LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 12: Jabar Gaffney #10 of the Washington Redskins runs the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FedExField on August 12, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins defeated the Steelers 16-7. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
There wasn’t a lot to like about the Redskins offensive performance in 2010, but nothing disappointed more than their woes in the red zone.
Washington finished 21st in scoring percentage from inside the 20-yard line with a 51.16 percent scoring rate. That was a significant drop-off from 2009 when a Jason Campbell-led offense converted 56.52 percent of its red zone attempts into points.
“We were all bad,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said of the offense’s red zone performance. “We struggled down there. We didn’t get enough touchdowns, we didn’t get down there enough.”
The Redskins inefficiency in the red zone is a key reason why the offense has been mired in a decade-long scoring drought. Too many possessions have stalled short of the end zone -- precious points left on the field due to poor execution and bad coaching decisions.
“I think we need to improve a lot because we want to score touchdowns every time we get in the red zone,” said receivers coach Keenan McCardell. “If you get field goals [great], but if your offense scores touchdowns every time you get in the red zone you put a lot of pressure on defenses.”
Friday night against the Steelers, Washington scored on three of their four red zone trips, but only found the end zone once. They won, but the margin of victory would have been far more comfortable if they hadn’t settled for field goals on three of those trips.
“Field goals are good, but touchdowns are better,” said receiver Donte Stallworth. “That’s one thing that separates the good teams from the great teams is being able to finish drives and finish with touchdowns not just field goals.”
In the past, opposing defensive coordinators had little to fear when it came to matchups inside the 20-yard line. The Redskins didn’t have many playmakers who could draw extra attention nor did the play calling utilize the few weapons they did have.
That time, however, could be drawing to a close.
Thirteen different players caught passes against Pittsburgh as Rex Grossman and Kellen Clemens spread the ball around nicely. Three of those players -- Jabar Gaffney, Leonard Hankerson and Niles Paul -- are taller than any of the receivers Washington fielded in 2010.
Gaffney’s 65 catches in 2010 would have been second among Redskins receivers. He might not be a top-flight No. 2 receiver, but he has shown himself to be a reliable option who can get open and quietly produce.
“Gaffney’s a little bit more of a Z [receiver] for us who can move the chains,” said Shanahan. “He catches the ball; he’s consistent as anybody; he gets up the field; he’s not scared to block -- just a good all-around football player.”
Hankerson has the size and athleticism to develop into a nightmare for cornerbacks. Yet he won’t be able to rely solely on his talent as he adjusts to the receiver position at the professional level. Mental lapses have led to several drops through the first few weeks of training camp, but there’s no question he’s determined to overcome that stumbling block.
“You’ve got to come out [and] do the little things to get better. You’ve got to do extra work. You’ve got to do whatever it takes,” Hankerson said. “It’s all about coming out and competing and getting better…If you want to win, you’ve got to put in the work.”
Paul is competing for one of the last receiver spots on the roster and has played his way into the thick of the discussion. He’s a sturdy player who can run-block in addition to being another big target, and coaches are beginning to notice him.
“Hard worker, a guy that’s consistent day in and day out,” said McCardell. “He’s a rookie, but he has a professional mindset already.”
With the added depth at receiver plus the return of Shanahan’s offense for a second year, the Redskins should have more weapons at the disposal of whoever plays quarterback this season. Players admit they are more familiar with the system, leaving them optimistic the perennial red zone issues are a thing of the past.
“I think it’ll be a lot more improved than it was last year,” said receiver Santana Moss. “I feel like last year was one of those years -- I mean you just go through it and we [saw the struggles]. We got a chance to deal with it and now most of us are all in this offense for a second year… so I think that’ll give us a chance of being a lot better.”