- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

They’re not scoring points. They’re not producing big plays. They’re committing turnovers. And according to some, they’re too predictable.

Four weeks into the season, the Washington Redskins’ offense is rife with problem areas, some of them disturbingly uncharacteristic of a Joe Gibbs team.

“A lot of that’s my responsibility,” Gibbs said. “It starts with me.”

Maybe so, but an examination of the Redskins’ offensive woes reveals a variety of issues. Some are attributable to the coaching staff; others are clearly on the players’ shoulders.

All are reason for concern around Redskin Park this week as Washington (1-3) tries to right itself in time for Sunday night’s nationally televised game against the Baltimore Ravens at FedEx Field.

A closer look at the offensive issues plaguing the Redskins at the one-quarter mark of the season:

Lack of scoring

This probably goes without saying, but you can’t win in the NFL without scoring some points. Still, Washington’s scoring difficulties stand out because of its severely low totals through four weeks.

The Redskins are averaging just 15.25 points, 25th in the league. They’ve yet to score more than 18 points in a game and are tied for 27th in the NFL with just six touchdowns.

By comparison, Gibbs’ 1991 Super Bowl team scored an average of 36.5 points in its first four games, all victories.

“To me, the goal is to score three touchdowns [a game],” Gibbs said. “I kind of look at it like we’re not getting the job done.”

Lack of big plays

The Redskins offense has brought new meaning to the phrase “three yards and a cloud of dust.” The unit is averaging 4.9 yards from scrimmage, 21st in the league.

Washington has produced only 10 plays of 20 or more yards, and three of those came late during the failed Monday night comeback against Dallas.

Those are surprising statistics, given the big-play weapons (Clinton Portis, Laveranues Coles) the Redskins have on offense. Both players have posted relatively impressive numbers — Portis ranks third in the conference with 369 rushing yards; Coles is tied for sixth with 24 receptions — but neither has proved a consistent home run threat.

Portis broke a 64-yard touchdown on his first touch with the Redskins but is averaging just 3.4 yards since. Coles caught a nifty 45-yard pass from Mark Brunell on Sunday in Cleveland but is averaging a career-low 12.1 yards.

Third-down woes

The Redskins were an abysmal 1-for-11 on third downs in Sunday’s loss to the Browns, underscoring the problems they’ve had in this department.

It hasn’t helped that minimal gains and penalties on first and second downs have frequently left Washington in holes. But even when they’ve faced manageable distances on third down, the Redskins have had trouble converting.

Brunell is 17-for-39 for 151 yards on third downs, and his 3.87 yards per attempt average during such situations ranks last in the NFL.

“We really backed up there,” Gibbs said of his team’s third-down woes. “That’s a big deal. We need to take a real look at that.”

Turnovers

Gibbs’ 1983 team set the standard for holding onto the ball, committing just 18 turnovers in 16 games. These Redskins have committed 10 turnovers in four games, including two costly second-half gaffes in Sunday’s loss.

Again, the mistakes are being made by the offense’s most reliable players. Portis has three fumbles (he had only one last year in Denver). Coles fumbled late in the fourth quarter Sunday, quashing Washington’s last-ditch rally. And Brunell has been charged with two fumbles lost to go along with his one interception.

Gibbs thought his team had solved this problem after its atrocious, seven-turnover performance Sept.19 against the New York Giants. But the issue resurfaced last week, leaving the coach agitated.

“You can’t win if you turn the ball over up here,” he said. “You can play hard, but you’re just going to get yourself in a bind.”

Too predictable?

Following Sunday’s loss, Portis claimed the Browns defense at times knew what plays the Redskins were going to run, an assertion backed up by at least one Cleveland defender.

Gibbs strongly refuted the charge Monday, saying a thorough review of game tapes by his staff revealed only two plays in which Browns players appeared to be pointing before the snap.

Regardless, there are questions about the predictability of Gibbs’ offense. For all the different formations and packages the Redskins use, they seem to run only a handful of plays out of each.

Opposing defenses clearly have picked up on it, and while they may not always know exactly what play is coming their way, they have been able to key on certain players or spots on the field.

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