- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

As a season draws to a close any season in any sport there's really only one question that needs to be asked, one question that cuts through the haze and brings everything into focus:
Are you better off now than you were 12 months ago?
Well, are ya, Redskins fans?
It certainly doesn't look that way from here. You might have been able to make that argument if the team had finished strong instead of losing three straight home games down the stretch. Then you could have said, even if the Redskins got squeezed out of the playoffs, "the slow start killed them, but at least they're headed in the right direction."
Right now, though, at 6-8, they're once again adrift. Who knows where they're headed between now and next September other than to Japan for a preseason game. One year after being granted Total Control, Marty Schottenheimer is still looking for a quarterback, still looking for an offense, really. I loved LaVar Arrington's comment that the Redskins were only three players away from being a dynasty. Yeah Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and either Brent Jones or Randy Cross.
As Sunday's events unfolded, I found myself thinking a lot about Norv Turner. I thought about him when Dan Wilkinson jumped offside on first down at the Washington 37. (Next play: touchdown, Bears.) I thought about him when Kato Serwanga drew a personal foul penalty on the second-half kickoff, putting the Redskins in a deep hole. I thought about him when Ben Coleman was called for grabbing a face mask shortly afterward, which prevented them from climbing out of said hole. I especially thought about him when the Redskins' special teams got snookered for a touchdown on a fake punt (and later when Eric Metcalf fumbled on a kick return).
Turner was crucified for such lapses over the years. "He's too easy on the players," the reasoning went. "They haven't got enough discipline." But as we saw in the loss to the Bears and at various other times during the season the Redskins are quite capable of making the same mistakes under a taskmaster like Schottenheimer as they did under a spare-the-rod type like Norv.
What does that tell you? It tells you this: That sloppy, self-destructive play has less to do with a coach's style and personality than with the fact that a club Simply Isn't Good Enough. The Redskins weren't good enough to make the playoffs last year, and they aren't good enough to make 'em this year. Even with Marty Schottenheimer at the wheel.
Something else to mull over: Last season the Redskins beat five playoff teams, including both Super Bowl finalists. They may have finished 8-8, but they had some quality wins. So far this season, the Redskins have beaten one potential playoff team, one team with a winning record the Eagles. Their other victories are over clubs .500 (Giants, Seahawks, Broncos) or worse (Panthers, Cardinals). Does that suggest progress to you?
Heck, even Turner's second team, the one that went 6-10, swept the Cowboys (who won it all that year) and knocked off the Lions, another playoff club. That's one thing that's been overlooked about the Redskins' rebound from 0-5 this season their helpfully weak schedule.
What Schottenheimer has done is taken a club that, under Norv, could score but usually couldn't stop the other guys and turned it into one that can stop the other guys but usually can't score. His whole offensive philosophy is basically: Don't turn the ball over and put our defense in a bad position. And you can't play offense that way not effectively anyway. You can't play a prevent offense (unless your defense is the '86 Bears or the 2000 Ravens, which the Redskins' isn't).
Here's all you need to know about Schottenheimer's play-calling: In the first half against the Bears, the Redskins handed off to Ki-Jana Carter four times in a row in third-down passing situations. That's right, on third-and-nine, third-and-six, third-and-five and third-and-13, Marty ran the ball with his backup runner, no less. The first time Carter caught the Bears napping and picked up the first down, but the next three times? Punt, punt, punt.
So, obviously, it ain't all personnel. It's what the coaches are doing with that personnel. (In this case, the bare minimum.) Even the Redskins' "strong" running game is largely mythological. Why? Because Stephen Davis has only three touchdowns to show for his 1,173 yards. You know how many 1,200-yard backs have had that few TDs in all of NFL history? One. (Freeman McNeil had 1,331 yards rushing and three touchdowns for the Jets in '85.)
Dan Snyder hired Marty Schottenheimer because he wanted immediate results and because Marty had shown, in the past, the ability to deliver those results. But as Marty's first season winds down, it's becoming increasingly clear that the future isn't now. The future is still a fair piece away.

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