- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It is uncertain whether the Washington Redskins‘ coaching staff will continue to use its best receiver as a punt returner. But Jim Zorn already is giving Santana Moss opportunities to use his return man-like instincts by calling for quick passes that don’t cross the line of scrimmage.

Although still a legitimate deep threat, Moss has never been shy about running shallow crossing routes or quick slants that take him into traffic. Zorn’s decision to re-introduce the “slip screen” has become another way for the Redskins to exploit Moss’ talents while also allowing quarterback Jason Campbell to throw high-percentage passes.

In Sunday’s victory over visiting Arizona, Moss caught three passes at or behind the line of scrimmage and gained 35 yards after the catch, including a game-winning, 17-yard touchdown.

Moss has equaled his 2007 touchdown total (three) and is tied for fourth in the NFL with 19 catches and 276 receiving yards.

“He attacks the game,” Campbell said. “One word he always says to me is opportunity. He wants opportunities to make plays. … And he has his legs back - that’s the key. He’s healthy and running at full speed.”

The Redskins hope their efficiency with short passes will draw cornerbacks and linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage. That would increase the chance for Moss and tight end Chris Cooley to get behind defenders and catch passes downfield.

Moss has shown his versatility on his three touchdowns: a 12-yard shallow cross against the Giants, the 67-yard home run ball to win the New Orleans game and the screen against Arizona.

“I love the underneath stuff because that gives me a chance to be a runner and it opens up things downfield - you just have to be patient,” he said. “If you get me started underneath, there’s no telling what I can do downfield because I have the confidence and will to go out and be a beast someplace else.”

The downfield stuff hasn’t come just yet for Moss or the Redskins. A breakdown of Campbell’s throws through three games:

cPasses completed at or behind the line of scrimmage: 11 of 19 for 76 yards and one touchdown.

cPasses that travel 1-5 yards: 26 of 30 for 210 yards and two touchdowns.

c6-10 yards: 17 of 24 for 189 yards.

c11-20 yards: 6 of 14 for 116 yards.

c21-plus yards: 1 of 6 for 67 yards and a touchdown.

Moss has played 167 out of 185 snaps and been the intended target 28 times. Nine of his catches have traveled 1-5 yards but for a total of 91 yards.

A former Big East special teams player of the year at Miami, Moss averaged 11.8 yards on 82 punt returns (two touchdowns) for the New York Jets from 2002 to 2004. But as an every-down player for Washington in 2005, Moss had seven returns that year and none since. He was in return formation for Arizona’s first punt last week but didn’t make a return.

On the quick throws, Moss can go back to those return days of making quick cuts in traffic and accelerating to avoid defenders.

“It’s another way to make the defense defend the whole field,” left guard Pete Kendall said. “Santana is exceptionally quick and has great change of direction and the other thing is, he’s straight-line fast. If Santana can get out in space and he makes a guy miss, he has the ability to pull away from the pursuit.”

The play is timing-based starting from the throw. Campbell has to put some zip on the ball but not so much heat that Moss can’t handle it.

“It’s a tough throw to make because you have to get it around tall guys on both the offensive and defensive lines,” Campbell said.

The blockers have to be on the move so Moss can be sprung. On the touchdown against Arizona, Cooley and right tackle Stephon Heyer had key blocks and Randy Thomas made one 15 yards downfield.

Three regular-season games into a new passing offense is a small body of work, but the early results have Moss excited about the opportunities for big plays.

“Every day and every week, we all need to get better within this offense and we can’t say, ‘We’ve got it,’” he said. “I’m thrilled to see how Jason’s progressing, and that helps us as receivers because we need the quarterback.”

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