When the Washington Redskins‘ touchdown problems arose last month, coach Jim Zorn and his offensive players pointed out that they were moving the football, but self-inflicted mistakes were denying the team regular trips to the end zone.
And they were right. After the Redskins’ win in Detroit on Oct. 26, the offense was seventh in the NFL in yards. But now, five games into the swoon, the Redskins can’t brag about yardage totals anymore.
Two weeks after Pittsburgh administered its vice grip - allowing 221 yards and six points while sacking Jason Campbell seven times - Dallas handcuffed the Redskins on Sunday night, allowing just 228 yards and 10 points and notching three sacks.
The impact: Instead of revving up for a grudge match against the New York Giants in two weeks for NFC East supremacy, the 6-4 Redskins are tied with Dallas and Atlanta for what would be the final NFC playoff spot. They spent Monday dissecting why Jason Campbell hit the ground 10 times against the Cowboys and why the offense is 27th in points - and how to fix both issues.
“We’re kind of this ‘Even Steven’ team,” Zorn said. “You can’t tread water in this league for very long. You have to be swimming and we’re not swimming.”
Before their numbers sunk the past five games, the Redskins’ offense was a pleasant surprise. During a 4-1 start, Washington averaged 21.8 points and 351.2 yards, didn’t commit a turnover and allowed only eight sacks. In the past five games, the Redskins are 2-3 and averaging 30 fewer yards and seven fewer points. The most telling statistics: eight turnovers and 18 sacks allowed.
“We never jelled against Pittsburgh, and we came back here [Sunday] and were moving the ball in certain areas, but penalties and a turnover or missed assignments stopped us,” Campbell said. “When we look at the film, we’ll see one player after another.”
Said Zorn: “We’re hitting on some cylinders, but we’re not hitting on all of them - that’s for sure.”
Zorn, in his first season as a head coach and as a play caller, disagreed that opponents have a better handle on his tendencies.
“We’re moving the ball, but we’re not maintaining our composure so we can get our quarterback in a rhythm, so we can get our receivers downfield,” he said. “Those are the things I’m talking about - that consistent blocking groove, both run and pass, so we can do what we want. I think it’s us more than catching up with our ideas.”
Dallas’ pass rush wasn’t as diverse as Pittsburgh’s, but it was instantly effective. Jay Ratliff used a swim move to get past center Casey Rabach for a sack on the game’s first possession.
“Bad technique and he beat me,” Rabach said. “I know what this offensive line is capable of and what we’ve done in the past. To be where we’re at in protecting Jason is definitely a question mark, and it’s something that needs to be addressed.”
The Redskins recovered on that opening series to score a touchdown, but other mistakes continue to kill drives. Leading 7-0 in the second quarter, the Redskins faced third-and-6 from the Dallas 36 but were penalized for 12 men in the huddle after Ladell Betts substituted for Clinton Portis, not realizing the play featured a four-receiver, one-tight end personnel group. On the next play, DeMarcus Ware beat Chris Samuels to sack Campbell and knock the Redskins out of field goal range.
In the third quarter, the Redskins twice had chances to extend their 10-7 lead. Terence Newman intercepted Campbell at the Dallas 33 to end the first drive. Later, the Redskins drove to the Dallas 17 before Moss lost 3 yards on a quick pass, Ratliff beat Randy Thomas for an 8-yard sack and Shaun Suisham fell short on a 46-yard field goal attempt.
“Dropped some balls, missed some blocks, Jason got hit quite a few times,” fullback Mike Sellers said. “When everybody isn’t on the same page, things like that will happen. We’re not good enough right now to [overcome] those types of mistakes.”
The Redskins ended five possessions in Dallas territory and scored only the opening-drive touchdown. In the past three games, the Redskins have driven into the opponent’s territory 20 times but scored only one touchdown, not counting Santana Moss’ 50-yard touchdown catch at Detroit. That confirms Zorn’s theory that the offense is doing good things, but not consistently and certainly not in the most crucial situations.
For the first time Monday, the offensive players expressed guilt at letting down a defense that held Dallas to 315 yards - its lowest output in Tony Romo’s seven starts. They know improvement better come quickly, or else that 4-1 start will be washed away.
“I don’t care how good your defense plays; you’re not giving yourself a chance and you’re not giving your defense a chance if you’re not scoring points,” said Moss, who has six catches for 43 yards in the past two games. “We’re not getting our behinds whipped up and down the field. We’re just coming up short. We just have to find a way.”