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Opportunities Lost

Jan 15, 2006, 9:23 AM EDT

The NFL is a merciless business. If you have a weakness, the other team will exploit that soft spot immediately and often.

The Redskins went into Sunday’s game in Seattle with a glaring weakness. They have one of the league’s best receivers in Santana Moss. The receiver that lines up opposite Moss is merely filling a roster spot. When he was in the lineup, James Thrash was an excellent special teams player but not much of a threat as a receiver. Taylor Jacobs can’t get separation from anyone and, in the rare times that he does get open, he makes you long for Rod “50/50” Gardner when it comes to hanging on to the ball.

If a team can take away Moss and not have to pay for devoting so many resources to that task, the job for the opposing defense becomes that much easier. For a while during the season-ending five-game winning streak, Chris Cooley was a viable option and he made some plays yesterday, but having an H-back as a threat is not the same as having someone who is capable of getting open deep down the field.

Yesterday the Seahawks were able to pack the box with eight and nine defenders with relative impunity. That led to a string of three and outs in the early going, a stretch during which the Seahawks were finding their bearings offensively and adjusting to the absence of league MVP Shaun Alexander from their lineup. It was an opportunity lost for the Redskins as they had just a 3-0 lead before Seattle got it going on offense.

The offensive problems weren’t all about the lack of a second receiver; Ray Brown missing some time due to cramps didn’t help either. Cory Raymer, a center, was clueless during a critical series in the third quarter. One of the reasons he stuck around as a backup with a seven-figure cap number was that he supposedly could provide depth at both interior line positions. At least on this critical day, that wasn’t the case.

And, certainly, while the quarterback gets too much of the blame in losses, the play of Mark Brunell has to be called into question. He was wild high all day, missing Cooley and Moss in critical situations. While he has said frequently that his right knee, injured in the win over the Giants, had nothing to do with his problems, there is no question that it did. Kudos to Brunell for not making excuses, but it’s no coincidence that his play deteriorated considerably in the three games after the injury.

The quarterback and receiver positions will be addressed this offseason. In the latter category, another receiver will be brought in via free agency or the draft, perhaps both, to provide depth and push David Patten for the second receiver spot.

At quarterback it will be primarily a matter of distributing existing assets. It appears that Brunell goes into the offseason as the starter. He is less than a full year younger than Brett Favre, the NFL’s oldest starting quarterback. But as we saw in 2005, there could be plenty of twists and turns in the quarterback story before the 2006 season opener and as the season unfolds

The view here is that it’s not a certainty that Patrick Ramsey will be traded. If Gibbs is not yet comfortable with Jason Campbell starting games—and at Brunell’s age the chances of him making it through 16 games are extremely slim–he may decide to forgo the third-round pick he might be able to get in exchange for Ramsey.

It was a disappointing end to the season because of the missed opportunities. But there is little question that this team went as far as it deserved to in terms of the talent on the roster. A modest upgrade there, along with playing a third season under the same coaching staff, should help the Redskins take the next step.

  1. Doug - Jan 15, 2006 at 12:21 PM

    Rich, I’ve really enjoyed reading this blog this year. There has been lots of excellent commentary, unlike what usually comes from the Washington Post staff.

    I agree that Patrick Ramsey is not necessarily gone. I think we need him, as Brunell loses effectiveness with the normal wear and tear of the season. I doubt Jason Campbell is quite ready to be the starter, but I am sure that Gibbs and company will make a good decision in that regard.

    I’m not even sure that LaVar is gone, because he can be very effective when healthy. The coaches’ decision to limit his snaps this year was almost certainly due to his injury, and nothing else, although it obviously hurt LaVar’s feelings.

    All in all, it has been a terrific year for the Redskins. The Redskins players, coaches and fans can all hold their heads high. A few minor tweaks in the off-season will likely turn these Redskins into a team to be reckoned with.

  2. Joshua Brown - Jan 15, 2006 at 3:58 PM

    Winning 11 games while playing the NFL’s toughest schedule is a great feat for this team. It wouldn’t have been possible if it were not for the steadying hand of Gibbs and the other coaches. In years past, this team would have given up and played not to get hurt (a la Deion Sanders). To see how they responded at 5-6 shows just how much character is on this team. Keeping that core intact while adding a few pieces should be the goal of the offseason.

    I think Brunell is deserving of the starting position, just like I thought Ramsey was last year. But keeping the latter is a must. I wouldn’t feel comfortable knowing Campbell is a sack away from playing.

    The Skins are on the right track, but winning homefield (at least one game) next year is a must. Six-hour flights, no matter how great the food, are tough on any team.

  3. Joe - Jan 16, 2006 at 1:26 PM

    Brunell deserves a lot of the credit for our success this year. The problem, as I see it, is that Mark can’t distinguish between playing through pain and being a liability on the field.

    Although he wouldn’t admit it, we know now that Mark was playing hurt in 2004. And his performance was awful. Again this season, after the injury in the Giants game, he insisted that he was perfectly fine when, in fact, he was not well enough to be effective.

    At this point in his career, Brunnel would be a great backup QB. He’s a guy that can come off the bench and generate offense as long as he’s not expected to do it every week. If he is asked to be a starter, eventually he’ll try to play with an injury and will hurt the team in the process.

    If you accept the Carson Palmer model, then the Skins should declare Campbell the starter now and accept that there may be some regression in 2006, with the big payoff coming in 2007 and beyond. However, I doubt that Gibbs will be comfortable with a 2nd year QB. Maybe he’ll go with Ramsey, but most likely we’re in store for more of the same from Brunell next season.

  4. Master4Caster - Jan 19, 2006 at 12:02 PM

    Tandler, Someday when my blog grows up, I hope it becomes just like yours. I enjoy your comment and also appreciate your work on The WARPATH.

    I hope the Skins manage to keep Lavar. The Defense is physical and effective when when he, Marcus Washington and Sean Taylor are in the middle; and vulnerable when two of those three are out. However, Marcus Washington is the key linebacker now.

    I’m not comfortable losing Patrick Ramsey. Last season and this was his first opportunity to study a true pro-level offense and to unlearn Steve Spurrier’s long ball concepts. Some team is going to get a very fine quarterback in Ramsey. Why not us?

    Experience counts in the NFL. That’s why a lot of owners want their young, mostly overpaid, quarterbacks get experience early in their career. This team is close. I don’t want to suffer through a sophomore’s learning curve in 2006. Brunell is the guy as long as he his healthy.

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