Statistics don't always tell the story in football games--and that has never been more evident than in the Redskins' four games this season.
The Redskins' offense has out-gained opposing offenses in yardage in three of their four games this season. (Washington is averaging 315.5 total yards and 110.3 rushing yards per game.) They also hold an edge in first downs (67-53) and time of possession (31:59-28:01).
On Monday, one day after the Redskins' 17-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns, head coach Joe Gibbs pointed toward mistakes such as turnovers and penalties as among the reasons why the Redskins' offense has been slowed in the early going this season.
"We need improvement," Gibbs said. "We turned the ball over seven times against the Giants, then we come back against Dallas and go turnover free. Then we turn around and against the Browns we turn the ball over a couple of times. You can't do that and expect to win at this level."
Running back Clinton Portis fumbled twice in the Giants game and once more in Cleveland. It was a key play in the game. On the first play of the second half, Portis's fumble have the Browns excellent field position and led to a game-tying touchdown.
Portis, who rushed for 58 yards on 20 carries, said he has never had fumble problems in his career, but recognizes that it's something he'll have to work on to avoid in the future.
"I'm sure he as much as anyone wants to stop it," he said. "He understands how important it is to hang on to the ball. It's something we're going to have to live through right now.
Gibbs remains enamored of his running back, who has 369 rushing yards on 92 carries so far this season. But Portis has not had any "home runs"--as he calls them--since his first carry as a Redskin. That was a 64-yard touchdown run against Tampa Bay.
"Clinton to me is very physical," Gibbs said. "I think he is a good pass receiver. To me he is a good all-around back. If you ask him to do something he can do it. He can block, he is chasing people all over the field and he is very physical. I would say he is a very well-rounded, big-time back."
Gibbs did praise the play of his pass protection units, as well as quarterback Mark Brunell.
Brunell, who was not sacked in Sunday's game against Cleveland, was 17-of-32 for 192 yards. He connected seven times with Laveranues Coles for 122 yards, the most notable being a 30-yard completion on a key 4th and six play in the second quarter.
"I think Mark made some real good plays," Gibbs said. "I thought he did a real good job getting rid of the ball when he had to and he did a real good job scrambling. That fourth down play when they came after him on a blitz--that was unbelievable. Anytime you have a real good day with pass protection, you know your quarterback has done a real good job also."
Brunell and the offense were stymied on third downs, though, converting just 1-of-11 attempts.
"It was big," Gibbs said of that statistic. "We had some penalties that put us in 1st-and-15 or 1st-and-20 situations, and it's hard to overcome those. We need to take a real look at [third-down conversion opportunities]."
Gibbs employed a no-huddle offense on several occasions in the first half to develop an offensive rhythm . It worked, as the Redskins went into the break with a 10-3 lead. Gibbs said the offense will only use that formula depending on which team they're facing.
"It's more for [increasing] tempo," Gibbs explained. "You don't let the defense substitute, which is a big deal here so that they can't go to nickel packages. You can dictate the tempo and you call plays at the line of scrimmage. Mark was making some of those calls [on Sunday].
"We just kind of pick our spots on some of that stuff. Whenever we think it applies to the other team, we'll use it."