Monday, December 27, 2004

Week 16: Hang. Your. Head.

Washington 10, Dallas 13

You had to see this coming. If you're a fan of the Redskins or Cowchips, you had to see this coming. Why? Because it's happened before, and the year was 1999. Washington had built a 35-14 lead in the fourth quarter, only to allow them to tie and watch Troy Aikman find Raghib Ismail behind the entire defense for a 76-yard, overtime touchdown.

I spoke with my cousing Angie, a Cowchip-lover, who confided that late in the contest she was prepared to accept a rare loss to the Redskins. Surely the decrepit Vinny Testaverde couldn't muster a winning drive in 1:30, without timeouts, against the second-ranked defense in the league who had sacked him five times that day (including twice on their previous possession). No way would Dallas convert a desperate 4th and 10 and then score for almost 40 yards out. What a completely improabable scenario.

But then when it happens, right before your eyes, you can come to but one conclusion of this so-called rivalry:
you can change the players, you change the coaches, heck, you can change the salaries. But you cannot change the outcome.

As the Thing used to say, "whatta revoltin' development."

I'm not one to point fingers (okay, pointing fingers is pretty much what the Redskins Review is about), but I need to feel better after this loss. So who should be pointed to, shamed and told to Hang Your Head?

...Antonio Brown for his fumbled punt in Washington territory late in the fourth quarter, that, but for a defensive stand, could've cost the game?
...Patrick Ramsey for a subpar passing day (19/29, 158 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs), lofting passes high and rarely throwing deep?
...Pro Bowl-bound Marcus Washington, whose offsides penalty on Dallas' final drive granted a free stopping of the clock?
...Sean Taylor and Shawn Springs for letting a wide receiver run free to the end zone at the end of a game as if Dallas would throw the ball anywhere else?
...the offense for reverting to midseason form, producing a pitiful 10 points, and failing to earn one measly first down to run out the clock?
...the entire Washington defense for allowing the Cowgirls to move the ball, without timeouts, 75 yards in 55 seconds with only four completions?
...Coach Gibbs for allowing players to continue wearing incorrect socks? Former Redskin Brian Mitchell, on the SBC/Comcast SportsNet Sports Nite Post-Game Show sponsored by Tischer Acura of Laurel, Maryland, noted that team unity is suffering because Gibbs isn't demanding that players like Taylor and Portis conform to league and team uniform standards. All I can say is that players wear "uniforms" because--surprise!--they're supposed to be uniform. (This only annoys me because, honestly, we lost.)

Frankly I don't know who should run extra laps this week. I will ease up on my criticism of the defense, if only because they were again called upon to win a game that should have been a Redskins blowout. But for the love of Darrell Green, even if defensive coach Gregg Williams called for a Prevent package, there's no way that Dallas wideout Patrick Clayton (his face now in the Hall of Great Cowchip Wins) should get four yards behind the safeties. This is why, coincidentally, they're called safeties. Even if Sean Taylor is keeping a wise eye on a possible jump ball to Keyshawn Johnson, the defense still should have had 8 men (in a Quarter defense) in the secondary to cover, what, four receivers? Sheesh.

As much as I abhor quoting Dallas fans, I must communicate Angie's final words to me as kicker Jeff Chandler's 57 yard attempt fell short: "we may stink, but y'all smell worse." I dunno if that's true, but I know it'll take a long time to wash the funk out of this loss.

OFFENSE: D (It's like watching two middle-aged housewives jousting on American Gladiators. But without the unintentional comedy.)

DEFENSE: B (I was this close to giving them an A+. But four plays later they get dropped more than a letter grade.)
Sp. TEAMS: B+ (Punter Tom Tupa is perhaps the only player happy with this season's offensive ineptitude.)
COACHES: C (Gibbs and company gotta lotta 'splainin' to do. No way should we have been swept by Dallas this year.)

As reported last week, the Young Avengers were bounced from the Festivus Maximus playoffs on account of Pittsburgh's defense getting rolled on by Eli Manning and Terrell Owens pulling up lame. Fortunately, my arch-rivals, the BlackBirds, were simultaneously dismissed by last year's rookie sensation Juggernauts, piloted by D-Trux. The Juggs met Shirtless Wes' 4Gen Warriors, and that game's coming down to Monday Night Football. This year's rookie sensation is the waiver-wire-wonder Roy's Boys, and they've won their second-round playoff game already. (Who the $#%%# is Lee Evans, anyway?) Like the Carolina Panthers, nobody wants to meet them in the playoffs.

Washington area fans will get the rare opportunity to see Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss at FedEx Field as they fight for a playoff place. We are fighting for a modicum of respectability. Forget being the #1 ranked defense stickers on your helmet or wearing fancy socks; let's win the game. Skins win, 14-13.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Week 15: Holiday Gifts for All!

Washington 26, San Francisco 16

Want to hear something funny? Somebody correct me if I'm wrong here, but if Washington wins its last two games, versus the Cowchips and Vikings, and the Panthers and Saints lose their games...

We're in the playoffs! With a mediocre 7-9 record!

Ain't that a kick inna pants? After this season?

Now I'm not suggesting in any form or fashion that the Redskins deserve to be in the post season, or that they somehow earned it, or even that I suggested they'd be there pre-season. It is every week that I have to reiterate to some Philly/Dallas/Baltimore/New York fan that I didn't predict Gibbs would make the playoffs this season. Fans of other teams seem to think that as soon as Gibbs was hired, that the DC area fans were printing up NFC East Champion t-shirts. Not so, lost ones, not so. I did say that, based upon Gibbs' solid record and our always-good-on-paper team, Washington would challenge someone for a wild-card spot. Sho'nuff, we are. Kind of. But only because the National Football Conference is bereft of greatness. And with a certain wideout going down to injury, the NFC's pool of proficiency drains by three feet.

The Football Gods will bestow favor upon someone from the NFC--they have to under the NFL rules. But here at the Review, I thought it appropo to send my own gifts to fans of every team in the form of messages of goodwill. Every real football fan clings to the hope
that their team will make a run for the Super Bowl, even as their team's season disintigrates (et tu, St. Louis?). When that reality creeps in like silent-but-deadly flatulence, you can do nothing but remember the good things. Accentuate the positive. That's what we're gonna do now, as we inaugurate the first ever...MESSAGES OF GOODWILL.

Washington Redskins

Did anyone guess that those stupendously bad pass interference calls against Washington in Week 3 that allowed a Cowgirls victory would loom so large? I realize it's spilled and now spoiled milk, but if we win that game--as we should have--and ceteris parabus, we're sitting pretty for the post season. That is the power of penalties, and ceteris parabus is everything I remember from college Economics class.

Nonetheless, Washington should feel great that Gibbs has a great foundation on which to build next year's playoff team. That's right, we're making the playoffs next year. If the seasons began in February but ended in May, the Redskins would have five more Vince Lombardi trophies. So prepare to enjoy a fantastic offseason, gentlemen.

Philadelphia Egos
No holiday message for you. Oh, wait, there is a notice to pass along: Terrell Owens is done, and so are your Super Bowl aspirations. You may commence burning the Liberty Bell now.

Los Gigantes de Nuevo York
Was there any bigger lock for a fantasy matchup than the #1 ranked Steelers defense versus Eli Manning, the Boy Who Could Not Fly? No one in their right mind would start, say, the Jaguars defense playing against Favre at Lambeau instead, right? Not when the Steelers defense has been average more than 20 fantasy points, right? I mean, was there any prediction that young Manning would go 16 for 23 for two touchdowns and only one interception? Who wouldn't have started that defense? How did this nonsense happpen?

And yes, I am kvetching that I was booted from my fantasy league playoffs because my defense earned five points. Enjoy your quarterback of the future, D-Trux and Giants fans.

Dallas Cowchips
Though you share the same record as Washington, let's be honest--this year has been a disaster, particularly in light of last year's playoff appearance. This season's humor came from seeing Coach Parcells' weekly "we are disgusting" post game conferences; the real comedy was watching him become less animated after each loss and age 10 years (along with Testaverde and Eddie George) in three months. I suspect that after falling to 5-11 on the year, Bill's final press conference will be miserable cinema; the Tuna will decompose into a monotone, lamentable, drooling shell of his Hall of Fame self. He won't be able to enunciate, but his spittle will make his message clear: we stink. If there is something to hang your Christmas stocking on, it's that kid Julius Jones.

Green Bay Lemon Pants
Future Hall of Famer Brett Favre is the anchor on which Packers fans have held their hope for many years. I personally think he's a maverick gunslinger who has the uncanny ability to follow a horrible pass with a scrambling, laser-guided pass through three defenders. The press loves this guy, and some of the praise is deserved. But for the love of Moses, can we stop treating him as any more heroic than any other quarterback who plays through pain and loss? For my dollar, the Titans' Steve McNair has equaled or surpassed Favre in gutsy play. I think McNair completed a touchdown back in 2002 with only one operable foot. I could be wrong. The point is that Brett doesn't turn water into wine and hasn't corrected his tendency to hit defenders between the numbers in his many NFL seasons. And then there's his annual will-I-retire-maybe-I-won't tune. Sheesh. You Cheeseheads can keep Favre, and enjoy him for all he's worth.

Minnesota Vikings
By winning your last two games (which shan't happen because you're coming to FedEx Field to play the Skins), you can slip right into the playoffs and, I predict, make some noise. Hats off to Daunte "Where's My Soup Contract?" Culpepper for being the glue in this season of rotating offensive players. 8-5 is pretty good for losing Mr. I Make It Look Easy, Randy Moss, for a couple games and starting multiple running backs throughout the year. Vikings fans should be pleased with the work Coach Mike Tice has done in keeping this ship afloat and competitve.

Detroit Lions
What happened here? Remember when the Lions broke their consecutive road-losing streak, then started winning at home too? Things went south quickly, but I really like the combination of Harrington/Roy Williams/Kevin Jones/Hakim. Pick up some defense (and a long snapper) and you should be in the thick of a division title chase next year.

Chicago Bears
I hear Ryan Leaf is still available if you're still looking for a quarterback next year. And you should be.

Hotlanta Falcons
Where would this team be without Michael Vick? 4-10 is my guess. This guy single-handedly willed his team to win Saturday against the Panthers with a gutsy 4th and goal touchdown scramble. Sure he's erratic, and inexplicably vulnerable to fast pass rushes, but there's nobody more dangerous in the clutch than Mr. Nike. Just ask last year's Packers. Enjoy him while he's healthy, Falcon fans.

(North) Carolina Panthers
Even if you don't make the playoffs, what resolve you've shown in overcoming injuries to nearly every playmaker on offense. The loss of Steve Smith, Stephen Davis, DeShaun Foster, and even Brad Hoover means that you've had to rely on who-dats like Nick Goings and behind your offensive line he has run like a maniac. Hats off to Jake "Pour Homme" Delhomme, Julius Peppers and the entire coaching staff for pulling off an improbable playoff run after looking dead in the water in early October.

N'awlins Saints
Whaddaya know, the Saints aren't folding in December! They've won their last two and with the ever dangerous Joe Horn healthy, well, anything's possible. We haven't seen Saints fans break out the paper bags in, what, two years now. That's plenty to be thankful for.

TB Buc'neers
Tampa fans should rejoice that their defense, splintered after winning a Super Bowl, is still to be feared. And that those orange pants will never see the light of day again.

The Entire NFC West (Seattle, St. Louis, Arizona, San Francisco)
Shame on all of you. I refuse to send fans of these slumping, ne'er-do-well franchises holiday wishes. The brass ring of a division champion is sitting there, and everyone's eyeing it warily, like the gathering of the Fellowship in Lord of the Rings. The Owens-less 49ers were expected to stink it up this year, but the rest of you have no excuse for half-stepping. Weren't the Seahawks an early AFC favorite? How can Arizona still be alive in this division? Marshall Faulk, I have loved you like a brother, defending your presence on my fantasy team for more than a year now. After this year, I'm cutting the cord. Fly, my son, fly.

New England Patriots
We'll just assume Monday's loss to Miami was a mulligan. But know this, Pats fans, if the celebrated Tom Brady has a subpar day (three interceptions should qualify) in January, things could get ugly. You all should send Corey Dillon holiday hams for adding a dimension to the Champions that should propel them to another Super Bowl appearance.

State of New York Football J-E-T-S
I like this team, starting with coach Herman Edwards. Jets fans can celebrate "Supernatural" Santana Moss' solid play, Curtis Martin's non-stop procution, and the return of Chad Pennington. They may not have the defense to hold off the Steelers, Colts, or Patriots later this year, but this team is a perennial favorite to make the post season. That's good coaching. Those Quincy Carter games are quickly fading into memory.

Buffalo Billiards
Panthers aside, is there any team who has risen from the dust like Buffalo? Who the #$#% is Lee Evans (and why is he helping my brother's fantasy team become a powerhouse)? This team scored in all phases against Cincinnati, but it's their offense which deserves the love. They've scored 17 touchdowns in their last five games. I think that's more than Washington has scored all year.

Miami Dolphins
There's good news for Dolfans: your boys fought hard Monday, though their season ended during the summer months. By the way, those orange uniforms make you look like little highlighters.

Pittsburgh Men o' Steel
Your holiday gift is the well-praised Ben Roethlisberger. But you knew that. And you also know that he's responsible, in large part, for the franchise-best record and winning streak. In my estimation, the Steelers are the most balanced team in the league, able to put up just enough to win against virtually anyone. Can't wait for the Pittsburgh/New England AFC Championship game!

Ballmer Ravines
Y'all knew you had no chance of winning against Peyton Sunday night, right? Motormouth Billlick had you guys playing your hearts out, but it was clear that Manning and company were not to be denied. They looked like the superior team...for now. Come next year, when Kyle "Where's Heap?" Boller continues his maturation, you'll ascend to the top of the AFC. Provided that Jailbait Lewis keeps his nose clean. Ravens fans should look forward to Ed Reed and company needing to do less scoring next year. You might want to pick up a decent wide receiver in your spare time. And yes, I'm being sarcastic.

Cincinnati Bengals
Fans of the Halloween Heroes should rejoice that Marvin Lewis decided to become your head coach. Doomsayers were shocked last year when you went 8-8; they suggested the return of the "Bungles" earlier this year when Lewis' starter, Carson "Tonight Show" Palmer, struggled. But now his decision seems more sane, and, perhaps, visionary. You guys will continue to improve under Marvin; your only regret should be that you're in the same division as the Ravens and Steelers.

Cleveland Doo-doo Browns
No, I'm not trying to offend Browns fans. I'm referencing that local club hit from my college days by one-CD wonder 2 Hyped Brothers And A Dog. Now that was back when people actually danced at parties, instead of standing around mean-mugging and drinking, back before every R&B song had a hot-rapper-of-the-moment mumbling in it, back when there were 24 variations of the Running Man dance. Those were good days. The days of the high-top fade, Africa medallions and Cross Colours overalls. The good days for Cleveland fans were when a healthy Jeff Garcia was at the helm. (Did I bring that back to focus?)

Indianapolis Mannings
Were you like me, Sunday night? Were you absolutely sick of how frequently ESPN reminded us that Peyton was two--no!, make it one touchdown!--away from tying Dan Marino? Just as Baltimore knew they weren't going to win that game, Indy knew Manning probably wouldn't tie or break the record that night. And poo on you Colts fans for your bloodlusty booing of the Colts' sportsmanship by taking a two game-ending knees. No gifts for you. Just for that, you're going to lose earlier than you think in the playoffs.

Jax'ville Jaguars
The Jacksonville faithful better enjoy Byron Leftwich, who's working hard to become the next NFL Bionic Man. Sunday versus the Pack he got belted on nearly every passing play, making him an expert in the consistency and flavor of Lambeau Field. But the kid kept getting up, kept throwing, kept playing through pain. Big ups, man, big ups.

The Texas Toast of Houston
I know it seems like I'm saying most teams have a bright future, but this season showed Texan fans that David Carr, Andre Johnson, and Dominick Davis are the real deal and if supported by a decent defense can be competitive for years to come. They unfortunately suffer from the Bengals Disease: playing in a ultra-tough division.

Tennessee Titans
Is Billy Volek the answer? I dunno, but he's filled in nicely in the last couple of weeks, credit due also to wide receiver Drew Bennett (who I foolishly chose not to pick up off of the waiver wires). If McNair decides to retire, it will be a sad end to the career of one of the NFL's true Iron Men.

San Diego SuperChargers
Hats off to the Coach of the Year, Marty Schottenheimer. This team won four games last year. Now they're 10-3. You may recall from archive Redskin Reviews that Marty was drummed out of Washington after going 8-8 in a season where the team began 0-5 and then won five in a row. The Redskins haven't looked like that since. I tell you this: if MartyBall was still played here, Stephen Davis would still be here and we'd be in better shape. Charger fans must be euphoric. And no, I am not jealous.

Denver Broncos
I salute you for again proving that you could probably put Lando Calrissian in the backfield and he'd get three 100 yard games. Your offensive line and coaches are to be celebrated. One other note: anyone still agreeing with Sports Illustrated's Peter King that Jake Plummer will be league MVP? Didn't think so.

Kansas City Chefs
I love that Snickers commercial where the groundskeeper misspells the team name. Though KC isn't near a complete team, their ability to score is unmatched. No Priest? Stick in Larry Johnson and keep rolling. And ex-Redskin Trent "Money" Green has quietly made a name for himself as a solid quarterback. Even Dante "Inferno" Hall is returning to gameplan-against-him form.

Oakland Raiders
Anybody seen Warren Sapp? Did he vaporize or what this year? How does someone that large become invisible, anyway? Citizens of the Black Hole should be thankful that Kerry Collins has found his form. No, your team isn't any good (and Charles Woodson isn't helping), but Collins as starting quarterback is beginning to make sense. He at least makes the games interesting.

Happy Holidays to (almost) all the fans from everyone here at the Review. That's um, me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Grey Cup 2006 (Collector's Edition)

This is big news. And it stinks.

December 13, 2004: 7:14 PM EST
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc. said Monday it had signed an exclusive agreement with the National Football League and the marketing arm of its players' union, giving EA the sole rights to put NFL players, stadiums and teams in its games.

What does this mean, and why doth it smell most foul? This deal says that EA Sports will be the only company making football games for any system, anywhere, with real NFL images/players/stadiums. Even the colors of the teams are locked up in EA's computer pallettes. Sure, EA's competitors, currently the NFL2K series by Sega/Take Two, can make a football game next year. To this point they've bitten hard into EA Sports' command of the video game football world. Now their future is dim. Would you want to play using the Maryland Warpath versus the Texas SteerRiders or Redskins versus Cowboys? What fun is there in controlling BlackBird linebacker #52 when you can run with the Ravens' Ray Lewis?

Back before video games were big business, sports video games could be successful products using imaginary teams and players whose positions and numbers resembled the real thing. I loved the original Tecmo Bowl on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) just as much as the later NFL-Property'd Super Tecmo Bowl. SNK put out Baseball Stars on the NES that didn't have Major League Baseball support but was insanely addictive. This game didn't even pretend to be based in real players--there was an all-woman team in the league! And we certainly can't forget one of the greatest hockey games ever, the thumb-bruiser Blades of Steel. Again, imaginary names, teams, and venues. But it played like a charm and you (OK, I) didn't care who you were controlling as long as the game was fun.

Sadly, those days are now behind us. Games existed without name-brand competitors. Today, a great part of the marketing of video games comes from their ability to accurately reflect more than just the real game of football. It is the realism of player faces, bodies, and likenesses that take 21st century games to levels only dreamed of back in the 80s. NFL2KWhatever will be hard pressed to market a new game with no-names, even if you can somehow download user-created rosters. Maybe they can corner the market on Arena Football, or the Canadian Football League. Anyone looking forward to a digitized Chris Berman showing halftime highlights of the Ottowa Renegades? Me neither.

I like Madden football a lot; in fact, it's what I have exclusively bought and played since Tecmo Bowl. And my first reaction to the NFL/EA monopoly was to boycott EA products for the five year term of the contract. Upon further reflection, it's hard to fault Electronic Arts because what they did was, honestly, good business. They've likely crushed their competition (who had actually forced them to lower the price on Madden by offering NFL2K5 2 1/2 times cheaper) and has secured a future profit on those same rights if it chooses to sell once the contract nears its end.

EA may issue a statement stating that their new monopoly is good for gaming because they can now focus less on competing and more on innovating (hopefully that includes fixing the "formation shift" bug). We may see an improvement in gameplay and presentation. Madden can now become all that they've dreamed it to be. To that I say...yeah, true. But I proffer the following fear, which is taught in any Business 101 class:

Most economists agree that under perfect competition, firms produce quantities more in line with societies needs, and at the least costly method. Therefore, we can conclude that monopolies adversely affect the market while the consumer is best served under perfect competition...monopolies artificially limit supply in order to raise prices. This is always the case when observing a typical supply and demand relationship. They also create a burden on society by misallocating resources. Monopolies are also less efficient due to the fact that there is no competition to drive them to operate at lower costs. Monopolies also suppress innovation and technology in their market. This is because they do not wish others to create cheaper and/or better products.

So get ready, football fans, for Madden 2006 to return to $50; I wouldn't be surprised if Madden 2007, on the PlayStation 3, retails for $60. And we can thank the money-grubbers in the NFL's front office.

Why the NFL would sell their rights as such escapes me. Who better than they to recognize that competition is better for consumers? Having a dominant team like the Patriots was fun for 20 games or so; but a whole lot of football fans cheered when they were toppled by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now the league has an unthinkable three teams with one loss, and the playoffs look to be one of the most exciting Clash of the Titans in recent memory. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has preached parity as being good for the league. Now his franchise has hypocritically shafted fans in the pursuit of big dollars. Sad.

Don't want to keep giving EA your hard-earned money? Some turn to HD Loader. Not that I would endorse such a thing. Ahem.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Week 14: Haven't I Seen This Before?

Washington 14, Philadelphia 17

Man, what a tough loss for Washington Sunday night. The Redskins defense certainly appeared up to task, bending on occasion but standing strong enough to put the offense in position to win a very winnable game. Unfortunately, offensive miscues and general ineffectiveness dashed the hopes of Skins fans. When we needed a big play, we came up short.

The sad thing is that the above paragraph surmises nearly any of this season's losses. Last night was deja vu all over again, right down to the puzzling play calling, poor clock management, and abandonment of the run in a tight contest. It appeared after last week's humbling of Los Gigantes that the Redskins had begun to turn a significant corner, with all three team phases operating beautifully in concert. Fans finally felt that the real dawn of Joe Gibbs' return had begun. Turns out that New York just stinks and Washington is still plagued with the same errors from September.

To wit: Washington had over 120 yards of penalties. Larry Sellers committed three personal foul calls, looking around incredulously afterward, as if he didn't know there was an NFL rule about hitting after the play and grabbing face masks. Pharaoh Ramsey burned timeouts and committed delay of game penalties because he didn't get plays in from the sidelines or took too long getting those plays communicated to the offense. The Redskins offense again failed to convert short third downs against a better than average defense.

There were bright sides to this game. Puntmeister Tom Tupa continues his excellent season. His line drive kicks pinned the Egos deep in their territory on a few occasions, making the defense's job easier. Ladell Betts and the special teams set a great tone for the game by returning the opening kickoff to the Philly 14 yard line. With the accompanying penalty, Portis had 7 yards to go for his first touchdown. I know I'm usually hard on Laveranues Coles (and usually he deserves it), but Sunday he manned-up and caught 12 passes for 100 yards, no drops. He took some hard shots from the Eagles linebackers and d-backs but showed no signs of Todd Pinkston's Disease. My man Chris Cooley (Chris Cooley!) played solid, though glory slipped from his fingertips in the form of a sure touchdown late in the game. Nonetheless, Cooley plays hard and has established himself as a favorite target of Ramsey. Sean Taylor is beginning to look like a serious, hard-hitting playmaker, and displayed some controlled aggression against T.O. and Eagles receivers.

For your dollar this was some well-played, hard-hitting, NFC East football on display. Shawn Springs certainly is fortunate to remember his own address after taking a wicked--but clean--blindside block. Eagles linemen were dropping to the ground like someone released sarin. I did suspect, though, that Donovan McNizzle and Terrell Owens weren't too concerned about the outcome of this contest. The Egos had wrapped up a first-round bye earlier in the day, thanks to Atlanta's victory. Perhaps some of their offensive effort may have been restrained. Either way, Sunday Philadelphia learned that they'd best not get too cocky heading into the postseason. They are a beatable team.

This weeks' Hang Your Head Award is distributed to every doofus on offense who committed a penalty. Yes, that's broad and unfair. But with the Redskins playing short-gain plays in this very close game, every five or ten yard loss due to false start or stupid holding penalty presented near-insurmountable challenges. Remember that John Hall missed a field goal from 48 yards; penalties pushed Washington back from a higher-percentage attempt. This offense just ain't good enough to pick up 30 yards on a whim; it felt like our biggest gains were more desperation than calculation.

Coach Gibbs is now assured a losing season. If there be happiness for His Joeness (and boy did he look deflated in his post-game conference), it is in the knowledge that with only minor tweaking and an offseason of practice, the Redskins offense should rise to a more competitive level with the defense. Heck, we might even challenge for the NFC East title. Maybe. Let's shoot for scoring 20 points per game first.

OFFENSE: C+ (What a horrible, horrible pass Ramsey chose to throw into near triple coverage to seal the loss. Ugly. Craptacular. Like Kyle Boller before he became a man.)
DEFENSE: A- (This was tough to grade. Our boys got burned deep more than once, but tightened up and limited a very potent offense. Philly looked pitiful offensively in the second half but really didn't need to play too hard, considering how bumbling the Redskin offense was. But I'll rank 'em high because they made McNabb look like his former self, skipping passes, throwing low, and looking human again.)
COACHES: C (Have we learned nothing from the time management issues earlier this year? Hmm?)

The Festivus Maximus playoffs begin next week, and the Young Avengers look like they'll slide in with either a 9-5 or 8-6 record. Depends on what waiverman running back Larry Johnson will do for Kansas City tonight. And, um, what the playoff requirements are. (What's up, Commish?) The Avengers are down by 11 to the risin' Phoenixes. Michael Vick, I am sick of your wackness. My wide receivers--three people--put up a total of 8 points. My tight end, Chris Cooley, nearly bested them all by himself, adding 7 points. Egad. I secretly hoped pre-game that Terrell Owens would catch a touchdown against Washington; I caught myself, reminded of the first rule of Fantasy Football: never root against your real team.

The Skins face the SanFranciso 49ers, a team who haven't beaten anyone except the Arizona Cardinals. There is no way Washington should lose this game. In fact, if you're playing fantasy football, I'd run Coles, Portis, Cooley and Ramsey and watch the points roll in. I hate torturing myself with the thought that this game could have been an easy gateway to the playoffs, had Washington beaten the teams they should have beaten early. Alas.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Week 13: Finally!

Washington 31, New York Giants 7

It's been a long time comin', but the Redskins put together their most complete, dominating performance of the season on Sunday, turning the Giants into Lilliputians. We haven't seen this kind of football since week one versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It felt euphoric then, in the newness of the season, but Sunday it felt like a step into positivity. This wasn't lost on Coach Joe "Man Under Fire" Gibbs, who could only utter "Finally!" in his post-game interview with Sonnny Jurgensen. He and all 90,000 fans knew that what we witnessed Sunday was a full demonstration of the power of Redskins Football.

It is the power running, accented by a calculated passing attack, that have defined Redskins game plans for the Gibbs era. It works--and has worked--for multiple running backs and quarterbacks from Doug Williams to Earnest Byner to John Riggins to Mark Rypien. How appropriate that the Redskins front office featured a picture of injured tackle Jon Jansen on fans' tickets for this game. It was the offensive line who simply owned the Giants yesterday, allowing Clinton Portis to have his most complete day (31 rushes for 148 yards, three receptions for 14 yards, two touchdowns, no fumbles). When Mr. President needed a breather, Ladell Betts got loose for 64 additional yards on 11 rushes. Conventional football wisdom says that if you run the ball well, you own the clock. Boy, did we: 40:29 to the Giants' 19:31. Washington ran 30% more plays than New York.

Patrick "Pharaoh" Ramsey had the best day of his career under this scheme, completing 19 of 22 passes for 174 yards and three--that's right, three--touchdowns. Credit due again to the offensive line who allowed but one sack and gave Ramsey enough time to make some great throws. He even hit eight different receivers. Perhaps the most suprising kudos is that none of those receivers dropped a pass! Aside from one questionable throw into coverage on 3rd and 3 in the middle of the 3rd quarter, Ramsey looked sharp, comfortable, and even a little daring. His long touchdown to Chris Cooley (Chris Cooley!) was a textbook no-no; Ramsey scrambled eight yards to the right off of a play fake and found his tight end lightly covered going left. The Pharaoh threw across his body and across the field...perfect pass and Cooley was off to the races. (The points from Washington, and my fantasy team, were removed because of a holding penalty. Fudge.)

I noted during the game that the offense was so uncharacteristically efficient that when facing 1st and 20 and 2nd and 20 we still converted those drives into points. In previous games, one holding penalty would guarantee a punt. On Sunday, three of our touchdown drives were over 70 yards, and we began the game with a 93 yarder. That is how you demoralize a defense from the outset.

It's easy to focus on the offense because, frankly, they've stunk like fresh rabbit poop. (Don't ask me how I know this.) But let's not forget that the second-ranked defense, led by linebacker Antonio Pierce, pitched a shutout of the suddenly-feeble Giants offense. Jeremy "Low Voltage" Shockey was limited to two catches, disappointing the Big Blue faithful who arrived en masse wearing his number. Tiki Barber was ineffective, posting only 38 yards on 15 carries and almost losing a fumble. (That's the Tiki I know and love.) Ron Dayne only showed up for one catch and, um, one special teams tackle. Attaboy. Eli "Boy Wonder" Manning only proved that he still has some learning still to do. Apart from one well-placed 48 yard bomb to Amani Toomer, Eli looked mediocre, particularly in the face of blitzes by rookie phenom Sean Taylor. Excellent work today, Gregg Williams. Your boys finally got to work to keep a lead, rather than hope to create one.

What made this near-perfect game all the more special was that it was won on my birthday. Kinda felt like Gibbs and company waited three months to open this gift of a game. (Note to Gibbs: Don't do that again. I'd gladly trade this win for a loss, but an 8-4 record.) I shared this game with my good friend D-Trux, a loyal Giants fan. Poor guy. Until kickoff, this game was close. To his credit, he stood firm in the face of continuous ribbing by every Redskin fan as we made our way to our seats. Even the stadium staff pretended to throw him over a balcony. Trux's final review of the game: "This is a travesty and a shamocracy!" Shamocracy indeed.


OFFENSE: A+ (I pled with Gibbs last week to run the ball. Another 100 yard day for Portis, another win. The truth is--and I know it's water under the bridge--that if Washington had attempted this same game plan every week between weeks 2 and 12, we'd be knocking on Philly's door for NFC East supremacy and guaranteed an NFC wild card spot.)


Sp. TEAMS: B (I won't say you all should Hang Your Head, but your lapse may have prevented this game from going into the archives of great Gibbs wins.)

COACHES: A+ (Ain't it great when you draw up a plan and it goes exactly as you wanted?)

The Young Avengers opened up a fresh can of Shut-Yo-Mouth this week on the hapless BestMan squad, 138-65. Most weeks, it's my Steelers defense and Mike Vick putting up 2/3 of my points. This week, they each posted poor numbers, earning me only 10 fantasy points. The other 128 came most from T.O. (Cannot. Be. Stopped.), Brandon "I Love Peyton" Stokely, Mike Vanderjiggy, and free agent pickup Ravens back Chester Taylor. With the playoffs right around the corner, the Avengers appear to have secured a post-season place. My competitors, Roy's Boys and D-Trux's Juggernauts, look like they'll win too. Once I figure out the cryptic playoff requirements, I'll post whether we get in.

The Egos fly into Maryland for ESPN Sunday Night Football. What a difference a week makes. After the Pittsburgh snore-fest, I would have had serious doubts that Washington could keep up with McNabb and the boys, much less win. Now? Well...I dunno. I'll look at how Philly performed and post my thoughts later. Should be a good game, and the FedEx Field staff informed us that security at the stadium will be doubled. Oh yeah. Just for fun, I'll announce a Redskins win, 20-17.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Week 12: Questions Abound

Washington 7, Pittsburgh 16

OK, I'll admit it.

I have no idea what's wrong with the Redskins. After 11 games, I'm at a loss. And it's not because I took a little time away from the NFL for the last two weekends. (I had actually started writing some thoughts on the Pacers/Pistons melee and the dreadful Redskins loss to the Egos, but work and personal schedules ate up my time. Maybe I'll post up the unfinished stuff.) I mean that what I'm seeing on the field is so uninspiring, so dad-blamed awful that I'm nearly speechless as to its source. How boring has this team become? I felt nary an inkling of guilt in starting the Pittsburgh defense on my fantasy team. And yes, they helped me win.

Nonetheless, I think I speak for many Washington area fans when I raise some lingering questions:

(1) What has happened to the Redskins' offense? I don't mean to cause alarm, but the Skins have scored a total of 138 points this season. 12.5 points per game. Less than two touchdowns per contest. Washington has the worst scoring offense in the league, behind such perennial powerhouses as the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. Not to put too fine a point on this query, but the Redskins have 34 points less than the next lowest-scoring franchise, the Chicago Bears. That's an entire games' worth of scoring! (Or, for us, three games' worth of points.) It is incredulous, but Washington is an entire game behind the league! Meanwhile, our punter is having a career year.

Coach Gibbs runs an offense starring Clinton Portis and Laveranues Coles, two marquee players for their former teams, Denver and the New York Jets. Coles entered this season with seven, five and six touchdowns in his last three seasons. This year, "Parkay" Coles has one touchdown. One. Portis the Pine Rider had 15 and 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons before arriving in D.C. As of today, he has two.

I have no answers for this. I believe it was Michael Wilbon at the Washington Post who noted a couple of weeks ago that if the Redskins' offense had simply been average, they would have won five of their first eight games. Now look at us. Three wins and searching for solutions. Speaking of riddles...

(2) How did Clinton Portis get such great seats for the Pittsburgh game? For the few of you who stomached all of Sunday's game, you saw a Mister Ladell Betts rush more times and for twice as many yards as Portis. The uninjured $50 million running back (who, for the record, is nine touchdowns behind $1 million backup runner Jerome Bettis) got to watch the offense struggle to less than 200 yards of total offense, touching tbe ball seven times for 17 yards. Have mercy.

Now Coach Gibbs is defending the decision to bench Portis, saying that he was relying on Patrick "Pharaoh" Ramsey to push the team down the field against one of the NFL's best defenses. Isn't that like asking Michael Knight to defeat Goliath without KITT (or Arnold Jackson)? You just don't do it. I dunno what Portis did to deserve benching, but the choice virtually guaranteed a loss to the Steelers...considering that with Poris playing, we haven't scored more than than 18 points. Fans should be thankful that Ramsey only turned the ball over once, though he was dropped to the turf five times.

Mum's the word from Portis as to why he sat out. Maybe he spit on someone. Or got a DUI during halftime. Even if you're going to go pass-wacky in the second half, Portis should stay in to, um, catch the ball.

(3) Which headliner gets replaced first in the offseason? Here's what we do know: Mark Brunell played himself out of Washington football. Patrick Ramsey, God bless 'em, has tried as a starter but has produced only 13 total points (albeit to the two top teams in the league) in two weeks. Portis and Coles' numbers I've mentioned. Gardner has the most receiving touchdowns on the team (5), but has disappeared in the last three weeks (7 catches for 65 yards). Washington has no serious offensive threat; nothing like a shrewd field general (Payton Manning), dual-threat runner (LaDaininan Tomlinson), or sure-handed speedster (Randy Moss).

The answer, my friend, means throwing in the wind. I say we pick up a young, proven, free agent quarterback and let him battle (and beat) Ramsey for the starting job. I like the Coles/Portis combination, but this season they're less than stellar. Again I have no idea why Portis is cooling his heels and Coles is dropping passes like they're hot. Perhaps a new signal-caller, under a revised Gibbs offensive plan, is the ticket.

Word is that San Diego's Drew "Summertime" Brees will be a free agent following this season. Take a look at his numbers. He went from being trade bait out on the West Coast to emerging as an outta sight (do people still say that?) league-leading passer. Sure, it helps to have a balanced attack--Tomlinson puts up 1600 yards like it's nothing and tight end Antonio Gates is the next Tony Gonzalez--but Brees' rising is good news for teams who want an accurate, potential star. I like his stock over any forthcoming college phenom. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger is fantastic, but an anomaly in the NFL.

I feel particularly bad for Gregg Williams and the Redskins defense. They've tried, oh, they've tried, to win games for this team. If there is a weakness that keeps them from being truly dominant, it is that they don't score touchdowns on turnovers. But they consistenly slow or halt offenses with blitzes and tight coverage, only to have to return to the field four plays later because Portis got stuffed for one yard, Coles dropped a crossing route pass, and the quarterback threw incomplete to avoid a sack. That's been the life for our defense, so it doesn't surprise me that the Eagles were able to eventually put up more than 20 points, or that Cincinnati beat us at home. Don't go changin', defense, not a thing.

In other NFL news, the Ravens have managed to stay in the hunt for an AFC wild card spot even with a loss to the clearly superior New England Patriots. Tough game to sit through, even while hoping Chester Taylor would produce for my fantasy team, because of the poor field conditions and abysmal quarterback play from Kyle "Fruit on the Bottom" Boller. I was prepared to write that Boller had finally come into his own after sharp play versus the Jets and Vikings. After Sunday, my jury's still out. Baltimore needs him, desperately, to make critical throws on 3rd downs and inside the red zone. As Sully on Dr. Quinn used to say "It. Ain't. Happenin'." And yes, I did quote Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

The Ravens do have their work cut out for them, as they will likely need a better record than the Jets, Broncos, or Jaguars to slip into the postseason. Their final games are a mish-mash of quality: Cincinnati, the Giants, the Colts, the Steelers, then a cool down with the sinking ship called the Miami Dolphins. The truth is that a 10-6 record might get you a wild card in the AFC. In the NFC, that would crown you king.




Sp. TEAMS: C (Don't think I didn't notice you letting Antwaan Randle El run wild on you.)

COACHES: D- (I'd like to hear how Gibbs explains going pro-pass against the 3rd-ranked passing defense.)


After taking a two losses in the same weeks, the Young Avengers have secured a much-needed win over Team Palmer. The funny thing is that virtually all of my points have come from the Steelers' defense, Mike Vick, and Brandon "Smooth Strokin'" Stokely. Marshall Faulk still has to go tonight, but he isn't necessary. Oh, how I wish I had kept Jason Witten and Willis McGahee on my team. My Avengers are facing stiff competition by Roy's Boys, who have pulled a where'd-THAT-come-from (henceforth to be called the "Rudy Huxtable") to be just over one game back. I am sufficiently worried, especially now that Terrell Owens didn't score against the marginal New York Giants. Now that I mention them...


Sábado Gigante comes to town--on my birthday, no less--hoping to salvage the season. Believe it or not, at 5-6, they're second in the NFC East and right in the hunt for wild card spot. Time for the Skins to play spoiler. In the name of all that is holy, can we please run the ball? Los Gigantes are now led by rookie Eli "Pan and Scan" Manning. At this stage of his career, he takes too long in the pocket. I say blitz the kid, see what if he can repeat his 6 for 21 performance. In fact, I'm gonna predict that the Washington defense finally scores on a turnover. That should double our total points. Skins win, 14-10.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Two Minutes to Rebut Myself

I want to believe that Washington can beat Philadelphia this weekend.

I really do.

In my heart of hearts, I wish that Pharaoh Ramsey would find his accuracy, dicing up the 20th-ranked Eagles defense for 225 yards and one touchdown.

I like to think that Clinton Portis can rush for 125 yards and two touchdowns, grinding out the clock and keeping the Eagles offense on the sidelines.

And it pleases me to imagine Fred Smoot shutting down Terrell Owens, limiting him to four catches for 43 yards.

Folks, it just ain't gonna happen. I know I picked the Skins to win in Monday's review, 24-21. But I'm led, after viewing most of Monday Night Football, to break Redskins Review tradition and revise my choice, picking the opposition to win.

The Eagles are just that good. If they don't represent the National Football Conference in the Super Bowl, it will be a travesty. No team in the NFC brings as good a performance, when on their "A" game, than Philadelphia. Monday was evidence of that. Dallas, to my great pleasure, was cleaned, filleted, and fried before a national audience to the tune of 49 points.

This is going to sound like treason, but if they weren't in the NFC East, I might even root for 'em. Not because of all the hype they generate, with their Chunky Soup pitchman and speed-skating wide receiver. No, it's because this team plays sound, fundamental, hope-crushing football. They know how to dominate offensively--even without a solid running game--and make just enough plays on defense to demoralize you. (Did you see Philly linebacker Mark Simoneau's heads up stripping of Eddie George and cornerback Lito Sheppard's Ed Reed impression?).

But the Eagles are in the East, thus I cannot root for them. It's just a fact. You'd never hear a Ravens fan pulling for Pittsburgh. It's like Suge Knight hoping Dr. Dre wins the Vibe Legend Award. And you know how that turned out.

Thus, it's time to dream up some strategy for Coach Gibbs.

Washington will be led by Patrick Ramsey this Sunday. Talk about being thrown in the deep end of the pool. He will need to complete short, 5- or 6-yarders and hope for a breakout game from Chris Cooley (Chris Cooley!), a la Dallas tight end Jason Witten. I dunno how Witten got loose for over 130 yards, but he was frequently available for Vinny Testaverde to check down to. Heck, sometimes he was the main receiver and still got the ball. I doubt Eagles coach Andy Reed will allow the same availability to the Redskins's short game, but it's worth a shot.

That said, Washington must run the ball. We simply cannot allow McNabb on the field. Further, we better not give Portis the ball less than 20 times (he had 17 on Sunday against the Bengals); he can pound away on the interior line for 40 total yards for all I care. But we must open passing lanes for a potentially shaky Ramsey. Only way to do it is to force Philly to play their corners close to the line of scrimmage. Then hope that Gardner and Coles actually catch the passes that hit them in the numbers.

To help the offense mount a season-high 20 points, field position will be critical. The special teams have to produce some favorable returns on kickoffs and punt returns. Following Eagles' scores, Dallas made things interesting by returning the kickoffs well. Without Deadweight Morton--I mean, Chad Morton--fielding kicks, Washington's big play potential is greatly diminished. Somebody, somewhere, has got to shock the Eagles, put them back on their heels. This team could do it.

Hardly anyone has an answer for T.O.; I don't wanna hear anything from Ravens fans who believe that they shut him down. You limited him, perhaps contained him. But when he scores the decisive touchdown (and openly mocks your star player), you forfeit the right to boast of success. This kid is bad. In Madden 2006, he'll probably be rated a 98 across the board. Owens can go short and break two tackles on his way to the open field, as he did against Dallas, or he can burn you deep as he did, um, against Dallas.

To the Cowchips' credit, they appeared to have schemed some double-teams on Owens. The corner would occasionally run with Owens and the safety would backpedal until the ball was released Owens' direction. Other times the corner played zone, and hoped for the safety to slide over in time. Owens' second touchdown was against this defense, and Terrell was wide open in the end zone.

If I'm Washington (and I like to think I am), I make sure that we keep track of Owens' position, whether slot, left or right. Somebody, whether Fred Smoot, Shawn Springs, Antonio Pierce, or heck, Jack Pardee, needs to put a body on him within the allowable distance. Bump him, check him, trip him. If you let him run willy-nilly in his route, you're just asking for trouble. Even in the double team you could get out jumped for six, as he did, um, against Dallas. I'd rather get beaten by Freddie Mitchell, thank you very much.

So what about Ol' McNabb? What's the deal with every middle-aged heavy-set black actress starring as his mother in these Campbell's soup commercials? Soon as I get comfortable with one cooking for him at home, I see a different one knitting scarves and getting dunked in Gatrorade. This is unsettling. My solution: make Salma Hayek his mother in every commercial and let's get on with life.

Donovan played his very best football last night (15 for 27, 345 yards, 4 touchdowns, no interceptions, sacked once), and showed that he's got the arm and the legs to frustrate defensive linemen and confuse linebackers. I'm scared of what he might do with LaVar Arrington still watching from the cheap seats. I suspect that Philly won't be running the ball much, so send the defensive ends to the edge, restricting (in theory, at least) McNabb's ability to scramble for positive yards. Likewise, when he runs around, the defensive backs must maintain their assignments. Sean Taylor, you've looked great this season; here's your first major test on fundamentals. A final word to our secondary: one of you is going to get burned in this game. Don't let it be you.

Coach Gibbs calls the upcoming four games (at Philly, at Pittsburgh, home versus the Giants, Philly at home) a "measuring stick." I prefer to call it a "baptism by blitz" for Patrick Ramsey. We'll have to see.

Despite the evidence, I can't root for nobody but the Skins. Redskins win, 21-20 1/2.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Week 10: ...but on the bright side...

Washington 10, Cincinnati 17

I sat in Suite 338 of FedEx Field for three quarters of Sunday's game, mentally preparing to write a nightmare Review in light of the horrific, strangely familiar gameplay by Washington. To that point, my dread was warranted: Redskins fans begged, nay, demanded nine minutes into the game that Patrick "Pharaoh" Ramsey replace Mark "Retirement" Brunell at quarterback; when their wish was granted, the slow-motion train wreck continued, this time with a different engineer. The Redskins' top-ranked defense allowed 17 first half points and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis seemed content to simply run out the final 18 minutes or so. Things were grim.

Suddenly, the offense seemed rejuvenated. In those final minutes of the third period, Washington went no-huddle, and Ramsey helped author two first downs on one drive--we'd only gotten two total up to that point--that brought Washington to the Cincinnati 29. Unfortunately, soon-to-be-kicking-for-the-Rhine-Fire Ola Kimrin shanked a 47 yard field goal. But something positive seemed to be working for the Skins. In fact, with the defense appearing to pitch a second-half shut out, Washington might make the score respectable.

After allowing just one first down (via penalty), the Redskin defense got young Pharaoh the ball back at the Washington 20, and for the final ten minutes of this game, the fans got exactly what they had been screaming for since the Green Bay game: hope. Mixing in a few runs by Clinton Portis, Ramsey took to the air, finding Coles and Clinton and pushing the ball into the Bengals red zone. Were it not for (yet another) drop by Coles in the end zone, this would have been the best drive of the Skins' game. Kimrin tapped in the easy field goal to make the score 17-3. Those fans who hadn't left in the early third period sensed that Gibbs had finally made the right choice.

The Washington D produced a quick three 'n out, and when Ramsey got the ball back, the offense mixed in no-huddle and went to the air, and Ramsey snuck a 9 yard touchdown to tight end Chris Cooley (Chris Cooley!). The 15,000 of us left in the the stadium went just short of bonkers. Sure, the Skins would need an improbable onside kick recovery, followed by a touchdown, produced without any remaining time outs, to send the game into overtime. But I don't believe I was alone in feeling that the late-game excitement was more for Washington's brighter future with this kid Patrick Ramsey under center.

So yeah, we lost to the Bengals, and probably began "Taps" for our playoff hopes. (Sure would've been nice to squeak this game and the Packers games out, considering how the Sabado Gigante is faltering.) And yep, our defense finally looked vulnerable. And yes, Ramsey was visibly rusty in the first half. I'll also agree that Ramsey was close to making two other interceptions during his play. But seeing a Redskin quarterback post more than 200 yards in one game has been a luxury we haven't enjoyed much this year. And hearing Chris Cooley and other receivers in post-game interviews describe how hard the passes hit their hands sounded like sweet music.

I can't help but wonder how this season might've turned out if Ramsey had been given the opportunity to take every snap this season, facing the weaker part of our schedule. We'd certainly have more than 1400 yards (157 yards per game). And we might've actually given our defense a rest, instead of relying on them to hold an offense to less than 14 points for us to win.

The reality is that Coach Gibbs has finally admitted that the Brunell experiment is an utter failure, and that the future of this franchise is in the hands of Sir Ramsey. At the risk of redundancy, let me say that I stand and applaud the decision.

Oh yeah, if anyone should Hang Your Head, it should be Coles and Gardner, our so-called receiving corps. I was unable to track down the drop statistics for these guys, but I was certain that, combined, they let five catchable passes fall. Some were for third down completions, but others failed to serve an even more important goal: confidence for their new quarterback. Hang your head, fellas, but know that you'll be needed more in the final six games than in the first ten.

Aside from some second-half heroics, it's tough to say much worked well for Washington. Defensively, Fred Smoot and the secondary were beaten like a rented mule for much of the first half, missing open-field tackles of Bengals receiver Chad "Lookitme!" Johnson and allowing Chad "Triple-word score" Houshmandzadeh to earn seven catches on the day. If there be a bright spot, it's that the defense decided that they would not allow any more points by Cincinnati in the second half. For my dollar, if a defense can do that for thirty minutes, they've done their job. It's up to the offense, then, to put up the points.

I can only shake my head at the idea that Clinton Portis gets the ball 17 times against the worst rushing defense in the league. I fail to see how you don't attack a weakness, even if it's ineffective 30 minutes in. The Skins didn't wait that long, passing the majority of the first quarter plays. Clinton still ended up with over 80 yards on the day; he should've had 130. And let's not forget how abysmally poor Mark Brunell's numbers were before being benched: 8 attempts, 1 completion, 6 yards, one interception. I think it's safe to make some vacation plans with the family for next Fall, Mark.




Sp. TEAMS: C (Was that Thrash/Betts reverse supposed to fool someone?)


The Young Avengers appear to be in perpetual freefall. Last week we managed a meek 78 points, losing to Teddy Tax's subpar 85 point total. Throughout the Skins game I kept an eye on other NFL action, and was pleased to see my Steelers defense total four turnovers and four sacks while my wideout Brandon Stokely hooked up more than 120 yards and two touchdowns. Even ol' Marshall Faulk got over 100 yards rushing. Surely I would win. Not so. I forgot that my opponent, the Daemons, had the Peyton Manning and the improbably successful Bears defense starting. Those two positions produced an astounding 93 points alone. The Daemons finished the day with 164 points, and with Terrell Owens still to play, I'm sitting at 122. With my brother Roy's team chalking up another win, he will likely sit one game behind me in our division. Cruel, cruel fate.

The Philly Egos welcome the Skins to Lincoln Field. I intend on spending all week dreaming of ways that Washington will win this game against a likely 9-1 team. Any suggestions would be welcome. Nonetheless, I'm picking that with a balanced attack, Portis gets 100 and Ramsey passes for two touchdowns. Skins win, 24-21.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Week 9: Simple Math

Washington 17, Detroit 10

I've never claimed to be a mathematician, and the numbers I study have little to do with standard deviation, critical value and confounding factors; I instead rely on yards per completion, third down conversions, and touchdown to interception ratios. I try not to get too deep into the numbers--I leave that to the folks at Football Outsiders--because football is a game where hunches, trends and gambles can pay off great dividends. Patriots coach Bill Belichick stuck with Tom Brady under center though his starter, Drew Bledsoe, was back from injury. Rookie Ben Roethlisberger has gotten the nod for the Steelers' remaining games by coach Bill Cowher despite having the proven Tommy Maddox available and ready to play. Everyone knows now that Brady and Big Ben have rewarded these coaches with awesome displays of poise, confidence, and success.

Such choices don't always work. Case in point: Coach Joe Gibbs and Mark Brunell. Anyone from casual fan to gridiron bean-counter can see that Coach Gibbs' love affair with quarterback Mark Brunell is illogical, undeserved, and unproductive.

I have said, for a number of weeks now, that Brunell is rapidly becoming dead weight on the franchise by his continual poor accuracy, suspect time management, and bereft leadership. And I'd like to say it again, but this time, I'll let the numbers do the talkin'. Here are St. Mark's game statistics (readers with delicate sensitivities may want to skip ahead):

vs. Buccaneers: 13 completions, 24 attempts, 125 yards (Skins win)

vs. Giants: 10 completions, 18 attempts, 92 yards (through 2 1/2 quarters)

vs. Cowboys: 25 completions, 43 attempts, 325 yards, 2 touchdowns

vs. Browns: 17 completions, 32 attempts, 192 yards

vs. Ravens: 13 completions, 29 attempts, 83 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception

vs. Bears: 8 completions, 22 attempts, 95 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception (Skins win)

vs. Packers: 25 completions, 44 attempts, 218 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions

vs. Lions: 6 completions, 17 attempts, 58 yards (Skins win)

Third down efficiency: 28 attempts, 76 completions, 2 touchdowns, three interceptions, seven sacks.

QB Rating: 67.4 Total yards: 1188. Only Kyle "Bullseye" Boller 65.9/1101) and Jay Fielder (67.0/1185) have worse numbers.


On Sunday, Marky Mark and the Offense faced the bottom-half ranked Detroit Lions defense. I respect that His Joeness may gameplan a particular attack philosophy to exploit specific weaknesses. Fine. But two pass attempts (one completed) in the second half?!? When did Brunell turn into Adam Vinatieri? Granted, the Redskins were up by 10 and our defense was sparkling. But was this performance a demonstration of how little faith Gibbs has in his hand-picked, personal choice for quarterback?

Despite the win, I'm telling Mark Brunell to Hang Your Head. Yes, Coles and Rod "Negative Fantasy Points" Gardner dropped some catchable balls. But 58 total yards against a suspect defense is deplorable. Redskin fans can only imagine if Brunell was simply average in our five losses. I think we could've taken the Browns, Cowchips and Packers. Maybe even the Ravens. I joke not. That takes us to a very healthy 6-2 or dreamy 7-1. Emphasis on dreamy.

Strangely enough, with the combined win for Washington and losses by everyone else in the NFC East, the Skins have a moderate chance of making something of our season. A look at the NFL standings today shows that the Haves sit comfortably at 6 or more wins; fifteen teams are either 3-5, 4-4, and 5-3. So what does Washington have to do? Those two division losses really, really hurt. So Washington's gotta run the friggin' table between now and January.

You can stop laughing now.


One rarely sees, in box scores or highlights, excellent Special Teams play unless it's some kickoff/punt return. But Sunday even NFL Primetime found the Redskins' punt coverage worthy of notice. From punter Tom "Borderline" Tupa's precision work to James Thrash's heads-up goal line stops, to the verrry rare punt block by Taylor "Tell It To My Heart" Jacobs and touchdown by Walt "On By" Harris, this squad won the game for Washington. What else can you ask of a team?

Also, lots of love to "Mr. President" Clinton Portis. Yes, it's true: when Portis runs for more than 100 yards, the Skins win. Portis put down more than 140 yards and did something Brunell couldn't: throw a touchdown.


Mark Brunell. 'Nuff said. And yep, I have a big bottle of Haterade on tap at home.


OFFENSE: C+ (I feel bad for penalizing Portis despite his excellent performance. He earned an A.)

DEFENSE: A (One field goal and one garbage time, desparate touchdown allowed? I'll take it. Hopefully Arrington will come back in time for the rest of the gauntlet that is our final weeks.)

Sp. TEAMS: A+ (Free drinks on me!)


Due to bye weeks for Atlanta and Jacksonville, I was forced to scrounge through the free agent castoffs for a team's quarterback. I went with the Giants, believing in Kutmasta Kurt Warner and the Giants offense's resurrection. I was mistaken. Warner threw two interceptions and fumbled twice. I earned five points. I did wisely go with my perennial defensive choice, Pittsburgh, who did not disappoint (3 points allowed, 4 sacks, 1 interception, 113 yards allowed). Accordingly, Owens was shut down. So tonight I wait for Brandon Stokely, Marcus Robinson, Mike Vanderjiggy and Mewelde Moore to give me 21 total points for the win over the Teddy Tax team.


One of my favorite coaches, Marvin Lewis, steps back into Landover with his Cincinnati Bengals. I'll be in the stands for this one. I'll analyze this later this week (promise!), but for now I like a Skins win, 16-10.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Week 8: Always Good on Paper

Washington 14, Green Bay 28

Maalox, anyone?

For the second time this season the temptation was to begin this Review with a bold, brazen accusation; one of those Clinton-esque "right-wing conspiracy" numbers directed with deadpan seriousness to the unnamed, well-funded, ne'er do wells who seek nothing more than the public humiliation of their target. Yes, I was gonna call out those Powers That Be, whose silent hand has sought to gently nudge the Washington Redskins into perennial mediocrity, despite hiring, drafting, and trading for very expensive personnel. By their evil doings players dedicate only 80% effort to the game, key injuries occur, coaches forget fundamental time management and crucially negative officiating calls beset important games.

But the reality is--stop me if you've heard this before--the Redskins ain't that good. It isn't the League's fault; can't blame the refs, the eclipse, the illegal motion rule or my sister Jennifer's past boyfriends. Well, maybe we could blame that guy who thought he was a rapper. ( The point is that Gibbs and this franchise have had the opportunity to win every game this season. Some, such as the Giants and Cowboys contests, should have been blowout wins. Through our consistent, self-inflicted wounds this team sits at an abysmal 2-5. Worse than at this point last year. I shudder at the Nielsen ratings for the December 18 matchup against San Francisco.

It occurred to me that the Redskins of the mid-90s to present represent every socialist's argument of why capitalism doesn't work. Under the theory of spend, spend, spend, in the last decade, this Washington team has one playoff appearance. You know the names that have been brought in: Marty Schottenheimer, Deion Sanders, Carrier, Bruce Smith, Steve Spurrier, Jeff George, etc. Teams like the Rams, Seahawks and Patriots have maintained lower profiles, in some cases taking castoff, low-wattage players and built solid foundations. Even in the age of free agency and hot players jumping teams these squads went from horrid to contenders. Monday Night Football reminded me how the New York Jets have somehow managed to survive losing Coles, Morton and Hall to Washington and still had a better record than us at season's end. (6-10 to our 5-11.) The next season, they're 6-1. I'm not suggesting that only the Redskins are covetously seeking Super Bowl trophies; our sin is that we're the team that has gone about getting them the wrong way.

I watched this game from the leather-bound-seat section of FedEx Field. And for three quarters this game was nearly a chore to watch. (Equally challenging was enduring the guttural, off-key attempts at harmonizing by my 112-year old neighbor. Hey, I like our society's elder generation. I do. But hearing him (or anyone) butcher every stadium song, from Beyonce to the Rolling Stones when you know he doesn't know the song only makes watching a losing game worse. Sigh. By the way, he had a message to the cheerleaders following their TV timeout dance presentation: "Y'all did a fantasic job. Now get off the field." Gotta like old folk.)

Speaking of departures, it is time to put Mark Brunell out to pasture. I suggested in Week 6 some parameters for benching Brunell...and sure enough he met 'em all. There was no first quarter touchdown, three passes clearly went over open receiver's heads, and on the Skins' fourth possession he threw an interception. Down 17-7 at halftime, the Redskins didn't have a drive of more than 31 yards. The fans were chanting for Ramsey and the offense was sputtering (our only score came after Shawn Springs' interception which placed the ball at the Green Bay 24). No better time to make the switch.

So Hang Your Head, Coach Gibbs. I feel bad even suggesting that this walking legend hold this week's award, but f'crying out loud, let your quarterback go. We needed this game to keep our slim playoff hopes mathematically viable and we mustered 14 total points. I don't believe our game plan was necessarily that flawed; nice to see a little trickery in the first quarter (though the onside kick to begin the second half was questionable in light of Gibbs stating pre-game that he didn't want to give Favre a short field to work from). But from my seats I thought Brunell wasn't nearly as sharp as he should've been, and with his previous slow starts I hoped Gibbs would cut losses at halftime and hope for a fresher, younger arm. Sam Huff, post-game, said it best: "this game was lost in the first half, not on that play in the second."

Maybe that's indicative of what's wrong with this team. I'm certain that in February, Joe Gibbs thought Mark Brunell looked like he had leadership and skill potential for his team. The dose of familiar, sadly repetitive reality begs me to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit: The Redskins aren't good. We're just drawn that way.

The defense bent, uncharacteristically allowing future Hall of Famer Brett Favre to execute his offense. But credit goes to defensive coach Gregg Williams for shutting down their offense when it mattered most, the fourth quarter. I was shocked how inaccurate Favre was down the stretch as they poorly attempted to run out the final give minutes. I suppose that speaks to his injured hand. Whatever. Fred Smoooot and Shawn Springs did an excellent job of making breaks on Brett's passes. I only wish Springs hadn't run out of bounds on his interception return. At the stadium, you could hear the groans when we realized that Brunell and the offense would have to take the field.

Now more than ever I believe Clinton Portis is the key to any Redskins win. He got the ball 17 times. That's not establishing the run, it's begging the defensive backs to play soft zones and wait for the ball to come their way. This is just silly. Why do you put the game on the shoulders of a quarterback who came into this game with 3 interceptions and 5 touchdowns? Did he suddenly become Joe Theismann during practice last week? Sheesh.

Sp. TEAMS: C (With Chad Morton now out for the year, we must rely on Ladell Betts and James Thrash to run back kicks. Egad.)
COACHES: D (Sorry Gregg Williams. You're on the staff and are guilty by association.)

Oy vey did we lay a stinker this week. I opted not to start Mike Vick, who got loose for 890,000 yards and three touchdowns, for Byron Leftwich, who apparently remained in the fetal position all afternoon. Except when he stood up and threw an interception. I mentioned last week that the Texans were one to watch, and they put it on the very good Jaguars defense, to my chagrin. Terrell "Dancin' Machine" Owens was my only standout, scoring a third of my 60 total points. I should've started the Pittsburgh defense against the Patriots, but who knew? Note to self: next time, don't listen to your notes to self.

hosts the Skins. The Lions remind me of the Texans a bit; they're unpredictably dangerous. They win on the road, lose at home. We've lost LaVar Arrington for another month, but I like what our defense can do. This squad will have to win the game, as I have no confidence that our offense can score more than 17 points. More discussion of this game later this week. For now, I'll say Skins win, 14-13.

Friday, October 29, 2004

¡Los Gigantes y Vikings combátalo fuera el domingo!

This is what happens when you take your NFL blog notes while sitting in court. With all that legalese (and hot air) flying about, I forgot to preview one of the bigger games this weekend 'twixt the New York Giants (4-2) and Minnesota Vikings (5-1).

I think this game's a gut check for the very surprising Giants. Until being snuffed out Sunday by the other Big Surprise, Detroit, Sábado Gigante was on a 3-game tear (including two wins in the NFC East). Kurt Warner and Tiki Barber, previously Fantasy Football lepers, were suddenly deliciously potent. For me, Tiki is the main reason the Giants have done so well this season. Look at Tiki's numbers this season, compared to last year: In six games, he has twice as many touchdowns (4), one more rush of 20+ yards, and already half the yards. Tiki's no Marshall-Marshall-Marshall, granted, but he has more receptions of 40+ yards than teammate Amani Toomer, Rams speedster Torry Holt, and New Orleans wideout Joe Horn. And he's still the 5th ranked runner in the league with 647 yards. He has almost 200 more yards of offensive production than fantasy wonderboy Priest Holmes. Wow.

Let's not forget that Kurt Warner's played extremely well this season, committing fewer mistakes. New York coach Tom Coughlin has done an excellent job--some might argue better than Gibbs--at taking a marginally talented group and turning them into winners.

Ah, but they travel to Minnesota, where they'll lose badly to the Vikings. Yep, I'm noting the result early. Randy Moss, my choice for Wide Receiver You Can't Cover, is listed as probable to play. "Probable" means he'll play more than the ridiculous, two-snap, starting-streak-saving nonsense he and the team pulled against Tennessee. But even if Randingo doesn't play much, the Giants need to be very afraid of quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who is battling the Egos' Donovan McNabb for Most Dangerous Quarterback. I remember recently, when the Vikes battled the Saints, and Culpepper lost Moss early to injury. Did he stop throwing? Heck no. IN fact, he still ended up with five touchdowns.

Couple that danger with the Minnesota's ability to run the ball, as displayed last week against the hapless Titans, with Mewelde Moore and the 14 other running backs they have on the roster.

If there's a chink in the near-perfect Vikings, it's um, the defense. They give up more than 350 yards and 21 points per game, and the Giants will need every bit of them to match the Vikings' point total. I don't think they can do it.

Have a safe weekend y'all. Don't eat the apples with knife blades in 'em.