- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Following Sunday’s 52-7 loss to the New England Patriots, Washington Redskinscoach Joe Gibbs was pressed about the anemic running game in general and Clinton Portis in particular. But Gibbs closed the door immediately on any thought of giving Ladell Betts more carries.

“I don’t think we’re going to change any personnel,” Gibbs said. “We just have to get ourselves going.”

But it might not be that easy, Coach Joe.

What the game exposed are several areas that need addressing before the 4-3 Redskins play the 1-7 New York Jets on Sunday.

Here are four moves the Redskins should consider:

Give Betts more work — Betts has 47 carries through seven games and averages 2.9 yards an attempt. Unlike some backup runners who can get a small dose and still produce, Betts needs 15 carries just to get his legs going and thrives when the game plan calls for 22-25 carries.

During a five-game stretch last season, he had 24, 28, 33, 22 and 29 carries and reached 100 yards each time. Portis has five touchdowns but averages only 3.8 yards an attempt, and his longest run is 19 yards. Not good for a home run hitter. On 52 carries in first-and-10 situations, he has 182 yards (3.5 average).

Both backs deserve a semi-benefit of the doubt because the team has rebuilt the right side of the line after injuries to tackle Jon Jansen and guard Randy Thomas. But the running game is supposed to be the foundation of the offense, and the Redskins rank 25th in yards a carry (3.5).

Gibbs should consider giving play-caller Al Saunders the option of using Betts for entire possessions or even quarters to get into a rhythm and see whether he can spark the running game.

Make Prioleau the third cornerback — This is a no-brainer. With Carlos Rogers out for the season with a knee injury and the inexperienced Leigh Torrence next on the depth chart behind Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot, Pierson Prioleau should shift from safety to cover the slot receiver.

Prioleau played the role against New England. Although Wes Welker had nine receptions, they weren’t all pinned on Prioleau, whose key is being a sure tackler.

The Redskins like Torrence’s coverage ability and toughness, but it may be too much to ask of him at this point to be on the field for 50 plays. He will get plenty of opportunities to cover the fourth receiver when the Redskins face pass-first teams like Philadelphia, Dallas and Tampa Bay later this month.

Using Prioleau on an inside receiver allows safeties Sean Taylor and LaRon Landry to double team the outside receivers if necessary.

Abandon using Washington as a pass rusher — It was a decent idea in the preseason, using Marcus Washington as an edge rusher in passing situations. Although he has three sacks, he has been helped by facing one-on-ones and good coverage downfield.

The Redskins can better use Washington’s talents if he stayed at strongside linebacker and used Chris Wilson as a speed rusher. That would give Gregg Williams the option of blitzing Washington. The Redskins were effective by not blitzing Detroit, Green Bay and Arizona. But Tom Brady had way too much time to find his receivers Sunday.

In limited playing time, Wilson has shown flashes by beating tackles. He has one sack and two quarterback pressures.

If Wilson — with Washington getting a few snaps at defensive end — is effective, that makes Phillip Daniels a better pass-rusher when he slides inside because he can beat offensive guards in one-on-one matchups.

The Redskins’ 17 sacks are tied for 12th in the NFL.

Make Keenan McCardell the third receiver — The Redskins have tried to find ways to phase out Brandon Lloyd, but he remains part of the receiver rotation. Against New England that meant McCardell, unofficially, didn’t play a snap. To use a classic Coach Joe-ism, that’s “some mystery stuff.”

Signed six days before the Detroit game, McCardell played and caught two passes for 39 yards. At Green Bay, he made two catches for 30 yards.

McCardell’s totals: Four catches for 69 yards.

Combined numbers for Lloyd/Reche Caldwell/James Thrash: Five catches for 30 yards.

Yet McCardell wasn’t the intended receiver the last two games. Thrash is a great special teams player and fine No. 4 receiver. But it’s bad news for the Redskins when he’s matched up against Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel.

Each of McCardell’s catches has been in the middle of the field. The Redskins should find him touches to open things up for Santana Moss and Chris Cooley.

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