Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Week 4: Plecostomus of the East

Washington 13, Cleveland 17

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:
  1. Don't use them
  2. 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.


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.)
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.)


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.

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