Offense needs to come to life as Redskins approach 'must-win'

Updated: September 20, 2006, 6:20 PM ET
Associated Press

ASHBURN, Va. -- It's the third week of the season, and Jon Jansen is already hinting that Washington Redskins are in desperation mode.

"We're kind of in a must-win situation, really for quite a while now," the team's offensive right tackle said Wednesday. "First of all, we've got to get our first win. After we do that, we've got to get back to .500, and then we can start talking about maybe being good at that point."

Frustration and a hint of desperation are setting in with the Redskins (0-2), whose prospects for the season will go from damaged to shattered if they lose to Houston (0-2) on Sunday. Jansen, who has been with the team longer than anybody, had no trouble pinpointing the source of the angst -- the offense isn't running the ball.

"It's everything piling on, is why everyone seems so frustrated right now," Jansen said. "And we just need to relax and play football -- and stop trying to win the game on one play. We need to go out there, put a drive together, get some first downs, and use that momentum to build on itself."

Big offensive linemen always prefer the run over the pass, but it speaks volumes when a Pro Bowl receiver, Santana Moss, also starts calling for the run. Moss is tired of seeing "Cover 2" deep zone defenses, which Minnesota and Dallas used to take away big plays in the first two games.

"The best we can do is try to get a running game going so we can try to find a way to get people out of those Cover 2s," Moss said. "That's one you can solve."

The finger-pointing leads to Al Saunders, whose play-calling has resulted in 45 runs, 67 pass plays and only one offensive touchdown through two games. Even the runs have hardly evoked thoughts of smash-mouth football: On their only third-and-1 against the Cowboys, the Redskins ran Ladell Betts around the right end instead of up the middle. He was tackled for no gain.

Defenses know Saunders likes to get the ball downfield in a hurry -- at least that's what happened when he was the offensive coordinator in Kansas City. They also know he has Moss, Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El so they are willing to focus less on the run and will continue to do so as long as they keep the Redskins out of the end zone.

"We haven't been able to run as well as we'd like to," Saunders said. "It's not a matter of the number of runs, it's the production in the runs."

Part of the problem has been a shoulder injury to running back Clinton Portis, who is expected to play Sunday after missing last week's game at Dallas. But the bigger issue, according to players, is mastering the nuances of Saunders' 700-page play book.

"It just takes a little time," said Lloyd, who has one catch in two games. "We know the offense inside out, but it's just the little intricacies of running routes or blocking assignments or hitting holes that maybe we're not executing up to coach Saunders' liking."

Saunders has been sharing top billing this week with quarterback Mark Brunell as the person most responsible for the Redskins' woes. Saunders said Wednesday he was disappointed that his system was taking longer to catch on than he expected.

"We're making adjustments on a daily basis, and I'm finding out a little bit more about each player," Saunders said. "I'm finding out more about Mark, and I'm finding out more about the offensive linemen and the running backs and what they can do.

"There's a learning curve. ... It doesn't happen overnight. We're not as productive on offense as we need to be or should be, and we need to get it fixed."

Saunders echoed coach Joe Gibbs by voicing support for Brunell.

"Mark is going to be fine," Saunders said. "We've got to help him, the people around him have got to help him. Everybody's got to do a better job."

Saunders' voice wasn't as strong as usual, and he looked in need of a good night's sleep. Back-to-back night games have wreaked havoc with the coaching staff's schedule, and Gibbs said Saunders has been working around the clock.

"'I don't have time to rest," Saunders said. "We've got to score some touchdowns."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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