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.

SCORECARD

OFFENSE: D-

DEFENSE: B-

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.)

FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES

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...

NEXT UP

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.


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