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.

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