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At Quarter Point, Redskins Right In the Middle

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With one quarter of the NFL season witnessed, Redskins fans find much to moan about and little to celebrate.

OK, stop whining. At least for a couple of minutes. Perhaps the season is not unfolding in the way envisioned but there's not much news in surprises of that sort. Just ask all of those mighty division winners of yesteryear (actually last year) that haven't won a single game.

The Tennessee Titans? They're 0-4. They lost three games in 2008. The Carolina Panthers? They're 0-3. They lost four games a year ago. The Miami Dolphins? Finally won one, to go to 1-3.

Care to change places? Didn't think so.

The Redskins sit at 2-2 following their 16-13 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Best hopes (ours, not theirs) were for a 3-1 start. So despite their problems (and they've got 'em), the Redskins are a game off the pace deemed (by us, not them) most realistic.

Must they improve and play a whole lot better? No question. The schedule will grow more demanding in a few weeks and five of the six division games remain to be played.

The New York Giants, who bested the Redskins in the opener, appear again the most formidable of the NFC East teams. The Dallas Cowboys clearly have the shakes. The Philadelphia Eagles? Talent-laden but not resembling a group with chemistry.

It is not as if the Redskins have done nothing demonstrably well. Consider the defense. Has it rattled the ribs of opposing quarterbacks? Not really. Seven sacks in four games don't resonate. Two interceptions don't add up to much. But games are decided by points and the Redskins' defense has allowed five touchdowns. Blame the one against the Bucs on the offense for turning the ball over on its own 10-yard line. Not too shabby.

Now ask yourself: What would this defense be doing if it were ever protecting a lead?

The offense has scored three points in the first quarter and 13 in the first half this season. Some of this rests on the defense, which allowed extended drives by its first three opponents while struggling to get off the field on third down.

The offense has had to play consistently from arrears, which hurts its ability to saw away with the running game. And when the Redskins run, they can't really rely on anyone but Clinton Portis.

Portis, with 98 yards against the Bucs, got himself rolling a bit. He's averaging 3.9 yards a carry and that's considerably below the 4.5 average with which he entered his eighth NFL season. He's not getting the downhill runs that protect a fourth-quarter lead and bolster the statistics because there's just not enough lead or one at all. You want to feed it to Ladell Betts instead? He's averaging 1.6 per carry while Marcus Mason sits at 2.6. The money's on Portis. It has to be.

Jason Campbell? He might be leading the NFL in taking flak. Five touchdown passes, five interceptions. He threw six interceptions last year and everyone wanted him to cut it loose and just hum the ball. Hmm. His passer rating of 85.5 mirrors his number from 2008 (84.3).

Let's not act as if he's out there by himself. Campbell was to be joined this season by the Redskins' version of The Three Musketeers -- Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas and Fred Davis -- as receiving threats who, in their second go-rounds, would break out and help establish a new passing paradigm.

The Redskins' leading receivers last year: Chris Cooley, Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El, Portis. Their leading receivers this year? Cooley, Moss, Randle El and Betts, who replaces Portis in third-down passing situations.

Kelly has six catches, Davis three, Thomas one. Not a touchdown among them. Combined receiving yards: 82. The Redskins desperately wanted to get them involved. Now they need to determine whether or not they're alive.

No wideout but Moss caught a pass against the Bucs and only three were directed at others.

"Some of them were covered. Some of it was protection. Some of it was the receivers being able to separate from the defensive backs," head coach Jim Zorn said on Monday. "I'm not satisfied with that."

Let's go back to the 2-2 record. Satisfied? Or placated? It's a hard number to relish because of the caliber of the opposition and the frustration engendered by less-than-stellar production against teams primarily contending for the No. 1 draft pick in 2010.

No argument about the Giants being a quality crew, with their 4-0 record, but what of the other three? The St. Louis Rams, bested 9-7 by the Redskins, have held their other three opponents to 99 points and allowed 10 defensive touchdowns. The Detroit Lions? Limited the Redskins to 14 points but surrendered 120 in their three defeats. The Bucs? Gave up 91 in their first three losses, the defense permitting nine touchdowns.

Combined record of all opponents: 5-11. Combined record minus the Giants: 1-11. Combined record of next two opponents (Carolina and the Kansas City Chiefs): 0-7.

Assuming the Redskins pull themselves together more quickly than the Panthers and Chiefs, they can go into the Eagles' game at home on Oct. 26 with a 4-2 record. Then they get their bye. The meat of the schedule follows. It is where they will truly decide their fate, if they handle the next two weeks appropriately.

Having played the way they have, they're 2-2. That's good news and bad stuffed in the same sandwich. This reprieve of a schedule won't last. A year go, several teams coming off dismal campaigns under new coaches turned their programs around. Think Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins. The instant remedy did not apply to St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa Bay or Kansas City.

The Redskins scrapped mightily to stave off the Rams and rallied from behind against the Bucs. They earned their victories. Unfortunately, they also earned their defeats.

Should they be better? Everyone wants to think so. Can they be better? Same answer.

Will they? Ah, that's why they practice and play the games.


Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on The Jim Zorn Show on WRC-TV on Saturday night, on Redskins Nation, airing twice nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, all in the Washington, D.C. area. Read his blog at redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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