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For Redskins, Field Position Is (Usually) Long Distance

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The Redskins have a long way to go. Any way you figure it.

At 2-6, they're looking at the hind quarters of the other three teams in the NFC East. They can barely score, and certainly not in the first half of games. Can't pass-protect. Can't win on the road.

We will not beat a dead horse. We started beating it when it was marginally alive and now we can only mourn the poor little pony. What's the point in flailing away?

Leave the big picture for the moment. Let us examine one other aspect of having a long way to go. Not that the Redskins' offense deserves pity but have you noticed how often that group trots out on the field looking at 80 or more yards of turf to traverse?

The field is 100 yards. From the 50-yard line to the opponent's goal line is positive territory. The 20 yards to the end zone is the red zone (or green zone, teams vary this). Inside the 50 is negative territory. That's where the Redskins live.

A combination of factors make them earn every touchdown they get and they've not proven themselves to be good earners.

They scored a pair of touchdowns in the 31-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons and earned every bit. One drive of 80 yards, another of 81. Each using 13 plays. This is a hard way to go.

There's another bit of terminology that describes the 100-yard playing surface – the short field.

On happy occasions, such as a takeaway or a long punt or kickoff return, the offense gets to set up shop in advantageous field position. Inside the opposing team's 50 is always nice. It raises the threat of a score, with emotions usually boosted by the big play that set this table.

"Field position is crucial," says Redskins kickoff returner Rock Cartwright. "Any time the offense has to go 50 or 60 instead of 80, your percentage of scoring is always up."

Herein lies the problem. The Redskins too rarely see the short field.

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They work well enough when they do. Got it twice against the Carolina Panthers and scored two touchdowns. Got it three times against the Philadelphia Eagles and scored twice. But over the stretch of the four consecutive losses, the Redskins usually take the field looking to traverse more than three-quarters of it.

Their special teams don't set them up. Their defense doesn't set them up. And the offense suffers the loneliness of the long-distance runner.

"We always talk about that. The mission is to win the field position battle and you want to not only win it but dominate it. We want to shorten the field," says receiver and punt returner Antwaan Randle El.

In this four-game losing streak, the Redskins have not had the better of any of their opponents in average starting position. Atlanta's average start was the 35-yard line, Washington's the 22. The Kansas City Chiefs' average start was the 37, Washington's the 24.

"We always try to get to the 32-yard line or better. I don't think we've gotten that much this year, maybe two or three times, but that's our goal. We try to get field position for the offense," Cartwright says.

If at first you don't succeed...

The Redskins rank 30th in the NFL in punt return average. They're 16th in kickoff return average. Individually, Randle El is 24th among punt returners with his 5.2 yard average and Cartwright stands 25th at 23 yards per on kickoffs. As a team, the Redskins average 4.1 yards per punt return. They have no touchdowns on returns.

Not on any returns. Not punts, kicks, fumbles or interceptions. But they've had three turnovers taken back for touchdowns, all in losses.

Taking the ball away from the other team should result in big-play potential but not here. For one thing, the Redskins just don't do it. They have four interceptions, which ties them with the Cleveland Browns for 31st in the NFL, one pick ahead of the Chiefs. They have eight total takeaways, which ranks 29th. They're -8 in turnover ratio.

We're not talking about setting up shop in the enemy's backyard on every change of possession. For most teams, it might happen once or twice a game and it must be exploited when it occurs.

As a case in point, look at the Dallas Cowboys' 20-16 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys got one short field, taking over at the Eagles' 37 after an interception. That set up their first touchdown. The Eagles got no short fields in 11 possessions and had an average starting position of their own 20.

Fueled by three takeaways, the Tennessee Titans earned the short field four times, scored 17 points and won on the road, 34-27, against the San Francisco 49ers. None of the 49ers' 12 offensive series began any more advantageously than their own 49 (after an interception). Tennessee scored touchdowns on drives of 24, 36 and 81 yards. San Francisco's TD drives went 70, 82 and 78.

Seven times in eight games on Sunday the team with the most short-field opportunities triumphed. The lone loser was the New York Giants and that was by one point (and also because they intercepted at the San Diego Chargers' 4-yard line and only got a field goal out of it). Good odds, no?

This Redskins offense, battered and beaten up as it is, needs a little help from the special teams and defense. Every possession in the second half against Atlanta began at the 20 or behind it, necessitating long and error-free drives. The longer the drive, the greater the chance for error.

The Falcons' offense assembled three scoring drives against the Redskins. The longest was 73. Only one involved 10 plays more.

In rallying in the second half against Atlanta, the Redskins came up with too little, too late. That's what happens when they have to go too far too often.


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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