- The Washington Times - Friday, October 21, 2005

Looking like Doc Brown from the “Back to the Future” trilogy, Clinton Portis donned a crazy gray-haired wig and black, rectangular glasses yesterday after the Washington Redskins’ walk-through.

Portis’ mad scientist outfit was his attempt to make light that the Redskins are one of only two teams (Cleveland) without a rushing touchdown this season. This week, he said he has rested his sore shin/calf and tried to find the formula that will get him in the end zone Sunday against San Francisco.

“My eyes haven’t been working so good, so I’m using [the glasses] to look through the playbook,” said Portis, who will play despite missing practice the last two days. “I might as well keep a sense of humor about it.”

Two weeks ago, when the Redskins were 3-0, the company line was, “Hey, we’re undefeated.”

But following two narrow road defeats, Portis admits it has become a “problem,” creating a sense or urgency to get him across the goal line.

“We definitely want to rush for touchdowns, and I’d say it’s a little bit of a surprise that we haven’t,” offensive coordinator Don Breaux said. “I just have to believe that eventually, we’ll do it because of Clinton’s skill and our ability to get into the right scheme and right plan.”

So far, the plan for increased offensive production — the Redskins rank sixth in yards — is working, and throughout most of the field, the run game has been efficient. The Redskins rank eighth in rushing (127 yards a game), and Portis is averaging 4.3 yards a carry.

Coach Joe Gibbs’ offense primarily uses one back. Since his return to the team, any other back in the game has been used as a blocker, not to carry the football. Mike Sellers, for instance, is listed as a fullback, and he has one career carry. The system leaves the Redskins without a true short-yardage pounder.

During Gibbs’ first tour with the Redskins, the team averaged 18.7 rushing touchdowns a season (224 in 184 games). Only once (1988) did the Redskins have fewer than 10 rushing scores in a full season, and they had at least 20 a season from 1983 to 1986. John Riggins and George Rogers each had 13-game rushing touchdown streaks that rank among the top five in NFL history.

When Gibbs returned and traded for Portis, it appeared he was getting a touchdown machine regardless of down and distance. He scored 29 touchdowns in his first two seasons, reaching the end zone once every 19.4 carries with Denver. With the Redskins, he has five touchdowns in 447 carries or one every 89.4 carries. Dating to last season, Portis has gone 108 carries without a touchdown.

“You can tell it’s bothering him a little bit,” left tackle Chris Samuels said. “But he has a positive attitude about things because we’re 3-2.”

Said Gibbs: “We haven’t been as productive as we want to be rushing down there. I’m hoping that as we continue to get down there, we get better and better.”

Portis’ lack of touchdowns isn’t a product of him not getting chances. With the Redskins, he has 61 carries in the red zone for 119 yards and four touchdowns. From the 20-yard line to the 11, he has 30 carries for 93 yards (3.1 average) and no touchdowns.

From the 10-yard line in, though, Portis is averaging less than a yard an attempt — 31 carries for 26 yards and four touchdowns. Thirteen of those 31 rushes went for no gain or lost yardage. From the 1-yard line with the Redskins, Portis has two touchdowns in six tries.

“It’s the goal line that’s killing us,” Portis said. “We’re dominating in short yardage — third-and-1, fourth-and-1, but teams are stacking it up at the goal line and making us throw the ball. When we run it, they’re somehow getting penetration.”

The rushing game’s inability to punch it in has forced Gibbs to go to the passing game. Since the beginning of last season, the Redskins have thrown 15 touchdowns of 10 or less yards.

“We would like to run the ball in because for an offense that can do that it’s a dominance thing,” running backs coach Earnest Byner said. “You want to have something you can look upon and say, ‘We can be dominating in this area.’ ”

Said assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel: “If you’re able to do it on the ground, it makes everybody feel good when they come back to the sidelines because that’s down and dirty football.”

The margin for error at the goal-line is minimal. In tight quarters, one missed block or one slip and the runner will be stuffed.

“We know Clinton can score touchdowns,” Breaux said. “He had [29] in Denver, and I know he wants to get untracked. Hopefully, at some point, they’ll come and come in bunches for him.”

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