- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Bye week in the NFL is a time for reflection. So let us ponder the central question of the Redskins’ existence, the one that’s on every fan’s mind:

How much longer is the offense going to put up 14 points a game?

Answer: Don’t expect the scoreboard to explode anytime soon. The “O” is what it is, especially with Mark Brunell taking the snaps.

If the first six games of the season have taught us anything, it’s that the Redskins offense, as presently constituted, is an extremely limited operation. (Translation: They can run — usually — but they can’t hide.) Face it, when an offense scores anywhere from 10 to 18 points for six straight games, with all starters present and accounted for, there’s a good chance it’s going to continue to score 10 to 18 points a game, barring some cosmic event like a change of quarterbacks.

Jon Jansen ain’t coming back, folks — not this season, at least. For better or worse, this is the Redskins offense. And all the X-and-O-ing in the world won’t change that.

I know this because Joe Gibbs went through a similar stretch in 1992, the season before he “retired,” and all the X-and-O-ing in the world didn’t change anything then, either. In consecutive weeks, the Redskins scored 16, 15, 7, 16, 16 and 3 points, and there wasn’t much Coach Joe could do about it. (Other, that is, than hope Chip Lohmiller could kick enough field goals to win the game, which he did three times.)

Things picked up for the offense late in the season, but only because Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jim Lachey — whose absence had caused the tailspin — returned to the lineup. (Indeed, in his first game back, the Redskins scored 41 points.) But again, nobody’s coming to the rescue this season. Gibbs is going to have to make do with the current cast of characters.

And that includes No. 8, with whom he seems to have a till-death-do-us-part arrangement. Brunell right now is the 26th-rated passer in the league. He has thrown five touchdown passes and been involved in three plays that have resulted in scores for the defense (two fumbles, one interception), making his net effect on the offense — through six games — plus-two TDs. Not very impressive.

His yards-per-attempt, moreover, is right out of the 1930s — 5.43 yards per pass. Gibbs has never had so much difficulty throwing the ball. The worst his quarterbacks ever did before this year was 6.33 yards per pass (in 1985). In several seasons (‘82, ‘83, ‘91) they averaged better than eight yards per pass.

What yards-per-pass reveals is how well a QB is getting the ball downfield (and to a lesser extent, how well his receivers are running with it after they catch it). The Redskins’ passing game so far has been five yards and a cloud of dust.

It’s interesting. Twice in his career Gibbs has replaced an older quarterback with a younger one during a season, and both times the Redskins’ yards-per-pass shot right up. It did in ‘85 when Jay Schroeder (6.9) took over for broken-legged Joe Theismann (5.9), and it did in ‘88 when Mark Rypien (8.3) stepped in for ailing Doug Williams (6.9).

Not that I’m lobbying for Patrick Ramsey or anything.

(I will note, though, that when Patrick supplanted wizened Shane Matthews as a rookie in 2002, the offense’s yards-per-pass went from 5.3 to 6.8.)

Chalk it up to arm strength. Chalk it up to a young quarterback’s willingness — sometimes ill-advised — to hold the ball longer, looking for a big gain downfield. Whatever the reason, it’s a statistical fact of life: Young QBs, when they’re not stretching the limits of their coach’s patience, often stretch defenses.

But Gibbs seems more concerned with Not Making the Wrong Play than with Making the Right Play. That’s why, for now, Brunell is his guy. Coach Joe appreciates valor, but he’s an even bigger fan of discretion, of a quarterback “driving the car” and not imagining opportunities where they don’t exist. Ramsey’s play in the second half of the Giants game — three interceptions, two of which were his fault, in 18 breathless passes — probably spooked Gibbs. (Even if the kid did average a healthy 7.9 yards per attempt.)

“I don’t think you can afford to be one-dimensional,” Coach Joe said yesterday. But that’s what the Redskins are at this stage. They give the ball to Clinton Portis, and then they give it to him a little more, and every once in a while Brunell rolls out and completes a 5.43-yard pass.

They can’t possibly keep on this way … can they?

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