Wednesday, November 5, 2008

They didn’t leave tire tracks, but the Washington Redskins sped out of the team facility around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Taking advantage of a five-day break, many dashed to Dulles International Airport for late-afternoon flights to their hometowns.

The vacation comes after a 6-3 start slightly dampened Monday night by a 23-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. But during a team meeting, coach Jim Zorn emphasized what’s ahead - chiefly NFC East home games against Dallas and the New York Giants - and not what just happened.

“I believe we’ll put it into perspective and take it as one game and not overexamine and treat that game as though it was the season,” Zorn said. “We have a great opportunity to get refreshed and come back. That’s our focus.”

The Redskins have not had a break longer than two days since reporting to training camp July 20. Washington, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Cincinnati have the latest byes this season.

“You take it when you can get it,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “I don’t think it will necessarily help us more now than at another time, but we definitely need it. I haven’t even had an injury this year - and I’m tired from going out every day in practice and games.”

The Redskins, 1 1/2 games behind the division-leading New York Giants (7-1) and a half-game ahead of Philadelphia (5-3), are in good playoff position. The Giants and Eagles meet Sunday night in Philadelphia.

The good news for the Redskins: They still play host to the three other NFC East clubs and have winnable road games against Seattle, Baltimore, Cincinnati and San Francisco. Those four teams are a combined 10-23.

The bad news? The Redskins haven’t played a solid game in a month.

“It’s OK - not what we hoped it would be,” left guard Pete Kendall said of being 6-3. “But everything is still out there for us. We’ll have a lot to say about where we end up.”

What could define where the Redskins end up is the offense’s ability to score touchdowns and the defense’s ability to find some consistency. The past two weeks, the Redskins have turned promising scoring opportunities on their first drive into semi-deflating field goals. The past four games, the Redskins are 4-for-12 in the red zone and have just one first-half touchdown drive - which was all of 3 yards. The Redskins fell to 25th in scoring after their lowest output of the year.

“It’s not like we’re not practicing it; we’re practicing those plays like we are everything else,” Cooley said. “It’s going to happen. We’re going to score touchdowns. We’re going to start putting up points.”

Said Kendall: “The offense’s job is to score points, and we’re not doing that well enough. We have to find ways once we cross midfield to kick extra points instead of field goals.”

To that end, the coaching staff planned to spend Tuesday in self-scouting mode, looking at the first nine games to confirm what’s working and to obtain a better understanding of why certain plays failed.

“We’ll evaluate our schemes and individuals,” Zorn said. “The negative part of where we’re at is execution. It’s being together for a long time, and we haven’t done that in the scheme we’re in.”

Defensive players pointed to their tendency to play a good first half but a subpar second half or vice versa.

The trend dates to Week 1 against the Giants, who built a 16-0 halftime lead but were stymied in the second half. In Week 7, Cleveland punted six times in the first half but put together two second-half drives of more than 50 yards.

On Monday, Pittsburgh’s offense was impotent early - starting the game with an interception and four punts - but produced scoring drives of 72 and 77 yards in the second half.

”We know we have a playoff-caliber team,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “We’re going to come back next week, and we won’t let this game rattle us.”

The Redskins bounced back from their two previous losses to post winning streaks of four and two games. Zorn said he expects cornerback Shawn Springs (calf) and defensive end Jason Taylor (calf) to return for Dallas; running back Ladell Betts (knee) hopes to be ready to play.

The break also will allow Clinton Portis and Santana Moss to heal. Moss, whose hamstring played a part in limiting him to just two catches Monday, said the Redskins will be fine if they show the form that won games in Dallas and Philadelphia.

“It’s not about improving,” he said. “I don’t feel like we have to do something we haven’t already done. We’ve done a lot this year, but in the games we lost, those things haven’t been done.”

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