Making the offensive leap

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On Sunday, the Washington Redskins’ offense proved it could handle junior varsity competition. Mark Brunell set an NFL single-game record with 22 consecutive completions, and Clinton Portis sparked a 234-yard rushing effort against the Houston Texans.

This Sunday, they get a chance against a varsity outfit when the Jacksonville Jaguars visit FedEx Field. The Jaguars rank third in total defense and fourth against the run.

So what should be made out of the Redskins’ offense after their first victory? Are they a team that discovered its mojo in Houston, or was that a result based mostly on the putrid opponent? Will the downfield passing game be discovered now that Portis has returned to full strength, or will associate head coach-offense Al Saunders have to tailor his passing game to suit Brunell’s ability?

Not surprisingly, Brunell thinks the Redskins forged a groove against the Texans.

“We had some success, so not only do we get another week in this offense, we have some confidence,” Brunell said. “That’s big. We’ll see how big on Sunday.”

Through three games, the Redskins rank 12th in yards, fourth in rushing and 20th in passing. The balance that coach Joe Gibbs and Saunders covet has yet to materialize, primarily because of a lack of long pass completions.

Before the season, several factors were identified as keys for the Redskins’ offense: A deep passing game, centering the offense around Portis, using tight end Chris Cooley in a way Tony Gonzalez was utilized in Kansas City and a Saunders-mandated goal of averaging 7 yards a first-down snap. Only Portis’ worth and moderate first-down success (5.3 yards an attempt against the Texans) have occurred.

The Jacksonville game represents the Redskins’ first chance to take a next step offensively.

“You’re always looking forward because each game is so different,” Saunders said. “We had the good fortune to make plays [Sunday], which we hadn’t done. We were able to control the ball and run it effectively, and when you do that, everything builds on something else.”

1. STRETCHING THE FIELD

What the Redskins have done: Their vision of using Santana Moss and Brandon Lloyd as dual deep threats hasn’t happened. Only one of Mark Brunell’s 27 passes against Houston traveled farther than 20 yards. Moss is averaging 14.5 yards a catch, and Lloyd has only three catches for 26 yards.

What the Redskins need to do: don’t abandon the short passing game plan that was effective against Houston but establish — quickly — that Brunell is a threat to throw downfield several times a game.

Associate head coach-offense Al Saunders hopes the return of Clinton Portis makes opposing teams’ safeties acknowledge the run. When Portis was limited to 10 carries against Minnesota and didn’t play at Dallas, opposing defenses played two safeties downfield, confident their front seven could stop the run.

Brunell is averaging 7.06 yards a completion, 20th in the NFL.

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