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'Skins' giving ways taking away victories

November 26, 2005|By JOSEPH WHITE

ASHBURN, Va. - Name anyone who has handled the ball for the Washington Redskins, and chances are they've lost a fumble. Santana Moss? Check. Mark Brunell? Several. Ladell Betts? Yep. Chris Cooley? Uh-huh. Even sure-handed Clinton Portis got into the act by dropping two against Oakland.

Now, name all the Redskins cornerbacks who have an interception. Well, that didn't take long. There are none.

The Redskins' turnover differential stands at minus-13 - that's a Baker's Dozen - tied for last in the NFL with New Orleans. Washington has only eight takeaways - tied for last with Houston - and is on pace to break the NFL record for fewest in a non-strike season, 15, set last year by St. Louis and Green Bay. It has 21 turnovers.

The problem has flummoxed coach Joe Gibbs, whose 1983 team had an NFL-record plus-43 turnover ledger. Interceptions aren't the culprit - Brunell has an acceptable five in 10 games - but 15 lost fumbles are one reason the Redskins are fortunate their record isn't worse than 5-5.

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"We talk about it every day. We practice it. We do all kinds of stuff," said Cooley, who lost a fumble in the 36-0 loss to the New York Giants last month. "We talk about turnovers, and we turn the ball over. Honestly, I don't want to fumble. I'm holding the ball as tight as I can. I'm not running with it out there (away from the body). Clinton isn't. The ball gets hit, it comes out, it's just something that happens.

"I want to say that you can stop it. You can't."

Gibbs thought he could, but his measures haven't worked. He added a five-minute "strip drill" to practice, in which the defense tries to strip the ball from the offense. For the first time in his coaching career, he instituted a session during meetings in which every turnover and penalty is analyzed in front of the entire team. The coach often quotes statistics on how difficult it is to win when a team loses the turnover battle.

If a fumble on the ground is a 50-50 proposition, then the Redskins are getting the short straw most of the time. They've lost 15 of their 21 fumbles, but they've recovered only three of their opponents' 18 fumbles. They even had a turnover on a technicality in last week's loss to Oakland: Center Casey Rabach fell on Brunell's fumble on the final drive, but it counted as a turnover because only the player who fumbles can recover the ball on fourth down in the final two minutes.

Having exhausted nearly every option in practice, the Redskins can only hope for betting odds over the final six games of the season.

"Turnovers are something you can't force," safety Sean Taylor said. "They've just got to happen from the work with the guys on the team, and how hard you run to the ball. Eventually, they'll come. You can't say 'I'm going to get three or four turnovers this game.' You never know."

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