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Redskins' Saunders Says Run Must Be Established
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 23, 2006; E01
Of all the problems with the Washington Redskins' offense that Al Saunders must fix, one in particular consumes him. Saunders often worked through the night this week addressing the problems with pass protection, the lack of any downfield passing game and the struggles of starting quarterback Mark Brunell. But his main focus is resuscitating the running game.
Saunders is under intense pressure just two games into his tenure as associate head coach-offense, and while his résumé includes offenses perennially ranked in the top five in the NFL and a Super Bowl title, that matters little now. Saunders anticipated some rough patches, but the inefficiency of the offense has surprised him. The return of running back Clinton Portis from his shoulder injury for tomorrow's game against the Houston Texans could provide a catalyst to get the offense going.
"The first and foremost thing we have to do is run the ball effectively, and as soon as we do that all the other things we like to do as an offensive football team will fall in suit," Saunders said. "Because as a play-caller, if you don't have that established foundation it's hard, and all of a sudden you're grasping at things trying to move the ball. You have a big play, then you have a little play and then a minus play, instead of being able to establish the run. It's like building up momentum as you continue to go. That's what we're working on, and when we get to that point I think we'll all feel much better than we do right now."
The Redskins' offense has produced just one touchdown in two defeats, and just one play of more than 25 yards. Saunders-run offenses were known for their deep passes and quick scores during his time as a coaching assistant with San Diego, St. Louis and Kansas City. But a powerful running attack has always been at the core. Saunders aims for a balance between runs and passes. The Chiefs rushed the ball 520 times last season and attempted 507 passes.
This season, Saunders has called 61 passes and 45 rushes. The offense has failed to dictate the pace of the game; instead the Redskins were forced to react, unsuccessfully, as Dallas and Minnesota dropped back their safeties, taking away the deep pass and shutting down the running game.
Saunders believes the only way to force the safeties to creep closer to the line and open up the long-range passing game is to run early and often.