The Washington Redskins played a variation of the West Coast offense Sunday at FedEx Field that we haven’t quite seen before. It was a version of the West Coast offense if an earthquake dropped half the United States into the ocean and the West Coast now started at Lincoln, Neb.
Run and punt. Punt and run. Run and punt. It was as if the three turnovers the Redskins committed in their 19-17 loss to the Rams the week before had frightened Washington coach Jim Zorn so much that he was determined not to lose another game by giving the ball away.
So that made two Redskins very important to the outcome of Sunday’s 14-11 win over the Cleveland Browns at FedEx Field
Clinton Portis did his job, rushing for 175 yards.
But we knew what to expect from Portis. The other guy, though, was given a lot of responsibility for someone who wasn’t even on the team until Wednesday.
Ryan Plackemeier was up to the task.
Plackemeier didn’t remind anyone of Ray Guy (though he did win the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s best punter in 2005, punting 67 times for a 47.2 average at Wake Forest). But he didn’t remind anyone of Durant Brooks, the rookie punter who was cut last week after one final erratic performance against the Rams.
And all it might have taken to change the outcome of Sunday’s game was one shanked punt. Given the fact that the Redskins punted eight times, the odds were likely Brooks would have booted one off the side of his foot for a 15-yarder or so.
Not Plackemeier. The 24-year-old former Seattle Seahawks punter wasn’t outstanding, but he wasn’t a disaster either - reliable enough (he turned out a 37.3-yard average) not to hurt the team.
Zorn believes he found his punter for this season.
“Our punter, for his first go with us this year, was excellent,” he said. “He has a knack for that end-over-end kick that makes the ball die when it needs to down there. His hang time was excellent. There were no shanks. He got the ball off in decent time. He will have a long season with us.”
Still, the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Plackemeier benefited from some good coverage on his punts. He didn’t have a good net average - 28.8 yards - and that was what got him cut in Seattle after his first game yielded a 30-yard average on 11 punts.
But the bar was low following Brooks - simply don’t shank one.
“He had a tough week,” special teams coach Danny Smith said. “He had a workout Monday in Green Bay. He had a workout Tuesday with us. Then he practiced on Wednesday, trying to get on the same page. I think he will be fine. We have to do some things better.”
That is the life of a punter - too many shanks, not enough distance and you find yourself on the audition circuit with new teammates in a new city.
“Everyone was asking this week, ‘What do you think? What do you think?’ ” Smith said. “We practiced good with him, but we practiced good with the other kid, but he didn’t show up on Sunday in that sense. I think this kid will do good. We will get him comfortable and get him going.”
Two years ago, Plackemeier set a Seattle record for punts by a rookie with 84 and managed to maintain a good average of 44.9 yards (and a 37.3-yard net average), ranking him second in Seahawks history. His numbers dropped last season to a 40-yard average and a 34.3-yard net.
He has shown an ability to place the ball inside the 20-yard line. Last season he was tied for fourth in the league with 30 punts inside the 20.
Plackemeier nearly got the ball inside the 20 on his first attempt in the game, which came halfway through the first quarter. On fourth-and-4 at the Cleveland 35, Zorn called for a punt instead of trying a long field goal or going for the first down, possibly anticipating the flow of this game would depend on field position. Plackemeier dropped the ball on the Cleveland 2-yard line. But Leigh Torrence was unable to down it, and the ball went over to Cleveland on the 20.
His seven punts after that ranged from 32 to 48 yards. One of them put Cleveland on its own 11 after Todd Yoder downed the ball. He had three more that were fielded inside the 20, but they were returned out of the zone by Josh Cribbs, who was contained by the coverage team, returning five punts for a total of 48 yards.
“I didn’t hit any bad, bad balls,” Plackemeier said. “I missed a couple. I would love to have about three of those back. I felt like I just missed some. Cribbs is a great returner, but he didn’t do much, and that’s always a plus. I punted inside the 20 well. I wish I had gotten a bounce on that first one.
“It was good to be out there,” he added.
It was good to be anywhere for Plackemeier, since he was nowhere in the NFL a week ago. And he did enough to find a place to stay - for now.