version of the West Coast offense to Washington after a long, successful stint as the Seahawks' quarterbacks coach, the Redskins have failed to score at least 30 points or have a margin of victory of more than eight points. With an average of 16.6 points last season, the Redskins ranked 28th among 32 teams.

Through two games this season, Washington is averaging 13 points. The overall average in Zorn's tenure: 16.2 points. The Redskins' average margin of victory in nine wins under Zorn is 4.8 points, and they have never beaten an opponent by two scores. Their largest margin of victory was a 25-17 win at Detroit last Oct. 26.

In fairness to Zorn, injuries and lack of quality depth along the offensive line have impeded the team's development. Also, a productive No. 2 wide receiver did not emerge last season to complement top wideout Santana Moss, who often faced double-teams.

Wide receiver Malcolm Kelly provided encouraging signs in the preseason and had 41 yards against the Rams after catching four passes from Campbell, who sprained his ankle while being tackled in the second quarter but played the remainder of the game. Cooley, a Pro Bowler who performed well in the opener against the New York Giants, again led the way with 83 yards on seven receptions. Portis rushed for 79 yards and had a 4.2-yard average as the Redskins gained 125 yards on the ground.

But the Redskins still have not put it together offensively as they thought they would. The game against the Rams would have had a different vibe if wide receiver Devin Thomas and fullback Mike Sellers had not dropped passes in and near the end zone in the first half.

"It can be just one or two plays in a game to make it look a whole lot different," Campbell said. "You catch two passes in the end zone and you're up 14-0, but that's just the way it is sometimes in this game.

"We just got to understand that every time we get the ball, you never know which play could be the one to bust open and score. You have to play every play as hard as you do, every time you have a play called."

There was a lot for the offense to feel good about Sunday, Zorn said. Campbell led scoring drives of 83, 64 and 74 yards as the Redskins showed they could move the ball. They just need to learn how to finish.

"There are a lot of things that are really positive," Zorn said. "Let's just look. I really want to give myself an opportunity to really look hard at, 'Is it the call? Is it this or that?' I think it'll be a mixed bag, to be honest with you."

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