It's a wonderful thing to have an offense that can score 35, 50, 27 and 38 points in consecutive weeks. It's a tremendous advantage to have someone who can master the position of quarterback, who in turn has emerging stars at running back and wide receiver. The Redskins are 3-1 because they have the best offense in football, by a mile.
But you cannot seriously contend for a championship until you have a stingy defense and effective special teams, and the Redskins don't have either right now. Going into the bye week, they've got one-third of a team. Don't get me wrong, nobody in the league is more exciting or more entertaining to watch. How many teams can blow a 21-point deficit in one quarter, then come back three weeks later and wipe out a 21-point deficit in one quarter? Every game is a cliffhanger, the "Perils of Pauline." No lead is safe, no deficit too much to overcome. All hail to the offense! It's like watching BYU. Turn your head, and it's a certainty you'll miss somebody scoring.
"The offense bailed us out today," defensive end Kenard Lang said. "After those first two runs by [Tim] Biakabutuka, I'm thinking, 'Man, we're horrible.' How many times was Steve Beuerlein back there just patting the ball, looking for receivers and we didn't get to him? We should have had more sacks. We've got a lot of improvement. We've got people who can make these plays. The athletic ability is there. Hey man, Dan Snyder and Norv Turner aren't playing this year. We gotta start playing like we're supposed to."
The special teams haven't been any better. They hold, they miss blocks, they don't take the proper angle of pursuit, they fumble returns. Special teams have been lousy. They cause the offense to overcome poor field position. They put the defense back on the field because they commit turnovers.
Turner's volume rose noticeably when he was asked about special teams blunders. "We're coaching as hard as we can in that area," he said, laying it squarely in the lap of the players. "We've got some young guys . . . feeling the heat from me and from LeCharls [McDaniel, the special teams coach]. We've told them, 'Get your [butt] on a guy and block him.' Now, we've got to get blocks and not hold."
Asked about the penalties that three times yesterday saddled the offense with terrible field position, Turner said it puts the team "in real jeopardy. . . . The guys who are doing it, we've got to get them better."
It doesn't help when the star of special teams around here for the last nine years, Brian Mitchell, fumbled away one kick return and needed a replay reversal to wipe out what had been called a fumbled punt (at his 19) that might have handed Carolina a victory. Mitchell, desperately trying to break away on the late punt return, said he was trying to make up for the early game kick return.
"That's me, an individual thing, fumbling the ball like that," Mitchell said. "It's not schemes, it's individuals not getting the job done. Yeah, I was trying to make up, trying too hard probably. I think our offense can score 30 points on anybody in the league. But we don't want to have to do that. The defense has shown greatness in spurts, but they have to do it for four quarters. And special teams, we've got to stop having penalties. I can't drop the ball, we've got to stop giving up big returns."
Darrell Green is of two minds on the issue of only the offense performing well so far this season. On one hand, Green hates stats and rankings. He loves being able to point out when stats bear no relation to wins and losses. But having been one of the best defensive players in the NFL for 17 years, he knows this isn't the way to go about contending, having folks running up and down the field on you. "I wouldn't write this plan. This isn't the script," he said. "The offense seems to have developed a certain camaraderie. If they can just hang in there a little bit longer, we're coming. I want us to be better not because of stats, but because of winning."
Nobody wants to make the case that a team can give up the kind of yards the Redskins did against Carolina and keep winning, however. "A guy just can't rush for more than 100 yards on you in the first quarter," defensive end Marco Coleman said. "That just can't happen. We're not in places we're supposed to be. To me, it is surprising that teams are able to do the things they're doing on us now. We've got to hurry up and get it corrected. You don't want to come into games hoping our offense is going to do that magic again."
The stats (sorry, Darrell) suggest the defense better come fast because the offense can't do this every single week. Brad Johnson hasn't thrown an interception this season. But how long is a man supposed to be perfect? Johnson, Stephen Davis in the backfield, and Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell at wide receiver, have been the best foursome in the league this season. But they've still got to face an Arizona team that is No. 8 in total defense, a Bills team that is No. 5 in total defense, a Dolphins team that's No. 7 in total defense, and a 49ers team that's No. 10 in total defense.
There's plenty of reason to be encouraged during this bye week. But there's plenty of stuff to fret over, too. Turner and the offensive coaches just need to keep the offense doing what it's doing. Westbrook isn't just playing well; he's become Johnson's go-to guy in critical situations. He's getting the ball and running over defenders when necessary, dominating secondaries. The line is in sync, place kicker Brett Conway is on his game.
But defensive coordinator Mike Nolan won't easily shake the image of Biakabutuka ripping through his defense for 60 yards, and then 45 yards. "Nothing's designed to go that far," Nolan said. "A guy goes for 105 yards on two carries, it's not just him. It also says something about what we're not doing." He acknowledged that some of his players are "concerned about some of the things that are happening . . . for a good reason," and added, "when it doesn't go well, it goes really bad. We sure make it exciting for the crowd, but I'm not into that."
Coaches talk all the time about playing well in all three phases, on offense, defense and special teams. It sounds like cliched coaches' football speak until you see a game like yesterday's against Carolina, and until you look at the NFL stats and see the Redskins are No. 1 in offense, No. 31--that would be dead last--in defense. There's really no way to objectively rank special teams, but if there were, the Redskins wouldn't rank very high. A more equitable partnership needs to start developing here if the Redskins want to move us back from the edge of our seats.