- The Washington Times - Monday, September 21, 2009

Hey, it could have been worse. The game could have been blacked out.

On second thought, there were probably parts of their 9-7 win Sunday over the Rams that the Redskins wish were kept off the airwaves. Such as every time they ventured inside the St. Louis 10 - or when the visitors, who have now dropped 29 of their last 34, threatened to take the lead early in the fourth quarter.

Yes, the Redskins averted disaster and evened their record at 1-1, but that’s about all they accomplished in their home opener at the Mailbox. Most significantly, they did little to allay fears that their offense has major problems - problems that aren’t necessarily going to be fixed on the practice field, problems that may not go away as Jason Campbell gains more experience and Malcolm Kelly and Stephon Heyer settle in as starters.

It’s never a good sign when your fans boo you before the first half of your local debut is over; but on the other hand, it’s hard to blame them. Spinning your wheels against a defense as stout as the Giants’ - as the Redskins did in Week 1 - is one thing. Managing a mere three field goals against a “D” that gave up 446 yards and 28 points seven days earlier to the Seahawks is quite another.

The Redskins can spin it any way they want. Campbell can point out that “this is the team we lost to last year 17-16, the team that really broke our season” - even though it was later losses at Cincinnati and San Francisco that really broke their season. Casey Rabach can talk about how “hard” it is “to score touchdowns in the NFL” - on an afternoon that the Saints laid 48 points on a pretty fair Eagles defense.

But it still comes down to this: The offense isn’t working, isn’t putting the ball in the end zone when it has the opportunity and hasn’t since last October. And if it doesn’t start doing it soon, the Redskins are going to be back to Square One with a new coach, a new master plan, a new vision and yet another Transition Period. And we all know how much fun that can be. This is a franchise, after all, that leads the league in Transition Periods.

Look, nobody expected this offense to be the second coming of the Greatest Show on Turf. The offensive line, where it all begins, is getting along in years (and isn’t especially well stocked with reinforcements). The No. 1 wideout, Santana Moss, is really a No. 1 1/2 wideout at this stage of his career - and as proof, has a mere five catches for 41 yards in the first two games. At this stage, there is no No. 2 wideout, only a No. 3 (Antwaan Randle El) and whatever you’d classify Kelly as after two NFL starts (A No. 3-minus? A No. 4?)

There figure to be plenty of Sundays, in other words, when the Redskins have to lean heavily on their defense - the more talented of the units - to win the game. You just wouldn’t expect it to be this particular Sunday, a Sunday when one of the worst teams in the NFL is in town. On this Sunday, you’d expect the offense to start getting into a rhythm, one that might carry over to more important games down the road. Instead, Campbell and Co. continue to look at times like 11 guys who just met on the playground.

The offense’s futility in the red zone was so great Sunday that, once again, Jim Zorn resorted to gadgetry to try to score a touchdown. This time it was a halfback pass by Clinton Portis on third-and-goal from the St. Louis 5. The Rams had Chris Cooley surrounded in the back of the end zone, though, so Portis wisely threw the ball in the first row. Might the play have worked if the Redskins hadn’t run an end-around pass the week before with Randle El? Put it this way: It didn’t improve their chances any.

But here’s the thing: On third-and-5, the defense already expects you to throw it. And if that’s the case, doesn’t it make more sense to put the ball in the hands of your best thrower? (I’m assuming that’s Jason and not Clinton, but I’ve been wrong before.)

In the NFL, it’s not just about making plays, it’s about where you make them. There are a lot of yards between the 20s, yards that can look great on the stat sheet, but they’re not the most important yards. The most important yards are the last few yards, and Zorn’s offense continues to have trouble negotiating them.

Sure, Mike Sellers dropped a pass near the goal line that would have been an easy touchdown, but so what? What would that have made the score, 13-7 instead of 9-7? How much happier would anybody in Redskinsland be with 13-7?

And now the Redskins have to go to Detroit and face the Lions, losers of 19 straight. Ordinarily, a team - and its fans - would look forward to such a game as exception, almost, to the Any Given Sunday Rule. But with the Washington offense short-circuiting the way it has been, the fans hardly would be faulted for thinking the unthinkable.

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