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ONE Burning Question

Jul 22, 2005, 1:53 AM EDT

Comments Off on ONE Burning Question

It seems that an article or a talk show segment addressing an NFL team’s 10 burning questions going into training camp is in vogue these days. I’m certainly not one who avoids latching on to such trends, but I usually tailor them to give some guise of originally (thus ESPN’s “Four Downs” becomes Warpath Insiders’ “Three and Out”). Surgery that is a bit more radical is performed on the 10 questions here. There is only one such question for the 2005 Washington Redskins:

In Joe Gibbs’ first year back, the passing offense could be best be described as horizontal. That’s partly because it featured a lot of wide receiver screens and hitch patterns. Mostly however, it was horizontal as in prone, like a dead man. They were 30th in the league in total yardage and 31st in scoring. So here’s the one burning question:

Can Joe Gibbs and the Redskins successfully transform the passing game from an ineffective, dink and dunk, horizontal one into abig-play, vertically oriented air attack?

Sure, there are some other fairly important matters out there such as who will start at middle linebacker, can Sean Taylor get his act together, will LaVar Arrington’s knee be completely healed and some others. But even if all of those things fall into place, the Redskins won’t be successful in 2005 if they can’t score more points. And we are defining success here as making the playoffs.

Make no mistake about it, that’s what this team’s goal is for this year and that is what the expectation for them is here. Gibbs is a Hall of Fame coach and should be able to add three or four wins to last year’s total and that should be good enough to be playing in January. A win or two in the playoffs would be a nice bonus, but anything less than making the field will be adisappointment. It says here that’s where the bar is in 2005.

The Redskins had a playoff-caliber defense last year. That’s not just a defense that could get a team to the playoffs; it was one that could get a team deep into the playoffs. If you take the worst-case scenario and say that the losses of Fred Smoot and Antonio Pierce hurt considerably, it’s still an upper-echelon, if not elite, defense. The burden of making the playoffs falls on the offense.

A great offense can both pound the ball on the ground when the situation calls for it and air it out deep when that’s what’s needed. You can count the NFL offenses that have the talent to do both on your index fingers and big toes, if you need that many digits. The Redskins aren’t one of

All of the eggs on offense have been placed in the big-play basket. Clinton Portis is not a grind-it-out type of runner. While the offensive line isn’t bad blocking for the power running game, its strength, individually and collectively, is pass blocking. They are not going to grind out a bunch of 15-play drives and pound it in on third down from the two. They’rejust not, as much as Joe Bugel and Gibbs might want it to be so.

Certainly, Joe and Joe realize this and that’s why they are going to air it out. Patrick Ramsey has a big arm and he can find the receivers forty yards downfield. Santana Moss and David Patten have demonstrated their abilities to get open deep and all indications are that Taylor Jacobs will be able to do the same.

Of course, you can’t go bombs away on every play, but the Redskins will have to demonstrate their ability to do so in order to open up the other elements of the offense. An effective deep passing game will let Patrick Ramsey throw the quick hitch to a wideout with reasonable hopes that it will be second and three after the play. If the defense has to deal with the credible threat
of quick score via the air, that will give Portis more room to operate on draws and sweeps. And should the Redskins stretch the field that will give H-back Chris Cooley some space to operate in underneath the deep patterns.

It’s not all about the offense. The defense needs to maintain and it would help if they got more than the 29 takeaways they got in 2004. Improved special teams play might help steal a game if the offense and defense are substandard and teams can’t cost them a game. But any substantial improvement in the Redskins’ 6-10 record will have to come from the offensiveside of the ball. That means it’s bombs away and hope for the best.

  1. Alan - Jul 22, 2005 at 4:53 PM

    Rich, thanks for posting your article in your blog. I agree with most of what you said. Just a couple of points I would like to toss out there.

    Offensive line was hurt last year and it showed. Breakdowns occurred often during both passing and running plays. This years upgrade at center will help much, but what could aid us even more is if they could just stay healthy. Speed at receiver means possible big plays downfield, but it starts with the offensive line. The group they have put together for the coming year could be as of old…”the hogs”, they are that good.

    “Improved special teams play might help steal a game if the offense and defense are substandard and teams can’t cost them a game.” I must be dense. I don’t get it.

    Just my 2 cents, thanks

  2. Joe - Jul 22, 2005 at 8:46 PM

    Rich, on what do you base the following?

    “While the offensive line isn’t bad blocking for the power running game, its strength, individually and collectively, is pass blocking.”

    The Redskins were 29th in passing yards last season and 21st in rushing yards. They gave up 38 sacks. Every season Jansen says that they need to run the ball more. Samuels was clearly at his best when he was blocking for Davis and at his worst trying to execute Spurrier’s passing offense.

    As for the newcomer, Rabach, if his teams in Baltimore were any indication, he should be described as a run-blocker, also. Baltimore’s passing offense was last in the league while giving up 35 sacks. That said, they put up the 9th most yards on the ground.

    Just wondering where you’re coming from? I don’t know if I’d call it a strength, but their identity seems to be as a run-blocking unit.

  3. mbarnes202 - Jul 23, 2005 at 6:17 PM

    My 2-cents would be that we cannot rely on our Defense the way we did last year. Last’s year’s schedule we faced the AFC North– not a great QB among them, and the NFC North– where we beat the bad teams and split (W v Minn, L v GB) against the good teams. In the NFC East, we faced a rookie QB and a team that self-destructed on Defense (the Cowboys)
    This year we face an arguably improved NFC East, the AFC West (with VERY good offenses), and the NFC West (OK, a ray of hope).
    So, yes, we’d better improve dramatically on Offense to make the playoffs. If it weren’t Gibbs at coach, I would say I don’t like our chances, even with Ramsey more comfortable and Jansen coming back. With Gibbs at coach, I will hold my breath and say, Trust Coach. I’m putting my Redskin faith in you, Coach.

  4. Anonymous - Jul 24, 2005 at 1:47 AM

    Spurrier made no adjustments to his offense between his first year failure and his second year failure. Gibbs has made a lot of changes. As soon as the season was over, he watched film, interviewed players like Portis, analyzed various statistics, and from that intensive effort, he has made significant changes in the offense – supported by critical personel changes to make the new scheme a success. These are the actions of a coach who is willing and able to make whatever adjustments are necessary to win. Clinton Portis is on record as describing the new offense as being “a whole new offense.” I just can’t imagine that with all of this, they won’t be better than last year. My prediction is that it will come down to injuries. If there are enough injuries to enough key players, then all these changes won’t help that much. If the team stays healthy, then they will be, in the least, contending for a playoff spot.

  5. Doug - Jul 24, 2005 at 8:19 AM

    Injuries are unavoidable. The question is, where will you get hit with them. If the Redskins get hit in the offensive line again, we’ll be in trouble. We show little depth there. I believe we have the depth everywhere else to withstand some injuries.

    If the offensive line stays healthy, I believe this offense will move the ball against most teams. I certainly don’t believe we have to rely solely on hitting the deep pass. Portis and Betts can grind it out, we will use a lot more medium range passes, and we should be able to connect with the occasional deep ball. I think we can average 26 points per game, which will be a big improvement over last year.

    Defensively we have questions, but Greg Williams usually has answers.

    Special teams appear on paper to be much improved.

    I think this is about much more than just Coach Gibbs. I agree that you can trust him to get the job done. But these players seem to be truly working hard to get the job done this year, and at the same time having some fun. There will be a chemistry there this year that has been lacking for many years.

  6. Anonymous - Jul 25, 2005 at 2:42 PM

    If we average 26 points a game, we’ll be in the Super Bowl.

  7. Anonymous - Jul 26, 2005 at 2:39 PM

    If Greg Williams defense is on par with his average defenses over the last several years (Titans, Bills, Redskins) and the Redskins average 26 points a game, the Redskins will WIN the Super Bowl.

  8. Joe - Jul 26, 2005 at 10:15 PM

    … and go undefeated in the process.

    Doug, I love your optimism. But going from 15 points per game to 26 after this dismal off-season is, well, optimistic. Truth is, with their defense, 18-20 points per week will get it done.

  9. Anonymous - Jul 27, 2005 at 6:07 PM

    Given the strength of last years D and the fact that they scored a surrpisingly low amount of TD’s for the amount of takeaway they had I expect to see a vast improvement. Also the offense rarely capitalized on what the D gave them to work with.

    I would be very surprised/sickened if we can’t put up 28+ a game.

  10. mbarnes202 - Jul 27, 2005 at 9:54 PM

    Chris Mortenson today picked the ‘Skins to finish LAST in the NFC East. I guess he feels the Giants will improve more than the ‘Skins, and that the Cowboys will be even better.
    I guess until we prove it, we’ll always be looked down upon. Hopefully, this kind of “lack of respect” can motivate the team to great things this year …

  11. alan - Jul 28, 2005 at 1:07 AM

    Glad to see him go.

  12. alan - Jul 28, 2005 at 1:12 AM

    50/50 that is.

  13. Marcus Edwards - Jul 28, 2005 at 1:52 AM

    Alan, are you an Edwards by any chance?

  14. alan - Jul 28, 2005 at 1:03 PM

    sorry, no.

  15. Anonymous - Jul 28, 2005 at 10:09 PM

    I’m also glad to see that miserable underachiever go. He was a FIRST ROUND DRAFT choice, for crying out loud, and really a number two receiver at best on most teams. On top of it all, he had the gall to have a bad attitude last year. Gibbs is already in the Hall of Fame – 50-50 is nothing compared to Gibbs.

  16. Anonymous - Aug 2, 2005 at 6:18 PM

    I think we give too little credit to Coach. He inherited a franchise in great disarray, with little cap room, and big money invested in “stars” that were not team players. Getting a winning attitude was the goal of the first year, a turn-around of management and corporate culture.

    As to the offense, look at what didn’t happen. If the O-line backups were so bad, why wasn’t one drafted? Even the rookie free agent signings were for bulk, not for a roster spot. Also on the D-line, which all pundits say is the weakest unit on the team. No one was drafted, even though Chris Canty slid into their draft choices area.

    What was sought was special teamers, and future possibilities. Gibbs said there would be few changes, that he had the talent. His actions confirm that statement.

    Further on personnel, he has let Barrow go, so he isn’t desparate at MLB. Remember, Pierce was listed at 225# until he bacame a 240# starter. What does his projected starter Lemar Marshall really weigh?

    One last comment on Patrick Ramsey. In high school, college, and under Steve Spurrier he was a drop back and pass it, because by comparative talent or by design he was the offense. He never had a chance or the teaching to become a QB. He no more knew how to manage a game when Gibbs arrived than Peter King loves the Redskins. Brunell was a desparate hope to make the first year less painful, and it didn’t work. But throwing Ramsey in on the first real offense he had ever seen could have led to a disastrous lack of confidence. I don’t know what made Gibbs feel that Ramsey had made enough progress to replace Brunell, but his judgement appears sound. As far as drafting a new QB, it indicated dissatisfaction with Hasselbeck (no longer with the team), not Ramsey. Gibbs has always said he can’t have enough good QBs.

    Gibbs has also said he will play the man most capable of doing the job and of winning, not the player drafted highest or paid the most. He has always followed his own advice.

    When you cross your fingers for this season, look for “Redskins” playing with a winning attitude. I think you will see it, unlike the past decade. Let’s concentrate on the large strides the team has taken rather than the few unavoidable lapses that Gibbs all too willingly accepts full responsibility for. Archives

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