ASHBURN, Va. -- Pressure. The defensive line isn't generating enough. The offensive line is allowing too much.
As a result, the Washington Redskins are starting to feel a team-wide pressure, the kind that comes when a team is in danger of blowing a chance to making the playoffs.
The Redskins regrouped Monday as a glum 6-4 team. They have lost two straight, both at home, and have scored only two offensive touchdowns in three games. The goal of winning the NFC East is toast -- the Giants lead the division by three games -- leaving Washington in a mad scramble with for a wild card berth over the final six weeks of the season.
"I don't think it's a snowball going downhill," coach Jim Zorn said. "I think we're kind of treading water. We haven't just put the hurt on anybody, no question. Is it frustrating? Yeah. We haven't dominated, so we're kind of this even-Steven team right now. But I do not believe we're waning at all.
"We have to improve. You can't tread water in this league for very long. You've got to be swimming, and we're not swimming yet."
To swim, the Redskins must learn how to sack -- and stop other teams from doing so. Jason Campbell has gone down 26 times, including 10 times in the past two games, forcing coach Zorn to alter the play-calling. The defense has only 15 sacks and failed to get Tony Romo even once in Sunday night's 14-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
"We're not trying to get blocked," said defensive end Jason Taylor, who failed to register anything on the stat sheet -- not a tackle, a batted pass nor a quarterback hurry -- in spot use as a pass-rusher against the Cowboys. "It's been tough sledding right now."
The offense's perspective?
"We've got to find a way to help Jason out," said guard Randy Thomas, who allowed one of three sacks Monday night in a game in which Campbell also had seven hurried throws. "He's taking too many hits. I don't know if any other guy can take those hits and play every week."
The mood reflects the changing expectations for the Redskins from the start of the season. Early road wins over Dallas and Philadelphia made Zorn the flavor of the month, but that success masked the fact that the first-year coach's offense is still in its formative stages. Washington finished the weekend ranked 27th in points scored (18.1 per game) and has yet to notch 30 in a game this season.
"We're moving the ball," Zorn said, "but we're not maintaining our composure, so we can get our quarterback in a rhythm, so we can get our receivers down the field."
Feeling the sting of his first loss to the Redskins' dreaded rival, Zorn at one point said: "I hate to even smile on a day like this." But he made everyone laugh when he reproduced the eyes-wide-open blank stare that took the place of sleep after the game.
"That's what I was doing in bed last night, staring and focusing in on some of those things that happen," Zorn said. "It's not fun."
Zorn said his veteran offensive line -- all the starters are in their 30s -- is simply getting beat on some plays, sometimes with rookie mistakes. Offensive line coach Joe Bugel was on the sideline telling a couple of his players to keep their heads up instead of lunging at the pass rushers. The pressure kept the Redskins from taking more downfield shots, with Campbell averaging only 7.4 yards per completion
"The frustrating thing is to see things happening well down the field," Zorn said, "and not having the time to get the play executed."
Zorn indicated no personnel changes were forthcoming on the offensive line, but an interesting development happened on the defensive side. Taylor, the league's career sack leader, did not start even though he said he has recovered from a calf injury, the first time he's played as a healthy backup in at least a decade.
"The beauty of playing the game for me always been to be in there from the first snap to the last," said Taylor, who has only one sack in seven games this year. "That's tough when you come in, in spot duty."
Demetric Evans started at Taylor's spot. Asked if the situation felt awkward, Taylor said: "It's my job, man. Whatever they say to do, I'll do. Demetric's been playing great, and he deserves to be in there. Your role is always changing in this league, and my role may be to play that handful of downs now, so whatever it is. I'm just a player, No. 55, and those guys are the bosses."
The schedule the rest of the way seems to favor the Redskins, with a visit to Seattle (2-8) next week and later games against Cincinnati (1-8-1) and San Francisco (3-7) in their quest to make the postseason for the third time in four years. Then again, Washington already has a loss against St. Louis (2-8), so there's no predicting the homestretch.
"The two years we made the playoffs we had to win four or five games in a row to get in, so we're used to having our backs against the wall," tight end Chris Cooley said. "I guess we're just trying to get into that position right now. But we're not there yet. Six-and-4's fine. We've got to go to Seattle and we've got to get a win."
NOTES: LB Marcus Washington will miss at least one game with a high ankle sprain. He's already missed two games with a hamstring injury and has been playing with a nagging shoulder problem. ... WR Antwaan Randle El also has a sprained ankle, but Zorn expects him to be fine for next week's game. ... The loss didn't affect CB Fred Smoot's generosity; he said he bought about 20 boxes of doughnuts from some fund-raising kids as he waited in traffic to get out of the stadium parking lot. "I got the doughnuts at home," Smoot said. "If anybody wants a doughnut, just stop in. Just bring your own cup of coffee."