- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 17, 2011

A quick glance at a stat sheet reveals a respectable Washington Redskins offense. Rated 17th in the NFL in total offense, the Redskins boast the league’s 12th-ranked aerial attack. Their emerging rookie running back, Roy Helu, has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the team’s past three games. And the unit put up 27 points last Sunday, a total almost high enough to take down the mighty New England Patriots.

But there’s a reason Redskins fans hold their breath every time they see that offense break from the huddle.

During a tumultuous season full of shortcomings, one ugly word in particular has loomed over the Redskins week after week: turnovers. Washington’s 30 turnovers trails only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ and Philadelphia Eagles’ 31 for the highest in the NFL this season, and its minus-14 turnover ratio is the worst mark in the league.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan remains convinced that his team’s record would be substantially better if it weren’t for its tendency to give the ball to the other team.

“Take a look at three games — you’re talking about the two Dallas games, you’re talking about the Jets game, talk about the game [against the Patriots],” Shanahan said. “All of a sudden, you’re 7-6 instead of where you’re at and that’s the difference between winning and losing the games you just mentioned.”

Indeed, the Redskins had the 9-3 Patriots on the ropes last week, only to see their hopes derailed by a costly late-game turnover. Down by seven with under 30 seconds to go, quarterback Rex Grossman had steered the Redskins on a 75-yard drive that seemed destined for a dramatic game-tying touchdown. Grossman’s short pass on third-and-goal, however, slipped through the fingers of wide receiver Santana Moss and into the hands of Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo to seal the Redskins‘ eighth loss in its last nine games.

Mayo’s interception wasn’t the only critical turnover suffered by the Redskins Sunday. Facing third-and-long from his own 5-yard-line, Grossman sat in the pocket and absorbed a hit by former Redskin Andre Carter, who forced a fumble that was recovered in the end zone by the Patriots for the game’s first score.

That play ensured the Redskins of 27 straight games with a turnover, the longest active streak in the NFL. It’s a fitting streak for a team that has failed to win the turnover battle in every game this season.

Much of the blame can be heaped on Grossman, whose 20 turnovers overshadow the 13 touchdowns he has produced this season. In 13 starts with the Redskins, Grossman has turned the ball over 27 times, including a recent run of nine straight starts with an interception to his name. Only two quarterbacks in the NFL — Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman and San Diego’s Phillip Rivers — have exceeded Grossman’s 16-interception mark this season.

Part of the problem has been a lack of protection, which often prompts Grossman to hurry throws into coverage. In addition to 36 sacks, the Redskins‘ offensive line has yielded 93 quarterback hits, a number surpassed by only two teams.

Whatever the cause, Grossman and company need to get to the bottom of the problem if they hope to turn things around any time soon.

“We need to figure out a way to eliminate mistakes so we get a little bit of a cushion,” Grossman said. “You look at our record, [we] could very easily, just two or three plays, be a lot better than it is. The reason those games are close is because of mistakes, and we need to eliminate those so we can not be five minutes left to go in the fourth quarter [and] the game can go either way.”

The Redskins‘ offense will get a decent shot at stopping the self-inflicted bleeding Sunday against a Giants defense that ranks 29th against the pass and 22nd against the run. Grossman will need to be wary, though, of a pass rush coming off a three-sack performance last week against the Dallas Cowboys.

The quarterback won’t be the only player in the Redskins huddle seeking to end the team’s ignominious turnover streak, though. Protecting the football is a team-oriented goal, something that’s been drilled into the heads of every player this week in practice.

“It’s unfortunate that we’ve had as many turnovers as we’ve had,” Redskins receiver Donté Stallworth said. “We obviously preach about it in the meetings and throughout the week. Hopefully we can have a game where we don’t have any turnovers and we play a pretty damn good game.