- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

In the preseason and the opening victory over Tampa Bay, Washington’s pass protection was rock-solid. The “Dirtbags” were looking like worthy successors to the “Hogs,” whom offensive line coach Joe Bugel had molded into a championship unit in the 1980s.

But as the Redskins lost the past two weeks to NFC East rivals New York and Dallas, the line sprung more leaks than a congressional committee. The Giants and Cowboys got to quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey nine times. That’s as many sacks as coach Joe Gibbs’ Redskins allowed during the entire 1991 championship season.

“That’s been our bread and butter around here, something we kind of pride ourselves on,” Gibbs said. “The first thing we did today was work against the things that gave us trouble there. Whatever the situation is, you can’t have your quarterback getting hit.”

And when the quarterbacks go down, they’re not the only Redskins wincing.

“You’re looking at the film the day after, and you’re sick to your stomach,” said Cory Raymer, who replaced Lennie Friedman as the starting center for the Dallas game. “It’s not necessarily anything the [opponent] is doing. It can be 10 people doing the right thing, and the 11th person goes the wrong way. It’s something we’re doing wrong. It just seems that whenever we make a mistake, they take full advantage of it.”

The Redskins also expect to see Cleveland, a conservative defensive team, take more chances after Cowboys safety Tony Dixon got to Brunell twice on blitzes.

“Whenever there’s a fire burning like we had last week and something shows up on film, everybody is going to copy it,” right tackle Ray Brown said. “It’s a copycat league.”

Certainly the loss of stalwart right tackle Jon Jansen has hurt. Bugel has had to devote more double-team help to replacements Kenyatta Jones and Brown. The line’s not fully responsible on blitzes or for the quarterbacks holding on to the ball too long. But whatever the reasons, the Redskins are on pace to surrender 48 sacks, their most in six years and about 50 percent higher than typical during Bugel’s previous Washington tenure (1981-1989).

“It’s unheard of, and we’re going to get it rectified,” Bugel said. “When we shut out Simeon Rice, I thought it was going to be a great year for us. Are we upset about it? Yeah, but we’re not in a rage. You don’t give up on your team. You correct it. Our team wants to win so bad that sometimes we play a little bit tight. We need to relax.”

However, Brown said the blockers might have been too relaxed against pass-rushers not as well-known as Rice or Giants All-Pro end Michael Strahan. Giants tackle Fred Robbins had his first two-sack game, and end Keith Washington had the 10th sack of his 10-year career.

“We were keyed up for [Rice and Strahan], but we might have gotten lulled to sleep against other guys who don’t bring the clippings,” Brown said. “We’re a very capable group, [but] we’ve got to get on a consistently high level. [The Browns] can get the quarterback. Their ends are big time up-the-field rushers. We’ve got a challenge with the [crowd] facing them in their place. But we’ve got to answer the bell. We need to pitch a shutout in the sack department.”

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