Tuesday Nickel : Saunders Hitting His Stride

The Tuesday Nickel Package: Al Saunders is startig to figure out what his players are--and aren't--capable of.

1. How long can Mark Brunell keep this up? It's a legitimate question; it's also a step up over the question being asked two weeks ago: can he still play? Well, the last two weeks the Redskins have put him in position to make plays and he's managed games like the veteran he is. Brunell's elbow is fine, and he even appeared to have more zip this past week. But the question remains: how long can he last? Our fear with Brunell is not his age, it's his legs. His slides begin when his legs start to hurt. And his legs start to hurt when he gets too much pressure and takes a pounding. Really, this question is impossible to answer, but it's the same one that's dogged him each of the past two seasons.

2. What's wrong with the defense? They don't tackle nearly as well as they have the past two seasons under Gregg Williams. And the secondary takes either bad angles (Sean Taylor) or misses tackles. The linebackers have been inconsistent, save for Marcus Washington. Warrick Holdman has been solid in run support, but not in coverage. It's more than just missing Shawn Springs.

3. Al Saunders. There's no doubt Saunders is hitting his stride and is learning what his players can, and can't, do. But there's also no doubt that Saunders loves Clinton Portis. He's already telling some people he knew in Kansas City that Portis can be better than Priest Holmes. Saunders excels at getting guys in position to make plays. His plays clear out defenders very well, as they did for Santana Moss on his first touchdown. Then it's up to the playmakers to make plays. The more they get comfortable with the offense, the more fun they'll be to watch.

4. The offensive line. Man, they've been fun to watch the past two games. They've done an excellent job of pulling and leading Clinton Portis on sweeps, not to mention leading on screens. They protected Mark Brunell very well Sunday, allowing him to feel comfortable in the pocket for one of the few times this season. Center Casey Rabach has played his best ball as a Redskin the past two games.

5. LaVar's Revenge. LaVar Arrington is keeping a low profile this week as he faces his old team for the first time. Arrington is eighth on the Giants with 12 tackles, but he is not blitzing much so he hasn't been in position to make the big plays many anticipated. Or, at least, hoped for. From what we hear, Arrington has grumbled a little privately about how he's being used. But publicly he's been a team player. One thing that is interesting; Redskins broadcaster Sam Huff said he's tried to get in touch with Arrington and left three messages with him. They haven't been returned, though we do know that Arrington changes cell phones frequently.

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