The Washington Redskins' passing game, which is producing almost nothing but incompletions and headaches, was dissected yesterday not by the New York Giants (they did it Sunday), but by the Redskins themselves.
Wide receiver Malcolm Barnwell, a three-year starter with the Los Angeles Raiders who has caught just three passes this season, said lack of playing time has hurt his performance and said fellow wide receiver Calvin Muhammad has "lost confidence" now that he no longer is a starter.
Muhammad, the Redskins' second-leading receiver last season after being traded by the Raiders, has caught just two passes in the last five games and has just eight receptions overall.
He hasn't spoken much about the situation, one of the Redskins' most perplexing problems in a 3-4 season, but he has talked with Barnwell, a good friend.
"Calvin is one of those players who loses confidence easily," Barnwell said yesterday at Redskin Park. "When he wasn't starting (Gary Clark took his job two weeks ago), he lost confidence. He's not a great self-motivator . . . it takes a lot for Calvin to go out and play. They really have to motivate him to do that."
Barnwell said that doesn't seem to be happening.
"(The Redskins) know some of the players' personalities better than others, because some guys have been here longer," he said.
"Because they're not starting him, Calvin now isn't sure if they will pull him after one play or what."
Muhammad was unavailable for comment.
Wide receivers coach Charley Taylor said, "That's news to me. He just has to work his way through this."
Barnwell also said he has "heard through the grapevine" that he isn't playing more because he is "lacking intensity and concentration in practice."
Taylor said he does not believe that.
"I don't think so," Taylor said. "You expect him to flash a little bit more in practice, and he would expect that, but the ball has been thrown to the other side of the field mostly in practice."
Barnwell said the criticism he has heard of his practice performance bothers him.
"I don't want to play my best in practice, I want to play my best in games," he said. "It's more important to go out and have a great game than great practices."
He also said that when he does play, he doesn't play well.
"As the fourth receiver, when I look at the films, that's not me," he said. "I tell myself, 'I'm a better player than that.' "
That's what a lot of the Redskins, especially those who play on the league's 26th-rated passing offense, are saying to themselves this week in the wake of the 17-3 loss to the Giants Sunday.
"I guess baffled may be a good word (for it)," Coach Joe Gibbs said of the passing problems. "With Gary Clark, Calvin and Malcolm, we have new players . . . but I thought it would have been much smoother than that."
Gibbs said the Redskins' 4-0 preseason "misled" him.
"If I had to do it over again, I'd open it up and start throwing a bunch of stuff so you get a sense of what everybody's doing," he said.
When the special teams were playing poorly three weeks ago, the Redskins made wholesale changes that have worked quite well. That won't happen this week, Gibbs and General Manager Bobby Beathard said, although it's likely Gibbs will tinker with the receivers some before Sunday's game at Cleveland.
First things first. Asked if quarterback Joe Theismann, who has completed 54.9 percent of his passes and thrown 12 interceptions, will be benched, Gibbs said yesterday, "I have absolutely no doubts about Joe."
But, for the first time during this season, Gibbs included Theismann prominently when discussing who deserves blame for the passing problems. "Obviously, there's something he should be doing and (I) should be doing, both of us," Gibbs said. "When we talk, he knows a lot of this rests on him and I do too . . . With he and I, it's like we're handcuffed together here." If any change is made among the receivers, it's likely to happen to Muhammad. Gibbs will say only that he is "looking for more production" from Muhammad.
But others within the organization say Muhammad is making mistakes on patterns he ran correctly last season.
In the loss to the Giants, the blame was spread evenly for three Theismann-to-Muhammad passes that did not connect.
On two fade routes that were incomplete, Muhammad ran too close to the sideline on one, Gibbs said, and was out of bounds when he caught the ball; and Theismann underthrew Muhammad on the other.
On Terry Kinard's interception in the end zone at the end of the third quarter, Gibbs said, Theismann's pass "died," perhaps in the wind, and did not reach Muhammad.
"The wind catches it, he's falling a little bit left . . . he didn't get it up quite high enough," Gibbs said of Theismann.
Beathard said the Redskins are not trying to sign a new receiver.
"I guess we're trying to fix up the group we have."
One scenario has Barnwell replacing Muhammad as the third receiver. "I am not strongly considering that," Gibbs said.
But anything is possible.
"It's hard to understand what's happening with them," said Beathard. "Nobody can figure it out."
Least of all Barnwell. "I hope it will change now," he said. "We definitely need help on offense."
Wide receiver Art Monk (sprained left shoulder) practiced in the team's light drills yesterday in the rain and likely will work out Wednesday as usual. The players have the day off today.
Tackle Joe Jacoby's strained right knee is not swelling, said head trainer Bubba Tyer, and he also is expected to practice Wednesday.
Tight end Anthony Jones (sprained left knee) "looked pretty good today," Tyer said. When asked about his status for this weekend, Tyer said with a laugh, "I'll be a little more conservative this week."
Monk and Jacoby were listed as probable on the injury report last week but did not play at all against the Giants.
Linebacker Stuart Anderson has slight swelling on his right knee. His status may depend on that of linebacker Monte Coleman (strained right hamstring), who is eligible to come off injured reserve this week.