Redskins Inside Slant

Redskins defensive end Renaldo Wynn finally knows what it's like to play alongside a powerful offense.

INSIDE SLANT

"I felt I had to do a Jane Fonda workout, just to stay warm on the side," Wynn said of last weekend's win over the Giants.

The Redskins controlled the ball for more than twice as long as New York in a 31-7 victory, which represented Washington's first foray past 20 points in a game this season.

Finally breaking out on offense injected a dose of excitement and good cheer into Redskin Park this week, where the Redskins (4-8) now are optimistic about how they might finish out the season.

There's just one problem. "We've got Philadelphia," coach Joe Gibbs said. "I've looked at the film, and it's not pretty. They're rip-roaring right now."

Indeed, the Eagles (11-1) are playing as well as anybody in the league and staking a claim for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Sunday, Philadelphia crushed Green Bay 47-17, which remains one of the few likely playoff teams in a decimated NFC.

Washington played the Eagles just three weeks ago, losing 28-6 at Lincoln Financial Field. The game was closer than the score indicated; the Redskins trailed 14-6 early in the fourth quarter and had first-and-goal, but a string of penalties led to a missed field goal, and the Eagles moved quickly to put the game away.

Now, perhaps, the Redskins are a bit of a different squad. Their performance against New York proved that they can finish drives and actually put points on the board. Quarterback Patrick Ramsey threw three touchdown passes in the game, and running back Clinton Portis scored just his third rushing touchdown.

"That's probably the single biggest thing," Gibbs said. "We've been making first downs in some games this year. We just didn't make the plays to get in the end zone."

Ramsey's performance was supremely efficient -- just what Gibbs was seeking for his ball-control offense. Ramsey didn't force the ball into tight spaces or take too many chances; he simply made his reads and hit virtually all the high-percentage passes that were called.

"I was comfortable, but more so than anything, guys around me were playing so well," Ramsey said. "Backs were picking up blocks. The guys up front gave me time to throw the ball. The guys who were running routes got there in a time and manner where I could throw the ball to them."

The outburst could prove for naught if Washington regresses this week. But Gibbs believes there are other positives to take out of the team's maturation, and he thinks the foundation for future success is being laid by the way the Redskins are responding to adversity.

"I'm really proud of the character of our team," Gibbs said. "At this point in the year, there could be a lot of guys who say, 'Hey, look, I'm not going back out there.' ... Maybe that's the story of what's really happened to our football team."

SERIES HISTORY: Redskins lead the all-time series 73-61-5, including playoffs, but have lost the last six meetings. Only one of those half-dozen contests, a 27-25 loss at Philadelphia in early 2003, was decided by fewer than 13 points.

NOTES, QUOTES

--A lot has been made of QB Patrick Ramsey's adjustment to coach Joe Gibbs' offense, and there is little doubt the three-year pro is becoming more conservative and deliberate in the way he plays.

One play in particular last weekend showed how Ramsey is changing. With Washington inside the 10 and ahead 14-0 in the final moments of the first half, Ramsey held off on a toss to TE Robert Royal, who was wide open on a crossing pattern in the back of the end zone.

Ramsey, who was rolling to the right on the play, eventually stopped and fired in a low ball, which Royal caught for a touchdown. The next day, the passer talked about why he elected for the seemingly more difficult pass while acknowledging that last year he almost certainly would have made the throw on the run.

"At times those safeties can hide back there," Ramsey said. "In the red zone, I know one thing I want to do is be efficient. The last time we played them, that was one thing I didn't do. I threw two interceptions in the red zone, and it cost us points.

"So we're up 14-0, we've got three before the half -- I'm not going to fling the ball back there and disregard that something might happen."

--The Redskins' offensive line Sunday played one of its best games of the season, blocking well for both the run and the pass. LT Chris Samuels later explained that assistant head coach for offense Joe Bugel had a lot to do with the performance.

"After the (Nov. 28) Pittsburgh game, Buges pretty much chewed us out," Samuels said. "All week, he was motivating, motivating and just pushing guys. He said, 'I know the season's going pretty bad right now,' but he wasn't going to let us give in to it. He stayed on us all week, and we carried that same mentality over into the game."

Asked if Bugel's motivation included any foul language, Samuels laughed and replied, "Let's just say he has a wide span of vocabulary."

--Despite Sunday's outburst, the Redskins still didn't complete any downfield passes of note. Ramsey's long completion as a starter, in fact, is just 20 yards.

"That's something we're all aware of," he said. "But to be honest with you, we got up 14-0, got up 21-0, and the long shot wasn't necessary. We didn't need to take those chances. We were scoring. Anytime you can run the ball like that, you just keep feeding it to (RB Clinton Portis)."

--NT Joe Salave'a is enjoying a resurgent season, helping lead Washington's run defense to the upper reaches of the NFL rankings. But he still doesn't know how to celebrate a big play. Last weekend he pulled out a strange air-guitar routine that DE Renaldo Wynn had used some weeks before.

"I wasn't thinking," Salave'a said with a laugh. "'Naldo might have to take me to court, because he's the patented guitar player. I told him it wasn't a guitar; it was a ukulele. We'll see."

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Field goals of more than 40 yards Washington has made this season. The Redskins are just 2-for-7 from 40 or beyond, a product of K John Hall's on-and-off groin injuries and Ola Kimrin's suspect accuracy. Hall, normally known for his powerful leg, barely managed a 46-yarder last weekend.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He loves playing the game. I don't think he'd vote for a lot of practices and stuff, but he loves playing the game." -- Coach Joe Gibbs on RB Clinton Portis.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

DE Phillip Daniels finally journeyed to the spot he seemed headed all season -- injured reserve. Daniels, who missed seven games over two stints with groin and abdomen strains, suffered a dislocated bone in his wrist last weekend and this week was placed on IR.

Gregg Williams' defense has played remarkably well without Daniels, who started at right end when healthy. No-names Ron Warner and Demetric Evans performed more than adequately at the position, which on most teams is considered crucial for creating pass rush.

DT Cedric Killings, who spent training camp with the Redskins, was signed to replace Daniels. Killings played in 14 games with San Francisco in 2000 but hasn't seen game action since 2001.

Strategically, Joe Gibbs' offense is becoming much closer to its ideal with recent strong play by the line, QB Patrick Ramsey and RB Clinton Portis. But not to be overlooked is the surge of H-back Chris Cooley, a rookie out of Utah State who has three touchdowns in the last four weeks and is tied for the team lead with five on the season.

Having a strong option at H-back is helping Gibbs run his offense in the manner it once was successful.

"There's certain guys that have a knack for getting hooked up," Gibbs said. "They're where you expect them to be, and the quarterback has a real feel for them. He's one of those guys."

--LB LaVar Arrington (knee) returned to practice Wednesday and said he responded fairly well. He was listed questionable but is likely closer to doubtful; the Redskins frankly have been pretty unreliable with injury reports this season.

--DE Demetric Evans (ankle) was declared out for the Eagles game.

--WR Laveranues Coles (toe) sat out practice Wednesday and probably won't do any work Thursday, either, after receiving a cortisone shot. However, he's expected to play against the Eagles.

--DT Jermaine Haley (knee) appears set to return after a two-game absence.

--DT Joe Salave'a (knee) seems unaffected by a mild sprain. He practiced Wednesday.

--TE Robert Royal (knee) didn't do much at practice Wednesday but is listed as probable for the Eagles game.

GAME PLAN: Last weekend's win provided a blueprint for how the Redskins want to attack their opponents in the final four games. The foundation is provided by strong, frequent running from RB Clinton Portis, who opened the Giants game with five straight rushes and finished with 31 carries for 148 yards. Then QB Patrick Ramsey is asked to complete the majority of his throws, though most are short and of the high-percentage variety. If the Redskins can do that and avoid turnovers, they could be in contention late in this game.

The bigger concern this week, ironically, is on defense, even though Washington's defense is one of the NFL's best. Philadelphia's offense played to near-perfection last weekend in a 47-17 dismantling of Green Bay. QB Donovan McNabb at one point had 24 straight completions dating to the previous week, and he finished with 464 passing yards and five touchdowns. The Redskins must find some way to contain that attack, and it likely must come via creative blitzing and linemen rushing in disciplined lanes to contain McNabb's scrambles. Holding the Eagles to 21 points would be a coup.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Redskins H-back Mike Sellers, who often finds himself the lead blocker when he's on the field, vs. Eagles MLB Jeremiah Trotter, whose strong play has revitalized the Eagles' run defense -- If Washington is to run the ball effectively (and in each of its four wins RB Clinton Portis has put up huge numbers), it must neutralize Trotter.

CB Shawn Springs, the former "Sharpie" victim, vs. WR Terrell Owens, who leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns (14) -- Springs did a solid job on Owens in the first meeting but still got burned for one score. If Owens makes it to the end zone multiple times in this game, the Redskins almost certainly will lose.

INJURY IMPACT: The return of LB LaVar Arrington (knee) from a 10-game absence probably wouldn't have a huge impact. First, Arrington would have to get re-acclimated. Second, he wouldn't be able to play all-out after re-injuring himself in mid-October in simple run drills. The loss of DEs Phillip Daniels (wrist) and Demetric Evans (ankle) will crimp the rotation at right end and almost certainly will create less pressure. The fact that NT Joe Salave'a (knee) wasn't seriously injured is good news for Washington's run defense.


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