Redskins patching it together on offense

The Washington Redskins haven't been able to keep a consistent set of skill-position players on the field. They've switched quarterbacks (and back again), gone through multiple running backs and receivers and had tight ends drop out due to injuries and suspensions. Yet, they have pushed playoff teams.

For years, Mike Shanahan has been credited as being one of the top offensive minds in the NFL, able to make something out of nothing when it comes to developing talent. While Shanny critics will maintain that he was only successful when teamed up with John Elway, who helped cure a lot of ills, he has perhaps faced his greatest challenge as a head coach with the offensively challenged 2011 Redskins.

After getting off to a surprising 3-1 start, prior to their win last Sunday against the Giants, the Redskins had lost eight of their previous nine games. Yet, over the last month, the patchwork Redskins have given both Dallas and the Patriots all they could handle and put a dagger in the wild card hopes of the Seahawks with a win Nov. 27. The biggest question may be how they are doing it.

A lot of teams are beset with injuries, but few offenses have had to overcome the type of turnover the Redskins have experienced. It started shortly after the lockout. Shanahan was never a fan of the decision to trade for Donovan McNabb. He clearly wasn't his pick as the quarterback, as evidenced by benching McNabb a week after he signed a long-term contract extension. Shanahan's primary running threat was veteran Clinton Portis and his main receiving threat was tight end Chris Cooley. Before the Redskins would play a game in 2011, both McNabb and Portis were sent packing and Cooley wouldn't last much longer. What has followed has been a revolving door of injuries and lineup changes among the skill-position players for Washington and a makeshift offense that bears little resemblance to the team Shanahan took over in 2010.

The biggest question mark was at quarterback, where the Redskins opted to go with journeyman Rex Grossman as their starter. While he was able to manage games early, winning three of the first four, when Grossman looked like the stiff Bears fans loved to hate, he was sent to the bench. It came in an especially brutal performance at home against Philadelphia Oct. 16 in which Grossman completed 13 of 22 passes – nine to his teammates and four to Eagles defenders. But, the problems were just beginning.

Grossman was replaced by inexperienced John Beck, who started the next three games. Beck was sacked 15 times in his three games as a starter and, citing his own protection, Shanahan went back to Grossman – apparently not having as big an issue with Grossman getting beat up as he did Beck. While Grossman hasn't been lighting things up – he has at least one interception in each of his last 10 starts and two or more in six of them – he has been managing games better of late and has found a niche with his receivers, something that has been helped by the recent resurgence of the running game.

Coming into the season, veteran running back Tim Hightower was the main man in the backfield. In the first three games of the season, he averaged 20 carries a game, but, when he went down to injury, the running duties were handed off to the Ryan Torain. When he proved ineffective, Shanahan switched to his third option – rookie Roy Helu. Over the last four games, Helu has rushed 96 times for 387 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the latest obscure runner to take over and produce in the Shanahan offense. After years of having Portis as the mainstay of the backfield, the Redskins have found a way to make their running game work with three different featured backs.

Injuries have had an equally profound impact on the offense. The most explosive receiver on the team has been Santana Moss, but, after missing four games in November, he has yet to be a consistent offensive factor – posting 42 yards or less in six of the last seven games he has played. Cooley was supposed to be the answer as the versatile tight end/H-back combo platter, but he had just eight receptions before going down to a season-ending injury in Week 5. Fred Davis was supposed to be the replacement answer after Cooley went down and he still leads the team in receptions with 59, but his 2011 season is done after being suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

What has remained has been a rag-tag group of youngsters and rejects to pick up the pieces. The leading receiver on the team in terms of yardage is former Patriot Jabar Gaffney, who has posted his four best receiving games over the last five, and former Saint/Eagle Donte Stallworth. Rookie Leonard Hankerson was expected to make a contribution, but he was placed on injured reserve after catching eight passes for 106 yards against Miami Nov. 13.

The Vikings have had their share of offensive turmoil, but it would hard to make a case for any offense having more skill-position issues than the Redskins. They have benched and re-inserted Grossman at QB for the safety of his backup. They don't have a running back who has a carry in every game and Gaffney is the only receiver to play in all 14 games this season.

Vikings fans may need a scorecard to identify the Redskins players, but, despite their injuries and lack of elite talent, Washington has found a way to patch together a 5-9 season and are far from the pushovers their team may look like at first glance – just ask the Giants and Patriots and they'll give you a witness. Are they a mess? You bet they are, but somehow, some way, they're finding a way to get the job done.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" For years, Mike Shanahan has been credited as being one of the top offensive minds in the NFL, able to make something out of nothing when it comes to developing talent. While Shanny critics will maintain that he was only successful when teamed up with John Elway, who helped cure a lot of ills, he has perhaps faced his greatest challenge as a head coach with the offensively challenged 2011 Redskins. After getting off to a surprising 3-1 start, prior to their win last Sunday against the Giants, the Redskins had lost eight of their previous nine games. Yet, over the last month, the patchwork Redskins have given both Dallas and the Patriots all they could handle and put a dagger in the wild card hopes of the Seahawks with a win Nov. 27. The biggest question may be how they are doing it. A lot of teams are beset with injuries, but few offenses have had to overcome the type of turnover the Redskins have experienced. It started shortly after the lockout. Shanahan was never a fan of the decision to trade for Donovan McNabb. He clearly wasn't his pick as the quarterback, as evidenced by benching McNabb a week after he signed a long-term contract extension. Shanahan's primary running threat was veteran Clinton Portis and his main receiving threat was tight end Chris Cooley. Before the Redskins would play a game in 2011, both McNabb and Portis were sent packing and Cooley wouldn't last much longer. What has followed has been a revolving door of injuries and lineup changes among the skill-position players for Washington and a makeshift offense that bears little resemblance to the team Shanahan took over in 2010. The biggest question mark was at quarterback, where the Redskins opted to go with journeyman Rex Grossman as their starter. While he was able to manage games early, winning three of the first four, when Grossman looked like the stiff Bears fans loved to hate, he was sent to the bench. It came in an especially brutal performance at home against Philadelphia Oct. 16 in which Grossman completed 13 of 22 passes – nine to his teammates and four to Eagles defenders. But, the problems were just beginning. Grossman was replaced by inexperienced John Beck, who started the next three games. Beck was sacked 15 times in his three games as a starter and, citing his own protection, Shanahan went back to Grossman – apparently not having as big an issue with Grossman getting beat up as he did Beck. While Grossman hasn't been lighting things up – he has at least one interception in each of his last 10 starts and two or more in six of them – he has been managing games better of late and has found a niche with his receivers, something that has been helped by the recent resurgence of the running game. Coming into the season, veteran running back Tim Hightower was the main man in the backfield. In the first three games of the season, he averaged 20 carries a game, but, when he went down to injury, the running duties were handed off to the Ryan Torain. When he proved ineffective, Shanahan switched to his third option – rookie Roy Helu. Over the last four games, Helu has rushed 96 times for 387 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the latest obscure runner to take over and produce in the Shanahan offense. After years of having Portis as the mainstay of the backfield, the Redskins have found a way to make their running game work with three different featured backs. Injuries have had an equally profound impact on the offense. The most explosive receiver on the team has been Santana Moss, but, after missing four games in November, he has yet to be a consistent offensive factor – posting 42 yards or less in six of the last seven games he has played. Cooley was supposed to be the answer as the versatile tight end/H-back combo platter, but he had just eight receptions before going down to a season-ending injury in Week 5. Fred Davis was supposed to be the replacement answer after Cooley went down and he still leads the team in receptions with 59, but his 2011 season is done after being suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. What has remained has been a rag-tag group of youngsters and rejects to pick up the pieces. The leading receiver on the team in terms of yardage is former Patriot Jabar Gaffney, who has posted his four best receiving games over the last five, and former Saint/Eagle Donte Stallworth. Rookie Leonard Hankerson was expected to make a contribution, but he was placed on injured reserve after catching eight passes for 106 yards against Miami Nov. 13. The Vikings have had their share of offensive turmoil, but it would hard to make a case for any offense having more skill-position issues than the Redskins. They have benched and re-inserted Grossman at QB for the safety of his backup. They don't have a running back who has a carry in every game and Gaffney is the only receiver to play in all 14 games this season. Vikings fans may need a scorecard to identify the Redskins players, but, despite their injuries and lack of elite talent, Washington has found a way to patch together a 5-9 season and are far from the pushovers their team may look like at first glance – just ask the Giants and Patriots and they'll give you a witness. Are they a mess? You bet they are, but somehow, some way, they're finding a way to get the job done. 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