- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

Washington Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey knows where the ball is going, time and time again each game. The only question is whether he’ll get hammered before he can deliver it.

“I can see an opening down there,” Ramsey said yesterday, describing the tricky balance between waiting until the last second and waiting a second too long. “There’s a ‘backer and I’m trying to hold him with my eyes. And I know I’m throwing it 2 yards to the left of him. And I also know somebody’s coming at me. So it’s just a matter of time, whether I can hold the ball long enough, if I can wait long enough to get that guy open.”

The fictional pass play could be seen as a microcosm of a season in which Ramsey is trying to toss the Redskins into the playoffs but could get knocked out at any moment.

Through six games, Ramsey remains the NFL’s most sacked passer (21 times). And he has been hit on countless other occasions and had his left (non-throwing) shoulder sprained twice.

Somehow, some way, the Redskins must protect Ramsey. He, teammates and coaches see slight glimmers of hope that the beatings will end in coming weeks — perhaps as soon as Sunday at Buffalo — but no one knows for sure.

“Hopefully, this Sunday,” tackle Jon Jansen said with a grimace. “It’s not really an answer I can put into words. It’s going to be one of those things where we go out and do it and everybody says, ‘Oh, that’s better.’ We’ve just got to go out and continue to work on it.”

The problem with sacks is that one breakdown can spell doom. Forget something as simple as a lineman missing his block — it can be a lineman misreading a fake audible, a lineman forgetting to help out the tight end, or the quarterback not recognizing the blitz and failing to get rid of the ball.

Each of those things, in fact, led to sacks by Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice in Sunday’s loss. Offensive line coach Kim Helton could only shake his head at how the Redskins’ own players might have been the biggest factor in Rice winning the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award for his four sacks.

“We gave the guy, I don’t want to say four ‘unearned’ sacks, but certainly ‘slightly contested’ sacks,” Helton said. “You’d like to take those out, and against the defending champions you’d like to say we had a decent day if we didn’t give away sacks.”

Thus the focus as Washington prepares for the Bills isn’t an overhaul of the offensive system; it’s a rededication by each player to his responsibility.

“The only thing you can do is go out there and every man has to do his job — including everybody,” Helton said. “We’ve got to be accountable at the line for what we do. And Pat’s got to be accountable. And the tight end’s got to be accountable.”

Even coach Steve Spurrier plans a role, saying he intends to make sure heavy blitzes are avoided by Ramsey audibling to a quick dump-off (not to touch off that other controversy that’s been simmering in recent weeks, Spurrier’s frequent audibles).

“We’ve just got to keep him out of bad situations,” Spurrier said. “We’re going back there at times when we shouldn’t be going back. All of a sudden we’re seeing some eight-man rushes and we can’t go back there. We’ve got to get to a three-step drop, and get some different protections called, and give him somewhere to throw it away.”

One of the biggest individual factors, meanwhile, has been the adjustment of rookie lineman Derrick Dockery, who has started the past three games in place of left guard Dave Fiore. There has been growing concern that Fiore, hobbled by a chronically sore knee, might not return this season, but he was a little more upbeat yesterday.

Regardless, Dockery, a third-round pick out of Texas, has gone from rookie reserve to major component of the line. After enjoying a solid debut against New England on Sept.28, he has struggled the past two weeks against the talented defensive interiors of Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.

“These last two games have been rough,” Dockery said. “In this league, talent can take you so far. When you’ve got guys like Warren Sapp and Corey Simon, and this week Sam Adams and Pat Williams, they’re guys who have been in the league for awhile, who know the ins and outs of the game, who have experimented with different pass moves in their careers.

“At this level, you have to be technique-sound, so right now I’m just trying to concentrate on technique. I have the size and athletic ability and strength to play this game, but I’m really concentrating on techniques. Once I get that down, I’ll really feel a lot better about myself.”

Another way Washington could protect Ramsey is by not putting itself in so many obvious passing situations. The Redskins have rushed for just 117 yards over the past two weeks — a figure they surpassed in each of the first four games, en route to a 3-1 start.

This week starting running back Trung Canidate is expected to be sidelined with a high ankle sprain, but the Redskins have gotten solid production at times from Ladell Betts. Ramsey knows more of that this weekend will help him stay upright.

“Everybody saw when we got the run game going, we were really potent offensively,” Ramsey said. “It was something that really helped us move the ball. We were unpredictable. Teams really had a tough time stopping us.”

Ramsey, despite all the beatings, says he actually feels pretty good these days. He doesn’t expect his shoulder to be healthy until after next week’s open date, but otherwise he claims no other major injury concerns.

Thus it is with a presumably clear head that he predicted the sacks finally are about to decrease.

“They’re small errors here and there, things that each week we’re addressing as they come about,” Ramsey said. “This week, I think they’ll start to go down.”

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