- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

Analysis

The Washington Redskins are still looking for a starting quarterback.
The blocking was spotty and receivers dropped passes, but quarterbacks Danny Wuerffel, Sage Rosenfels and Shane Matthews all struggled at times last night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead of someone emerging from the three-way competition, the Redskins saw an offense that scored 68 points in a 2-0 start still scoreless against the NFL's top defense from 2001 when the starters exited at halftime.
All three quarterbacks threw interceptions; Matthews was picked off on his first pass. Rosenfels fumbled, too. An offense that toyed with San Francisco and Carolina suddenly faced a defense that wasn't fooled by multiple receivers. The Steelers stepped in front of passes. They rushed the passer regularly. The Redskins didn't score until they faced the Steelers reserves in the second half.
Essentially, Washington met an opponent that wasn't playing like it was on an overseas junket (San Francisco) or was simply a hapless bunch (Carolina). Pittsburgh played its starters most of the first half and simply silenced the Fun 'n' Gun. When the "Funky Foursome" dancers get the biggest cheer of the night during a timeout, there really isn't much to cheer.
The offensive line is still struggling, though the Steelers were the NFL's best pass rushers last year. The running game only managed a 10-yard run inside by Stephen Davis. The Redskins overcame those problems against lackluster teams, but the Steelers regularly exposed their weaknesses. The second-half rally to victory against the backups was simply fool's gold.
It still comes down to the quarterbacks making this offense perform amid surrounding problems. None has played well against a starting defense. Mostly, they've beaten up on reserves.
The good news? Washington faces the solid defense of playoff contender Tampa Bay on Saturday, then defending Super Bowl champion New England on Aug. 29. New England may only play its starters one quarter in the preseason finale to avoid injuries, but Tampa Bay's first-teamers should go three quarters. If Washington can rebound against two elite teams, then there's hope. If not, the quick start was merely a mirage.
Coach Steve Spurrier recently joked that he might not pick a starter for the regular-season opener against Arizona on Sept. 8 until after the kickoff. It may take that long if none of them can lead the Redskins to scores regularly against a starting defense.
Wuerffel will start against Tampa Bay on Saturday. However, he will have to produce to stay ahead of Matthews in the final two preseason games. Wuerffel's teammates didn't help him last night, when he faced starters for the first time in the preseason. Wuerffel completed only two of five for 24 yards, but two passes were dropped. There also was a bad snap and a bad decision; he threw an interception after being chased around the backfield.
Rosenfels fumbled during a pass after left tackle Rod Jones missed a block and threw an interception on a short pass intended for receiver Rod Gardner. Rosenfels was 6-for-10 for 54 yards before returning to the game, leading the Redskins to three touchdowns and the victory against reserves in the fourth quarter. However, he didn't throw for a first down against the Steelers' starters until the final moments of the first half, and that was against a prevent defense.
At least Matthews moved the offenses. After his opening dumpoff pass went straight to Steelers linebacker Justin Kurpeikis in the middle of the line, Matthews rebounded by throwing a 10-yard touchdown to receiver Derrius Thompson on the following drive. Matthews then telegraphed a pass on the next series for an interception before following with another score.
Matthews played against reserves, so his stats 14-for-21 for 137 yards weren't as impressive as they were when he led the Redskins to 20 points against Carolina (17-for-27 for 195 yards). Still, Matthews' 3-yard touchdown pass to Chris Doering against Pittsburgh showed he can overcome a strong pass rush that the Redskins could see often in the regular season.
Matthews was considered the leader before the preseason opener, but Wuerffel threw three touchdowns against San Francisco reserves and led Washington to a late tying score against Carolina. Matthews has shown he can move the ball regularly despite throwing three preseason interceptions.
The contest is clearly between Matthews and Wuerffel, with Rosenfels probably getting released because rookie Patrick Ramsey will be the team's third quarterback. Rosenfels is probably good enough to get a job elsewhere but not good enough to stay barring a dramatic effort in the next two games.

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