The Redskins' offense improved from 30th overall in 2004 to 11th last year. And yet, as the offseason starts to get into full swing, it's evident there remains room for improvement on the offensive side of the ball.
The unit struggled in the postseason, producing just 20 points in two games and totaling only 125 yards of total offense in a 17-10 Wild Card win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 7.
The passing game improved modestly, from 29th in 2004 to 21st last year. Now, newly hired associate head coach-offense Al Saunders, architect of the Kansas City Chiefs' top-ranked offense the last two seasons, has been brought in to further upgrade the offense.
It stands to reason that getting more production from the wide receiver position opposite Santana Moss will be a focus this offseason.
Moss was the Redskins' go-to receiver last year, compiling 84 catches for a franchise-record 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns. By midseason, defenses were rolling coverage in Moss's direction to limit his big-play ability.
David Patten, who was placed on injured reserve in mid-November with a knee injury, was the receiver with the second-most catches. He recorded 22 catches for 217 yards. James Thrash followed with 14 catches for 194 yards and Taylor Jacobs had 11 receptions for 100 yards.
If the Redskins do acquire a wide receiver this offseason, they probably won't pursue mercurial Terrell Owens, who is expected to be released or traded by the Philadelphia Eagles. On Wednesday, vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato denied a media report that suggested the Redskins were interested in acquiring Owens.
Interestingly, Saunders' offenses in Kansas City from 1989-98 and 2001-05 never really had a top-tier wide receiver like Owens, or even Moss.
The most catches a wide receiver ever had in his offense was 72 by Andre Rison in 1997. His offenses, first under Marty Schottenheimer and then Dick Vermeil, typically focused on a strong running attack (Marcus Allen, Priest Holmes) and a pass-catching tight end (Tony Gonzalez).
At his season-ending press conference, head coach Joe Gibbs suggested that the return of Patten, as well as Thrash who was sidelined parts of December and January with hamstring and thumb injuries, would help boost the offense.
"We'll take a long, hard look at everything," Gibbs said. "I'm excited about David being back and getting him healthy. We'll have a healthy James Thrash and we'll have Taylor [Jacobs]. Then we'll move forward and see what the best decision is that we can make in each one of those areas."
Moss expressed confidence that a healthy Patten would help improve the offense in 2006.
"If you watched OTAs and mini-camps last year, David was the top guy," Moss said after the season. "I still look at him that way. I told him last year when we both came here that when I was on the Jets, he was the guy I looked at on film because he always beat the defenders he played against."
Moss also had good things to say about Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, a close friend and fellow Miami Hurricane alum who is the headliner among unrestricted free agents expected to be available this offseason.
"Reggie and I have played together before and we're friends," Moss said. "We know how we are when we're not getting the ball--we're competitors. If [signing him] was something the team wanted to do, I'm pretty sure it would be great for the team. But I still have a lot of confidence in the guys that we have here."
Wayne caught a career-high 83 catches for 1,055 yards and five touchdowns last season. Other unrestricted free agents: Ike Hilliard, Koren Robinson, Peerless Price, Antwaan Randle-El, David Givens and Antonio Bryant. Three former Redskins wide receivers are also unrestricted free agents: Keenan McCardell, Rod Gardner and Darnerien McCants.
The crop of restricted free agents includes Brandon Lloyd, Kevin Curtis and Nate Burleson.
In the draft, the younger brother of Santana Moss, Sinorice, is a wide receiver who is moving up the draft boards after a solid Senior Bowl performance. Ohio State's Santonio Holmes, Florida's Chad Jackson, Arizona State's Derek Hagan and Notre Dame's Maurice Stovall are among the other top wide receivers in the draft.
No matter what the Redskins do in the offseason, Patten said that he expects the team to build off of its success in 2005.
"It was frustrating to see us go down in the playoffs, but we were right there," he said. "No one expected us to do what we did last year. We have to build off of that. This offseason is going to tell us what type of team we are. We're going to see who's really upset about our shortcomings this year."