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Redskins up to speed on offense

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Two weeks ago, following an 0-2 start that featured one touchdown in 23 possessions, the Washington Redskins' offense was like dial-up Internet service, sitting in a commuter airplane and watching an umpteenth version of "SportsCenter." Slow. Painful. Boring.

The last two weeks, though, have shown what the offense can do when everyone is up to speed.

"We have a huge play book and there's a lot there," receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "But we've taken it all in and soaked it up."

The benefits of absorbing Al Saunders' offense are beginning to show, and as a result, the Redskins are back even at the season's quarter pole -- 2-2 entering Sunday's game at the New York Giants.

The Redskins knew they needed wins against Houston and Jacksonville. But the way the offense has performed has elevated optimism to a new level, the frustrations of losses to Minnesota and Dallas long forgotten.

That's what happens when two consecutive wins feature 67 points, 976 yards, two individual 100-yard rushing performances and two solid passing games by quarterback Mark Brunell.

Now the offense -- which moved from 26th in yards and 24th in scoring two weeks ago to third in yards and 10th in scoring entering last night's Green Bay-Philadelphia game -- is like using high-speed Internet, lounging in a private jet, and an umpteenth "Seinfeld" repeat. Fast. Comfortable. Entertaining.

"We're getting guys back on the field and when you get everybody going in the same direction and have the common goal, these kinds of things can happen," running back Clinton Portis said.

Jacksonville entered the game ranked third in fewest yards allowed, second in first downs and tied for third in scoring. The Redskins responded with 481 yards, 22 first downs and 36 points.

"It seems as though in the last two weeks, we've gained momentum and that's a real plus for us," coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday. "We're starting to get more downfield plays, which is a big deal."

A bigger deal is how the Redskins have gradually built the momentum.

After limited time against Minnesota and missing the loss to Dallas, Portis returned against Houston on Sept. 24 to spark the running game. With his help, including a 74-yard catch-and-run, a short passing game also began to work.

Against Jacksonville, a new layer of the offense was revealed, one involving Chris Cooley and Brandon Lloyd, relying on Portis for yeoman's work and giving their best play maker (Moss) the ball in areas of the field where he can make things happen. Moss' three touchdowns featured nearly 100 yards in post-reception gains.

Couple that with better work on third down (7-for-14) and fewer penalties (four) and the Redskins' offense is clicking heading into this week's NFC East game at the Giants.

That offense starts with the running game, which ranks sixth in the NFL with 145.5 yards a game.

"We were balanced and that's the way we want to be," Brunell said. "When you run the ball, things happen in the passing game."

The Redskins had 40 rushes and 30 passes against Jacksonville. In Gibbs' coaching career, the Redskins are 120-19 when they have 40 or more rushes.

With Portis in a groove since the win at Houston -- he added 112 yards against Jacksonville -- the next step was getting Moss re-established. He had four catches for 138 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday and his per-catch average jumped from 14.5 yards to 19.2 yards.

"When you have a guy like Santana, there's nothing much you can say," Portis said. "The only thing you can say is, 'You have to get it done.' Week in, week out, play in, play out, that's our motto. When we touch the ball, we're trying to take it to the house."

Moss said it wasn't tough remaining patient while Brunell became more acclimated in Saunders' system and play-calling style.

"When you have more ups than downs, you can be classified as successful and Brunell's career has had a lot of ups," Moss said. "When you get late in your career, everyone doubts you and says you're too old and can't do it anymore. But he's still the guy and I'll stick by his side because without him, we won't be the Redskins offense that we are and want to be."

Because Antwaan Randle El had a strong opening three games (10 catches), the Redskins' next stage of development was getting Cooley involved and throwing long to Lloyd. Cooley had four catches for 70 yards and Lloyd added three for 49 yards.

"That was really important because it gives everybody a chance to get a piece of things," Moss said. "They made some plays and got their confidence going so I look forward to seeing everybody contributing more often. If teams are keying on one or two guys, we can go to the other guys that can do the same kinds of things."

All is good right now but the trip to the Meadowlands will be daunting. Two years ago, the Redskins had seven turnovers; last year, they were thumped 36-0. The Redskins' task now is to develop a consistency on offense that has been missing for most of Gibbs' second stint with the Redskins.

"When we got off to a slow start, we were leaving points on the field," center Casey Rabach said. "But things are working right now and we're clicking. We're in a pretty good stride right now but there's always room for improvement. To do what we did against a defense like Jacksonville, we feel pretty good but we can't get complacent because that's when you step into a pit."