- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Washington Redskins are in trouble.

Their offense didn’t score a touchdown last week. The Redskins lost four of their skill position players to injuries in the last two games and are facing a San Diego defense that is No. 1 in the NFL in sacks and against the run.

The defense, which is on pace to force an NFL record-low 13 turnovers, is facing a Chargers offense that is second in the league in scoring and boasts devastating weapons in running back LaDainian Tomlinson, tight end Antonio Gates and quarterback Drew Brees.

The Redskins’ special teams are missing their top tackler and both of their usual return men against the visiting Chargers, who have won six of eight and three in a row after an 0-2 start.

All of this comes after consecutive losses that left the Redskins with five defeats in their last seven games after a 3-0 start.

“This game is our season,” said Khary Campbell, the leading special teams tackler in the absence of the injured Mike Sellers. “If we don’t get this game, we’ll be in a bad rut with three losses in a row and under .500 before we go on the road for two games [at St. Louis and Arizona]. Teams will start looking at us and thinking of us as an easy win if we don’t step back up and make it known that we’re a winning team.”

Thanks to Denver’s overtime victory at Dallas on Thursday, Washington moved within 1 games of the Cowboys for the NFC’s last playoff spot. However, the Redskins have lost four of five against playoff contenders since their brilliant beginning.

“I don’t think we’re at a crossroads,” said quarterback Mark Brunell, who threw for just 155 yards in last week’s 16-13 loss to Oakland and has only two touchdown passes in the past four games. “We [just] need a win.”

That won’t come easy against the talented Chargers of coach Marty Schottenheimer, who would like to show owner Dan Snyder that he shouldn’t have been fired after winning eight of his final 11 games in 2001, his lone season in Washington.

“It’s hard to figure out where you are going to stop them,” safety Ryan Clark said of the Chargers’ offense, which strafed Buffalo for 48 points last week. “They have [veteran receiver Keenan] McCardell, Gates, Tomlinson and Brees. They come at you from all angles.”

The challenge is just as big on the other side of the ball.

“It does look tough for us,” Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said.

Fifteen Chargers, led by rookie linebacker Shawne Merriman, a former Maryland star, have at least one of the team’s 33 sacks.

“This may be the best defense we’ve played because of their speed,” offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. “They’ve got some outside pass rushers that if you make one error with your set, they can be by you. This could be one of those games where if you get in too many long-yardage situations, you could have some problems.”

Redskins running back Clinton Portis averaged 124 yards in four games against San Diego for Denver in 2002-03, but this is a much-improved Chargers defense. What’s more, Gibbs called Portis’ number just four times after he lost his second fumble of the day 4:12 into the second half against Oakland even though Washington had the lead.

“We abandoned the run,” Portis said. “If we go out and execute our gameplan, it’s hard for teams to beat us. Every time we become one-dimensional, we end up losing.”

And yet, the Redskins, who were 5-0 when Portis ran for 100 yards last year and 1-10 when he didn’t, are just 2-2 when he hits that mark this season.

Turnovers have been a more reliable indicator. During its skid, Washington is 0-5 when losing the turnover battle and 2-0 otherwise. In those seven games, the Redskins have lost the ball 15 times while taking it away just six times. Veteran cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Walt Harris, who have averaged five interceptions a season between them, don’t have one yet. Neither does top draft choice Carlos Rogers. And the defense has recovered only three of the 17 fumbles it has forced.

“Turnovers aren’t the kind of thing you can force,” safety Sean Taylor said. “They just happen from the work you do and how hard you run to the ball. Eventually they will come.”

Perhaps, but Taylor and Co. are running out of time.

“Right now, we’re beat up and playing a very good football team,” Gibbs said. “The good news is that we’re at home [where the Redskins are 4-1]. I’m anxious to see how we respond. It’s someone’s opportunity to play great for us.”

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