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Chris Cooley and Santana Moss are carrying more than their share of the load for Redskins' offense

By Rick Maese and Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 11:49 PM

There hasn't been much consistency to the Washington Redskins' offense this season, but it's been difficult to miss at least a couple of Sunday trends.

For example: "Every time we need a clutch catch or a play made to get a first down," center Casey Rabach said, "it seems like Chris [Cooley] is the guy [Donovan [McNabb] is throwing to."

There's also Santana Moss, lining up on the outside and getting more looks than any other pass catcher.

In fact, if it seems that Moss and Cooley are carrying a disproportionate load in the team's passing attack, it's because they are. Though McNabb has completions to 10 different pass catchers, more than half (54 percent) the receptions are by Moss and Cooley. More than half the team's receiving yards (also 54 percent) have been accumulated by those two.

While the production has certainly been good for Moss and Cooley - both are on pace to post some of their best career numbers - the bigger question concerns the rest of the offense: Do the Redskins need to involve more players in their passing game?

For Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan, the answer is simple: "You just can't have two players," he said.

The Redskins have struggled, though, getting the ball into the hands of others. While they've managed to win three of their first five games this way, defenses likely won't have trouble figuring out Washington's tough-to-miss tendencies.

"You have to have two or three or four more guys that are over 40 [receptions]," said Cooley. "You can't go 90, 70, 20, 20, 20 - where everyone's fitting in one or two catches [per game]. You have to diversify it enough that other guys are making plays."

Through five games, Cooley has 303 yards on 23 catches and is on pace to collect the most receptions (74) since 2008 and the most yards of his career (970). Moss is on pace to have a career-high 93 receptions, plus more than 1,300 yards, which would be the second-most of his 10-year career.

But no other Redskin is on pace for even 30 catches this season. Starting wide receiver Joey Galloway has only seven so far. A season ago, tight end Fred Davis averaged more than four receptions per game when he replaced an injured Cooley, but he has only three catches in five games. In fact, he's been targeted only four times.

"Santana and Cooley may have plays called for them," McNabb said. "Depending on the coverages and the fronts that we get, they will get more opportunities. Other guys are getting more involved as things continue on. You will see more guys step up and make more catches for us."

While the team's reliance on two veteran players isn't particularly surprising, Cooley concedes he wasn't entirely sure what to expect out of this season. He missed the final nine games of 2009 with an ankle injury and didn't know how the new coaching staff would juggle him and Davis.

"The one, I think, unknown for me was: Is Fred Davis going to be a better football player than I am?" Cooley said. "Because he played so well last year. And I would have been happy - I'd be happy for Fred in whatever he accomplishes - but it was the unknown of: Is there any way I can become a No. 2 [tight end]?

"So I think that drove me a ton. I had to get healthy. I had to be in better shape this year than I was in the previous years, and I had to be ready to play."

The Redskins never looked deep at receiver, which spurred plenty of talk in the preseason about the Redskins utilizing two-tight end sets with both as pass catchers. That hasn't been the case through five games. Davis has been used mostly as a blocker.

"I didn't expect too much. Well, I kind of did at first," Davis said. "But then I was like, 'You know what? If I expect that, then I'm gonna be over here disappointed.' So I went into the season just trying to do whatever my job is and they need me to."

Combined, Moss and Cooley have been targeted on nearly 49 percent of the Redskins' passing plays, but it's not because others have been simply watching from the sidelines. Ninety-six of the team's 170 offensive snaps have featured three or more receivers. Twenty-nine more have featured at least two tight ends. But as teams begin to focus more on Moss and Cooley, McNabb might need to consider other options.

Fullback Mike Sellers is third on the team in receptions (and is on pace to post a career-high 28 catches this season), but the biggest bright spot behind Moss and Cooley has been wideout Anthony Armstrong. Against the Packers, in his first career start, the rookie receiver had 84 yards on three catches, including his first career touchdown. On Thursday Shanahan wouldn't discuss whether he'd shake up the depth chart, but did say Armstrong could see increased playing time.

"He continues to improve like he's been improving, he'll get a lot of playing time," Shanahan said.

Barely one-quarter of the way through the schedule, this version of the passing game might eventually serve as only a snapshot. Coaches and players both warn that the offense is a work in progress. As they jell, players say McNabb will find that he has weapons besides Cooley and Moss.

"We still trying to get in that zone to where we know everything," Moss said last week, "to where we know from A to Z without having to think about it. And it takes time."

maeser@washpost.com svrlugab@washpost.com

Staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report.

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