- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Coach Joe Gibbs had bad news yesterday for the thousands of Washington Redskins fans who booed the team’s offense in general and the quarterback in particular Sunday: Mark Brunell is still the starter.

Despite a 2-4 record, a dismal 25-22 defeat to the Tennessee Titans and a passing game that ranks 20th in the NFL , Gibbs has opted to put the Jason Campbell Era on hold for at least another game.

“I’m not afraid to change anything, and I don’t think I would hesitate to change something if it was for the good of our football team,” Gibbs said. “Certainly, changing Mark right now isn’t the answer.

“Mark’s like all of us offensively, and he mirrors what’s going on. The first half [Sunday], he played extremely well, and we as a group played well. We’ve been productive at times and inconsistent at times.”

Brunell, 36, was 5-for-16 for 77 yards (52 yards coming on one completion) in the second half Sunday. Brunell’s season statistics are middle-of-the-road among starters: He is tied for 13th in completions, tied for 20th in touchdowns and 12th in passer rating .

Two years ago, fans chanted for Patrick Ramsey, and Brunell eventually was benched during the season’s ninth game. On Sunday, the chants for Campbell — mixed in with boos for Brunell — were constant as the Redskins’ offense got stuck in neutral.

“You don’t listen to it,” Brunell said. “It’s never something you want to hear. Our defense got a taste of it, too, and certainly I did, and our offense did. It’s not fun, but you try to block it out and try and win the game.”

If Brunell and the offense were losing shootouts on their way to a 2-4 record, the fingers would be pointed directly at a struggling defense. But the offense remains wildly inconsistent — 215 first-half yards and 90 second-half yards against the Titans .

Of more concern should be Brunell’s selection as his primary targets.

Against the Titans, 15 of his 30 attempts were intended for Santana Moss. Moss had only five catches for 50 yards . The team’s other receivers had only three passes thrown their direction.

“I knew it was a pretty high number in terms of balls being thrown his way,” Antwaan Randle El said. “We all have specific plays, so that could account into it.”

Against the Giants on Oct. 8, tight end Chris Cooley was the intended target on nine of Brunell’s 22 attempts.

Even though the team has added Randle El and Brandon Lloyd, Moss and Cooley remain Brunell’s top targets. Seventy six of Brunell’s 169 throws (not including throwaways) have been intended for Moss (41) and Cooley (35).

Lloyd and Randle El, meanwhile, have been the targets only 39 times.

Is Brunell so intent on getting Moss involved that he locks in on him early in the play, ignoring open receivers elsewhere on the field?

“Every receiver in our situation is a primary receiver based on the coverage we see,” associate head coach-offense Al Saunders said. “There are times when we put Santana in a position where we would like to get him the ball if the coverage dictates that. I would hope [Brunell] would be astute in going through his progressions, and I think he is. I don’t get a sense that he’s looking for Santana all the time.”

Said Brunell: “Every defense we’ve faced knows that we want to get him the ball. And he’s still getting the ball [team-high 25 catches] . He’s our best receiver, and when that happens, you have to find a way to get the ball to the other guys. Getting everybody involved is very important, and we need more of that.”

But to get Randle El and Lloyd more involved and create better post-catch opportunities for Moss and Cooley, the Redskins have to trust Brunell more often to deliver long throws.

Only 10 of his 30 throws against the Titans traveled longer than 10 yards, and Brunell completed only two of those passes — a 24-yard touchdown to Cooley and a 52-yard completion to Lloyd that set up a touchdown.

“You definitely have to be reading the coverages,” Gibbs said. “You can’t just go back and say, ‘We’re going to throw the ball here.’ You can do that on short stuff and screens that we’ve designed for Santana because he’s such a good runner. We would love to get the ball to Santana, but hopefully Mark is following his reads.”

Asked whether going to him so often could be counterproductive, Moss said: “That’s true, but at the same time, I’m a guy that has been on the opposite side of things where I didn’t get anything and people wanted you to do things even though you weren’t getting the chances.”

In any case, Brunell remains hopeful that the season — and his starting job — can be saved starting Sunday at Indianapolis.

“We had a good run last year, and 2004 was rough,” Brunell said. “The hard part is that we came in and felt very good about where we were at, what we were doing and who we had. But now we’re 2-4, and it’s frustrating. Hope is not lost. We’ll keep fighting, and we have guys that will continue to work. Hopefully, we can capture what we did last year when we were 5-6.”

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