By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
The enormity of the NFL season can be tough to swallow at times, so Redskins Coach Jim Zorn prefers to divide the 16-game schedule into quarters. The four-game chunks are easier for coaches, players and fans to digest.
On Monday, the day after the Redskins beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 16-13, and evened their record at 2-2, Zorn used broad strokes to evaluate his goals for the next four-game stretch of the season: "Have more consistency on offense and keep things going the way they are everywhere else," he said.
"We must get better offensively all around. In our blocking, continuing to get open and continuing to be disciplined on offense," Zorn said. "That needs to continue to improve."
While the Redskins prepare for Sunday's meeting at the Carolina Panthers -- their fifth opponent in a row that enters the game winless -- Washington begins the next portion of its schedule fortunate to be at .500 and eager to improve on its performances in those first four games.
The Redskins' two wins came against teams that are a combined 0-8 and losing by an average of 17 points per game. The Redskins squeaked by the St. Louis Rams, beating them by just two points. The Rams lost their other three games by a combined 82 points.
The Redskins' next two opponents -- the Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs -- are a combined 0-7 and are losing by an average of 14 points per game. Only three teams are scoring fewer points per game than Carolina. Players hope the soft schedule the next couple of weeks allows the Redskins to build their confidence before the quality of their opponents jumps.
"If we get some of these teams that don't have a win, they are going to be hungry. I know that," said safety Reed Doughty. "This is the NFL and everybody's job is on the line every week. It is not like they are going to come in here and lay down, but at the same time, hopefully we can take advantage of the perceived lack of confidence."
Sunday's win against Tampa Bay was a struggle at times and highlighted the many shortcomings that have the Redskins shackled as one of the league's most disappointing 2-2 teams. Pass protection was shaky and quarterback Jason Campbell committed four turnovers, including three interceptions. Zorn doesn't mince words when he says he expects the offense to improve, and players are still certain they're capable of more.
"I want to be that offense that's scoring 30, 40, 50 points a game," said center Casey Rabach. "That'd be awesome, it really would be. But it is what it is. We are where we're at right now. We're taking wins any way we can get wins right now."
"We got a ways to go yet, there's no doubt about it," he said. "We really do. But we're progressing, I think."
Wide receiver Santana Moss says some of the team's progress is masked by its many mistakes. On Sunday, the Redskins committed four turnovers, but Clinton Portis finished just two yards shy of his first 100-yard rushing game, Campbell's confidence never wavered and the offense scored on its only trip inside the 20-yard line.
Still, players realize their offense is ranked No. 27 in the league in the red zone, Campbell's decision-making has been poor at times and No. 2 wide receiver Malcolm Kelly has just six catches in four games.
"We've got a lot of things to improve on," said Moss. "I can't say we're not getting better -- we are. It just might not look that way from the way we play at times. I feel like there are some things that when you watch the film, you see we are doing better as a whole. I think the things we can do better at now is putting a whole game together. That's the main thing that stands out more than anything."
On Sunday, even as Campbell struggled, his teammates and coaches say they never lost faith in him. "There was a point in the game where he actually apologized to us in the huddle," Rabach said. "It was like, 'Hey, things happen up here. We're going to the next play.' It really was. Everybody in the huddle had the same thing to say: 'It happens.' "
After losing a fumble and throwing two interceptions in the first half, Campbell was 7-of-10 passing for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
Even if the team's progress isn't measured with eye-popping mile-markers, players say it's important they rebounded from the Detroit loss with a win. The alternative could've been catastrophic for a season that seemed to be teetering on disaster before the first month ended.
Given the team's rough start, Zorn hopes the mentality they brought out of the locker room at halftime against the Bucs will guide them through this next stretch of the schedule. The Redskins trailed 10-0 after two quarters against Tampa Bay before scoring 16 points in the third quarter.
"The best thing about our football team is that nobody packed it in," Zorn said. "That was truly a sign of some strength within our football team. They did a very nice job adjusting and coming back out and continuing to play hard."
While a truer test of the Redskins' potential might be looming when the competition stiffens later this month -- they'll host the Philadelphia Eagles on "Monday Night Football" on Oct. 26, the last game before the bye week -- if players found any meaning in beating a struggling Bucs team, it probably can't be found on the stats sheet.
"The win yesterday has definitely put us in a good position to get things jump-started," said Rabach. "I hope it's the turning point for the season."