- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

PITTSBURGH.

It was never a question of “if” yesterday for the Redskins. It was only a question of “how much?” Barring some once-in-a-millennium aligning of the planets, there was no way they were going to beat the Steelers, arguably the best team in the NFL. The sole issue was whether they were going to be competitive or not, whether there was going to be anything left of their self-esteem heading into a four-week stretch in which there appear to be three winnable games (Giants, at 49ers, at Cowboys).

Well, the Redskins weren’t flattened like a ketchup packet at Heinz Field. (So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.) As was the case the Sunday before in Philadelphia, they were within a touchdown of their opponents entering the fourth quarter — at which point the Steelers maneuvered for a field goal to wrap up a 16-7 victory. Still, a loss is a loss is a loss, especially when there have been eight of them in 11 games.

And especially when one loss seems indistinguishable from the next.

Rookie Chris Cooley, who had the Redskins’ only score, pretty well summed up the offense’s frustration when he said, “Every week we do the exact same thing. It’s like deja vu all over again. You want to see we’re getting closer, and then we do the exact same thing.”

That’s been the biggest surprise of all about this season, the lack of discernible progress on offense. The slow start was understandable, given the new coaching staff and Gibbs’ 12-year hiatus from the NFL. But it’s almost December now, and the Redskins have yet to score more than 18 points in a game. Each week, Patrick Ramsey said, “you see progress in [some areas], but then we regress in others.”

That’s why I think, in their remaining five games, the Redskins should exercise their Second Amendment rights and experiment with the shotgun. Heck, bring in Charlton Heston as a consultant if you want, but for gosh sakes do something guys. A touchdown a week just ain’t cutting it.

I know, I know. Gibbs hates the shotgun. The only time he’s ever used it was in an ‘84 playoff game against the Bears, and that was because (a) his offensive line was banged up; (b) the Chicago defense (Dan Hampton, Wilber Marshall and Co.) was having quarterbacks for lunch; and (c) Joe Theismann pestered him about it until he finally gave in. The Redskins lost that day, and Joe T. got the bejabbers beat out of him, but he said afterward that the shotgun helped him get off a half-dozen passes that wouldn’t normally have left his hand.

For the Redskins, these are desperate times like those. And if Coach Joe really is trying, as he claimed yesterday, “to do the best we can each week [to] get the most out of what we have,” how can he not give the shotgun at least a spin around the block? What, seriously, does he have to lose? The Redskins are last in the league in points scored (with 138). It can’t get any worse than this. (Can it?)

Ramsey understands why Gibbs would be reluctant to change the offense so radically this late in the season. After all, the shotgun would involve a different kind of center snap, different blocking schemes — lots of things would be different. As far as the quarterback is concerned, “You’re focused on the ball [as it’s coming toward you] rather than looking downfield,” Ramsey said. “Meanwhile, the defense might be moving around, giving you a different look than you’d expected.”

But here’s the way I look at it: NFL defenses have evolved greatly since the ‘90s. Basically, everybody’s the ‘84 Bears these days; they might not have the same personnel, but they’re taking the same kind of pains to put pressure on the passer. I mean, look at the success the Redskins have been having with a not-exactly-celebrated front seven. If you’re willing to take calculated risks — and you know what you’re doing — you can make life miserable for opposing QBs.

It’s a lot harder for Gibbs to defend his aversion to the shotgun when so many of the top offenses use it. The Colts use it — and Peyton Manning has thrown 41 touchdown passes in 11 games. The Patriots use it — and they’ve won two Super Bowls in three years. The Chiefs use it — and they racked up a league-high 484 points last season. Why, even the smashmouth Steelers use it — with a rookie quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.

And the Redskins, of course, used it the past two years under Steve Spurrier. It’s not like it would be totally foreign to them — or to Ramsey.

There probably isn’t a snowball’s chance, though, that the Redskins will try the shotgun these next five games. (The best time to install it would have been the bye week, when they had extra time to tinker with it.) It’s just that when the Bengals, a shotgun team, score 58 points against the Browns yesterday — as much as the Redskins score in a month — it makes you wonder. In fact, it drives you absolutely crazy.

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