- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twenty-seven points without a defensive or special teams touchdown.

Almost 400 yards while missing Pro Bowl players at tight end, running back and left tackle.

No turnovers for only the second time this year.

And a nearly nine-minute edge in time of possession against a team with a 6-2 record.

The Washington Redskins’ offense finally showed some semblance of functionality during Sunday’s 27-17 win over Denver.

No, really, it did.

Since offensive line coach Joe Bugel’s halftime diatribe in a loss to Atlanta two weeks ago, the Redskins have gained 631 yards and scored 44 points on 15 possessions.

“I’m happy and excited about the way our offense has played the last six quarters,” middle linebacker London Fletcher said. “They’re establishing an identity, running the football well and Jason [Campbell] and the young receivers are making plays. There’s a lot of fight in those guys.”

For a game-and-a-half, that fight produced positive results. But as the Redskins return to division play with games at Dallas and Philadelphia, the question arises: Is this the start of something special or just a fortunate series of events that will be replaced by three-and-outs this week?

Here are a few of reasons for optimism:

*Single-back formation. The Redskins used it 57 times in 70 snaps. Compare that to 39 of 72 against Philadelphia and 28 of 54 against Kansas City. It’s a sign the coaching staff is willing to change if something isn’t working.

Clinton Portis likes having a fullback (Mike Sellers) leading the way, but Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright looked comfortable without a lead blocker. That shifted Sellers’ role to No. 2 tight end (37 of his 41 snaps).

The entire offense stayed on schedule because the Redskins didn’t fall in a multi-touchdown hole and the running game was ignited. That allowed Campbell to use play action to slow the Broncos’ rush.

“Play action doesn’t work when you don’t have a running game,” Campbell said. “When you’re running the ball, it keeps the defense off balance.”

*Settled offensive line. This is a stretch and could backfire anytime, but the group Washington used Sunday looked more in sync than any of the other patchwork experiments on the unit this year.

Although the Redskins have taken the opposite approach, an offense is built from the football out - tackles and guards should be stockpiled, not receivers and tight ends. A team plays only as well as its line.

Center Casey Rabach, guards Chad Rinehart and Derrick Dockery and tackles Levi Jones and Stephon Heyer did not commit a penalty in 70 snaps and were able to track several different types of blitzes from the Broncos.

If this group can stay together for the rest of the year, some of the mishaps in pass protection and even the run game could be eliminated.

“It really starts with the O-line, and we felt good about our run, trying to keep things simple,” Zorn said. “Where we struggled in the practice week was getting everybody up to speed and cohesive in our protection. They rose up and did both.”

*Players on audition. The Redskins’ roster could look a lot different next year, but that doesn’t mean the current players won’t be in demand. So expect them to play hard.

Jones knows he’s on show for other teams, and he played like it in his first start with the Redskins. Rinehart has seven more chances to show he can start in 2010. The former third-round pick was demoted earlier this year after only two starts, but the Redskins desperately need him to pan out because they don’t have enough draft picks to rebuild the line completely.

Campbell has the opportunity to go against top defenses and prove he can be an efficient passer if given proper protection. Both of his interceptions in the last three games came off deflections, and the second half against Denver was encouraging because he looked comfortable in the pocket.

*Second-year players seeing the light. Devin Thomas (27 yards), Fred Davis (24) and Malcolm Kelly (18) all made big plays in the passing game.

Davis has performed well filling in for Cooley, making 14 catches for 154 yards in the past three games. Kelly’s playing time is that of a No. 4 receiver, but Thomas has averaged 45 snaps a game since taking over the starting role in Week 6. His big catch-and-run against Denver showed a flash of what could be in store.

“What I saw in Devin on that play is a real frustration for not getting a lot more balls throw to him,” Zorn said. “If this was the only catch he would have in the game, he was going to make the most out of it.”

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