- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Unfortunately for the Redskins, their offensive issues didn’t go bye-bye during their bye week. They still had trouble keeping Jason Campbell upright in Sunday night’s 14-10 loss to the Cowboys. They also still had difficulty scoring. In their past two games, they’ve even begun to have trouble moving the ball. This is not a hopeful trend as they enter the Final Jeopardy part of the season.

You know the offense is struggling because coaches and players are trotting out all those familiar excuses and aphorisms, stuff you’ve heard a million times before like:

“We had people open deep, but we couldn’t get the ball to them.”

I mean, aren’t people always open deep … and short … and in between … in this crazy game of football? Just ask Terrell Owens. He’s open on every single route he runs. So it’s kind of a lame alibi, this “We had people open deep but our pass protection broke down” business. What happened, basically, was this: You called a play and it didn’t work.

Here’s another favorite: “If just one guy doesn’t do his job, it doesn’t matter how well the other 10 do theirs.”

Yes, football is a cruel taskmaster. Ten out of 11 - 91 percent - can be a failing grade if the blocking back fails to pick up a blitzing safety on third-and-short. But let’s face it, there are plenty of times when more than one guy doesn’t do his job, when the grade is 82 percent or 73 percent or 64 percent.

OK, one last one-liner: “We’re THIS close.”

This is a variant of the ever-popular “Football is a game of inches” bromide. But does anyone get the feeling the Washington offense is on the verge of a big turnaround? In its last two games, it has been pretty well shut down by the Steelers and Cowboys - and two of its next three opponents are the Giants and Ravens, who can play a little defense themselves.

Why such a glum prognosis? Because about the only time the Redskins popped a big play in the Dallas game was when they went against their tendencies or resorted to a special play.

In their first series, for instance, they gained 13 yards on third-and-14 by throwing to the forgotten man of the offense, Mike Sellers. This led to both a first down (on the subsequent 9-yard run by Clinton Portis) and then a touchdown (on another pass to Sellers, who had a mere two receptions in the first nine games).

“The reaction of the crowd [on the third-down play] was something,” Sellers said. “It was like I’d scored a touchdown, like I’d done something spectacular.”

The fans, no doubt, were as shocked as the Cowboys were. Sellers hadn’t been heard from, really, since last October (unless you count his one-yard touchdown gallop against the Giants last December).

Later in the first half, Campbell ran 20 yards to the Dallas 40 on a quarterback draw - a play, Jim Zorn said Monday, the quarterback switched to at the line of scrimmage. Jason has scrambled plenty of times this season for sizable gains, but how often has he run a QB draw - once, maybe?

“We waited for it and waited for it,” Zorn said - that is, for the Cowboys to line up in a particular defense - “and when we got it, Jason called it.”

In the third quarter, the Redskins created another scoring opportunity with this third-and-11 gem: a fake draw to Ladell Betts and then a pass to him just beyond the line. It was good for 20 yards and a first down at the Dallas 43. It was also, once more, a play Zorn has rarely resorted to.

These are the lengths the Redskins had to go to to generate offense. Running their Standard Stuff - Clinton Portis left, Clinton Portis right, Santana Moss here, Chris Cooley there - wasn’t nearly enough. Indeed, when they got penalized for having 12 players in the huddle at one point, you half-wondered if their coach felt they needed an extra man to convert the third-and-6.

How can the offense pull out of this, uh, downturn? Well, as we were reminded Sunday night, Sellers is a useful player in scoring territory. Heck, a few years ago, he had seven touchdown catches on just 12 receptions. Why the Redskins have virtually ignored him ever since is a mystery. After all, he has good hands and, at 284 pounds, is an absolute load to try to tackle in the open field.

“I’m just a pawn in this game,” Sellers said. “I do what I’m told. I’m not one to complain.”

Then I’ll complain for him. Zorn talks all the time about making opponents “defend the whole field,” but how can you do that if you don’t include the blocking back in the game plan? Those two passes to Sellers clicked because the Cowboys weren’t paying him any attention. If defenses do start paying him a little attention, then they’ll have to pay somebody else - Cooley, maybe - less attention. Anybody object to that?

Another thing that might be holding the offense back is that Zorn hasn’t been able to establish the No. 3 receiver as a viable threat - which makes it easier for foes to gang up on Moss, Antwaan Randle El and Cooley. James Thrash has caught just two passes in the last four games and only seven all season. Rookie Devin Thomas, meanwhile, has posted the following numbers: 11 receptions, 77 yards, no touchdowns.

It would help if one of them - or both - could begin to contribute more down the stretch. Otherwise, you figure, points will continue to be hard to come by for the Redskins … and their playoff prospects will grow dimmer.