Donovan McNabb and Redskins' offense suffer from a lack of playmakers heading into game vs. Giants

Donovan McNabb, left, with wide receiver Santana Moss, has a 76.0 passer rating this season, which ranks 27th in the NFL.
Donovan McNabb, left, with wide receiver Santana Moss, has a 76.0 passer rating this season, which ranks 27th in the NFL. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2010; 12:07 AM

His benching at the end of a game in Detroit is now more than a month old, and Donovan McNabb has since signed a contract extension that will, in all likelihood, keep him as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins at least through the 2011 season. Now, with his old team in the thick of the playoff race and his new one likely needing to win each of its remaining five games to stay alive for the postseason, McNabb is saying he must assert himself, both as a quarterback and a leader, over the final month.

"When you get into that situation in the latter part of the season, this is when you have to play your best football," McNabb said. ". . . This is where you separate yourself going into, hopefully, the playoffs or whatever it may be. This is the time where guys really have to challenge themselves and really make those plays that we haven't been able to make in previous weeks to be successful."

But as McNabb prepares to lead the Redskins' offense into Sunday's game against the New York Giants in the midst of what is, statistically, his worst season as a starter, there are significant questions about the guys the Redskins are asking to make those plays. Not only are the Redskins down to their third- and fourth-string running backs, but McNabb's options, beyond veteran wide receiver Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley, are almost non-existent.

In the past three weeks, Redskins defensive coaches have had to draw up game plans designed to contain Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and back LeSean McCoy; Tennessee quarterback Vince Young and running back Chris Johnson; and Minnesota back Adrian Peterson, quarterback Brett Favre and wide receiver Percy Harvin. Those players are widely considered among the most dynamic and productive in the league, and defensive coordinators must be aware of them at all times.

"You try to find out who their best players are," Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "You probably can't stop them, but [you] try to slow them down and eliminate them as much as you can."

Who, though, are those players on the Redskins, the dangerous game-changers Giants Coach Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell have to focus on this week?

"How many catches does Santana have?" Coach Mike Shanahan said. "How many catches does Cooley have? I think I'd start out there, with double-teaming those two guys."

With the Redskins, it is an easy choice. Moss has 62 catches this season, Cooley 54. No other Redskin has more than the 28 by running back Keiland Williams - the de facto starter after injuries to veteran Clinton Portis and backup Ryan Torain. Williams's catches have hardly been game-changers; he averages 6.5 yards per reception.

But Moss and Cooley are even a bigger part of the Redskins' attack than the number of catches shows. Between them, they have been the target of 179 passes. The nine other players still on the Redskins' active roster who have been thrown to at least once this year have been the target of 165 throws - combined. Only two pass-catching tandems - Cincinnati's Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, with 229 targets, and Denver's Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney, with 195 - have been targeted more often than Cooley and Moss.

Game-planning against the Redskins, then, is rather simple.

"That's what my double teams would be," Shanahan said of Cooley and Moss. "I think that that's what you've got to be able to do to have the type of balance that you want to have and be a top-five offensive or defensive team. You've got to get defenses that are going to game-plan you. Can they take your favorite targets away? Can they double-team them?

"And you got to be able to go to somebody else. And when you do go to somebody else, they got to be able to perform, and if you can't, then you're pretty average."

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