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Offense has yet to live up to the hype

- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

If he had his druthers and his work schedule allowed for training other than jogs up and down Loudoun County Parkway, Al Saunders would be in Arlington on Sunday to run the Marine Corps Marathon.

"That's one I would really like to run in, but I'm nowhere near ready," said Saunders, the Washington Redskins' associate head coach-offense. "I'll be right here in the office."

As the Redskins scattered across the country yesterday for their bye weekend, Saunders planned on spending the four "off" days in his Redskin Park office/conference room.

"I can't afford not to be here right now because I need to get some things taken care of," he said.

Foremost on Saunders' to-do list isn't lineup changes (a quarterback change isn't on the horizon) but a top-to-bottom look at his scheme and how it fits the Redskins after a 2-5 start. They have some glossy numbers -- fourth in yards a play and seventh in rushing -- but the big moments have been minimal.

A forgettable seven games into the season, the Redskins have an offense still adjusting to a new identity and still searching for that elusive consistency.

"One thing you see on the video is how really close we are to doing some really special things," Saunders said. "We're just not doing things on a consistent basis."

Like the Redskins' defense, things the offense counted on in the offseason haven't panned out in September or October.

No transition period

One of Saunders' talking points during the preseason was he knew what the finished product would look like and that it took the Chiefs half of the 2001 season to really click. In the first seven games that season, Kansas City was 1-6 and averaged 358.3 yards and 19.9 points. In their final nine games, the Chiefs went 5-4 and averaged 351.7 yards and 20.1 points. The numbers didn't improve, but the results did.

Through seven games this season, the Redskins are averaging 325.9 yards and 20 points a game.

Especially with a preseason philosophy of showing nothing and not playing the starters much, there was going to be a transition; the Redskins just hoped they could beat teams like Minnesota and Tennessee while working out the kinks. If there is any kind of turnaround in the season's second half, the Redskins will look at those two three-point home losses as ones that got away.

Brunell returns to form

In the first four games last October, quarterback Mark Brunell threw for 226, 322, 331 and 252 yards and a combined 10 touchdowns against only one interception.

In the 19 games since (including the playoffs), Brunell has 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and only two games of 250-plus yards passing.

Even though the Redskins' offense scored often during their five-game winning streak to make the playoffs last year, the signs were there that Brunell was running out of steam. There have been few indications this year that he can produce at a consistent level. His 90.4 quarterback rating is misleading because he has a 115.4 rating in two fourth-quarter garbage times.

Portis starts Week 1

The Redskins' season took its first detour toward disaster when a miscommunication between Brunell and Brandon Lloyd resulted in a Cincinnati interception on the first drive of the preseason. Fifty yards down field, Clinton Portis planted his left shoulder into Keiwan Ratliff's chest, resulting in a partial dislocation.

Although the team said Portis would be back to full strength by the opener, that wasn't nearly the case. He was limited to 10 carries against Minnesota in Week 1, didn't play at all in Week 2 against Dallas, was protected by the coaches to save his shoulder and is now nursing a high ankle sprain.

Without Portis, who is on pace for a career low in rushing yards, the Redskins' offense doesn't function well.

Things open up for Moss

Not yet, they haven't. But figuring out whether it's a product of Lloyd especially being unable to get separation, teams playing deep coverage because they don't respect the run or Brunell being unable to throw into coverage is a little more difficult.

Santana Moss has three touchdowns (all in the Jacksonville win) and 28 catches. He had five receptions for 50 yards against the Titans, well below his season average of 15.5 yards a catch. The Redskins talk about the cover 2 defense like it involves 22 safeties instead of two.

Antwaan Randle El has done his part (18 catches, albeit for a 9.3-yard average), but Lloyd has only 11 catches for 164 yards. The easiest way to get Moss going, though, is by throwing his way even if it appears he's covered.

Cooley emerges

Redskins fans envisioned up-and-coming tight end Chris Cooley being used the same way Saunders used Tony Gonzalez for five years in Kansas City. Gonzalez averaged 77.4 catches for the Chiefs from 2001 to 2005.

Cooley is third on the team with 21 catches, but his 10.4-yard average is about 4 yards lower than his goal for the season.

Cooley is running some of the same routes but not nearly as often as Gonzalez. And the primary reason, Saunders has said, is because of pass protection. Cooley has been asked to help out more than Gonzalez did -- the Chiefs, after all, had Willie Roaf and Will Shields anchoring their line.

The Redskins must correct the myths while playing a challenging schedule.

Coach Joe Gibbs said the evaluation has centered on "what are the things we think we should drop? What are the things we think we ought to run more of? What do we think we're good at? What are the corrections we think we can make on some of those plays? Where do we have problems? It's been an evaluation process."