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Back to Work, Redskins Look to Make a Point

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Jason Campbell called the preseason schedule a "blessing in disguise." That caused Jim Zorn to sit up a little straighter and wide his eyes in surprise.

"Really?" he said. "I'm trying to find the blessing in that."

The Redskins had just wrapped up their Saturday morning practice, the first since they underperformed in a 23-0 loss in Baltimore to the Ravens on Thursday night. Campbell's assertion didn't include any information previously unknown to Zorn, who has known for quite some time exactly what challenges these scrums entail.

The Ravens ranked second in the NFL in total defense last season. The upcoming opponent a week hence is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who led the NFL. They will be followed by the New England Patriots (10th) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (17th), before the Redskins open the regular season against the New York Giants (5th).

"It doesn't get any easier," Zorn said. "We're facing arguably the best defense in the NFL coming up."

It's a fine line between a blessing and a curse. If the Redskins plan to improve on offense and score more points, they're in the perfect laboratory. If they can make it there, they can make it anywhere.

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If they cannot move the football toward the goal line and then across it with any consistency in the weeks ahead, what hope will there be for the 16 games that truly count?

The shutout by the Ravens was the Redskins' first in preseason since 2006, when the Patriots rolled to a 41-0 win. The dearth of scoring, however, continues not only a nasty preseason pattern (one touchdown in the last four games) but the struggles of the later portions of 2008 when the offense pooped out entirely.

No one expected a cloudburst of big plays and breakaway gallops against the Ravens, but 196 yards of total offense, a long run of seven yards and two turnovers merely continued the dry spell.

"Of course guys talk about it," running back Ladell Betts said. "We were disappointed in our performance. We do need to step up and show something."

Bear in mind that preseason won-loss records correlate almost not at all with what may occur when games count. The Detroit Lions were 4-0 last year in preseason and then managed to become the first team to ever lose all 16 in the regular season.

The Indianapolis Colts, who show a complete disdain for "games that don't count in the standings," went 1-3 in 2006 and then proceeded to win the Super Bowl. In their five-year reign atop the AFC South division, they compiled a 63-17 record hardly predicated on an 8-14 mark in the preseason.

The wins and losses now don't really matter much. Sure, they can be confidence builders or they can cause some cracks in the foundation but the real questions concern what progress is being made and whom the team can trust.

"We've got to become more consistent as an offense," tight end Chris Cooley said. "We've got to operate at a high level."

Doing so will require that starters stay on the field longer than two series. They should certainly get more time than that against Pittsburgh and perhaps they need to stay out there as long as it takes to achieve positive results. This idea that so many of the young players were taken aback by the intensity of actual play and stunned by the "bright lights, big city" aspects of the opener should not be a factor again. Players need to make plays.

"Younger guys fighting to make this team got a taste of the pace," Zorn said.

Consider some of deficiencies against the Ravens: one third-down conversion in 11 tries, a 2.9 rushing average (with Clinton Portis not playing), nine punts and less than 25 minutes of possession time. Can't get much done without the ball or absent sustained drives.

"We have to be very good to score points on a very good defense," Zorn said.

The Redskins have cracked 30 points in a regular season game twice in the last two years and neither of those games was in 2008. The only win in the last five weeks of '08 was by 10-3 against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Redskins scored 7, 10, 13 and 24 points in losing the other four games to complete their fall from the playoff race to 8-8.

So expect pointed commentary this week. Expect there to be a point to this exercise. Expect an emphasis on points against Pittsburgh.

Preseason games often (and falsely) are called meaningless. They should never be pointless.


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 Redskins Nation, airing nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio.

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