DEBUGGING THE REDSKINS

For the second week in a row, an opposing defensive player left a game against the Redskins wondering one thing: why aren't they using Stephen Davis more? Davis has carried only 25 times the past two games, a figure too low for a struggling offense. Philadelphia's Hugh Douglas wondered where Davis was a week ago. Sunday, it was San Francisco linebacker Derek Smith who said Washington should run him more.

The Redskins, coming off a 20-10 loss to the 49ers, need to listen. That is, if they want to win.

We all knew Steve Spurrier would come in trying to throw the ball. His offense demands it. But we also thought he wanted to win. And you can't convince me that Washington's mediocre group of receivers and quarterbacks provide more hope than stuffing the ball in the gut of a Pro Bowl runner.

Davis is the only proven threat Washington has. He can control games on the ground and he can do what Spurrier wants, which is set up the pass. Remember the Arizona game? When Davis got hot in the second half, the Cardinals started walking up the safety near the line of scrimmage. Suddenly, Shane Matthews started connecting on deep passes to Rod Gardner, who drew man coverage against that setup.

''We need to run him more,'' Redskins quarterback Shane Matthews said of Davis. ''It's obvious that 13 carries isn't enough. He needs to get the ball in his hands 20-some times a game.''

That's why the emphasis on quarterbacks this week is misplaced. The Redskins must alter their system, not change quarterbacks.

But will Spurrier do that? It worked for Brian Billick a few years ago when he shelved his offensive ego. It can work for Spurrier now. It's time for it to happen.

What We Learned:

. . . The Redskins need a left guard. David Loverne has struggled the past game and a half, facing much better competition than he did in the opener. But they don't have one on the roster. At least not one who can pass block most of the game. Hmmm. Maybe there's something the Redskins should learn from that last statement.

. . . The defensive players are frustrated. It's evident that LaVar Arrington is clearly upset by his play, not to mention his role. Arrington is being used similar to how he was as a rookie and it's not working. Also, Arrington is struggling to adapt to rushing as an end. But those of you who read The Whisper Room shouldn't be surprised. Before the season an NFL scout told us that would be the case. Arrington lacks the explosiveness of a Lawrence Taylor or Derrick Thomas. Arrington is more quick than super fast and once his quickness is neutralized, he's done.

. . . Daryl Gardener can be a big help, when healthy. The defensive tackle, who missed Week 2 with back problems, provided some push up the middle. Thing is, can he stay healthy?

. . . It's not a matter of arm strength with Danny Wuerffel, it's his decisions. The deep post to Rod Gardner was intercepted, not because it was a weak throw, but because it shouldn't have been thrown. But Wuerffel is too often pressured into such throws, which is why he's too big a risk to play. His arm strength looks worse when the decisions are bad. Maybe Patrick Ramsey isn't ready to start, but he should be elevated to No. 2.

. . . Spurrier still doesn't get it when it comes to the preseason. He put Danny Wuerffel in because he felt he'd revert to his preseason form. Wuerffel looked great against San Francisco and Carolina's backups, earning more time against starters. Just like Trent Green did in 1998. But Green proved it against starters, too. Wuerffel hasn't.

Offensive Player of the Game: Tight end Zeron Flemister. Why? Because we had to give it to somebody and at least he scored a touchdown. Had Stephen Davis not fumbled, we'd give it to him. But, once again in a road game, he did fumble and it cost the Redskins.

Defensive Player of the Game: Linebacker Jessie Armstead, who had 17 tackles. He's the only linebacker playing worth a darn. Armstead at times struggled to get off his blocks, but that only happened occasionally. He showed he can still use his quickness to make plays.

Where is: Jeremiah Trotter? The Redskins signed him to a big deal, hoping for a force in the middle. They don't have one. Is it the scheme? Trotter has too much talent not to play better. But too often it seems blockers get the best of him. For him to only have three tackles on a day in which San Francisco ran the ball 41 times is incredible.

Where are: the wideouts? In the opener Washington's receivers combined for 14 receptions, seven by Rod Gardner. In the past two games they've combined for 11 catches. But this isn't surprising. Only Rod Gardner has the talent to be a consistent receiver and which of the wideouts scares opposing defenses? They lack the speed to be big-time threats, which this offense needs.

Bad move: Bringing in Danny Wuerffel. What on Earth gave Spurrier confidence that Wuerffel could get the job done? Spurrier keeps hoping Wuerffel will revert to preseason form. Problem is, he has. Wuerffel couldn't move the ball against Pittsburgh or New England. He has a weak arm and is now compounding that by making bad decisions.

Better move: involving Jacquez Green more. Granted, he didn't do much--though he was wide open on a corner route, which had it been completed would have been a huge play. But his speed makes him an asset.

Finished?: End Bruce Smith has had a great career. But he's not having a strong ending. Smith hasn't applied much pressure and has become a liability against the run. He hinted Monday that part of it stems from how he's being used. Let's hope it's not because it's time to retire.

Why not: Use Ladairis Jackson the way they used him in the preseason? Then, Jackson played multiple roles, rushing as an end and sometimes lining up as a linebacker. We haven't seen that formation enough; maybe he could provide a spark.


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