Redskins' offensive woes have been years in the making

By Thomas Boswell
Monday, November 15, 2010; 12:19 AM

When the Redskins face the Eagles, keep one harsh fact in mind to put the fuss about Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan in a larger context. Since the start of the 2000-01 season, the Redskins are the second-lowest scoring team in the entire NFL. That's the real problem.

In a period that's now approaching 11 seasons, only the lowly Browns have fewer points than Washington. That's why the Redskins, whose defense has been a hair better than the average team in this century, play so many close, low-scoring games. That's why every crucial turnover or missed kick haunts them.

They have little margin for errors because their offense, for more than a decade, has not been bad; it's been awful. In fact, for the last two years under Jim Zorn, it was even worse than usual.

One reason Coach Mike Shanahan, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterback McNabb have been so frustrated this season, and perhaps annoyed with each other, is because they have always been part of superior offenses. They don't realize they inherited a wreck of an attack at one of its lowest points with a lousy offensive line and, as usual, a lame group of wide receivers.

His last 10 years in Philadelphia, McNabb's teams averaged 376 points a year, sixth best in the league. And in his last 10 years in Denver, Shanahan's Broncos averaged almost as much - 370. They're new to the Redskins' offensive impotence - an average of only 291 points a year since '00 and just 265 and 266 in '08 and '09.

To McNabb and Shanahan, it's like somebody stole 100 points a year from them. Guys, stop scowling at each other. It's not you.

The Redskins couldn't score in Norv Turner's last year or for Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs or Jim Zorn. All came to town with "offense" on their business cards. Only in Gibbs's last three years, with Al Saunders running the offense, did the Redskins even get close to the NFL average in points. Ten years of fantasy-football personnel decisions - coupled with each new coach blowing up the previous roster - can't be erased in eight games.

Ironically, the Redskins' scoring is up 17 percent this year. If this were a business turn-around story, Wall Street would be buying it. Why are they 4-4 after going 4-12 last season? Just a few more points win games.

The idea that a key flaw in the Redskins' offense is McNabb's grasp of terminology, his throwing motion or his conditioning is ludicrous. The team's offensive mess totally pre-dates him. It'll be a cold day in Redskins Park when the 10 men in the huddle with McNabb are so good that he's the one who's holding them back.

Neither Shanahan's system nor his son's ability to teach it is a long-term issue either. These guys were given a shack. After eight weeks, isn't it a little early to ask, "Where is our mansion?"

The top issue on the Redskins' agenda, whether McNabb lights up his old Eagle mates on Monday night, or gets crushed, is to heal any hurt feelings from the past 15 days, lay the groundwork for a contract extension for the quarterback and stop acting crazy.

The Redskins' offense has so many weaknesses, with more voids as Santana Moss and others age, that their need to keep McNabb in town for a few more years borders on utter desperation. Maybe the relationship is torn. Work on the assumption it must be mended.

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