Opposing defenses have adjusted to Washington receiver Santana Moss' terrific start by making their defense of him priority No. 1. Now it's time for the Redskins to make their counter-move.
Starting with the New York Giants on Oct. 30, teams have dabbled in double coverage against Moss, who enters tomorrow's game against San Diego with 57 catches for 988 yards and five touchdowns. But he has just 19 catches, 245 yards and no scores the last four weeks.
Minus injured second and third receivers David Patten and James Thrash, the Redskins want to re-establish the deep ball in general and to Moss in particular. Moss had only four catches of 20-plus yards the past four games compared with 12 such plays in the first six games.
"We need to do every single thing we can to get Santana in the right position," coach Joe Gibbs said. "When you have the first part of the season he had, it's obvious teams are trying to take him away."
The Giants held Moss to four catches for a season-low 34 yards. Philadelphia and Tampa Bay played base coverages, but Oakland almost always had a safety floating toward Moss' side of the field. He had four catches for 53 yards, with 27 coming against single coverage. Only five of quarterback Mark Brunell's 32 passes went to Moss.
"Those guys weren't stupid," Moss said of the Raiders. "They had two young corners, and watching the film, I knew that's what they were going to do."
The Redskins have fallen from eighth in the NFL in passing after the Oct. 23 rout of San Francisco to 16th with 212.8 yards a game.
"It's a chess match," Brunell said. "We'll find ways to create plays and formations and ways to get Santana the ball. But other guys have to step up, and I have to step up and find the right guys if Santana isn't there."
Two of those "other guys" weren't even on the team last week. Jimmy Farris and Antonio Brown were re-signed to fill the Nos. 3 and 4 receiver roles behind Moss and Taylor Jacobs. H-back Chris Cooley, second on the team with 46 catches, is expected to line up more outside.
Cornelius Griffin practiced for a second consecutive day, but the defensive tackle said he likely will miss a fourth consecutive game with a strained hip flexor.
"It's one of those things that you can go out there and hurt it a lot worse when it's not quite ready," Griffin said.
Gibbs said that reserve running back/kickoff returner Ladell Betts won't play for a second straight game because of a sprained knee, leaving his duties to Rock Cartwright and Brown, respectively.
Running back Clinton Portis had recovered from the illness that halted his usual Thursday dress-up routine. Offensive tackle Chris Samuels (knee) and defensive tackle Joe Salave'a (foot) were given the day off but will start tomorrow. Backup defensive end Nic Clemons, who sat out Thursday after tweaking a knee Wednesday, practiced.
The Redskins have shut down a slew of good tight ends — Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez, the Giants' Jeremy Shockey, Dallas' Jason Witten, Philadelphia's L.J. Smith — but none of them is having a season like San Diego's Antonio Gates. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Gates, a former college basketball star, leads all tight ends and the Chargers with 56 catches for 784 yards and seven touchdowns.
"You know what he's going to run, but you can't stop it," Redskins safety Ryan Clark said. "He still makes the catch."
Happy birthday, Joe
Gibbs turned 65 yesterday but wasn't thinking retirement.
"I'm trying to ignore those things," said Gibbs, who doesn't want the senior discount to which he's now entitled. "I feel great. I've been blessed. Now, I'm at the point in life where it's, 'What can I give back?' I want to devote a lot [of time] to my grandbabies and my kids. That's the most important thing I'll leave on the Earth."