The simple formula to what little success the Washington Redskins have enjoyed on offense this season is not lost on the team's coaching staff: When running back Clinton Portis touches the ball 30 or more times, the Redskins are 3-0. When he does not the team is 0-6.
The game plan each week is to get Portis 30 carries, but it has not always worked out that way, including two of the past three weeks. In both of those defeats Portis had only 17 rushes, and the Redskins face another opponent not particularly strong against the run on Sunday in Philadelphia. The best way to keep the Eagles' quick-strike offense off the field is to establish the run and kill the clock, and Coach Joe Gibbs does not want his club to fall behind early as it did in recent losses to Cincinnati and Green Bay when Portis was in essence taken out of the game.
"I think in both of those games we were down 17-0," Gibbs said. "You know you've got to push the ball downfield, and I wish both of those times, yeah, I would have preferred to run the ball and been more balanced than we were. . . . What we'd like to do is be balanced, and our goal would be to be balanced, but sometimes when you get that far behind you start having to throw the ball to catch up."
Last Sunday, quarterback Mark Brunell threw incomplete passes on the first three plays as the Redskins tried to get the passing game going early even though the Bengals ranked last in the NFL against the run, allowing 150 yards per game. The coaches wanted to give the struggling quarterback a shot of confidence and force the Bengals to move players off the line of scrimmage to defend against the pass.
"We wanted to get some throws for lefty [Brunell is left-handed] early, some completions," said Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense. "It didn't work out that way and you can't second-guess yourself. We went in and we thought we had a great game plan in there with the vertical pass. We had opened up every game with a run, so we decided to open up with a pass and all of a sudden we're second and 10 and that doesn't help."
Brunell was yanked after going 1 for 8 and replaced by Patrick Ramsey, who will start Sunday against the Eagles. Portis averaged nearly five yards per carry; he finished the game with 81 yards on 17 carries.
"Any time we end up coming out of the game where we rush for a decent average, you'd like to be rushing the ball more than we did," Gibbs said.
Portis, who rarely speaks with the media and has not complained after games in which he ran fewer than 20 times, ranks third in the NFC with 891 yards. But his 4.0 average is not among league leaders and he has just two rushing touchdowns, which is in part a reflection of the offense's difficulty getting close to the goal line. The Eagles rank 23rd in the NFL, yielding 124 yards rushing a game.
"He's been every bit of what we hoped for," Bugel said of Portis. "The guy can legitimately run the football. He's a powerful little dude. I think he wants the football, and I think he's a back that needs to carry the ball probably 30 times a game."
Griffin Sits Again
Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin missed practice again yesterday with a hip flexor and appears likely to miss tomorrow's game. If Griffin is out, journeyman Jermaine Haley would take his starting spot. Linebacker Mike Barrow (knee) will be a game-time decision, while Fred Smoot (who had been listed as probable with a shoulder injury) will play, Gibbs said. . . . The Eagles have won five straight games over the Redskins dating from 2001, outscoring them 149-86. Philadelphia has averaged 30 points per game.