Injury-depleted Redskins fight to avoid giving up
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The Washington Redskins' loss total can increase by only one each week. Their personnel losses -- and the ensuing toll on the team's psyche -- are multiplying. This week the Redskins added Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley and rookie defensive lineman Jeremy Jarmon to their growing list of injured reserves.
"I'm going to call for them to dig down deep. They've been doing that all year," Coach Jim Zorn said. "We're not trying to create any fantasy that's not there. We kind of know what the real situation is for us."
That situation is increasingly bleak. With five games remaining, the team can finish no better than .500, and to make matters worse, the list of healthy contributors continues to shrink.
The Redskins' offense began the season with five Pro Bowlers on the roster. Cooley, who broke a bone in his ankle Oct. 26 and hasn't played since, joined left tackle Chris Samuels on the injured reserve list Monday. Wide receiver Santana Moss and fullback Mike Sellers are the lone Pro Bowlers still in the lineup, as running back Clinton Portis will miss a fourth straight game this weekend against New Orleans. Portis suffered a concussion at Atlanta on Nov. 8 and is scheduled to meet with specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center next Monday for further evaluation.
With nine players on the season-ending injured reserve list, the team has already been forced to dig deep into the depth chart. The starting lineup in Sunday's 27-24 loss at Philadelphia featured just 13 of the 22 players who started Week 1 for the Redskins.
Despite a dilapidated roster, five of their eight losses have been by less than a touchdown, including the past two to division rivals Dallas and Philadelphia. The tough losses evoked some frank reflection from Zorn one day after the Eagles loss.
"With the responsibility that every head coach has, the accountability factor is [ultimate] really," Zorn said. "It's really makes the difference in success or failure, and I certainly am accountable for our football season. No question about it. And I'll be held accountable. It's awful. It really is.
"But I try not to lose heart myself, I want to stay positive. Our players inspire me, our coaching staff inspires me because we're working hard. To try to make good decisions and sound decisions, that's really what I'm trying to contend with."
As they prepare for New Orleans, the Redskins have the 25th-ranked defense against the run but are ranked first in the league against the pass. The Saints are 11-0 and have the league's top-ranked offense, averaging more than 425 yards per game.
With each of the past two losses coming down to a single late drive, the Redskins have squandered some strong defensive efforts. The Cowboys scored a go-ahead touchdown -- their only score of the game -- with 2 minutes 50 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, and a week later, the Redskins lost despite leading by eight points with less than eight minutes to play.
"As a defense, you want the game like that, to be put on your shoulders," cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "To not close out these last two games, it's frustrating. There's some stuff we got to do better and see what we're doing to not close out. It comes down to a couple plays. You never know when those plays come, you just have to be ready to play the whole four quarters."
Said linebacker London Fletcher: "The last two weeks, the main thing we haven't done is finish. That's the thing we have to really focus on and understand.
The Redskins finished Sunday's game with a patchwork crew working the secondary. Safety Chris Horton is on injured reserve, Hall was out for the game with a knee sprain and cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Justin Tryon suffered minor injuries late in the game. Both Smoot and Tryon say they'll be able to play this week, and Zorn said Hall will be questionable for Sunday's game.
Zorn said that defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who missed his second straight game Sunday, will handle an increased workload at practice this week and could be available against New Orleans.
A detailed rundown of the team's casualties has become a staple of Zorn's Monday news conferences. The coach said Jarmon, whom the team selected in the third round of the supplemental draft in July, will require surgery after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament during a kickoff on Sunday.
To replace Cooley and Jarmon, the team signed Alvin Bowen, a second-year linebacker out of Iowa State, and defensive lineman Rob Jackson from the practice squad.
Zorn says even with a 3-8 record and injury-riddled locker room, he's determined to keep going -- "not just give up, not just go, 'Woe is me,' sink back in a hole. I try to face what's before me. It's difficult," he said.
"I'll be a better coach because of what I'm going through. It's just hard to go through it," Zorn added. "It really is."