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Redskins' offense putting itself in bad situations with sacks

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 11, 2010; 1:10 AM

Rookie left tackle Trent Williams was among a trio of offensive linemen who stayed after practice Wednesday afternoon at Redskins Park. Williams squatted in his stance while, one at a time, Selvish Capers and Will Robinson, members of the practice squad, rushed straight at him. The three were the last ones off the practice field.

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Offensive line coach Chris Foerster, who spent the bye week studying film, believes he spotted some areas in which the line can improve. "We just wanted to work a little extra on some things," he said.

For Williams, the reasoning seems to be a bit more simple: "You never want your quarterback on the ground."

Preparing for Monday's game against Philadelphia and the second half of the season, that might be the most urgent item on the Redskins' long to-do list. While Donovan McNabb has been subjected to much of the heat both inside and outside Redskins Park, the offensive linemen know the stats and coaches realize there's a correlation between McNabb's play and the line's performance in recent weeks.

McNabb's quarterback rating on the season is 76.0, but he hasn't hit that number since Week 3. In the first four weeks of the season, McNabb was sacked only six times. In the last four games, though, the offensive line has allowed 17 total sacks, and McNabb has struggled to the point that he was benched once in favor of Rex Grossman.

As long as he's healthy, McNabb will start Monday in a rematch with his former team, the Eagles, and the line will try to buy him more time than the Redskins' last outing. The Detroit Lions had seven sacks on Oct. 31, the fourth-most in 130 NFL games this season.

The Redskins entered the season knowing the line needed a major upgrade from last season. At the season's midway point, though, it is allowing an average of 2.9 sacks per game - the exact average for all of 2009 - and ranks sixth from the bottom of the NFL in sacks allowed. Only Oakland has allowed more sacks in the past two seasons, and only four teams - Detroit, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Oakland - have allowed more during the past three seasons.

Players and coaches say there isn't one single reason the team's pass protection has struggled, allowing nearly three times as many sacks in the second quarter of the season than it did in the first. But there are a couple of obvious differences.

In eight games, the Redskins have fielded four combinations of starting linemen. Injuries have hampered Williams, Stephon Heyer and Jammal Brown, and Coach Mike Shanahan benched Derrick Dockery in favor of Kory Lichtensteiger at left guard in Week 3.

"We've moved people around in there and any time you move people around, it's a little tough to get that cohesiveness," Shanahan said. "Hopefully we will the second half. . . . You don't want a lot of changes. You want to try to keep the same starters as much as possible."

The Redskins also lost running back Clinton Portis to a groin injury in Week 4. His absence has been noticeable in pass protection. Portis has long been one of the league's best pass-blocking backs and without him picking up blitzes, the Redskins have suffered.

The timing of the Redskins' sacks has been particularly damaging. Ten have come on first down- more than any other team in the NFL. Those are downs when a healthy Portis typically would be in the backfield, and a sack sets the Redskins back before a drive has even begun.

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