Tuesday, September 30, 2003

WEEK 4: We're (technically) #1 (again)!

Washington 20, New England 17.

After yet another cardiac Sunday for Redskins fans, the Skins did just enough to best the Patriots. Sure, the win over New England wasn't the blowout it should have been. And yeah, Washington has won its three games by a grand total of eight points. And I'll even concur that the Skins cannot continue their commitment to thoughtless penalties. And let it be said that Washington has yet to establish itself as a feared force in the NFL.

But we're 3 and 1. You know who has a better record than us? I'll tell you: Minnesota (4-0), Denver (4-0), Indianapolis (4-0), Kansas City (4-0), Carolina (3-0), and Seattle (3-0). That's six teams out of 30, with Tennessee equaling the Skins' record. My point? Despite our silly slipups, questionable play calls, and occasionally porous defense, we're in the upper echelon of the NFL. We're sittin' in the good seats, watching the preseason favorites (Rams, Bills, San Francisco, Oakland) struggle to stay over .500. The view's nice from here. Plus the stadium staff brings you your food.

And yep, Redskins fans are full of themselves, even though our reign over the NFC East is by virtue of New York's bye week. Who cares?

I didn't get a chance to see much of the game beyond highlights, so instead I'll run through a few NFL results from Week 4...

Kansas City 17, Baltimore 10. Ouch. That's gonna leave a mark. After holding down Priest "Marshall Faulk" Holmes and the league's most prolific offense, the Ravens' weaknesses were exposed in just under two minutes. In that time three crucial events occurred: (1) Baltimore kicked off but had to redo the kick because of an offsides penalty; (2) Dante "Headin' to the Hawaii" Hall took the re-kick to the house; and (3) Kyle "Waiver Wire" Boller chucked his third interception. Coach Billick should have his special teams squad--and Kyle Boller--running laps around Owings Mills.

The Ravens remind me a wee of the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. Everybody knew that His Airness was going to score, and score a lot. Opposing teams didn't worry about that so much as limiting the other players on the floor, knowing that Jordan couldn't (or shouldn't) score 60+ points alone. Every team that Baltimore faces should take the same approach: let Jamal Lewis get his 100 yards and a touchdown...but look Kyle and the Ravens receivers in the eye and dare them to win the game.

Tennessee 30, Pittsburgh 13. What in the name of Moses did Steve McNair eat for breakfast? For those who missed the stats line, here it is: 15 of 16, 161 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions. Those are Madden NFL numbers against the well-regarded Steelers defense. And this was after dislocating a finger, breaking a hip, and losing an eye last week! I exaggerate, but this kid McNair has returned to the "Air McNair" the league game-planned for when he came into the league. Now, though, his dangerousness is less in the yards he throws for and more in his ability to make the impossible possible. For my money, he's the best active QB in the game. (I know Peyton Manning also had a PlayStation moment against New Orleans, but Manning pales next to McNair's consistency, toughness, and accuracy.)

Atlanta 3, Carolina 23. Not much to add here, except that the Panthers are still slept on in the eyes of pundits and prognosticators. Their D is fearsome and their offense gets it done old-school style by running football all day and mistake-free passing. I love the Redskins' offense and our record, but I sure miss the 300+ rushing yards Mr. Stephen Davis has put up this season. Oh yeah--Atlanta is in deep, deep doo-doo now. I feel for these guys, because they were one of the early bandwagon teams; you know, the one that everybody follows though you have no particular ties to the team. Michael "Coverboy" Vick may return (probably at 85% strength) to a team that's so far below .500 that they are no longer in contention.

Sentinals 103, Young Avengers 108/ Damage, Inc. 108, Tha Hitmen 86. In steely fashion my two Fantasy Football squads--the Avengers and Damage--both put up 108 points to improve their records to 3-1. The Young Avengers earned their points behind the Panthers defense (39 points), Mike Vanderjagt (19 points), and Joey Harrington (20 points), barely holding off the Sentinals power team of Rich Gannon and LaDainian Thomlinson (34 and 39 points, respectively). Damage, Inc., named after the sleeper Metallica 80s anthem, put it down on my very own brother Roy's Hitmen squad. Everybody on my team scored, from Marvin Harrison (26 points) to my sleeper WR Bobby Shaw (11 points) to my other sleeper WR Tai Streets (10 points). The amazing part of the Damage, Inc. win is that, after four weeks of playing, I still have no idea how points are scored. I just earn 'em, baby.

NEXT UP: Washington at Philadelphia. I don't like the Eagles. They're ugly and their mother dresses them funny. Nonetheless, I'm worried about this game, particularly after Philly beat the improved Buffalo Bills squad. Every year the Eagles manage to steal a game from the Skins in frustrating fashion. It might be Donovan "Chunky Soup" McNabb scrambling for a 65-yard touchdown, or James Thrash having an unbelievable, unrepeatable day against Fred Smoot. Washington has great momentum, and every reason to further their reign in the East. Heck, the Eagles are even going to lose safety Brian Dawkins for the game. I dunno what it'll be, but I get bad vibes from this game. Makes my toes itch. Skins win by two, 30-28.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Week 3: In. Ex. Cusable.

How does one rate these Redskins after Sunday's performance against the New York Giants? I dunno--there were flashes of brilliance, determination, and will-to-win. There were also blindingly stupid displays of arrogance and lack of concentration. Hmm...

Gotta quote Pops once again, who said in the 4th quarter, "At least this will teach the Redskins a lesson: you can't beat yourselves and expect to win." I'll concur and point out the obvious reasons the Redskins lost. There are, in my estimation, two.

Reason #1: 17 penalties for over 140 #%#$#$#!! yards. That's stupendously bad. Tragically bad. Fatally bad. These were not ordinary, garden-variety penalties. Oh no. These beauties took points OFF our side and GAVE points to their side. Literally, in some cases. We have Jeremiah Trotter to thank for his bonehead unnecessary roughness shove after the play was very over, allowing the Giants to continue after failing to convert 3rd and 24. That drive took a relatively close 14-3 game to 21-3 before the half. Darnerian "I Forget I'm Not Terrell Owens" McCants was nice enough to also get a taunting call on a potential scoring drive. Son, that was a routine catch.

But the biggest boneheads of the game have to be the aptly-named Offensive Line. If it wasn't a holding call taking Rod Gardner's touchdown off the boards, it was another call stalling the game-winning 4th quarter drive which ended with a field goal. Drives went from 1st and 10 to 1st and 15 to, eventually, 3rd and 22. Ridiculous. I stopped counting the false start and holding penalties at six.

Who's to blame? Players? Coaches? Lack of concentration or a lack of discipline? Both? Blame it on Isabel? I'll hazard a guess here: blame the players at the time of the penalty, blame the coaches ultimately. Everybody gets caught up in the moment--there was a chap two rows up from me, big as a nose tackle, who was livid throughout the second half. He slammed the seats in front of him, he took every setback personally, he hollered colorful language. We swore he would spontaneously combust. But that's okay--he's a drunk Redskins fan. Our receivers, linebackers, heck, EVERYBODY is a paid professional who should be expected to conduct themselves like one, and it's inexcusable for them to be so busy celebrating, protesting or fighting that they harm the team. The Redskins' heads were not always in the game, and that reflects on Spurrier and Co. They are undisciplined at the worst times, and it will be the death of the our season if it continues.

Reason #2: 30 minutes of good play, 36 minutes of poor play by the defense. Smoot and Bailey may be hailed as great corners. And they might be. But on Sunday they and the safeties got burned early and often on simple out routes and deep passes from Collins. They could not cover Jeremy "Homo" Shockey nor anybody else who dropped into the flats. (The Giants also had a curious weakness, to crossing routes. I think we gained over 100 yards on the same play to Coles and Morton.) I remember Dad getting frustrated with how soft Fred Smoot was covering his receiver. Sure enough, next play, pass to receiver, first down.
Granted, most of that was in the first half. And they did a phenomenal job of shutting down the marginal Giants offense so we could come back. But Lord knows the Redskins cannot keep spotting teams more than 10 points and expect the offense to have the gas to pull out another weekly miracle. We looked tired in the overtime session, so tired that the 12th Man, whipped into a frenzy, couldn't help.

How 'bout that offense? Patrick "Pharoah" Ramsey once again showed that he is for real, and that Coach Steve "Superior" Spurrier made the right choice. Sure, he had some questionable throws into coverage--the Skins' first touchdown was tossed right into double coverage. (Luckily for us later in the game that the Giants defensive backs don't catch too well.) But Ramsey looks sharp, even when he's scrambling for his life. His quick pass to beat the blitz set up the tying field goal. The all-important 2-point conversion near the end of regulation was, dare I say, Favre-ish. I like this kid, and if we can limit the number of blindside sacks he takes through the season, we could end up with a Pro Bowler. You heard it here first.

Joining him in Hawaii should be Laveranues Coles. (I am NOT naming my child "Laveranues." Is this like the masculine "Laverne?") This man is money, the deep and speed threat that we haven't had in Washington since, well, Gary Clark or Charlie "Fun Bunch" Brown. (Bonus points if anybody remembers Mr. Brown.) Coles is tough, has good hands (yeah, he had some early drops), and you can take a risk and just try a go route with him. He makes Gardner and the rest of the receiving corps more dangerous. Worth every penny Mr. Snyder's giving him.

I still like the play of our Special Teams. Chad "Scatback" Morton was but one man away from breaking out a punt return touchdown, and he makes wise decisions on fair catches. No fumbles yet this season. Can't complain there. John "TajMa" Hall missed two kicks. I heard somebody on talk radio complain. F'crying out loud, they were from 53 and 48 yards! He made the ones that we REALLY needed in crunch time, okay? I'll take that any day of the week. Twice on Sunday.

OFFENSE: B (This game would've been over in regulation with the Skins winning by 10 if it weren't for penalties.)
DEFENSE: B- (Nobody but the Giants believed they would score in OT after how the Skins' D performed. Imagine our surprise.)
COACHES: D (The playcalling was fine; those offsides/false start/holding/personal foul penalties reveal a flaw in leadership.)

Next Up: New England Patriots. Looks like (and I'm just saying what NFL PrimeTime tells me) they're hurting with a number of injuries. Even if they were at full strength, I wouldn't care. I root for the Skins, so Washington wins 24-14.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Week One: Undefeated!

Before we get to the actual game, let me say that there was an absolutely shocking moment pre-kickoff. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Skins/Jets game, and I arrived with my boy Nolan (this was his big birthday present) 1 ½ hours before gametime. One of the selling points of yesterday’s event was the pre-game concert featuring Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige, Britney Spears, and featuring the national anthem by none other than Aretha Franklin. We were there early to catch the telecast, which was supposed to satisfy those of us unfortunate enough to not be able to attend the concert.

8:00 came, as did 8:15 and 8:30. All we saw on the Jumbotrons were spinning Redskin helmets; all we heard over the speakers was rap music. (Something about “to the window…to the floor!”) I wasn’t happy, but I tolerated it because, well, I was really there for sport, not Britney’s belly-button or Mary’s lungs. Certainly not for Steven Tyler’s big lips. At 8:45 we got music. We got Britney. Two songs o’ Britney, which were obviously pre-everything except danced.

As she wrapped it up, military color guard came out onto FedEx Field, and they unfurled a huge nation-shaped American flag. When Britney finished dancing, we were informed by the announcer of the military unit on the field, and that we were “waiting for the cue from ABC for the national anthem.” James Brown’s “I Feel Good” immediately followed. Then that silly Rock ‘n Roll song (hey!). Then yet another song. All this while the crowd is on their feet, the American flag is flying, the military is at attention. Something didn’t feel quite right about that.

10 seconds into the third song, the Jumbotrons quickly cut to Aretha, already wailing “…what so proudly we hailed…” Ugh. How does Snyder, Inc. not know that the Queen of Soul’s begun singing? How do you fall asleep at the controls and miss her opening notes? Aside from kickoff, is there no more an important moment than this? How do you not know a woman that big is on stage? OK, strike that last one. My none-too-subtle point is that this was inexcusable. Somebody should lose their job.

Somebody who should definitely keep their job is one Patrick “Pharaoh” Ramsey. Let’s talk Play of the Game: just over 2 minutes on the clock, and the Skins are hoping to use their positive field position to start the season with a win. On 2nd and 4 Ramsey steps out of the pocket, sees nobody open, fakes a pass to his fullback, and takes off. Now Ramsey’s no Randall Cunningham, so it took awhile. But the secondary was so deep (dunno where the Jets linebackers were) that he was able to rip off 24 yards, giving the Skins 1st and 10 at the Jets 31. Three runs later (thank you, Mr. Ladell “Trung Who?” Betts), and John Hall knocks in the winning chip shot.

Overall, Pharaoh Ramsey didn’t look great, but good. I’ll take it. He floated passes early, and his lone pick came when he telegraphed his throw. But his timing otherwise was on, making Laveranues Coles look very good. Coles was everywhere in the first half, and I’m not completely sure why he wasn’t thrown to at all in the second, Spurrier apparently wanting to get Rod “Free Agent” Gardner in the mix. Ramsey had a great play, now overlooked, where he ducked under a potential sack and got the ball out deep to Coles. Great stuff, and I’m positive about the future with this kid.

Ramsey had to make some very quick reads because, well, the offensive line stank badly. Oh yeah, they run-blocked effectively, but oy vey did they rarely give more than 2-3 seconds for Ramsey to get his pass off. They allowed three sacks, one time failing to provide any protection for Ramsey’s blind side.

On the other side of the ball, LaVar “Beast” Arrington continues to live up to, um, the name I gave him. First four plays: four tackles. He had a great game, as did Trotter, Ohalete and the rest of the defense. Apart from some silly, drive-continuing penalties, and a failure to stop a 4th and goal run, they stood tall when it counted. The Jets really had little offensive power. I don’t think new Jets WR Curtis Conway got a reception, and Curtis Martin was awful quiet. If I’m a Jets fan, I’ve got lots of worries. As a Skins fan, I see lots of potential. (And yes, Bruce Smith, that was a fumble by Vinny. We wuz robbed.)

Special teams did everything we’d expect. I like Chad Morton, though he’s not much at running back. Ladell and Trung can handle that part, thanks. John “TajMa” Hall was perfect, even from 49 yards. Finally the Redskins can take routine field goals for granted like the rest of the NFL.

This Week’s Three Concerns: First, boring play calling down the stretch. With the game tied, I saw the Jets calling a reverse, play action and that oh-so-sneaky running back bootleg. We did nothing of the sort. OK, maybe one play action pass. But I didn’t see a Fun-N-Gun offense out there, and with the speed of Canidate and Coles, that needs to change. Let’s pretend we’re the Rams for one drive.

Second, that offensive line is gonna be the death of Ramsey. I don’t care how good a QB you are, you still need time to make your reads. Sometimes the Jets defensive tackles went right up the middle at Ramsey. Right up the middle! The front line has pass blocking drills to do this week.

Last, let’s cut back on the turnovers, shall we? The Skins were third in the NFL for most turnovers last season, and I couldn’t help but think we were on our way as the second half dragged on. Great job, though, holding onto tough catches and taking big hits by our running backs and receivers.

OFFENSE: B (We’ve got…hiiiigh hopes…)
DEFENSE: A (Honestly, would the Jets have scored more than 7 without the offensive mistakes?)
Sp. TEAMS: A (I’m just waiting for Morton to break a big ‘un. Big potential here.)
COACHES: B- (Two words for next week: flea flicker.)

NEXT UP: The Vickless Falcons. Skins win, 20-17.