Friday, October 29, 2004
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.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
GAMES EVEN YOUR MOMMA WOULD WATCH
At least once a season, there is one schedule of games that feature competitions between high-caliber, playoff-bound teams. These games will strongly define the mid-and late-season favorites. What's more, that same schedule treats viewers to second-tier, x-factor squads who few prognosticators picked to be in the running. These surprise teams are capable of making the kind of noise that warrants attention by the first-tier teams. Then there are games between marginal franchises, desparately hoping to avoid that fifth and playoff-hope-crushing loss.
Folks, Sunday's games will have all this and more. I'll start with what I estimate to be the Must See Game o' the Week and continue the list in descending order of importance.
(Who needs baseball? World Series, shmorld series. Gimme the NFL. Now that I think of Major League Baseball, shouldn't overseas teams be brought in to play in this "world" series? Why aren't Olympians called "world champions" if they actually best competitors from the rest of the planet? Now we know this doesn't apply to American rules football; the Rhine Fire and Cologne Centurions would get decimated by the "world champion" Patriots. I was just wondering. And digressing.)
Speaking of Brady and company, they headline this week's first Game Even Your Momma Would Watch...
New England (6-0) at Pittsburgh (5-1)
If there's one game clearly not to miss, it's this Clash of the AFC Titans. The Steelers step into this game, having had an extra week to watch game film of New England. Sure, the New York Jets had the same luxury and lost, but I feel better about Pitt's chances. The Steelers, on a four game winning streak, look to be one of the few teams balanced and talented enought to knock the Patriots from their ridiculous 21-game winning streak. I like their running game behind Duce "Philly Who?" Staley and Jerome "1st and Goal" Bettis, their receiving corps of Plaxico "Don't Laugh, it's What Mom Named Me" Burress and Hines "57" Ward. Most of all, Big Ben Roethliswigginberger looks to be solid gold. He has the smarts to hit hot reads, the accuracy to go long if necessary, and the strength to break defensive line arm tackles. And then there's the 6th-ranked Pittsburgh defense, one of the least-penalized in the NFL. I think they can produce some three-and-outs by stopping Patriots running back Corey Dillon and pressuring their Handsome Boy quarterback Tom Brady.
That said, I'm picking New England. C'mon, can you ever bet against a team that hasn't lost since Jimmy Carter was in office? Herman Edwards, Jets coach, expressed this week that it was his team's errors that brought the loss against the Patrios. Funny, that was the same thing Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy remarked following his team's defeat in this season's opening game. Pittsburgh will lose because, at some critical juncture you will make a mistake (be it missing a wide-open receiver on your team's last play like Jets QB Chad Pennington or fumbling like Colts RB Edgerrin James at the goal line). Hey, it might be a sack and fumble by Big Ben, it may be as "insignificant" as an easy touchdown pass dropped. This Patriot team doesn't blow opponents out of the water. They don't have to. They just hand you the rope and let you hang yourself.
To further the pressure on the Steelers, they have to win Sunday to stay a step ahead in the AFC North from a lil' team from the City of Crabcakes...
Baltimore (4-2) at Philadelphia (6-0)
For sheer entertainment value, this game can't be topped. On one stage, for one contest, you get all this:
1. Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense vs. McNabb, Owens, and the Eagles offense
2. Kyle Boller, with no Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap, or left tackle Jonathan Ogden vs. the Javon Kearse and the Eagles defense (minus Brian Westbrook)
3. A really good 4-2 team vs. an undefeated, Super Bowl favorite 6-0 team.
Only this Sunday game provides one of the stingiest, opportunistic defenses challenged by an multifaceted offense; then on alternate series you can watch a completely anemic quarterback attempt to complete passes against a defense earning 23 sacks this season.
And then there's Ray Lewis vs. Terrell Owens. Sure, the odds of T.O. going across the middle, into Ray's Gonna Hit You territory are slim, but the mere idea of it happening is enough to keep even your momma glued to the screen. Surely somebody's going to get barkin' and shovin', and that's when this could turn into Jimmy Snuka vs. Tony Atlas. (Yes, I'm dating myself with that reference.) If I'm Terrell Owens, I take a moment to watch Laveranues Coles get pasted by Sir Ray on Monday Night Football on a crossing route and imagine how long Coles felt that hit.. With Owens' recent anti-Ravens comments, on top of his public disdain with playing in Baltimore, I suspect Owens should be on the lookout for his personal safety.
The strange thing about Terrell Owens is that hardly anyone outside of teammates like him, and coaches gameplan defenses agaisnt him, yet for this season, no one can stop him from getting open. And with "Chunky Soup" Mc Nabb more accurate than ever, the balls are getting to T.O. when and how they should. The results are dramatic. Sports Illustrated just dedicated a whole article to how dangerous this offense has become in one season. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2004/football/nfl/10/26/bc.fbn.eagles.bigplays.ap/index.html
For the Ravens, I really don't know how they win this game without offensive points. Chester Taylor at running back isn't bad, but in Buffalo he didn't remind anyone of Jailbait Lewis. Less than 100 yards through the air won't cut it against the high-scoring Eagles offense. I'd be happy to entertain any theories on what Boller and the boys can effectively do to win this game.
Another aside: Am I reading the NFL news straight? Facing a tough schedule with a marginal-at-best quarterback and without their Pro Bowl running back, the Ravens don't make any waiver pickups at wide receiver? But they bring back who-dat wideout Patrick Johnson? What, Antonio Bryant, Quincy Morgan and Jerry Rice weren't good enough for Baltimore?
The Eagles are the better balanced team (even without injured Brian Westbrook), and woe to the Ravens if their defense doesn't score two touchdowns. The Egos continue undefeated.
Atlanta (5-2) at Denver (5-2)
Talk about two teams looking to right a once-steady ship. The Falcons are coming of a shellacking by Kansas City 56-10, where their league-leading rush defense gave up a record eight touchdowns on the ground. Fantasy Fraud Michael Vick was a pitiful 7 of 21 for a Boller-like 119 yards. Egad.
Denver, on the other hand, fell at home on Monday Night Football to previously one-win Cincinnati, allowing big talkin' wideout Chad Johnson to torch Champ Bailey and the highly ranked Denver defense for 149 yards. Sure, Denver's running game still shines (Reuben Droughns ran for 110), but the offense failed on 9 of 15 3rd down conversions. (And as Madden keeps reminding me on my PlayStation, "3rd downs are a keeper stat!") Jake Plummer didn't perform well either, tossing two interceptions and getting sacked three times.
But in proper perspective, that was just one game. But this Sunday's game is a Must See because, for Denver, a loss to Atlanta and a win by the 4-3 SanDiego SuperChargers (who face the weak Oakland Raiders) tightens the AFC West. The Falcons own the NFC South--for now--so a loss for Atlanta wouldn't be as damaging. But the Atlanta faithful (as well as most fantasy football owners) are wondering what in the name of Steve Bartkowski is wrong with Vick. He went from Mr. Excitement to Mr. Invisible in just one season. We're still waiting to see the now-healthy Vick light up the league as the advanced billing advertised.
I think the Denver defense had an off night, and won't give a repeate performance. Even with the untimely loss of preseason stud Quentin Griffin, Denver avenges the Monday night embarrassment with a win at home by pressuring Vick, who inexpliably remains cemented to the pocket. Get out and run, man! Get me some fantasy points!
Jacksonville (5-2) at Houston (3-3)
Division games = always fun. Yes, I know Houston is a .500 team and seems to annually pique casual fans' interest with a couple of victories only to slip into midseason mediocrity. Consider my interest nonetheless piqued. This game features the favorite preseason pick Jaguars against the upstart Texans. I like this game because it features the top 10 Houston offense, led by David Carr and Andre Johnson against a Jaguars D that (relatively speaking) contained the Indianapolis Colts. I like that Jacksonville manages weekly last-minute wins with a one-legged quarterback. (Leftwich is working hard to become the next Steve McNair.) And it's Houston who, with a win, could go 2-0 in their division and tie Indy for second place in the AFC South. They'd end up a mere one game behind Jacksonville.
The deeper team wins here, and that's the Jaguars. They'll win this one, and begin pulling away with their division lead. Let me add that I like the Texans as a young, hungry team, though I rarely get to see them play. Or it could be a natural reflex from hating that other Texas team.
NFL Season Pass viewers may want to tune in to the Green Bay (3-4) at Washington (2-4), Detroit (4-2) at Dallas (2-4) and Cincinnati (2-4) at Tennessee (2-5) games to see one of these four-loss squads scramble to salvage their season. Cincinnati is in the worst position, having four losses--three of them in their division; Washington isn't much better with 2 losses to Sábado Gigante and the Cowchips. Green Bay has their work cut out for them, with the surprising Detroit Lions in better position for an NFC wild card birth in the NFC North. There's no guarantee that a fifth loss ends the season, but it would take a surprise (bigger than a Ashlee Simpson/Milli Vanilli Karaoke CD) to not fall into the category of NFL Have-Nots. The winners here are Washington, Detoit, and Tennessee. That's right, I said Tennessee.
Rounding out the weekend is the equivalent of Twinkie filler, courtesy games between Arizona (2-4) at Buffalo (1-5), San Francisco (1-5) at Chicago (1-5), the once-mighty Carolina (1-5) at Seattle (3-3), and Oakland (2-5) at San Diego (4-3). Monday Night Football will get some low ratings since it features Miami (1-6) at New York Jets (5-1). Emitt "Ponce DeLeon" Smith and the Cardinals win, while paper champion Seattle pulls out a victory . I also like San Diego and the Jets to win easily.
I won't be able to see most of the above action, as I'll be in attendance at FedEx Field for the Skins/Packers game. If you see anyone on TV with a huge afro and futuristic sunglasses, that's me. I look forward to a good episodes next week of NFL Primetime and Inside the NFL.
What's my pick for the Redskins game? Word on the street is that LaVar Arrington will play, despite reinjuring himself during the bye week. That should make the Skins defense--now ranked #1--all the better against an explosive Packers offense. Did y'all see them humiliate Parcells' boys Sunday? Took their manhood. I had Dallas fans writing me for comfort. Now that's a loss.
Washington wins, 24-21. I know I'm dreaming that the Skins' offense can score 24 points, but the Packers defense has given up the most points in the league, 172, next to the Saints and Raiders (191 and 181 respectively). Surely, surely Portis can run for 100 and Coles can get two touchdowns. And remember what I mentioned last week: if Brunell screws up, put in Patrick Ramsey.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
The first thing astute readers should note is that King's observations are based upon watching the Redskins one time. That's right--he's seen the Skins play just once, last Sunday against the Chicago Bears. I don't doubt Peter "Double Latte" King knows football. But by his own admission he didn't attend their training camp and missed seeing them in September. (Too busy talking with Patriot's coach Belichek and Packers QB Brett Favre, I assume.) Had he actually seen more than NFL Films highlights, he would know that we are two blown pass interference plays from .500. Hardly reason to be a harbinger of doom.
Second, King suggests that Washington needs good draft picks to stay afloat in today's NFL, and he won't get them. Yet he begins the article praising the Skins' first draft choice, Sean Taylor, as a future big star. Um, wasn't Gibbs the coach back in Spring when Taylor was chosen? Further, the #2 ranked Washington defense (who get more praise in the column) is currently buoyed by low draft picks while Arrington, Bowen, and other second/third tier players are out. The message? It ain't what you get so much as what you do with what you've got. Did somebody say "Patriots?" Or "Texans?" And because the Skins haven't drafted well in the past seasons they won't draft well in the future? That's what people used to say about the Bengals. Things change.
Now that I think about it, I probably should've said all that in my letter to his mailbag. Ah well. I did post a link to this blog. Maybe he can sit down with a mocha hazlenut single-pump action splitfire cinnamon beverage and read it for himself. Somebody's gotta protect the Skins' image. Might as well be me.
Here's what I wrote in to the mailbag:
Peter, love your column! I strongly disagree with your assessment of Coach Gibbs. Washington CAN win a Super Bowl with Gibbs; it may not be this season, but success will come because Gibbs knows the strengths of fundamental football: tackling, ball control, few mistakes. It was the hallmark of those Super Bowl teams I've watched since my youth. Granted, there have been some time-clock issues, but even with a subpar quarterback and suspect early running, the Redskins have been in every game this season. Imagine when things begin to gel as the season progresses!
Today's NFL players, with their high-priced, short-term value, will never alter what makes good football. Gibbs may stay with Brunell longer than he should, but with this solid defense and (finally) a strong running game, we can win (et tu, Ravens?). You noted that the Skins have been within 7 of every loss; even at 2-4, we're a much better squad than under Spurrier. The future is definitely brighter than you imply!
As an aside, check out my thoughts on weekly Redskins action at my blog: http://RedskinsReview.blogspot.com. Thanks!
Monday, October 18, 2004
I anticipated this game between two one-win franchises to be a less than thrilling affair. In fact, I opted to take my wife to Jo-Ann's Fabrics in Greenbelt while she and my cousin Adriane looked for stuff (I believe they called it "fabric") instead of watch every play. I apparently wasn't alone in this pregame assessment: Beltway Plaza was filled with burgundy and gold-wearing shoppers.
I managed to catch up on the action by slipping into Three Brother's Pizza, which had some of the Washington faithful slurping oysters and Coronas on barstools while cursing at the bar TVs. Funny thing was that many stores had the Redskins game on; sometimes it was just audio or, like Bootleg Hat Shop, flickering on 8" black and white TVs. Ah, feels like home.
Knowing that I'd miss some of the contest's play-by-play nuances, I sought to employ an official Redskin Review Game Tracker, who would study the game in my stead to highlight those critical moments that turned the tide for either team. Who did I entrust to bear this heavy load? My 10 year old sister-in-law, Valencia. Don't laugh. She knows the game. Well, she does now that I explained where the score was on the screen, what the CHI and WAS graphics meant, who had the ball, where they were going, why players pat each other's butts, and which one is not Ray Lewis. As I confidently handed the newly-ordained Game Tracker some scrap paper and a fuzzy-tipped Barbie pencil, I was saddened to learn from her that "Um, I don't write on weekends."
I say that all, then, to say that I didn't get to analyze as much on this game as usual. But a few things were clear to me from the partial 1st and 4th quarters I witnessed:
- Clinton Portis and the offensive line are finally performing up to task.
- The Redskins defense is a solid, real deal squad who dictate more than react. (That is, unless the other team is from Dallas, has no running back, and whose quarterback is 89 years old. In that case, let 'em score on a halfback option pass. That one still stings. But I'm not, you know, bitter or nuthin' about it.)
- Mark Brunell may want to invest in a good, comfortable seat cushion before November.
That's right, I now own a ticket on the Sit Mark Down Express. (No local stops.) It isn't the interceptions that turn me sour, though they be plentiful (3 INTs/5 TDs) and painful. It is the gametime ineffectiveness that I abhor. He has completed just over 50% of his passes, passed for more than 200 yards once (against the Cowgirls), and has a current rating (69.8) below Jeff Garcia (79.8), pine-ridin' Brad Johnson (79.5) and 'Frisco kid Tim Rattay (92.5). Aside from the Dallas game, Brunell has 492 yards in four games. In one game, against this same Chicago team, Daunte "Fantasy Dream QB" Culpepper put up 360! On Sunday, Washington needed President Clinton to put up more than 170 rushing yards, considering that against this 20th-ranked pass defense, Brunell lit the skies for a total of 95 yards.
An aside: anyone notice that our Big Three (Brunell/Portis/Coles) have provided touchdowns for the opposition against the Bucs, the Giants, the Ravens and the Bears? In those games, our offense scored 16, 14, 10, and 13 points. I'm no mathecologist, but with Brunell at the helm of the offense, we cannot afford to spot the enemy any points. Minnesota Vikings we are not.
Speaking of other teams, how 'bout that Pittsburgh rookie phenom Ben Rothlesiwhithgerberger? I caught the second half of his dissection of the Cowchip defense. Now THIS is a productive quarterback: 21 of 25 for 193 yards and 2 touchdowns. With the Steelers down 20-10 in the 4th period, facing multiple Dallas blitz packages, he scrambled for first downs, avoided getting sacked, and completed 11 straight passes (including a sweet, desperate option pass to a tight end). Big Ben is for real, and it made me long for the youthful energy of Patrick Ramsey. Yes, I know Ramsey is no Rothleshibeggarberger.
Now I know conventional coaching wisdom says to not bench a QB after they win a game. Coach Gibbs, I bow to your knowledge, but let me suggest that if any of the following occur against the Green Bay "Lemon Pants" Packers, please can convention and resurrect the Pharaoh:
- Zero offensive points in the first quarter. The Pack are 20th in overall defense, 15th against the pass. C'mon.
- A clearly quarterback-caused turnover. That's right, I'm giving Brunell just one.
- Three one-hop or way overthrown passes clearly not caused by unusual defensive pressure.
Now, if Brunell manages to get a pass into the end zone, then cool. Keep him in. (By my rules he would've stayed in against the Bears.) But a second evaluation should be done after the defense adjusts in the second and third periods. Sounds fair, right? I hope not. It's time to return to some balanced offense.
Since I can't give out a Hang Your Head Award this week, let me instead list some Teams That I Fear. These teams possess, in my estimation, the best chances of beating everyone else in the league. Every game against each other is Must See Football. They are, in no particular order: Indinapolis, New England, Minnesota, Seattle, and, um, the Philly Egos. I might even throw in the Jaguars, who posses The Quarterback Who Would Not Die, Byron Leftwich. Bet the Ravens wish they'd taken him when they had the chance, eh?
Portis running the ball = win. It's simple.
I again commend defensive guru Gregg Williams for his hyperaggressive blitzing in the 4th quarter. It is a thing of beauty to see linebackers up the gut one play, then a full-speed corner attack from the blind side on the next play. Hats off to rookie stud Sean Taylor for nabbing his first, and game-clinching, interception. If you don't have the Skins' defense in your fantasy league, shame on you.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK
Brunell and the passing game are just short of embarassing. Somewhere Art Monk, Gary Clark, and the rest of the Fun Bunch are rolling their eyes.
Sp. TEAMS: B (Believe it or not, I heard an interesting commentary about special teams on the fake Tony Bruno broadcast inside the Madden 2005 game. A "caller" noted how coaches always say their teams need to execute on all three fronts, yet put low draft picks and who-dat men on kickoff coverage. If it's equally important, why don't the best players cover kickoffs and punts? Don't coaches care about field position, or are they just protecting their Randy Mosses and LaDaininan Thomlinsons from injury? Inquiring minds want to know.)
COACHES: C+ (Okay, I'm making this and the Special Teams ones up. Somebody help me.)
FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES
Sweet mother of mercy. The Young Avengers looked to rebound from last week's subpar performance, and did so with vengeance. With Marshall Faulk still to play, my boys have dropped the hammer on the Predators. Actually, my opponent forgot to make his lineup legal, so I won by forfeit. But oh, what a win. Wisdom said bench Mike Vick and start the Jacksonville QBs, and they produced 37 points as a reward. Waiver Wire Wonder RB Mewelde Moore got loose for 109 rushing, 78 receiving, and my receiver combo of Marcus Robinson, T.O. and David Patten produced 213 yards and three touchdowns. Mmm, that's tasty. The Avengers, current champs of the Festivus Maximus league, are now poised to knock the very evil 4Gen Warriors from first place in our division.
Bye week. Skins win, 13-10. Just kidding. Hopefully during the time off, Gibbs can re-evaluate his passing attack and perhaps forge ahead into new waters with Sir Ramsey. Fred "Kamikaze" Smoot can take the week and sit in the sauna. Seriously, was it me or did he get hurt every time he made a tackle? Save some for November, man!
One final note: this week's Review is, officially, the first posted via web log. I hope to maintain this blog until either I get a paid gig or Blogger.com starts charging for the service....in which case the Redskins Review will live on in some other free means. Hope any first-time readers enjoy my thoughts and visit often.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
This is when it’s hard to be a Redskins fan. In the days following a heartbreaking, jaw-dropping Sunday choke, Washington faithful have to cope with the annual, awful truth:
The Redskins ain’t that good.
That’s right, I said it. Bad English and all. Oh sure, we didn’t have a monumental collapse versus Baltimore as, say, Green Bay did against Tennessee Monday night. (48 points allowed at Lambeau?!?) And yeah, we don’t lose 10 games every season, as the Arizona Cardinals. And our fans haven’t had to wear paper bags (et tu, Saints?).
For Redskins fans, it is the untapped, unrealized potential that every year leaves us disappointed. This organization continues to headline offseason transactions, free agent acquisitions, and on-paper rankings. The Washington organization, according to Forbes, is the most valuable in the league. Yet, come week five, playoff dreams are hard to come by.
Moreover, we must endure endless taunting from fans of nearly every team…this year even the Raiders and Texans can point and laugh. Cornerback Fred Smoot recently said that in the NFL, “nobody fears us.”
Our perennial problem is imbalance, and nowhere else was this clearer than Sunday night against them Ravens. Washington provided a dominating defensive effort, wussy offensive display. Add in a special teams gaff and voila—big loss on the national stage to a very beatable team.
Hats off to Baltimore, who did exactly what everyone expected them to do and still won. Their formula is well known, simply executed, but devastatingly effective: stifle their offense, run Jamal Lewis. That’s it. Sure enough, the Ravens defense allowed 107 yards of Redskin offense and scored on a forced turnover while Jamal eventually ran for 116.
For 30 minutes there, I (and most people in the state of Maryland) thought this game was essentially over. Baltimore “quarterback” Kyle Boller threw three first half interceptions, Jailbait Lewis managed only19 yards on the ground, and the Skins eked out 10 points. An improbable Washington shutout (when was the last time we saw that in the regular season?) was on its way.
Can you imagine the scene at halftime?
Coach Billick: Son, you’re killing us out there. We will lose if you keep throwing passes.
Kyle Boller: You…you’re…gonna bench me?
Billick: Don’t be stupid. I want you under center. Just hand off to Jamal. I’ll tell you when you’ll try another pass.
Boller: Handoffs for two quarters? Why don’t you just have Kordell Stewart do that?
Billick: (clearly annoyed) Because we trust him even less than you.
And so it was. Boller threw, by my count, three second-half passes. Three. And he still managed a one-hop pass. But who needed an air game when THE REDSKINS COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY COLLAPSED UNDER THE WEIGHT OF THEIR MEDIOCRITY INTO A FLAMING BALL OF FAILURE, NOT UNLIKE THE HINDENBURG.
In a close, defensive contest, it can take but one play, one player error, to turn the game. I nominate, for this week’s Hang Your Head Award, to Washington running back Ladell Betts. The name may not be familiar, but everyone with ESPN knows his number: 46. That was on the jersey of the player who watched Ravens safety Ed Reed, at warp factor five, run by on his way to sack Mark Brunell in the third quarter. Everybody misses a block, sure, but this was a monumental mistake.
Brunell had actually called the right play, rolling to his left. Reed came from the right side, and Betts was right there to protect the blind side with a block, chip, or even by putting a hand on Reed. He did none of the above, and Reed stripped Brunell and recovered the fumble. Here’s where you really earn a Hang Your Head Award: Betts was the only player (because he watched the whole catastrophe) with a good opportunity to tackle Reed once he gained his bearings and streaked toward the end zone. If Betts makes this tackle, the Ravens take over, the fresh Redskin defense takes the field, and probably give up a field goal. Betts failed us a second time, and The Worst 3rd Quarter In A Long Time officially began. Sir, hang your head.
Not to toot the ol’ horn, but I told the Skins to watch out for this. Avoid sacks, I said. Find the hot reads, I said. Score twenty points, I said. Against the Chiefs, Jamal Lewis stood on the sidelines and could only watch in the fourth quarter. In our game, he was between the tackles, wearing down our linebackers and secondary. The Skins’ defense was impenetrable in the first half, and I enthusiastically applaud their valiant effort. In my humble opinion, the only difference between them and us defensively was the Ed Reed play. But with no special teams and offense support, the D had to eventually break. Alas.
So here we are again, another week, another offensive display by the offense. Lots of love to Laveranues “Rock Me Tonight” Coles, who got open for three catches for 25 yards. Note to Laveranues: if you’re going over the middle, go ahead and catch the ball. You’re going to get hit anyway. It’ll hurt but y’know, that’s what you’re paid to do. Speaking of paychecks, former president Clinton Portis can now officially give back half of the last four games’ salary. He hasn’t earned it.
Mark “Hambone” Brunell…man, I’m trying to fight for keeping him as starter. I really am. He looked uncomfortable on nearly every pass, and launched the only highlight this season for Deion “Look Ma!” Sanders. Bench him? Do we summon the Pharaoh? Is the high-priced experiment over?
I’m certain that someone’s going to complain about falling for the banana-in-the-tailpipe, fake Deion reverse by B.J. “Wholesale” Sams. Actually, I thought it was a brilliant call, perfectly timed, and produced a game-altering triple play: it scored seven points, the woeful Ravens offense stayed off the field, and the pressure immediately shifted to the inept Redskin offense. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Redskins fans hope against hope that the season can be turned around. After the week 7 bye, we play some beatable teams: Green Bay, Detroit, and Cincinnati. Then things get ugly: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Los Gigántes de Nuevo York, then Philadelphia. After a gimme game against San Fran, we face the Cowchips and Minnesota. I ain’t Nostradamus, but unless Coach Gibbs and company can right this $1 billion sinking ship, we’re staring down a 7-9 season.
And that is the reality of being a Redskin fan.
Defensive guru Gregg Williams has more than earned my respect. His squad did exactly what this team asked them to do, in the end only surrendering three points. They kept Jailbait from breaking anything decent until the second half. Their shoulders were simply overburdened by the offense.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Mark Brunell didn’t make the necessary hot reads, the receivers rarely got open, the running game was a joke. Perhaps Mr. Portis really is a product of the Denver coach Mike Shanahan’s system…
OFFENSE: Z – (That’s “z-minus.” Last time I gave these to a squad was October 16, 2001. Michael Westbrook and Tony Banks were on the team. Shudder.)
DEFENSE: A- (I do hope this game doesn’t begin locker room division…)
Sp. TEAMS: C-
COACHES: B (The plan looked good on paper, and for 30 minutes I was calling the coaching staff geniuses. “Can it be that it was all so simple then…”)
FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES
The Young Avengers took a big L this week to the Untouchables, no thanks to Michael
Vick’s continuing slump. Big Wes suggested I tell him to make less commercials and concentrate on not getting sacked. The big pickup for the Avengers was Minnesota RB Mewelde Moore, who earned 182 total yards. Everybody else gets the gas face. Thankfully, Terrell Owens comes back from a bye…
The 1-3 Bears welcome us Chicago. Something tells me it won’t be NFL Primetime’s Prime Cut. Who’s quarterbacking the Bears—Wade Wilson? Ricky Schroeder? Bueller? Bueller?
I’d say more, but I can’t get out of my head the image of Deion Sanders showboating his interception. Curse you, Deion. Curse you and your seed.
Skins win, 16-10.
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Joe Gibbs rode into Washing-town on his virtual white horse amid a peaceful aura, the sunlight shimmering from the three Super Bowl trophies in his sidesaddles. Yes, this was the man who would restore Redskins football to Redskins football. No longer would this talented team be the butt of NFL commentator jokes; nor would people wonder aloud how this team is consistently high-profile but low-production. (Paging Ms. Hilton. Ms. Paris. Hilton.) Daniel Snyder, oft-maligned for meddling with coaching plans, believed Chief Gibbs would provide the stability and leadership he has so desperately wanted since becoming majority owner.
Nonetheless, here we are. 1-3 following a loss to the Browns. Of Cleveland. Cleveland.
This was a game we could see in the Spring and smile confidently, knowing that this would probably be a win. Seasons change, people change, but Cleveland stinkin’ up their division hasn’t changed in more than a decade. Cleveland has a low-ranked defense, a questionable offense, and a new quarterback in the system. Surely we, the National Football League’s highest paid team and highest paid coach, should put the smackdown on said Browns. Surely. To quote Chris Berman of ESPN: “And that’s why they play the game!”
I had a dream last night, after watching the Baltimore Raisins drop an important prime-time game at home (déjà vu!), that quarterback Mark Brunell was benched. He wasn’t replaced by Patrick “Pharaoh” Ramsey or Tim “Tool Time” Hasselbeck. No, in my slumber I imagined the Redskins quarterbacked by Kurt Warner. Yes, that Kurt Warner. The one with three wins, one loss, one interception, and lots of love in New York. He is, sadly, the very same gentleman who found himself sitting on the waiver wire by the St. Louis Rams in the Spring. I dunno what happened with him under center for us; my dream quickly shifted to some scenario involving Prince and the Revolution’s 1985 Purple Rain concert, Tony Roma’s ribs, and Sade. More on that some other time.
The point I’m hoping to make is that with Brunell as starting quarterback, we’ve won one game. Sunday against a mediocre defense he helped us convert one of eleven third downs. Sure Brunell played hard against the Cowchip defense last week; but we had to scramble to score in the 4th quarter because of ineffectiveness in the first 30 minutes of play. Brunell did not look poised during his time against the mediocre defense of the Giants. And the hard truth is that the Tampa defense never faced much of a passing threat even in their loss. I’m not requesting Brunell’s head in a chicken box, but I’m giving him one, maybe two games to show some proficiency. The bleeding has to stop.
The rest of our highly talented offense shouldn’t rest easy either. It is inconceivable that Coles and Portis are playing at such substandard levels. Sure, Coles had over 100 yards receiving, but no one cares about your numbers if you can’t hold onto the ball. (Somebody must’ve shared this with Tiki Barber in the offseason.) The same goes for Portis, who apparently forgot how he successfully rushed for over 250 times without a fumble. That’s not a coaching issue, that’s a player issue—I doubt he’s being coached to hold the ball less securely now that he’s with the Skins.
I could go on with the penalties and mistakes that prevented the Skins from going up 21-3 in the first half and cruising in the second, but I’d rather offer Gibbs and our coaching staff a suggestion or two on How To Manage Time Outs:
- Don't use them
- I said, don't use them.
I am not joking about this. Unless we need to stop the other team from using the clock or a fumble/interception call is blatantly wrong, we should padlock those suckers until midway through the second and fourth quarters. And by blatant, I mean as obvious that Shark Tale is an urban ripoff of Finding Nemo…that The Empire Strikes Back is easily the best Star Wars film ever…that The Matrix should’ve ended after the first film. Crystal clear.
On two successive weeks we’ve squandered time outs and challenges on formation issues and questionable calls. We lost those games. If we’re 3-1, every team’s keeping an eye on the Skins, Gibbs is walking on water, and Snyder’s considering opening yet another section of seats in FedEx Field. But no, we’re 1-3, looking up at the Cowchips, Sábado Gigánte, and the Egos. That’s us, bottom feeders of the NFC East.
The optimist in me says that that there are plenty of good teams sitting with three losses right now. The Tennessee Titans, with their bionic quarterback Steve McNair, come to mind. As do Green Bay and the Cincinnati Bengals. Few teams are looking dominant, except Philly, the Falcons, Colts, Seahawks, and Patriots. Maybe the Jaguars. But that’s it. Everyone else is scramblin’ for wins and respectability. Right now, we have little of either.
Please, Mr. Gibbs, Mr. Coles, Mr. Portis, Mr. Brunell. Get it together. Soon.
We do, fortunately, have a solid, fourth-ranked defense. Hats off to Gregg Williams, perhaps the most productive offseason acquisition, for allowing the fans to stay interested in Redskin games come the fourth quarter. If not for our defense, well, we’d be the Miami Dolphins.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
It’s fashionable now to hoist the coaching staff on a stick and call them out of touch senior citizens. I’ll resist that urge, and note that the play calling and offensive schemes look to be very competent and successful…on paper. This offense is bogging itself down with holding calls, false starts, and illegal motions. On the plays that do execute, Coles drops balls, Gardner disappears, and Portis runs for a total of 60 yards. That ain’t good football.
OFFENSE: C- (If you can’t put up points on the Browns, who can you score on? Insert Jennifer Lopez joke here.)
DEFENSE: B+ (I’ll allow giving up a long drive here and there; but the offensive turnovers are forcing them to defend short fields and that stinks.)
Sp. TEAMS: C
COACHES: C- (I’m going to write the Skins and see if Gibbs and I can play a game or two of Madden. Just to get him up to speed on how football may have changed since the early ‘90s.)
FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES
I’m happy to report that the Young Avengers have vanquished their greatest foe, the heretofore-undefeated Black Birds. My boys put up 99 points behind Marshall Faulk, Terrell Owens, and the Steelers’ D. The ‘Birds have run through their first three games, pounding foes with more than 100 cumulative points per game. This week: 75. The Young Avengers shall not be denied another fantasy championship!
That’s the fun part of bragging in Fantasy Football. You get to pretend that your team actually had any part in the other team’s final score. This, of course, is hogwash.
Baltimore looks to rebound from watching Priest Holmes and the winless Chiefs smack around the Ravens defense for almost 400 yards. I didn’t think there were blatant chinks in the Baltimore strength, but they sure were exposed Monday night. And their weaknesses sure were evident.
So the Skins can win this one, and here’s what we need to do:
Drug Ray Lewis. Sedate him, tranquilize him, take his shoes, I don’t care. But when he’s off his game, as he was last night, he can be single-blocked by lineman and fullbacks. (And whine about it!) That opens running lanes, some of which head straight at him. Kansas City had average receivers, so Billick knew Priest was going to run the ball a lot. And the D still couldn’t stop him from 100 yards and two touchdowns. That susceptibility starts with Mr. EA Sports.
Don’t be afraid to attack the Ravens cornerbacks. Hey, I like Ed Reed and Chris McAllister, but last night Trent “Money” Green was like Daredevil—the man without fear—and threw at, under, and over the Baltimore defensive backs. Granted, Johnnie Morton and the Chiefs’ receivers had to make difficult catches, but Coles and Gardner are talented enough to get open. Whether they can actually catch the ball is the more pertinent issue.
Avoid sacks. I’m talking to you, Brunell. Trent Green, not known for his mobility, made more than two critical plays, escaping takedowns then completing passes to now wide-open receivers or scrambling more than ten yards for first downs. The Ravens defenders didn’t stay with their assignments and they paid for it. The Redskins should expect pressure and adjust accordingly, dumping passes to fullbacks or other hot reads. It’s well known that when the defense blitzes, somebody’s open.
Score 20 points. The Ravens looked anemic through the air. Kyle “Don’t Call Me Dilfer” Boller is not an accurate quarterback and should not be the future for the Ravens. Tell Billick I said so. Boller’s passes wobbled, he short-hopped one or two, and simply did not look sharp when the game was on the line. Ergo, the Redskins need to force him to make the plays to win. In the critical moments of the fourth quarter, Jamal Lewis could only stand on the sidelines and contemplate how stupid it is to deal kilos of cocaine when you’re guaranteed millions of dollars in professional football. In short: if Kyle Boller’s the answer, you’re asking the wrong question.
Presuming that the Ravens defense doesn’t score two touchdowns, Skins win, 20-10.
Friday, October 01, 2004
How ‘bout them Cowboys? What a game Bill “I Own Gibbs” Parcells put together last night, outfoxing the Redskins when it counted and winning a big game on the prime time stage. This game was hyped to be an old school chess match between masters of motivation and play calling, but when the game was on the line, which team executed better? Gotta say the Tuna showed he’s in the upper echelon of NFL coaches, scripting a win with a moderately talented team.
Look at the Big D defense that earned five sacks, haunted Laveranues Coles into disappearing from the passing game, and put the Skins in pass-happy mode for half the contest. All-Pro Roy Williams apparently acquired Ray Lewis’ technology to clone himself because he appeared to be in two and three places at once. Dallas limited the potent Redskins running game, including stopping the Redskins from scoring on three plays from the one yard line. Mark Brunell completed passes, but the blitzing cornerbacks and agile defensive linemen made him pay for the completions. I thought Brunell was finished after getting pasted in the fourth quarter! Apart from one stupendously stupid roughing the passer penalty, the D came through.
It was the Cowboy offense, though, that looked the most impressive. The stat box won’t shine, but it does reflect one important fact: Dallas converted important third downs. Ritchie Anderson, Joey Galloway, and even Keyshawn Johnson made critical receptions to keep drives moving. Tight End Jason Witten continues to emerge as a go-to short yardage receiver, collecting a backbreaking touchdown in the third quarter (following a huge 3rd down, 47 yard wideout reception over Fred Smoot). Call him old if you want, but Vinny Testaverde looked smooth, rarely rattled, and fairly accurate. The Redskins certainly helped by not blitzing as effectively as they did against the Buccaneers in Week One.
Dallas may not be the best team in the NFC East, but last night showed that they certainly aren’t the worst.
I had to say all that, thank you, Washington Redskins. I put my keyboard where my mouth was and bet Cowboy fan Joseph Lim that, if the Skins won he’d have to decorate his office with pictures of Gibbs & Company; if Dallas won I would write favorably of the Cowpies—I mean, Cowboys. This is harder than I thought.
The temptation was to title this Review “WE WUZ ROBBED!!” but the truth is that Washington made just enough errors to allow the officials to determine the outcome of the game. I know that probably reads as a suggestion of impropriety; maybe I want it to be. Two end zone pass interference plays went against Washington. Both were obviously called (or not called, in the Rod Gardner 4th quarter play) in error, and in a realistic way gave Dallas 7 points and denied Washington 7 points. That’s a big swing. In such an evenly matched game, that kind of bonehead officiating can spell doom.
Last week I suggested that the Redskins’ offense needed to establish the pass more. What we saw Monday night was not what I meant. Even Dallas fans were surprised that Clinton Portis (you remember him: he coughed up the ball twice against the Giants) did not carry the offensive load. He had no touchdowns and less than 90 yards rushing. Granted, the Skins fell behind; but watching the very game Brunell dropping back on four consecutive plays caused me wonder if offensive coordinator Don Breaux (who looks more like the Warner Bros. Abominable Snowman than any man should) was inspired by Peyton Manning. Text message, Don: wE R noT tha COltz.
The Redskins violated Rule #1 in goal line offense at the end of the first half: Play Action on 1st Down. Simply put, defenses notoriously focus on runs when pressed at the goal line. Offenses, therefore, should line up for power running but send a tight end, fullback, heck, send an offensive tackle to the weak side of the defense and you’ve got an easy score. I’ve been yelling this at televisions for more than ten years now. Madden also noted that a Brunell naked bootleg would’ve worked too.
To make matters worse, the Skins simultaneously violated Rule #43 in goal line offense: when the defense is on the ropes, keep your momentum. Y’all know I love Gibbs, but he overruled his staff and called a timeout when Coles reached the one yard line. If the offense had rushed up to the line, set, even audibled for 10 seconds, the D would not have been ready even for a Portis dive or the eventually called Brunell limp. (A play action then would’ve been a thing of beauty.) Those four points sure seem valuable now.
Even more valuable are the timeouts that the Skins burned in the second half. (Brunell to Sellers, frantically: “No, no, over there! #$%@$!!”) Doesn’t matter how talented your team is—and we can all agree that Washington had more talent on the field Monday—if you squander two timeouts on the same drive in the third quarter you’re scripting a 4th quarter, last minute, desperation drive.
Parcells 1, Gibbs 0.
Mark Brunell quietly went from injury benching to starting and showed Skins fans why we should believe in him. He had a very good night, compiling no interceptions (OK, a couple were close) and two touchdowns. Brunell stood tall in the face of good Dallas pressure and performed roll outs from the pocket to perfection. His passes were crisper than any we’ve seen from him. His final touchdown to Gardner was more than a bit Brett Favre-ish: risky scramble, bullet pass. Guess I can’t call him “Hammy Time” now.
Rod Gardner passed the Parkay to Coles and established himself as a bona fide deep threat. That’s good news for us, bad news for upcoming defenses who’ll have to gamble on which wideout to double cover. That should leave fan favorite tight end Chris Cooley (CHRIS COOLEY!!!) open underneath. Thanks, Rod, for outscoring Terrell Owens on my fantasy squad this week. Sorry about the “fresh doo-doo” comment last week.
Our offense has life.
The defense, which I’ll criticize in a paragraph or two, actually kept the Skins in the game. They dominated the first half and but for the pass interference play had a near-perfect two quarters. Dallas had more than four series where they were forced to punt after barely moving the ball. Then again, so did Washington. If the offense could have done its job, the Skins would’ve won without much drama.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
I don’t want to overstate this, but when you have Clinton Portis on your team, and the other team keeps getting three-and-outs, you RUN THE BALL DOWN THEIR THROAT. Demoralize them. Make them pass more than they want. Ask Keyshawn and Vinny to win the game for them. The difference, right now, between the Skins today and the traditional Skins is that we used to run the ball better as the game progresses. Somewhere around the late second quarter we went to a pass-first offense and didn’t let our offensive line dictate the game’s pace. That, again, is coaching. So what didn’t work? It’s more accurate to say that Portis wasn’t worked.
Dallas had zero run game—how we didn’t blitz the bejeebus out of them I dunno. Vinny had time to finish his crocheting on some plays—particularly third downs. This is how they completed the 47 yarder and their first time-killing pass in the final period. The D didn’t fail often, but in a tight contest, mistakes can’t be made.
Laveranues Coles, you did not do a good job. I don’t wish pain on any person (not wearing blue & silver), but you deserved getting rocked on your crossing route in the first half. You had, by my count, five receptions self-tipped or straight dropped in the first quarter. Most times you were open and all balls were catchable. Fortunately, Cleveland’s on the horizon and is primed for restoring your confidence.
OFFENSE: B (We have all the weapons necessary to succeed in our division. This offense, when balanced, has great potential.)
DEFENSE: B (Bigups to rookie Sean Taylor who played admirably despite injury. With a little offensive help, this squad could be top 10.)
Sp. TEAMS: B (Chad Morton again put the Skins in good field position when they needed it. Plus the Skins coverage team almost earned that early turnover.)
COACHES: C- (Make all the difference in the world, these coaches.)
FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES
A bitter win indeed for the Young Avengers, dropping the hammer on my brother’s team, Roy’s Boys. You’re bound to win when your three wide receivers get over 100 yards each, all with touchdowns. I won this week’s top score award (if there was one, that is), putting up more than 150 points. Shame they don’t carry over to next week.
Some team named Cleveland hosts the Redskins next. Jeff Garcia hasn’t looked sparkling this season against other NFC East opponents. I doubt that will change against us. For the love of Moses, WE HAD BETTER RUN THE BALL. Even if the pass is working great, RUN THE BALL. That’s right, Coach Joe, RUN THE BALL. Please and thank you.
The Browns have decent wide receivers but no real tight end or running threat, so some cover 2 defensive schemes should work. I’d like to see some pressure on Garcia, forcing errant throws into the numbers of Taylor, Springs, and Smoot.