Redskins' Wide Receivers Can't Find the End Zone
Sunday, November 11, 2007; Page D01
After practice at Redskins Park a few weeks ago, a raucous session of locker-room hijinks was well underway when quarterback Jason Campbell joined in. From across the expansive room, Campbell directed playful barbs at wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, teasing his friend for having been tackled short of the goal line four times in the first four games. Seated at his dressing stall far from the action, wide receiver Santana Moss turned the tables on the instigator, jabbing Campbell about deep passes he had overthrown while Moss sprinted uncovered in games.
But the joking has ended. With the schedule half completed, Washington's wide receivers still are without a touchdown reception, making them the NFL's only unit still shut out. In the last four games, the offense has been devoid of the big plays by Moss and Randle El that were among the highlights of the team's strong start, and the situation has stirred frustration from the locker room to Coach Joe Gibbs's office.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't shocking that our guys don't have any touchdowns. I know it's definitely shocking to me," Campbell said. "I used to joke around with Randle El because he's been tackled at the 1 four times, but I try not to tease him anymore. It's not going our way right now as far as that standpoint goes, and I feel bad about it. Hopefully, things will start to turn for us in that area and we'll get a chance to start hitting some touchdown passes and hitting some big plays. It's been awhile now."
Moss and Randle El have been slowed because of injuries, Brandon Lloyd hasn't emerged as the productive receiver the Redskins envisioned and Campbell's growing pains are evident in his first full season as a starter. Moreover, Washington is one of the NFL's most run-oriented teams, leaving few opportunities for Campbell and the receivers to take shots downfield. But regardless of injuries and restraints on the passing game, the Redskins said, getting the wide receivers more involved is high on the to-do list for the final eight games. The Redskins (5-3) face NFC East rival Philadelphia (3-5) today at FedEx Field, and Campbell said he's eager to help his receiving corps get rolling.
Moss has the last touchdown reception by a Redskins wide receiver, catching a 48-yard pass from Randle El, who took a handoff from Campbell on an end-around play during the first quarter of a 34-28 loss to the New York Giants in the final game of last season. Campbell hasn't teamed with a wide receiver on a scoring pass since throwing a 31-yard touchdown to Moss in the first quarter of the 14th game of 2006, a 16-10 victory over the New Orleans Saints. That's a span of more than 43 quarters. Of Campbell's six touchdown passes this season, five have gone to tight end Chris Cooley and the other to fullback Mike Sellers.
"We've had some opportunities in the passing game that we've missed, which is the best way I can put it," said Randle El, who leads the team with 27 receptions for 479 yards (a 17.7-yard average). "But we know that with the talent we have, we're going to score and we're going to make plays. We've already done it."
In the season-opening overtime victory over the Miami Dolphins, Randle El teamed with Campbell on 49- and 54-yard receptions while catching five passes for a career-high 162 yards. And once in each of the first four games, Randle El made big plays on deep balls that resulted in the Redskins reaching the opponent's 1-yard line.
Randle El, in his second season with Washington, has become the productive complementary receiver the Redskins have sought to go along with Moss. But in the fourth game against the Detroit Lions, Randle El suffered a hamstring injury on a 37-yard pass that ended (where else?) at the Detroit 1. He aggravated the injury this week, missed practice Thursday and Friday and is listed as probable for today's game.
Then there's Moss. A dependable big-play receiver since he joined the Redskins before the start of the 2005 season, Moss has played at less than full strength because of a groin injury. He missed the game against Detroit and has rarely been in top health. Last week against the Jets, Moss, who has 24 receptions for 297 yards (a 12.4-yard average), suffered a heel injury. He did not practice in preparation for the Eagles and is listed as questionable.
Lloyd has two catches for 14 yards, and was prohibited from accompanying Washington to face the Jets because he missed a meeting. As for the rest of the unit, James Thrash (three catches, 16 yards) makes his biggest contribution on special teams. At 37, Keenan McCardell (four catches, 69 yards) is most valuable as a possession receiver and Reche Caldwell has been active twice since joining the Redskins after the first game.
For the most part, if the unit is going to produce big plays and touchdowns, Moss and Randle El will have to make it happen. The duo connected with Campbell on six receptions of at least 35 yards through four games. Since then, they have none.
Although Gibbs espouses the benefits of a power-running game, having no touchdowns from the wide receivers or big plays recently is a problem "that we would like to fix," he said. "Certainly getting a couple of long-range passes to our receivers would make a huge difference for us."