Joe Gibbs was in a kidding mood Monday when he talked about the need to get receiver Santana Moss more opportunities downfield during the Washington Redskins' final four regular-season games.
"Sometimes I'm tempted to throw three [passes] up there for him no matter what," he said.
But Gibbs appears serious that a commitment will be made to better utilize the team's best offensive weapon starting Sunday at Arizona. During the last six games, chances for Moss to make things happen downfield have been too few and very far between.
Moss' 30-yard catch in traffic Sunday at St. Louis provided a glimpse of how he could ignite a passing game that once ranked eighth in the NFL but now stands 18th. And maybe it got Gibbs thinking that high-risk throws to Moss aren't such a bad option.
"We need to do more of that because obviously he's been playing at a very high level," Gibbs conceded.
Leading 10-7 late in the third quarter, the Redskins faced a third-and-9 from the St. Louis 41. Moss ran down the left side, and by the time Mark Brunell released the pass, he was being covered by a cornerback and a safety. No matter -- Moss outjumped Jerome Carter to make the catch. Three plays later, Clinton Portis' touchdown extended the lead to 10 points, and the Redskins won 24-9 to keep their playoff hopes alive.
It was the kind of play Moss frequently made during the first six games, when he had four 100-yard outings, five touchdowns and 10 catches of 30-plus yards. But he since has leveled off -- partly because of the way defenses have adjusted, partly because fellow wideout David Patten is out for the season and partly because the Redskins are still searching for ways to create the best matchup for Moss.
In the last six games, Moss has no 100-yard games, only one touchdown and only two catches of 30 or more yards. Moss had a season-low three receptions against the Rams and has averaged only 4.7 catches over the past six games.
Granted, the Redskins were running well enough that Brunell threw only 22 times. But last week's 257 rushing yards qualify as an aberration. What hasn't been an illusion is the Redskins' reliance on Moss and H-back Chris Cooley. Which, as a result, limits Moss' deep-ball chances because opposing defenses know nobody else is a legitimate threat.
Moss (66 catches for 1,111 yards) and Cooley (54 for 629) have accounted for 53.1 percent of the Redskins' receptions and 64.8 percent of their receiving yards.
The other Redskins receivers have combined for 46 catches for 481 yards and no touchdowns. Cooley's colleagues at H-back and tight end have been serviceable, combining for 27 receptions, including six touchdowns.
With Patten lost with a knee injury and James Thrash (hamstring) sidelined for the past two games, the Redskins have had to rely even more on Cooley to fill the No.2 receiver spot because Taylor Jacobs hasn't done much (10 catches) and Jimmy Farris was just signed two weeks ago.
Gibbs wants more production out of the other receivers so Moss and Cooley can be freed up.
"It's one of the things we have to live with -- they're going to pay a lot of attention to Santana," Gibbs said. "But everybody that's in there should help us. We didn't get much production from Taylor in the last game [one catch for minus-1 yard], but Cooley had another excellent game, and he always seems to make a bunch of plays."
Cooley's trademark last season was running between pockets in the coverage down the middle of the field. Against St. Louis, he did most of his damage catching passes in the flat and beating his defender.
Moss and Cooley are doing their jobs. Patten admittedly was struggling when he was injured, and Thrash is strictly a possession-type receiver who won't scare teams. Tight ends/H-backs Robert Royal (14 catches) and Mike Sellers (10 catches, five touchdowns) are safety-valve and short-yardage options.
Farris said yesterday the pressure is on the other receivers to help Moss and Cooley.
"A sense of urgency is definitely there, and that's what you want in this business," he said. "It's one thing to have a uniform, but it's everybody's goal to get on the field and contribute. That's what we've been trying to do."