- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Good football is back — at least for the moment. The Washington Redskins might not be as good as the Carolina Panthers, but at least they’re no longer tripping over themselves. If the pass rush were a split-second faster (or if Jeremiah Trotter had followed Stephen Davis into the flat) this club would be back to .500 and mulling a playoff run.

Oh, well. At least there’s something to build on. And really, that should be the Redskins’ big goal in the season’s second half. Two weeks ago, they were dead in Dallas and getting deader. Now they have a legitimate chance to prove they can make it work under Steve Spurrier and gather momentum for 2004.

Maybe the Monday Morning Quarterback’s just happy to have spent a sunny, warm afternoon in Carolina. Or maybe somebody slipped something funny in the orange juice at the Marriott. Either way, things don’t look so ugly in Redskinsland this morning, unless you’re standing near the shower as Derrick Dockery exits.

Q: Teams might not take moral victories, but here in the land of blind faith, we’ll take whatever we can get. Was yesterday a step in the right direction or what?

A: We’d say so. Washington’s defense did a terrific job to keep the game close, forcing turnovers and containing Carolina’s No. 1 weapon, former Redskins star Stephen Davis. And when the offense got going, the Redskins took a late lead and looked like they would secure an impressive road win over one of the NFC’s premier teams. Washington didn’t make enough plays to hold on, but if it uses this game as a steppingstone, it might the next time.

Q: So how does that impact the Spurrier watch? Staying or going?

A: Spurrier remains on precarious ground. The players won’t put their faith in him until they see consistent leadership, and his latest rebirth is just two weeks old. Spurrier is taking baby steps toward regaining the trust of those under him and above him. But there’s still a half-dozen games to go — plenty of time for this team to unravel or make a strong push for legitimacy. Our call of the moment: Spurrier stays.

Q: OK, but somebody’s got to go. Owner Dan Snyder can’t get through the month of January without hitting the trap-door button beneath his desk. Who’s headed under?

A: We agree somebody probably will take the fall. Our guess is defensive coordinator George Edwards. There’s been a sharp dropoff on defense, even though the lack of big-time defensive tackles and a bona fide pass-rusher are glaring. And we have a tough time with making someone a first-year coordinator and then not accepting his learning curve. Still, don’t be surprised if Snyder pressures Spurrier to dump Edwards and hire a more accomplished coordinator.

Q: What about the other coordinator? Hue Jackson’s ball plays didn’t look so hot against Mike Rucker and Kris Jenkins, did they?

A: That’s the problem with calling a more conservative offense. When you struggle, the numbers are just awful. Washington generated a Jimmy Raye-esque 41 yards in the first half. We were disappointed by two things in particular: the failure to establish any plays as guaranteed 5-yard gains (like the receiver screen) and the decision to shelve Rock Cartwright after his goal-line fumble. Trung Canidate is not the answer, has not been the answer and will not be the answer.

Things picked up in the second half, in large part due to Patrick Ramsey’s improved play. But Jackson — or Spurrier — must find a way to convert a first down here or there when things aren’t clicking. The offense has to have some basis for execution.

Q: We think there was a bald dude in a Panthers helmet who might have helped. Don’t you think the real answer on offense should have been Stephen Davis?

A: There’s no question the Redskins would find a way to use Davis at this point. Just watching this offense, it seems to be screaming for a power rusher who can gain a consistent 5 yards. And Davis was very impressive, always bulling forward for 2 or 3 yards even when he appeared stuffed.

That said, it was a fiscal impossibility for Washington to keep Davis. At least it was if they wanted to do anything else in free agency. Keeping Davis would have changed the complexion of this team in such a big way that it’s impossible to make an apples-to-apples comparison. For instance, if Davis was here, Randy Thomas and Laveranues Coles probably wouldn’t be, and the offense would have other key issues.

Q: How did the Redskins do against ol’ Stephen?

A: Fairly well, despite his 92 yards and Carolina’s total of 110. Washington knew it would have to contain Davis to have any chance in this game; a big day by a power rusher is simply demoralizing. A resurgent effort by the D-line and some nice fills by LaVar Arrington and Jeremiah Trotter limited Davis to just 3.3 yards per carry. The fatal flaw of Washington’s defense was Muhsin Muhammad’s nine catches for 189 yards; on each of Carolina’s first three scoring drives, a big catch by Muhammad reversed the field and put the Panthers in scoring range. We’re still wondering why Washington played so much zone early.

Q: Miami no longer looks that tough, New Orleans is so-so and the Giants are totally kaput. How do you see the next few games playing out?

A: For a second straight week, the Redskins have an opportunity to fix their mistakes, game-plan for the next team and generally operate without a running sideshow. A win at Miami will justify what happened at Ericsson Stadium as a “good loss.” A loss to the Dolphins and things could get ugly again.

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