- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

They're the darlings of the FedEx faithful. Whenever the Redskins defense is introduced before the game, the cheers for Bruce Smith, LaVar Arrington, Fred Smoot and Champ Bailey are enough to set the goal posts a-swaying. The crowd is smart enough to know that the team's fortunes rest on the shoulder pads of those four and, of course, their compatriots. And so it encourages them at every turn.
When Smith wheeled around Tra Thomas yesterday and plowed into Donovan McNabb, forcing an interception, the fans cooed, "Bruuuuuce." When Smoot broke up not one but two passes in the end zone, the cry was, "Smooooot." And when Darrell Green lay shaken up on the turf, trainers huddled all around, Redskins rooters tried to comfort him with chants of "Dar-rell. Dar-rell."
But there's only so much a defense can do when, in the age of the forward pass, its offense can't throw the ball. There's only so much it can do when its offense scores 16 touchdowns in 13 games, only so much it can do when it forces turnovers in enemy territory twice in the fourth quarter and the offense fails to take advantage either time. The Steel Curtain and Fearsome Foursome combined would have trouble overcoming that.
Football coaches say you win as a team, and you lose as a team. But that's a bunch of nonsense. Especially when you've only got half a team like the Redskins do. Their offense has been held together by rubber bands and paper clips and bubble gum all season long, and in yesterday's 20-6 loss to the Eagles it fell apart once again. Sure, the special teams contributed to the situation, missing two field goals (one a real toughie) and fumbling a punt, but it's the offense's continuing futility that has the club on the brink of playoff elimination.
"We had all kinds of chances to change the momentum, change the course of the game, and we didn't do it," Ben Coleman said. "We've got too good a defense to allow that to happen."
Specifically, the offense was handed the ball at Philadelphia's 26 (interception), 31 (interception) and 28 (fumble) and came away with zero points. Hard to fathom.
Unless you've been watching Tony Banks and Co. all season. Heck, only a week ago, after the win at Arizona, Marty Schottenheimer was complaining that his offense "left a lot of points on the field." This has been a recurring problem, one that first surfaced in the preseason and has never really gone away. Half the time, it seems, the unit is just keeping the ball warm, just giving Smith, Green and some of the other defensive oldsters some down time.
"That's exactly right," said Schottenheimer, in a rare moment of candor. "We haven't solved [the problem] yet."
Personnel-wise, it probably wasn't solvable not after Schottenheimer decided on Jeff George as his quarterback and bid adieu to, among others, Brad Johnson, Larry Centers and James Thrash. The leftovers and plug-ins (Donnell Bennett, Dave Szott, Walter Rasby et al.) didn't give an offensive coordinator much to work with. And Marty has always erred on the side of caution offensively, anyway. Some coaches play for the touchdown, others for the field goal; Marty generally plays for the safety.
Which is why, with the Redskins behind by 14 points and less than 13 minutes left yesterday, he was still handing off to Stephen Davis. This is what's called a vote of no-confidence (in this instance, in the passing game). Here's the thing, though: When you've only managed two field goals all day and you need two touchdowns to tie you can't be running the ball, even if that's what you do best. You've got to put it in the air and take your chances and/or lumps.
"We let [the defense] down," Banks said. "I just didn't play well enough to beat a team of this caliber. We had interceptions [two of them, both in the red zone] and penalties that took us out of scoring position."
If he's smart and I try not to assume anything as far as the Redskins owner is concerned Dan Snyder will think real hard in the coming weeks about whether he needs to take the general managing duties away from Schottenheimer. Every organization should have a point and a counterpoint, but in Redskinsland there's no counterpoint. There's only Marty.
Defensively, this team is good enough to make the playoffs. But on the other side of the ball it's barely up to NFL standards. And Schottenheimer may have been the only person in Washington who didn't realize that before the season. Perhaps his coaching ego got in the way. Perhaps he told himself, "I'm such a defensive genius, I can win even with this offensive bunch." Had a GM been on the premises, though, he surely would have said, "No, Marty, you can't win with this offensive bunch. You need more. Otherwise you're going to waste a darn good defense and, quite possibly, the last good year of Bruce Smith and Darrell Green."
But that issue will be dealt with down the road. Of more immediate concern are the Bears, who allowed the Bucs only three points yesterday and will be in town next week. Will the Redskins be able to push across a touchdown against them, or will they have to rely on Brett Conway to boot a half-dozen field goals? Right now, it's even money.

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