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As Season Winds Down, Offense Eyes Improvement

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Another week dawns, another opponent looms and the talk, once again, turns toward offensive consistency.

"We just have to be more consistent," quarterback Donovan McNabb was saying Wednesday morning before the rain-pelted Redskins headed off to an indoor facility to conduct practice.

In fact, that is the last thing the Redskins need to be. They've been consistent, all right. Not in a good way.

Consistency, the dictionary says, is "the condition of holding together and retaining form."

This form cannot hold.

Remember that gorgeous drive to open the Minnesota game that ultimately went to the Vikings, 17-13? That marked the first time in seven games the Redskins scored on their initial possession.

"Well, we would like to think that's the way it's supposed to look," McNabb said of that 83-yard march against Minnesota. "Obviously during the course of a game it's not going to be as crisp and sound as that first drive went and that's for all teams. We just made mental mistakes all throughout the game that really cost us at times."

The first drive contrasted boldly with the rest of what we've seen.

Go back to Week 4. The Redskins began the game with touchdowns on their first two possessions against the Philadelphia Eagles. There's the high-water mark. Now look at the next six games.

They punted on their first five possessions against the Green Bay Packers. Against the Indianapolis Colts? Interception, punt, touchdown, punt. The Chicago Bears? Punt, punt, interception, then a pair of touchdowns. Versus the Detroit Lions? Five punts. In the blowout loss to the Eagles? Punt, interception, punt, punt. Against the Tennessee Titans? Punt, punt, touchdown, field goal. No more touchdowns.

After taking a 7-0 lead on Minnesota, how did it go? Three consecutive punts, two snaps to end the first half, two punts in the third quarter, when the team ran all of 10 plays.

This team does not need consistency, if consistency means starting poorly and occasionally achieving success thereafter, or starting well and then pooping out completely. It needs improvement.

This is why the Redskins rank 21st in total offense (26th rushing, 10th passing). The NFL ranks offenses in 18 categories and the Redskins place in the top 10 in one – kickoff return average. Last in third down efficiency, 25th in points per game, 25th in sacks per play. Ugh.

"I think we have great talent. You've got to get everybody to fully know the offense and be comfortable in it and it's just going to take a little bit of time," receiver Anthony Armstrong said. "We've had a lot of success with what we have right now. We've won some ballgames, made some big plays, had some good drives. It's just going to take a lot of time just to get our offense rolling completely."

Time. It grows short for the Redskins (5-6) as they prepare to take on the New York Giants (7-4) in an NFC East game with playoff ramifications for both. The time is now.

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The defense takes a lot of heat for not getting off the field (at the end of the Minnesota game) or not closing out games (late scoring drives in Detroit). But this defense has been called on to win games by scoring (Dallas Cowboys, Bears) or coming up with a game-turning play (LaRon Landry's overtime interception against the Packers) or game-saver (DeAngelo Hall's end-zone pick against the Eagles on the final play).

When will it get to protect a lead? When will it be able to turn loose blitzes and a pass rush against a desperate quarterback? When will the offense put up enough points so that it might close out a game with a time-sucking drive?

After allowing Minnesota's opening touchdown drive, the Redskins defense forced three punts and allowed only one more touchdown. Not too bad. The Titans went fumble, punt, field goal, punt on their first four possessions. We won't discuss the Eagles' debacle (five consecutive touchdowns). In the loss to the Lions, Detroit's first four series went punt, interception, punt, punt.

At the end, however, when the defense has been on the field for too many snaps, the breakdowns happen. Detroit scored on three of its last four possessions, dominating time of possession primarily in the second half. Minnesota ran 39 plays in the second half to the Redskins' 22 and had run 26 even before that clock-killing drive at the end.

If by consistency on offense the Redskins mean enough effective rushing to make the play-action passes work, great. If by consistency they mean holding the ball for meaningful amounts of time and finishing drives, terrific. At least in the last two games the Redskins made progress on third down, converting 15 of 31.

"Obviously we answered the question of our third-down situation but now it's really our first and second down things that we were very successful with early, about being able to pick up yards and get in third and short situations and convert them and keep the chains moving," McNabb said.

Consistency is also defined as "steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form."

No argument here with what the Redskins want to do. They just need to do it. Consistently.


Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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