- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Even when asked about downplaying preseason success — two victories and some impressive statistics and performances — Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan insists that no matter what time of year, he wants his team to do well.

Leading the league in offensive yards gained and defensive yards allowed, one of the Redskins‘ issues so far this preseason has been red zone efficiency. They’ve moved to or inside the opposing 20-yard line nine times and have scored just two touchdowns.

“You’ve got to look at why you made mistakes,” Shanahan said. “A lot of times you’ve got long drives, maybe a penalty, maybe a dropped ball, maybe a missed assignment.”

The coach has said part of the problem was a lack of a game plan — not working on specific red zone plays and situations. That changes Thursday night in Baltimore. According to Shanahan, the Redskins will show off their first game plan of the preseason against the Ravens.

So far, the red zone has been about instinct.

“The decisions happen so fast down there because of the limited space that you want to make sure you’re making the right ones because the difference between seven points and three points can be the difference in a game,” quarterback John Beck said.

Beck noted the Redskins have seen a lot of soft coverages in the red zone that have affected their efficiency. According to the man who’s competing with Beck to start at quarterback, Rex Grossman, the offense needs to do a better job of avoiding bad situations close to the end zone.

“In my opinion, it’s staying ahead of the chains, putting yourself in second-and-5 rather than second-and-10, and third-and-5 or less rather than third-and-long,” Grossman said. “If you can do that, the playbook opens up huge. There’s not a lot of plays from third-and-10 on the 10 or third and goal from the 10 or 11. There is a couple, but there’s not a lot.”

Facing the Ravens (and then Tampa Bay in the preseason finale), the Redskins hope to hone their red zone offense before games start counting.

A game plan should help, though, as Beck said, “The good teams always find a way to get in. … We’re trying to be the team that finds a way to get in the end zone always.”

Meet me in the middle

Thursday night’s game features two Pro Bowl middle linebackers in the RedskinsLondon Fletcher and the Ravens’ Ray Lewis. The difference is, Lewis could have a timeshare in Hawaii for his 12 trips there (plus seven All-Pro seasons), while Fletcher has gone twice.

That’s why Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett isn’t quick to compare Lewis and Fletcher.

“I don’t know there are too many similarities between anybody,” Haslett said this week. “London, don’t get me wrong, he’s a great player. But Ray is special. He has all those qualities. He’s fast, powerful - he’s got everything. I don’t want to compare the two. They’re both in the higher echelon; they’re both great players. Ray Lewis is one of the greatest.”

Lewis likely is destined for the Hall of Fame, so it’s no surprise that Fletcher wants to be in the same conversation.

“He’s been doing it for 16 years at a high level; myself, I’ve been doing it for 14 years at a high level,” Fletcher said. “He’s definitely a barometer. I watch his film, see how he’s doing - ‘How did Ray do this week?’ — just to compare myself.”

It might be too lofty a comparison — even for Fletcher.

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