It seems that an article or a talk show segment addressing an NFL team’s 10 burning questions going into training camp is in vogue these days. I’m certainly not one who avoids latching on to such trends, but I usually tailor them to give some guise of originally (thus ESPN’s “Four Downs” becomes Warpath Insiders’ “Three and Out”). Surgery that is a bit more radical is performed on the 10 questions here. There is only one such question for the 2005 Washington Redskins:
In Joe Gibbs’ first year back, the passing offense could be best be described as horizontal. That’s partly because it featured a lot of wide receiver screens and hitch patterns. Mostly however, it was horizontal as in prone, like a dead man. They were 30th in the league in total yardage and 31st in scoring. So here’s the one burning question:
Can Joe Gibbs and the Redskins successfully transform the passing game from an ineffective, dink and dunk, horizontal one into abig-play, vertically oriented air attack?
Sure, there are some other fairly important matters out there such as who will start at middle linebacker, can Sean Taylor get his act together, will LaVar Arrington’s knee be completely healed and some others. But even if all of those things fall into place, the Redskins won’t be successful in 2005 if they can’t score more points. And we are defining success here as making the playoffs.
Make no mistake about it, that’s what this team’s goal is for this year and that is what the expectation for them is here. Gibbs is a Hall of Fame coach and should be able to add three or four wins to last year’s total and that should be good enough to be playing in January. A win or two in the playoffs would be a nice bonus, but anything less than making the field will be adisappointment. It says here that’s where the bar is in 2005.
The Redskins had a playoff-caliber defense last year. That’s not just a defense that could get a team to the playoffs; it was one that could get a team deep into the playoffs. If you take the worst-case scenario and say that the losses of Fred Smoot and Antonio Pierce hurt considerably, it’s still an upper-echelon, if not elite, defense. The burden of making the playoffs falls on the offense.
A great offense can both pound the ball on the ground when the situation calls for it and air it out deep when that’s what’s needed. You can count the NFL offenses that have the talent to do both on your index fingers and big toes, if you need that many digits. The Redskins aren’t one of
All of the eggs on offense have been placed in the big-play basket. Clinton Portis is not a grind-it-out type of runner. While the offensive line isn’t bad blocking for the power running game, its strength, individually and collectively, is pass blocking. They are not going to grind out a bunch of 15-play drives and pound it in on third down from the two. They’rejust not, as much as Joe Bugel and Gibbs might want it to be so.
Certainly, Joe and Joe realize this and that’s why they are going to air it out. Patrick Ramsey has a big arm and he can find the receivers forty yards downfield. Santana Moss and David Patten have demonstrated their abilities to get open deep and all indications are that Taylor Jacobs will be able to do the same.
Of course, you can’t go bombs away on every play, but the Redskins will have to demonstrate their ability to do so in order to open up the other elements of the offense. An effective deep passing game will let Patrick Ramsey throw the quick hitch to a wideout with reasonable hopes that it will be second and three after the play. If the defense has to deal with the credible threat
of quick score via the air, that will give Portis more room to operate on draws and sweeps. And should the Redskins stretch the field that will give H-back Chris Cooley some space to operate in underneath the deep patterns.
It’s not all about the offense. The defense needs to maintain and it would help if they got more than the 29 takeaways they got in 2004. Improved special teams play might help steal a game if the offense and defense are substandard and teams can’t cost them a game. But any substantial improvement in the Redskins’ 6-10 record will have to come from the offensiveside of the ball. That means it’s bombs away and hope for the best.