- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2001

Winning their first game last week proved that the Washington Redskins aren't the NFL's worst team. Whether they're competitive remains uncertain.
The Redskins (1-5), who play host to the New York Giants (3-3) today at FedEx Field, finally are showing some offense. Running back Stephen Davis and rookie receiver Rod Gardner have become the foundation of an offense that looked clueless until turning to the tandem in the 17-14 victory over Carolina.
The defense also benefits from the return of injured starting defensive ends Marco Coleman and Bruce Smith, plus linebacker Antonio Pierce. Maybe the pass rush that has been missing since Coleman's month-long injury can expand beyond a blitzing safety or linebacker.
The Redskins are the healthiest they've been in weeks and more familiar with their new schemes. However, they either show some teeth against four straight playoff contenders or the season quickly resumes its death march pace and coach Marty Schottenheimer's future becomes the heart of sports talk radio after a one-week hiatus.
"We're still trying to get out of the woods," Coleman said. "But we can see if we can get ourselves in a better position in the win-loss column, we'll have a chance at the end of the season."
Translation: Coleman still believes the Redskins can make the playoffs for the second time in three years. It probably would take at least an 8-2 finish despite seven games against contenders.
Indeed, Schottenheimer's preseason prediction of a Super Bowl seems like lottery odds. Instead, he now preaches the goal of steady progress that means setting the team up for next season by playing well the rest of this year.
"It's a chance to try to build on what we achieved last week. We're improving," Schottenheimer said. "There's no doubt that [the system] works. We have to keep growing. The more they're around it, the more they understand it the better they're going to play."
The Giants won the Oct. 7 meeting 23-9 in a game that was tied 9-9 in the fourth quarter. It was the first fair showing by the Redskins after three opening blowout losses. Washington then lost to Dallas 10-9 on a last-minute field goal Oct. 15 before beating Carolina. The last two opponents are a combined 2-9, so splitting those games wasn't exactly momentous. However, at least the Redskins learned their limitations.
The Redskins always wanted to be a run-first offense, but the early losses prevented Washington from using two-time Pro Bowl choice Davis very often. However, Davis gained 99 yards in two consecutive games on a combined 49 carries after Schottenheimer decided to concentrate on the team's top offensive player.
Barring another large early deficit, the Redskins will lean heavily on Davis today. However, the Giants will play eight-man fronts against the Redskins until the passing game makes them back off.
"We're going to keep running the football," Schottenheimer said. "It's what we do, but we need to work on throwing the ball. The Giants can make adjustments in a heartbeat. We were using a running play, and after halftime they had an answer for it. Then we had to go somewhere else."
Gardner is becoming the downfield option. The Redskins seem intent on making the first-rounder their big playmaker, with veteran Michael Westbrook becoming a cursory option. Gardner's six catches for 208 yards and one touchdown against Carolina earned NFC Offense Player of the Week honors.
But look for Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn to concentrate on Gardner. Sehorn turned a pass intended for Gardner into a 34-yard touchdown that sealed the win in the first meeting. Sehorn also picked off a second pass as the Redskins have been troubled with 16 turnovers this season. Quarterback Tony Banks has four interceptions against three touchdowns in four starts. The Redskins have also lost nine of 18 fumbles.
"I would not imagine we would have turned the ball over so many times.," Schottenheimer said. "You can't just say you can insert [Banks] in and do it all and do it right all the time."
The Redskins also face a stronger Giants offense that hogged the ball for 38:31 in the first meeting. Running back Tiki Barber didn't play in the earlier game, and receiver Ike Hilliard is only now playing at full speed after offseason toe surgery.
Conversely, Smith was injured on the first defensive snap at New York, and Coleman was sidelined. If they can rush Giants quarterback Kerry Collins into mistakes and cut off Barber outside, the Redskins should stay close.

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