Redskins on offense
The Redskins have struggled to do just about everything offensively. And that's with a simplified playbook; Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer recently admitted they're only using about 30 percent of their plays. He'd rather they perfect a few, rather than sloppily run many. So far, that theory hasn't worked well, which is why they ranked 31st.
Defenses have loaded the line of scrimmage to stop one player: running back Stephen Davis. Through five games, Davis rushed for 318 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry. Considering the attention he's received, the latter number is a strong one. Davis continues to bruise defenders and remains at a Pro Bowl level. He can hurt teams inside or outside. Untimely fumbles are a problem. At San Diego, he fumbled on the 1-yard line and, at Dallas, he fumbled in the final minutes, blowing a chance for a win. But Davis needs more help and, thus far, Tony Banks hasn't provided it, allowing teams to use eight and nine men near the line of scrimmage.
In Banks' defense, he's only run this system for about two months and still hasn't developed much timing with his wideouts. At times he locks on a receiver, usually Rod Gardner. Banks does throw a pretty pass—but it doesn't always end up in the receiver's hands. Which is why they ranked 31st on third down conversions. Then again, a few of those passes have dropped through their hands, especially Gardner's. He dropped a pass at the 2-yard line at New York and has dropped several others. But he's also capable of a big play, thanks to his size, speed and athleticism.
Receiver Michael Westbrook is upset about his lack of chances. The Redskins haven't taken advantage of his ability to make plays 20 yards downfield. But inconsistent route-running has hurt him. Still, for a team without many playmakers, Westbrook's fewer chances is odd. Westbrook averaged 8.9 yards on his first 15 catches, a ridiculous stat and a condemnation of the play-calling.
Tight end will be mainly a blocking position until Stephen Alexander returns from a high ankle sprain. Alexander hasn't blossomed in this offense as many expected. The line has been sporadic. The tackles are supposed to anchor this unit and have done a decent job, though they haven't established themselves yet among the elite.
Right tackle Jon Jansen has had a solid year, allowing only one sack. He's a rock. Just ask Michael Strahan, who hasn't done much against him. Left tackle Chris Samuels has been beaten more this year than last, but he's certainly not the problem. The interior has struggled. The Redskins hope right guard Ben Coleman can solidify the middle.
Key Matchup: Washington's OL vs. New York's DL. It starts with RT Jon Jansen against DE Michael Strahan.
The latter recorded 1.5 sacks in the first game, but those came off inside stunts and not against Jansen. In their five meetings, Jansen has mostly quieted the chatty Strahan. But the trouble doesn't stop there. LG Dave Szott has a tough assignment against DT Keith Hamilton and LT Chris Samuels has the same in DE Kenny Holmes. If the Redskins can't at least neutralize this unit, watch out.
How to beat Washington's offense: Force the Redskins to just throw, especially on third down where Tony Banks completed one of his first nine passes. Simple as that. New York did that in the first meeting, often lining its safeties up within eight to nine yards of the line of scrimmage, rather than 11 or 12. The Giants dared them to throw downfield and Washington couldn't. Until the Redskins make a team pay for focusing on Stephen Davis, their offense will sputter. Also, New York has dominated Washington with pressure up the middle in the past two meetings. Expect that to continue—why stop until the Redskins prove they can beat it?
Players to watch: Wide Receiver Rod Gardner Ht: 6-2 WT: 218
Washington is desperate to establish him as its big-play guy. At times he has been getting deep in several games. But he's a rookie, which means he's inconsistent. He dropped two deep passes that Washington sorely needed him to catch. And, against the Giants, he fumbled after a big catch in New York territory. But sooner or later the mistakes will decrease and he'll have a big game. He has too much talent not to break out. Gardner led all rookie receivers through five games with 16 catches.
Defensive End Kenard Lang Ht: 6-4 Wt: 281
New York could not stop him in the first game as Lang recorded 13 tackles. He also played tackle in that game, but most of his plays came at end. Lang is quick and, if the play moves laterally, he'll make the tackle. He's not as good if teams run right at him, especially at tackle. But Lang does not quit and will make plays that other linemen don't make because of his speed. He's forced fumbles because he'll catch a back by surprise from behind, poking the ball away. Lang also plays with better leverage after spending so much time at tackle, where it's imperative to stay low.