By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, Jan. 14, 2006; Page E12
1st Down: Move the Ball
Gaining 120 yards is not the way to make a living, especially in the playoffs. In their last three games of the regular season, the Redskins scored 35, 35 and 31 points. Last week against Tampa Bay, the Redskins scored 17 points, seven of which came via the defense (Sean Taylor's 51-yard touchdown return off a fumble) and another seven set up by the defense (LaVar Arrington's interception gave the Redskins first and goal at the 6). The rest of the game was an offensive disaster. The Redskins did not convert a third down in the fourth quarter. By comparison, Buccaneers RB Carnell Williams had more yards rushing (49) than Redskins QB Mark Brunell totaled passing (41). For the game, the Redskins ran one play inside the Buccaneers 20.
So how did a team averaging more than 33 points in its final three weeks have one drive of 40 yards against Tampa Bay while the other 11 possessions barely surpassed that? One reason might be the top-ranked Bucs defense. Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin clearly had the Redskins' offense confused. There are other factors, including Brunell's injured right knee and Clinton Portis's banged-up body. Or maybe the Redskins simply had an off day.2nd Down: Share the Running Load
A month ago against the Cowboys, RB Clinton Portis ran around right end, was caught by the back of the neck by S Roy Williams and thrown to the ground. Portis remained on the ground for a few moments before returning to his feet.
Last week, Portis continued to take a pounding, and midway through the second half he wasn't in the game for the majority of sequences. In a close, defensive battle, one seemingly suited for the run, Portis carried the ball 16 times, his lowest total since a 36-0 loss to the Giants on Oct. 30.
Portis's shoulders and left wrist remain hurt, and it has become clear that after 368 carries through the regular season and playoffs and countless blitz pickups he needs a break, or at least some help.
That means backups Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright need some carries, lest Portis risk being ineffective -- or worse, knocked out of a game. But in order for Betts and Cartwright to receive carries, the Redskins need to be in more short-yardage situations.3rd Down: Find Chris Cooley
Remember Chris Cooley doing his human pogo-stick impression in the end zone Dec. 18 against Dallas? That was the day he scored three touchdowns, including one during which he ran over CB Terence Newman on his way to the end zone.
In four December games, Cooley caught 20 passes for 195 yards and five touchdowns. In the last two, Cooley has caught four passes for 20 yards.
Cooley said defenses have focused on him, and he will no longer sneak up on anyone. For the past month and a half, since wideout David Patten was placed on injured reserve, the Redskins have lacked a secondary receiving threat. There is Santana Moss and everyone else. That meant a larger portion of the offense was directed at Cooley, but the Redskins' passing attack often can be slowed by containing Moss and/or Cooley. For Cooley to get back into a groove, another receiver, i.e. James Thrash or Taylor Jacobs, must become relevant. That hasn't happened all season, so Coach Joe Gibbs and his offensive coaches likely will use confusion -- different sets, motion, passing from run formations -- to try to free up Cooley again.4th Down: Coach 'Em Up
Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs won the Super Bowl in the 1982, '87 and '91 seasons, and his presence gives the Redskins their most credibility since he last coached the team. Today's game may not be decided on coaching alone, but Gibbs will have an effect on the outcome. He is second to late Cowboys coach Tom Landry in career playoff wins and second to Landry in career playoff road wins.
Gibbs has been conservative in his coaching philosophy this season, especially in clock management. Against Tampa Bay, the defense sacked Chris Simms with 1 minute 23 seconds left in the first half and the ball at midfield. Gibbs elected not to take a timeout, effectively running out the clock with a 17-3 lead. The Redskins have been winning with that careful approach.
Counterpart Mike Holmgren won a Super Bowl as coach of the Packers and has something to prove because of lackluster playoff showings since he took over in Seattle. The Seahawks have not won a playoff game since 1984, and this team may be the best in franchise history.
Questionable: WR James Thrash (thumb).
Probable: DT Cornelius Griffin (shoulder); T Chris Samuels (ankle); CB Shawn Springs (groin).
Questionable: T Wayne Hunter (ankle); LB D.D. Lewis (foot); T Sean Locklear (hip); DE Joe Tafoya (hamstring); CB Marcus Trufant (back)..
Doubtful: DE Alain Kashama (hamstring).