Washington 18, Dallas 21
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.