The raw statistics say the offensive line coach Joe Gibbs calls the strength of the Washington Redskins is struggling. The bumps and bruises on the 36-year-old body of quarterback Mark Brunell provide more evidence for that judgment.
"We haven't lived up to our expectations," right tackle Jon Jansen said. "Anyone outside of the organization can say what they want. We expect to be perfect."
That's not close to the proper adjective for the Redskins' pass protection that surrendered six sacks in losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys.
This even though the Redskins returned the same five regulars up front -- tackles Chris Samuels and Jansen, guards Derrick Dockery and Randy Thomas and center Casey Rabach -- for the first time since Gibbs' first tenure ended in the early 1990s.
"Many times the line takes all the heat on that, and they shouldn't," Gibbs said. "It's everybody."
Indeed. Not only did the line keep Brunell from being sacked in 28 dropbacks against Minnesota, but the two sacks allowed in the first 20 dropbacks in Dallas -- until the Redskins trailed 24-10 in the fourth quarter -- primarily were the fault of running backs Ladell Betts and T.J. Duckett.
"It's not just the line," Betts said. "I blame myself first. I allowed the one early in the game."
Brunell was sacked four times in 19 dropbacks during the final 14 minutes against the Cowboys. Offensive line coach Joe Bugel said any sack is "unacceptable" but acknowledged there were mitigating circumstances.
"Any time you put yourself in a situation where a defense is going to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback, it's going to be tough to block 'em and make plays," Samuels said. "But you've still got a job to do. That's why they pay you."
Coach Gary Kubiak, whose 0-2 Houston Texans face the 0-2 Redskins on Sunday, served as the offensive coordinator the previous 11 years for the Denver Broncos, a team famed for its pass protection.
"There's always a reason why you're getting sacked," Kubiak said. "They can happen because an individual gets beat. They can happen because you hold the ball too long. They can happen because you can't find somebody open. Probably the No. 1 reason is you're throwing the ball too much."
Rabach said the line would relish a fourth-quarter lead and being able to run the ball late in a game for the first time since the playoff opener at Tampa Bay more than eight months ago.
In the fourth quarter in Dallas, associate head coach Al Saunders called just one run among Washington's final 18 plays.
"You know they're coming, but those sacks count just as much," Dockery said. "You've got to get your pass-blocking shoes and get it done."
Bugel loves his "Dirtbags" and didn't want to criticize them, but he hesitated when asked whether they were living up to Gibbs' characterization of them as the Redskins' strength.
"Strength of the team. ... I think we need more work," Bugel said. "I'm disappointed in them, and I'm disappointed in myself. I have to demand more from them, and I believe they'll respond. I have no doubts about how good this line can be. I pull out tapes of last year and show 'em the swagger. We've got to get the swagger back."
Facing the Texans, 2-16 since 2004 and who have just three sacks -- none from defensive end Mario Williams, the No. 1 overall draft choice -- could go a long way toward restoring that swagger except that Thomas said the urgency to win a game contributed to last week's six sacks allowed.
"We're so anxious to do well, to perform well, that it can hurt you in the way of being patient," Thomas said. "If you watch film, you see a couple of guys who are a little antsy about things. We just need to be calm and go with it."
But with Gibbs saying the Redskins are "desperate" for a victory on Sunday, staying calm seems a major contradiction.
"Whatever we gotta do to get a win, we gotta do," Thomas said. "Whether you call it patient or desperate, whatever. We've just gotta get a win. A win would heal a lot of pain."
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