- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2006

A gutsy 15-yard scramble by Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell last week kept alive the kind of drive that should have produced the kind of result and the kind of victory that would have given a young quarterback a needed boost of momentum heading into consecutive road games.

Trailing the Philadelphia Eagles 21-16, Campbell converted a third-and-10 with his run, giving Washington a first-and-goal from the 3. The Redskins were on the cusp of coming back from an 18-point deficit.

But as has often been the case the last three seasons, the drive stalled under an avalanche of miscues — a run for zero yards, a throwaway under duress, a 5-yard penalty and a sack — and the Redskins had to settle for a field goal. They never got the ball back and lost another close game.

The end of the drive illustrated one of the biggest problems for the Redskins offense this season. It does just enough to smell the goal line but not enough to score touchdowns.

Entering today’s game at New Orleans, the Redskins (4-9) have scored touchdowns on only 14 of 31 red zone possessions, 25th in the NFL. They have been unable to score a touchdown in their last six trips inside the 20.

“You want so much to say coming off the field, ‘Hey, we put seven on the board,’ ” receiver Santana Moss said. “When you come up short, you find reasons for fault. What didn’t we do? What did they do? It [stinks] because you’ve seen that when we get down there, we have the ability to put it in the end zone.”

The Redskins were 0-for-3 in the red zone against Philadelphia with drives ending at the Eagles’ 13, 14 and 8.

Cashing in will be especially key today. The Saints offense ranks first in the NFL in yards (410.6) and third in points (27.1). New Orleans is going to score, meaning the Redskins’ offense must produce touchdowns — not field goals — when it gets within striking distance.

“It comes down to execution,” running back Ladell Betts said. “That’s not just with Jason but everybody. We have to find ways to get seven points instead of three. It’s big-time important [against the Saints] because their offense is so hot. Whenever we have opportunities to score, we must do it.”

In 2004, the Redskins ranked 18th — 44 trips, 23 touchdowns (52.3 percent) — the problem being that the offense didn’t get into the red zone enough. Last year the Redskins ranked fourth — with 30 touchdowns in 47 trips (63.8 percent) — and made the playoffs.

This year’s struggles started in the opener against Minnesota and have yet to be solved. The Redskins scored one touchdown in four red zone trips in a loss to the Vikings, stalling at the 9 twice and 4-yard line once. There have been games where the Redskins have been very productive, but too many first-and-goals have ended with field goals.

“Our execution has been similar to what it’s been all over the field,” associate head coach-offense Al Saunders said. “We haven’t capitalized on some of the things. We’ve played some pretty good defenses, but in the passing game, we’ve missed opportunities, and in the run game we’ve gotten beat a couple times up front. Down there, there’s no room for error.”

During his last two seasons with Kansas City, Saunders’ offense ranked second and 14th in red zone efficiency. Since Campbell assumed the starting job at Tampa Bay in Game 10, Saunders said the red zone package — which the Redskins practice extensively on Fridays — has been scaled down.

“We’ve limited our menu, so that adds to the need to have strong execution,” Saunders said.

And one thing going wrong can doom an entire play. On a first-and-goal play from the 3 against Philadelphia, T.J. Duckett was stopped for no gain when linebacker Jeremiah Trotter blitzed up the middle and got a hand on Duckett’s ankle. The play fell apart when defensive tackle Mike Patterson side-stepped Jon Jansen to make the tackle.

On the next play, Campbell’s intended receiver, tight end Chris Cooley, fell — or was dragged down at the goal line by cornerback Sheldon Brown — forcing the quarterback to throw it away. Toss in the 5-yard penalty for having 12 men in the huddle and the Redskins were again flummoxed.

“It’s about concentration,” center Casey Rabach said. “We can’t be making penalties, missing blocks, missing other assignments and making mental errors. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, it’s just something we have to focus on.”

The Redskins say opponents are doing the same things inside the 20- and 10-yard lines against Campbell that they did when Mark Brunell was the starter.

“Not any more than we normally see, because that’s what happens in the red zone — from the 30-yard line on in, [defenses] start to bring a lot of stuff,” Jansen said. “And inside the 10, you start to lose space to do some things.”

Said left tackle Chris Samuels: “It’s tougher down there because the defense doesn’t have to defend as much space. Teams take different approaches — some get aggressive and pressure, and others lay back.”

The shortened field makes it tougher for the Redskins to get Moss involved because his 5-foot-10 frame isn’t conducive to jump balls. And because Washington never established Duckett or Mike Sellers as a short-yardage back early in the season, it now relies on Betts to do much of the heavy lifting.

Coach Joe Gibbs said the current trend is for teams to send pressure.

“Most teams are aggressive and will come like mad, and you have to pretty much count on that,” he said. “Teams used to play soft down there and play two-deep. Now they’re bringing everybody.

“You’re in a guessing game. If you throw something good against the blitz, it’s probably not good against a zone. The space shrinks ,there are a lot of people crammed in there, so you need your players to make plays. Everything gets magnified.”

And, Saunders said, everything is speeded up for the quarterback.

“Because the field becomes shorter, the quarterback’s decisions have to be made quicker, and the receivers have to be more precise on their routes,” he said. “In the run game, the safeties are much closer to the line of scrimmage, so you have to be able to break tackles on the second level. We haven’t done a combination of those things.”

With Campbell as the starter, the Redskins are 4-for-10 in the red zone. He is 6-for-15 passing inside the 20 with three touchdowns and one interception. The problems near the goal line have served as a teaching tool this week for Campbell.

“You have to be able to make some plays and you try with your feet and you try to get the ball out of your hands quickly,” he said. “Philadelphia made it tough for us in a lot of areas, but we have to do a better job.”

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