- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2003

Want to get under the Washington Redskins’ skin?

Bring up the sacks allowed.

The Redskins’ NFL-high 13 have become an increasingly touchy subject around Redskin Park. Players and coaches are trying to convey that the takedowns of second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey are a team-wide, not offensive line-specific, issue.

As Washington (2-1) heads into today’s game against the New England Patriots (2-1) at FedEx Field, the club is stressing that the sacks are a part of doing business with coach Steve Spurrier’s top-ranked Fun ‘n’ Gun offense.

“We may never be the least-sacked football team in the National Football League,” offensive line coach Kim Helton said last week. “That’s not the nature of what we do. The sacks are a team issue. Some people want to isolate it to the offensive line, which is ridiculous. There’s not 13 offensive line sacks. There are 13 Washington Redskins sacks.

“The way I look at it, sacks are not more important than points. Sacks are not more important than winning. Would you like not to have any? Yeah, because it’s become an issue with the media. But what you really don’t want to get to is where the system says, let’s throw all three-step drops and run up the middle. Oh, we’ll be a great offensive line. We’ll average 10 points a game, but we’ll be a great offensive line.”

Sacks aren’t the only hot topic as the Redskins try to regroup from last Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants and prove they really are playoff material. Also of great concern is the record pace at which Washington is racking up penalties.

The Redskins tied a franchise record against the Giants with 17 flags, giving them 35 for the season — on pace to break the NFL record of 158 — and prompting Spurrier to start having referees monitor practice.

Three crucial penalties (on Darnerien McCants, Chris Samuels and Jeremiah Trotter) in last weekend’s first half helped Washington fall behind 21-3 at halftime. Although the Redskins made an impressive rally to send the game to overtime, the Giants pulled out a key win and Washington was left to mull its growing persona as a talented but careless bunch.

“If we hadn’t put ourselves in such a hole, we really think we could have done well,” tackle Jon Jansen said. “You look across the board, and we’ve got a lot of guys making a lot of plays. If we can get this thing right and get it going, I think we have a very good team.”

While players will be scrutinized today for how often they are penalized, Spurrier will be judged for how he fares against Patriots coach Bill Belichick. If any strategist could slow down the Redskins, it is defensive guru Belichick, who thwarted high-powered Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV while with the Giants, and who took down the mighty St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI while with New England.

“We just have to go out and do what we do,” said tackle Samuels. “We can’t get wrapped up with what he does. He’s a great coach. I can’t take anything from him. But we’ve got to go out and execute our game plan.”

Belichick, however, must deal with a rash of injuries on defense, most notably the absences of run-stopping nose tackle Ted Washington and inside linebacker Ted Johnson (which might lead the Redskins to stress the interior run), as well as pass-rushing outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. Also, outside linebacker Mike Vrabel sat out Friday’s light practice with an arm injury and appears unlikely to play.

In all, 11 Patriots are on the injury list. On offense, three starters (wide receiver David Patten, right tackle Adrain Klemm and fullback Fred McCrary) did not practice Friday. Each is listed as questionable.

Washington isn’t nearly as banged up. Tight end Zeron Flemister is returning from a two-game absence because of a strained Achilles’ tendon. Club officials think left guard Dave Fiore probably will start despite not practicing this week with a sore knee. Regardless of Fiore’s status, rookie Derrick Dockery, a third-round pick, will see his first NFL action and probably play significant snaps.

In that manner, Spurrier is attempting to get his starters more rest and his reserves more action this week. Linebacker Kevin Mitchell is slated to see some time for Trotter in the middle, and defensive end Regan Upshaw will get increased snaps as a backup for right end Bruce Smith.

Also making his NFL debut will be the Redskins’ second-round pick, wide receiver Taylor Jacobs, who missed the first three games with a bruised pancreas. Jacobs, though, must earn his way back up the depth chart after McCants solidified his hold on the No. 3slot against the Giants.

“I’m just going to go out and work hard,” Jacobs said. “Whatever I can do — special teams, offense — whatever I’m going to do, I’m going to try to work my way back up.”

As a team, the Redskins are taking a similar mentality. They figure that hard work will help eliminate the sacks and penalties and allow their talent to shine through.

“I don’t think we’re changing the way we’re approaching it,” linebacker LaVar Arrington said. “I think this team is quite all right. Our morale is fine and everybody is well. We’re going to continue to grind it out. That’s all.”

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