Redskins confident Donovan McNabb, offense will eventually get up to speed

The Washington Post's Eric Prisbell and Barry Svrluga talk about the first game between the Redskins and Houston Texans since 2006.
By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 17, 2010; 12:22 AM

There's a new coach, a new quarterback and a new scheme, but last Sunday the Washington Redskins' output on offense looked pretty familiar to fans, who grew tired of banging their heads against the wall at the team's offensive futility the past couple of seasons.

Redskins players and coaches said this week they remain confident the offense will come together, and that they are confident the identity of the team has changed from recent years.

"In the past, we were a defense-dominated football team," linebacker London Fletcher said. "I can't say that that's the case this year."

What's clear heading into Sunday's game against Houston is that although new schemes were installed for both the offense and defense under Coach Mike Shanahan, the defensive players are ahead of their offensive counterparts at this early point of the season.

"Yeah, I think it's going to be like that," running back Larry Johnson said. "But hopefully it won't be like that for long."

Even though the basic concepts of the new offense are in place, it takes players a while before it begins to look and feel fluid, players and coaches said.

"It's not going to happen overnight," Shanahan said. "But I like the progress that we made and hopefully we improve each week."

Players and coaches note that they beat Dallas on Sunday, although the final statistics of the 13-7 victory suggest there's plenty of room for growth.

The offense features five former Pro Bowl players - Donovan McNabb, Clinton Portis, Mike Sellers, Chris Cooley and Jammal Brown - but failed to score a touchdown against the Cowboys and totaled 250 yards. The team's much-maligned offense in 2009 failed to find the end zone in four games and logged fewer than 250 yards only twice.

"It's kind of been the tradition around here as far as the defense being the big brothers, for lack of a better term," said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. "But they're going to be great. They've got a great leader over there in McNabb, CP - all those guys are going to step up and make plays. It just takes time."

That's the common theme heard throughout the locker room. In the preseason, all 11 of the team's offensive starters played together for essentially two quarters. They then practiced without McNabb, who injured his ankle, for the final two weeks.

"The tempo, it wasn't what we want," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said of Sunday's season opener.

Mike Shanahan said he's seen improvement in practice this week that he hopes carries over to Sunday's game against Houston.

"Our tempo is a little bit better," Shanahan said following Thursday's practice. "It just takes some time. You never know when it's going to come together."

Shanahan and his players say there's no precise timetable that helps predict when an offense will come together. It varies year to year and it's different from team to team, they said.

While the Redskins try to smooth out the offensive wrinkles, the defensive players are comfortable with where they are developmentally. For now, the say they don't mind if they have to prop up their offense on Sundays. The Redskins have featured a top-10 defense each of the past three seasons. Their offense during that period has ranked Nos. 15, 19 and 22 in the 32-team NFL.

"We've been doing that for the last couple of years," Alexander said. "But it's a team game and that's what it's all about. So if we need to step up for the next two, three games until the offense warms up and really gets in sync with each other, then that's fine.

Coaches already saw progress in the offense in the course of the season opener, noting that the running game picked up in the second half. After managing only 29 yards on the ground in the first two quarters against the Cowboys, the Redskins had 60 rushing yards in the second half. They were facing a defense that allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL last season and ranked fourth against the run and ninth overall.

"We started getting it going a little," Kyle Shanahan said. "Still not where we wanted."

So when will the Redskins' offense match their defense? Sunday's game will offer a progress report, if nothing else.

"Everybody is still learning each other here," center Casey Rabach said. "Coach is still trying to understand us, we're still trying to understand all that. Hopefully this week we go out there and show what we're capable of."

Staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report.

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