- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2008

Three games above .500 but they haven’t played well in a month and are 2-2 at FedEx Field.

Elite performances from three indispensable offensive players but only seven teams average fewer points.

Top-eight rankings in four major defensive categories but a group that produces far too few field-flipping plays.

That is where the Washington Redskins stand this week.

At 6-3, is the Gatorade cooler half-full or half-empty? Were the last four games emblematic of an exhausted team or what the Redskins really are?

Through the first nine games, the conclusion is there is no conclusion. The next three games - home against Dallas, at Seattle and home against the New York Giants - will be telling.

As Pete Kendall said the other day, everything is still out there for the Redskins. Whether they prove capable of taking it is a coin flip.

Q: Holy cow, are the Redskins 3-6 or 6-3? Shouldn’t fans be rejoicing at the first nine games and how the Redskins might not need another December to Remember to reach the playoffs?

A: Just stating the facts. Looking at the St. Louis-Cleveland-Detroit stretch, the last month has been full of unimpressive football, particularly on offense. The Redskins flubbed an opportunity to destroy three subpar teams but instead gave one game away and survived two other games. In the NFL, it’s all about progress, and the Redskins spent October on a treadmill.

Q: What needs to get better on offense? All the statistics look good, so something has to be missing, right?

A: On offense, the Redskins rank 10th in yards and fifth in rushing and are getting great seasons from Clinton Portis, Santana Moss and Chris Cooley. But it’s time to start getting to the end zone after averaging two or fewer offensive touchdowns in the last six games. Moss’ balky hamstring is paramount to this effort. If Moss is healthy, Jason Campbell can throw downfield, which opens things up for Portis.

Q: Portis, Moss and Cooley are locks to continue to producing. But what can we expect from Campbell?

A: The next seven games will go a long way in showing whether Campbell is a franchise quarterback. He mostly has been in game manager mode this year, but Monday night showed the passing game must improve because Portis can’t do it every week. Campbell made a bad third-down throw in the first quarter against Pittsburgh and held on to the ball too long a few times. But overall, he would get a “B” for the first nine weeks.

Q: The offensive line looks better run-blocking than pass-blocking at this point. Can that continue?

A: As long as the starting five remains healthy and Zorn feels comfortable running to both sides, then yes, it should continue. They stalled out against the Steelers because Pittsburgh was just better this time around. Samuels’ knee is a concern. If he goes down again, the Redskins have a second-year player (Stephon Heyer) protecting Campbell’s blind side. That would force Zorn to use a second tight end in protection, which would limit Mike Sellers’ snaps and, therefore, impact Portis’ numbers.

Q: On defense, London Fletcher is all over the place, Chris Horton is playing like a veteran and Carlos Rogers - hands aside - is having his best season. Is this group’s performance a surprise?

A: Yes. The Redskins’ patchwork defense is fourth in yards and eighth in points. Teams are struggling to do anything with first-down rushes. But they have only two takeaways in the last five games. If an offense is having trouble scoring, giving them a short field can solve that problem. Fletcher has been great, Rogers above average and Horton a revelation.

Q: Shawn Springs (five games) and Jason Taylor (three games) are expected to return from calf injuries. What should be our expectations for the two veterans?

A: Not very high. If Springs and Taylor do anything in the second half, it would be a bonus. Springs was playing well when he was on the field, but he can’t stay on the field; Taylor has one sack and is a liability in the running game. Springs’ situation is so tenuous the Redskins would be wise to kick the tires on DeAngelo Hall. As for Taylor, did anybody notice he didn’t play Monday night? The Redskins are banking on him being at full health in December.

Q: Horton was a seventh-round pick, and he’s the only one making an impact. How can this draft class not merit an “F”?

A: On a sliding scale, the class gets an incomplete. Remember this about Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas and Fred Davis - they’re all second-round picks, not first-round picks. Although the coaches expected them to make some kind of impact, the guess is they weren’t banking on any of the trio contributing big numbers this year. Among the Day 2 picks, there is a group of projects and Horton, a potential NFL defensive rookie of the year candidate.

Q: What’s the game-by-game prediction for the remainder of the year and the playoff projection?

A: There is still a lot to like about this team if it simply does a few things better. The Dallas game is huge. The Redskins haven’t lost two straight all season, and they can move to 7-3 and put another dagger into the Cowboys with a win. The Redskins will go win, win, loss, win, win, loss and win to finish 11-5, secure the fifth seed and play a first-round game at Arizona.

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