- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.

Two years in a row now the Redskins have gotten a quick read on where they stand after their annual Offseason Gyrations. When you begin the season on the road against the Giants, it’s the equivalent of a team MRI, a group bone scan. Tom Coughlin’s club is as able as any in the conference, never mind the NFC East. If you have a weakness, the Giants will find it.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, their weakness is the Giants. They got manhandled by them in both meetings last year, falling behind early and never offering much resistance, and they were pushed around again Sunday in a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 23-17 loss at the Meadowlands. Granted, the Giants are talented enough to make a lot of teams look lacking, but the Redskins are never going to get anywhere until they can beat their oldest rivals - and right now they can’t.

Indeed, in the first 30 minutes you found yourself thinking: Where have we seen this before? The ebb and flow was almost identical to last season’s opener. The Giants had the ball in Washington territory virtually the entire time and built a comfortable lead (17-0 this year, 16-0 last); then, just before the half, the Redskins kept it from becoming a total rout by finally getting on the scoreboard.

“It [felt] like the exact same game,” Chris Cooley said afterward.

And when you fall behind that far that quickly, Jason Campbell noted, “it’s tough to come back. Play action can’t help you much, because the defense knows you have to pass.”

As much as anything, you want to see progress from the Snydermen, tangible evidence that they’re closing the gap that separates them from the very best clubs. But as far as the Giants are concerned, at least, that gap still exists. Jim Zorn’s offense, in particular, continues to have trouble solving the mysteries of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Co.

Consider this: From the second half of the 2008 opener through the third quarter of Sunday’s game - a stretch of nine quarters - the Redskins managed only 14 points against the Giants. The two touchdowns, moreover, came on a 29-yard end around by receiver Devin Thomas and an 8-yard run by holder Hunter Smith on a fake field goal. That’s right, the only way the Redskins were able to put the ball in the end zone was through trickery.

At this point, their second year in Zorn’s West Coast offense, they shouldn’t have to rely so much on slight of hand. They should be able to line up, man for man, with just about any defense. There are certainly enough weapons in Clinton Portis, Santana Moss and Cooley. But the offensive front keeps losing the battle-within-the-battle to the Giants. It can’t consistently open holes for Portis (a 34-yard gain on his first play, 28 yards on 15 carries thereafter), and it can’t consistently shield Jason Campbell from pressure and punishment.

And let’s face it, Campbell isn’t the kind of quarterback who can hurt a defense with his elusiveness and improvisation. Oh, every now and then he’ll shrug off an attempted sack and run for a first down or find an open receiver downfield, but he’s hardly a young Donovan McNabb.

Not that there weren’t a few encouraging signs Sunday. The defense gave the Giants all kinds of problems in short-yardage situations - a reflection, no doubt, of the impact Albert Haynesworth and his 350 All-Pro pounds have had on the unit.

In the second series of the game, the Redskins stuffed Brandon Jacobs on third-and-1 at the Washington 11, forcing New York to settle for three points. In the next series, they stonewalled Jacobs on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 at the Washington 3. And in the third quarter, they stopped Jacobs again on third-and-1, this time forcing a Giants punt.

On the other hand, three-and-outs were nowhere to be found in the first half, and the Redskins led the league in that department last year. There was a 12-and-out and a 10-and-out and a six-and-out and an eight-and-out - resulting in 10 points and much clock consumption by Eli Manning and his mates - but the defense wasn’t shutting anything (or anybody) down.

Not like New York did, at least. The Giants made Santana Moss (two catches, 6 yards) virtually disappear, and second-year man Malcolm Kelly (one catch, 6 yards) did little to fill the void. Santana got his helmet knocked off during a brief UFC battle with cornerback Corey Webster in the second quarter and never seemed to regain his equilibrium.

The Giants were “a little concerned with the situation with their corners,” Zorn said - starter Aaron Ross and backup Kevin Dockery were both out - “and they protected themselves by having the safety over the top and taking care of [Moss] with double coverage. We thought we could take advantage of that.”

The Redskins weren’t really able to, though - which is troubling because it’s not like opponents haven’t used those kind of tactics before. Regardless of what the defense is doing, they simply have to find ways to get the ball in Santana’s hands, even if it means running him out of the Wildcat formation.

Yes, the Redskins marched down the field in the late going to score a cosmetic touchdown on a 17-yard pass to Cooley, which narrowed the yardage disparity considerably. (It had been 350-200 in the Giants’ favor until then.) But don’t kid yourself; the home team never lost control of the game. When Washington cut the deficit to 17-10 late in the third quarter - following a DeAngelo Hall interception return to the New York 11 - Manning led the Giants on two lengthy drives that ended in field goals… and that was that.

Much must change for the Redskins between now and Dec. 21, when the teams next meet, for the outcome to be any different.

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