Redskins First Quarter Report Card--Offense's Editor, Rich Tandler, and Redskins beat writer John Keim deliver their Report Card on each unit on the team, starting with the offense. They also also look at whether the unit has overachieved or underachieved this year and the prospects for improvement or backsliding as the year goes on.


Tandler's Take: The production from the position has been solid, and at moments spectacular. That's a mild surprise considering that the team's combined QB rating hovered at around 70 for most of the year, about 15 points below the league average. What's shocking is that it's Mark Brunell driving the bus. It was supposed to be Patrick Ramsey, but his tenure as the starting quarterback lasted about 20 minutes. Brunell taking over was supposed to be the Redskins worst nightmare; instead, the reality has been quite pleasant.

Brunell replaced Ramsey primarily because of his ability to avoid mistakes and in that area he has been outstanding. Of his two interceptions in 137 pass attempts this year, one bounced off of the receiver's hands. He was charged with the fumble on the missed handoff to Portis in Denver, but that is the only other miscue on his record. Brunell's game management has been excellent; he knows when to throw the ball away and the team has not had to waste a timeout due to confusion over the play call. Questions about his arm strength were answered resoundingly with his two late TD bombs to Santana Moss in Dallas. In fact, almost all of the question marks about Brunell have turned into exclamation points.

Keim's Take: In training camp, it was obvious that Brunell had more poise and pocket presence, and was a better fit for the offense, than Ramsey. He's throwing the ball more decisively, perhaps because he trusts the receivers to be where they're supposed to be more than last year. And he's avoided so many sacks or negative situations because of his feet. He doesn't always have to run; he just needs to escape pressure.

Grade: B, exceeding expectation. Season prospect: Steady


Running Backs

Tandler's Take: Clinton Portis has only two more yards rushing through four games this year compared to 2004, but he clearly is playing better. His average (4.4 yards per carry) is over half a yard better than his mark last year (3.8). More importantly, through four games last year he had two fumbles, one against the Giants and one against the Browns, that were key moments in losses and a total of four fumbles on his record for the four games. This year he has one fumble, one against Chicago that harmlessly bounced right back into his grasp.

Portis and Ladell Betts, who has spelled Portis well from time to time this year, have combined to give the Redskins the sixth-best rushing attack in the NFL in terms of yards gained per game. That alone might warrant giving an A for their performance this year. However, a few issues drag the grade down. They are one of just three NFL teams not to post a rushing touchdown this year. Their performance on short yardage has been less than outstanding, less than acceptable for that matter. And given opportunities to grind out game-clinching drives against Chicago and Dallas, they haven't moved the chains, leaving it up to the defense to save the game.

Keim's Take: I really like Portis. He's tough, picks up the blitz well and plays ultra-hard. He's not just about stats; he wants to win--and, judging by his actions, he means it. Like Brunell, it's his footwork that makes the difference. He eluded one would-be tackler Sunday with a little sidestep--all while moving forward. But he's not effective in the red zone partly because he simply doesn't break tackles at the line. If the hole isn't there, he's not going to create one nor will he move the pile. And he would have scored Sunday had he been just a little more patient on his 13-yard run to the 2. Chris Samuels and Santana Moss had the outside blocked, yet Portis ran right into Samuels to the inside. Just impatience. I also like Betts, who gives Washington a strong backup who can move piles. I'd give them a B.

Grade: B-, meeting expectations. Season prospect: Slight improvement


Wide receivers

Tandler's Take: Santana Moss is on pace to catch 112 passes for 1,832 yards, eight touchdowns and 84 first downs. And his record indicates that he is just getting warmed up. The past two years he has put up considerably more catches and yards receiving in November and December than he did in September and October. Now, he's not going to catch 150 passes for 3,000 yards or anything like that, but there is little reason to see his production declining as the season goes on.

The other newly acquired starter, David Patten, has yet to get untracked. He's averaging 7.8 yards a catch, about half of his career average. He had his best game against Denver, catching a season-high seven passes and having a 35-yard touchdown reception nullified by a highly questionable pass interference call. James Thrash has performed well, getting seven first downs with his nine receptions. The biggest disappointment has been Taylor Jacobs, who has just one catch after missing most of the preseason. Much bigger things were expected out of him at the start of training camp.

Keim's Take: Moss is more effective than I thought he would be. I thought he'd get open, but I wasn't sure, based on watching practices this summer, if they'd get him the ball. They are. And he has such a good feel for where the defense is, letting him know where to turn. The 30-yard pass in overtime against Seattle is a perfect example: he felt the defense on his outside shoulder so he turned back in for 16 more yards. He's competitive going for the ball. And he'll block downfield, too. I love watching him and enjoy talking to him even more. Patten oozes more intensity than any player I've ever covered. He's not as explosive off the line and isn't as good a blocker downfield as I thought he would be. But he, too, competes well and that's a nice addition. They finally found him against Denver; he runs good routes. Thrash is darned productive and I love when he blocks defensive ends on crackbacks. He's a help in pass protection and good on routes where toughness is needed. Jacobs, a good hard-working kid, is a disappointment. Though he works hard and cares about his performance, he doesn't seem to have the desire or confidence of the others. It's a shame because he has the talent. My problem with this group is that there's no true red zone threat; it's hard to throw fade routes to short receivers in a short field.

Grade: B, slightly exceeding expectations. Season prospect: Considerable improvement

Tight Ends/H-Backs

Tandler's Take: Chris Cooley is the team's second-leading receiver both in terms of catches and yards and he has been doing a great job of blocking for Portis and Betts. If he keeps up his pace for catches and yardage he'd end up with 68 for 788 yards and if he can get in the end zone a bit more often he could warrant Pro Bowl consideration.

Of the Redskins' six touchdown passes this year, four have gone to this group with one to Cooley, one to Robert Royal, and two to Mike Sellers. The 280-lb Sellers is more of a third tackle than a receiving threat, but he has managed to sneak open twice in paydirt.

Keim's Take: Sellers' performance has elevated this group. Last year his playing time decreased because he didn't seem to know what he was doing. He's more comfortable this year and it seems as if they've narrowed his role on offense, while giving him more time. He's an effective lead blocker. Cooley is what I thought he would be; and he's quicker getting to his blocks. He often serves as the lead blocker, pulling from the H-back spot. And they used him well Sunday, splitting him wide to draw mismatches. He's not in the elite group of tight ends, but he can serve as the big receiver Washington doesn't have when they split him wide. Royal is OK, a decent athlete capable of catches in the red zone and one who is not bad blocking along the line. As a group they provide decent targets in the red zone.

Grade: A-, exceeding expectations. Season prospect: Steady

Offensive Line

Tandler's Take: The unit is better than it was last year, to be sure, with Jon Jansen back and Casey Rabach in at center. And certainly a good share of the credit for being the #5 rushing offense in the NFL and the #8 overall in terms of yardage has to go to the O-line.

Still, this hasn't been a particularly strong unit. Left guard Derrick Dockery continues to have issues with his technique and he's not making the move from project to solid starter or even star that many expected him to in this, his third NFL season. Rabach has been handled from time to time, especially in Dallas. As a unit, they seem to dominate for a play or two and then all of a sudden the other team's defensive line is setting up shop in the Washington backfield for a while. Along with the running backs, the line carries the responsibility for the above-mentioned problems on short yardage and finishing off games.

Keim's Take: Three-fifths of the line is solid almost every play: Chris Samuels, Randy Thomas and Jon Jansen. The latter has overcome a rusty start this preseason and is playing like we expected. Samuels and Thomas have been very consistent all season, starting in camp. Rabach is up and down. I see him getting beat too often in the middle, but he's still learning the offense so maybe that has something to do with it. He seems to have a good grasp of the line adjustments. Dockery has one good game and then has too many breakdowns the next. Now we know why he was a third-round pick; he certainly has first-round talent. He's pretty good at pulling, but struggles in pass protection at times because he gets off-balance when he thrusts into the defensive linemen, making him easier to get around. The line allowed no sacks in 53 pass attempts against Denver, a remarkable stat. They were often in max protection and other times Brunell avoided sacks. It's a good run-blocking line and we'll see that develop over the course of the season. In pass protection, because of some holes up the middle, they'll struggle if not in max protection.

Grade: C+, well under expectations. Season Prospect: Considerable improvement

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