- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

As the injuries begin to mount and the mistakes continue to pile up, the Washington Redskins realize they are reaching a critical point in their season.

“There’s 10 games left, and we all know a lot can happen,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “But we’ve got to tighten up. We can’t keep playing the way we’re playing, or we’re not going to have much of a chance. … We’ve got a ways to go to be a good team.”

Yesterday, the Redskins (3-3) were still recovering from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 35-13 trouncing, a lopsided loss Sunday that raised plenty of questions and knocked out three Washington starters.

Tight end Robert Royal was the biggest casualty, having suffered a fractured right hip that will result in the second-year player being placed on injured reserve for the second straight season. Running back Trung Canidate (mild high ankle sprain) and cornerback Fred Smoot (sprained clavicle) suffered less severe, but still significant injuries. Canidate is unlikely to play next week in Buffalo; Smoot is questionable.

Those three players, however, represent only the physical wounds from Sunday’s loss. It could take longer for the Redskins to recover mentally from their latest defeat.

There were no shortage of issues raised in yesterday’s meetings at Redskin Park, namely the recurring problems that derailed what only two weeks ago was looking like a season of significant progress.

Three major recurring issues stood out in Sunday’s loss:

cProblems with pass protection. Redskins quarterbacks were sacked six times by Tampa Bay defensive linemen and have been taken down 23 times in six games. That’s easily the most sacks allowed in the NFL, and more than twice the league average.

“We’ve got to do something,” Spurrier said. “We’re not pass-blocking, and I’m talking about the whole team, not just the offensive linemen. We’re not pass blocking as well as we need to right now.”

Washington’s sack troubles are nothing new. Quarterback Patrick Ramsey has taken a beating all season. The problem reached new heights Sunday, however, with Redskins blockers finding themselves in unfavorable matchups against Bucs defenders.

Washington’s tactics against defensive end Simeon Rice were subject to second-guessing. The Pro Bowl sack-master dropped Ramsey four times in the game, but only once while matched one-on-one with left tackle Chris Samuels. Through a series of missed assignments and misreads, at least one by rookie guard Derrick Dockery, the Redskins on several occasions wound up with only a tight end (Royal) or tailback (Ladell Betts) trying to block Rice.

“It’s frustrating, but the way we set up things on different plays, we have to do it that way,” Samuels said. “Some of the sacks are on us, some are not. Anytime you give up six sacks, everybody’s stinking.”

• Big plays surrendered on defense. After taking a 13-7 lead early in the third quarter, Washington gave up three straight touchdown drives that featured five plays of 18 or more yards.

“We outplayed our own team. We outplayed ourselves,” safety Matt Bowen said. “We made too many mistakes. I don’t think you can get away with that with any team as good as the Bucs. They’re the defending champs.”

There were plenty of big plays to choose from, but perhaps the costliest was an 18-yard pass to running back Michael Pittman with the Redskins still leading in the third quarter. On third-and-15 from Tampa Bay’s own 15, all three Washington linebackers (LaVar Arrington, Jeremiah Trotter and Jessie Armstead) wound up in the backfield, leaving Pittman wide open to pick up the first down.

Neither Spurrier nor defensive coordinator George Edwards would single out any individual yesterday for botching the play in question.

“I’m not going to get into calling who’s done what,” Edwards said. “It was a miscommunication and a missed assignment.”

cWashington’s inability to play a complete game. Six weeks into the season, the Redskins still have not put everything together for 60 minutes. They managed to overcome those lapses in Weeks 1-5, keeping every game within three points. They couldn’t do it against the Bucs, surrendering 28 unanswered points in the second half en route to their first lopsided loss of the year.

“We need to play for four quarters, in every aspect of the game,” defensive end Bruce Smith said. “We played pretty well for three quarters. And then the floor just opened up from underneath us.”

Redskins players seem to know what the root of this problem is, and how to fix it.

“Lack of concentration, lack of focus,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “We’ve got to check ourselves and hopefully correct that in practice this week.”

The Redskins have picked an inopportune time to attempt to resolve these lingering issues. They are about to enter what now looks like the most difficult portion of their schedule: five games against teams at .500 or better, four of the games on the road, beginning Sunday at Buffalo.

Washington players recognize the need to fix those things before it’s too late.

“There’s a determining point in every season,” Bowen said. “Being back at .500, you can go two ways: down or up. We plan on going up.”

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