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Four games in, Redskins still seeking offensive identity

October 7, 2010 - 06:56 AM
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A quarter of a way through the season, the Redskins have yet to put together a signature win. (Photo: Jay Westcott)

The Washington Redskins already are a quarter of a way through the season, but so far, it has been tough to discern what the Shanahan-and-Shanahan offense is supposed to look like.

In Week 1, the Redskins went to Chris Cooley and Santana Moss six times each, struggled to run and didn't score an offensive touchdown.

In Week 2, Donovan McNabb spread the ball around to Moss (10 catches) and seven other pass-catchers while amassing 426 yards, but Washington rushed for only 32 yards and lost in overtime.

Week 3 saw a balanced attack during the first half but then the Redskins fell behind early in the third quarter and had to throw, had one rushing yard in the last two quarters and lost by two touchdowns.

Then in Week 4, Clinton Portis, Ryan Torain and McNabb combined for 164 rushing yards, Moss didn’t have a catch, the offense was scoreless in the second half while McNabb completed only two passes and threw an INT, but Washington managed to hang on for a 17-12 victory.

Through the first four weeks of the season, the only consistent trait of the Redskins’ offense has been their inconsistency. There has been no bread-and-butter, no trade-mark or go-to, and thus, no signature win.

The reason for the fluctuation, the Redskins confess, is the team still not having an offensive identity, and that stems from the growing pains of learning a new offense, they say. Everyone inside the Redskins’ locker room insists that they have the pieces they need to effectively execute Mike and Kyle Shanahan’s scheme.

It’s just taking some time.

“We, as an offense, are not comfortable with everything yet,” said Moss, who ranks 15th in the NFL with 22 catches for 290 yards and a touchdown. “People look at it as, ‘OK, you got Donovan, you got this new offense, but why aren’t we seeing more from the offense?’ Because we’re still learning. We’re still trying to get in that zone where we know everything from A to Z without having to think about it, and it takes time and the only way you can learn it is by playing. … Every week is a work in progress, like on the job training type of thing.”

After Moss, only Cooley (the team’s starting tight end) has double-digit receptions with 16. No other receiver has more than four catches. Fullback Mike Sellers has eight catches. McNabb says those numbers aren’t an indication that the other receivers can’t get open. Instead, it’s part game-plan, part his own learning curve and part trust.

“This is a different type of offense from what I’ve run for 11 years. I have to get to a level where I know I can throw it here, throw it there,” says McNabb, who takes pride in spreading the ball around to multiple receivers. “These guys are running different routes, we’re calling different plays. Santana has just had more opportunities. We all know that he’s been one of the best receivers here the last couple years, so there’s a reason why he’s getting lots of opportunities. Same with Cooley. We’re going to continue to do what we have to do to get more guys involved, but we’re still going to stay with what we’re doing and get these guys the ball.”

Mike Shanahan also was dismissive when asked if the lack of production from his receivers was alarming. He too simply chalks it up to growing pains that he expects to work themselves out. He pointed to the slow developing run game, which finally took off against the Eagles, and said similar progress will be made in the passing game.

But that doesn’t mean the doesn’t mean the Redskins’ aim is to consistently utilize an aerial attack like we saw in the Houston game. Quite the contrary. McNabb says “that’s a different type of offense than what we’ve been running the last couple weeks.” And it’s a different type of offense than what the Redskins plan to use going forward.

Washington’s goal is to consistently produce an attack that resembles their results in the first half of the Philadelphia game. The Redskins had 15 rushing plays for 68 yards and a touchdown, and McNabb completed six of eight passes for 115 yards and a touchdown while targeting six different receivers. The Redskins picked up four first downs with running plays, picked up another four first downs through the air and one by penalty. The only problem was Washington couldn’t maintain that rhythm in the second half. McNabb takes the blame for that, however, and said those hindrances “are easy to fix,” now that his team seems to have discovered it’s rushing effectiveness.

“That’s what we’re looking for. We just don’t want to come in and be an air-it-out-throw-40-to-50-times-a-game, although I wouldn’t mind,” he said with a chuckle. “But the thing about it is, we’re working to establish that run because we know that you can do so much off of the run. If it calls for us to throw 15 times and we win, then that’s all that matters to me: about the win.

“We’re working to get that identity,” the quarterback adds. “Whether it’s a running team, if it’s a throwing team, whatever it may be. Somewhere in there, we’re definitely going to be a play-action team, and that’s going to come off the run.”

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