- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2000

In an essay entitled, "What I did on my summer vacation," NFL teams described spending long hours studying the Washington Redskins' offense and devising a strategy to keep it out of the end zone.
Or so it seems. Washington's first two opponents, Carolina and Detroit, shackled the scoring potential of its prolific offense, the league's second-ranked unit in 1999, by playing off wide receivers and limiting big plays.
The Redskins took what the defenses gave them and thus attempted virtually nothing downfield. The club's focus on underneath routes along with penalties, turnovers and poor field position allowed it to stockpile yards (729) while scoring just 30 points.
Washington ranks 10th in the NFL in total offense this week but is tied for 24th in points. That discrepancy explains how the Redskins beat Carolina just 20-17 and lost at Detroit 15-10 despite outplaying both opponents.
"We have a big-play offense," Redskins right tackle Jon Jansen said. "I think a lot of teams are trying to take the big plays away and make us nickel-and-dime them."
Quarterback Brad Johnson has completed just four passes of more than 20 yards (with a maximum of 28 yards) and just two that traveled more than 20 in the air (with a maximum of 22).
Johnson disputes the claim that Carolina and Detroit used the same defensive strategy. He credits those teams' play-to-play decisions for limiting his downfield attempts.
"We just didn't have chances," Johnson said. "Whenever we did have the big one called up, it wasn't there and we had to throw a check down."
But other starters on the Redskins' offense, like Jansen, believe opposing game plans were designed to stop the deep ball which, in turn, stopped the Redskins.
"For the second week in a row, the other team has game-planned to stop us from going deep," said Albert Connell, who became the Redskins' top receiver Sunday when Michael Westbrook was lost for the season with a knee injury.
"[But] no matter what they do, we have too much stuff, too many offensive things, that we can put in," Connell said. "I guess [coach Norv Turner] felt it's not the time for it, or he doesn't want to let it go yet. But [with] the weapons we have on our offense, we can beat anybody. We can go four wides; they can't cover us all. I guess we're just waiting."
Connell, it should be noted, also claimed that the Redskins have more offensive potential than St. Louis yes, the St. Louis that is averaging just under 500 yards. But Connell's first theory makes sense, even with Westbrook injured.
The Redskins have moved the ball, and they will continue to do so as long as they boast running back Stephen Davis (the NFL's No. 4 rusher), fullback Larry Centers (history's best pass-catcher out of the backfield), tight end Stephen Alexander (three catches Sunday, including a touchdown) and an offensive line that has yielded no sacks.
Washington's problems have been penalties (five on offense against Carolina) and turnovers (four interceptions against Detroit), which have been compounded by poor field position (just two of 10 drives against Carolina started beyond the 30; just two of 10 against Detroit started beyond the 35).
"It's always that one thing that kills [us]," Jansen said. "It's a turnover or a penalty or something like that. We need to shore up the little things."
And hand the ball to Davis, who rushed 98 yards in the second half against Carolina, turning a 10-7 halftime deficit into a win. On Monday night Davis faces Dallas (0-2), which owns the NFL's worst run defense (202 yards per game) and has yielded more points (73) than all but San Francisco (74).
At Detroit, Davis gained 45 yards in the first half and helped the Redskins to a 7-6 lead. But he got just six carries after intermission (for 14 yards) and Washington lost. Davis appeared abandoned.
"Maybe a little bit," Centers said. "[But] hindsight is always 20-20. When you go back and look at the tape, it's always, 'We should have done this.' Who's to say? I'm sure Norv calls every play with the utmost confidence that it's going to be a successful play."
The Redskins also must find a way to take deep shots without Westbrook, who tied Connell for the league lead in yards per catch (18.3) in 1999. Westbrook (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) was the only receiver among the team's top four taller than 6-foot. He possessed the speed to get downfield and the strength to fight off cornerbacks.
Seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Andre Reed (6-2, 190) signed yesterday, but he isn't expected to contribute much downfield particularly during the next few weeks. Reed, 36, and Irving Fryar, who turns 38 on Sept. 28, are simply too old to pose that type of threat.
That leaves Connell, kick returner James Thrash (18 career receptions) and first-year player Derrius Thompson (who has never been active) to exploit the deep field.
Meanwhile, the Redskins' fifth-ranked defense is left to prop up an offense that has been strategically shot down.
"We'd like to always be more explosive, but it depends on what the defense gives us to attack," Johnson acknowledged. "We're moving the ball. That's not the problem. The shots will come, and they kind of come in bunches. It's not a panic or anything."

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