Friday, September 24, 2004

Extra Points: Redskins vs. Dallas

Throughout this week, I have had occasion to speak with more than a few Cowboys "fans" about Monday night's contest. (Quotes used because, really, followers of the team are better described as Cowchip Delusional Parcells Worshippers.) By and large, the conversations have been eerily similar, usually dissolving into finger-pointing and pure conjecture on the future for these two 1-1 teams. Deion Sanders' name somehow keeps coming up.

Nonetheless, I believe their adamant claims can be briefed as such: (1) the loss of Brunell to injury means more to Washington than Julius Jones' loss to the Cowboys, (2) Dallas wins on Monday, and (3) Parcells is a better coach than Gibbs.

While I loathe agreeing with anything Dallas fans say about Washington, I will concede that Mark "My Hammy!" Brunell's absence will mean more to the Redskins than "Orange" Julius Jones' to the Cowchips. Given that Parcells and Co. had the foresight to pick up Old Man Eddie George and ReShard "Shards o' Glass" Lee, they aren't off so bad. Let's be clear, though: George is at best a 3rd down short yardage back, lacking the speed to break 40+ yard runs. How much punishment is he really going to be able to take? Lee will have to carry the load against a Washington defense that hasn't budged much. (Not that Tiki Barber's much of a threat.) How many Dallas fans can express high confidence in this kid?

On the other hand, Brunell's injury leaves the ball in the questionably capable hands of Patrick Ramsey. Sir Ramsey has taken the bulk of practice reps this week and Coach Gibbs believes enough in him that he named Patrick the starter by Wednesday. Quite a vote of confidence. But Ramsey sure looked uncomfortable against the Giants, giving up a sack on his first passing play. Eww. The wide receivers didn't help, but some two of Ramsey's groan-inducing interceptions weren't even near Redskins wideouts.

I expect, then, that Chief Gibbs will call a much more conservative offensive package on Monday night; likely running Portis more than 30 times and testing the Cowchip linebackers. Will it work? On to contentous point #2...

Of course it will work. Did Dallas fans even watch Sunday's game against Cleveland? Your offense, apart from moderate running success and one happy flea-flicker, wasn't exactly the St. Louis Rams. Testaverde may be near the tops in passing yardage, but how many touchdowns has he thrown for? Two. Interceptions? Three. I say yardage, shmardage. I'll take the points, thank you.


As to who is a "better" coach, well, I'll let the numbers do the talkin': Parcells 159-113-1. Gibbs 124-60. Against Dallas, Gibbs is 12/24. Both are great coaches, motivators and leaders. Granted. But there's an intangible Cowboy fans neglect: Joe Gibbs is a really nice guy. Never chased dollars, screwing one team for another, never interviewed with one squad while preparing another for a Super Bowl. Gibbs is dedicated and committed without question. Bill Belichick has a few things to say about Parcells' integrity.

One other note: with Arrington out (as of Friday's news reports), this game'll be much closer than it should be. As I mentioned in the Review, this is a strangely critical game (much like Ravens v. Bengals on Sunday) and the Skins honestly can't afford to lose.

I have a two Cherry Cokes, one Diet Peach Snapple, one Classic Coke, and a week's worth of pro-Dallas propaganda riding on this game. I can't afford the loss either...!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

TMQ Entry: Football Deities

One of my favorite sports writers, Gregg Easterbrook of NFL.com proposed an interesting contest in his weekly column. Often he speaks of the "Football Gods" who influence NFL action with love or wrath based on the teams, players, or cheerleaders acts. F'instance, when a team unnecessarily runs up the score one week, Easterbrook notes how the Football Gods will make them pay for their unsportsmanlike conduct with a humbling loss, a dreadful injury or ugly cheerleaders. I made that last one up.

The challenge was, and I quote:
Devise mythology for the football gods. What are their names? Their powers? Who slew whom and smote what when they came into being? Propose your mythology using the link at Reader Animadversion.

I proposed the following:

TMQ, if there be football gods, one is Paytonus, the god of bravery and humility. Endowed with the strength, agility and power of Bears and kangaROOS (loved those shoes!), Paytonus never avoided head-on collisons with linemen, nor demonstrated fear of flying over goal line piles for touchdowns. He reigns today, anointing Ahman Green, Priest Holmes, and Jamal Lewis with the supernatural ability to break ten tackles, rush for 150 yards, and score three touchdowns in a game and not mug for TV cameras. Does it get any better than Sweetness?

Not bad, I guess. I wasn't selected as a finalist in his next article, http://www.nfl.com/nflnetwork/story/7730428 . The ones eventually selected were, in my humble opinion, pretty weak. In his defense, Easterbrook wrote in to another favorite site of mine, www.FootballOutsiders.com and said that he gets more than 1000 of these in every week per contest. So he can only view so many, and select even fewer in the short time he has dedicated to this writing hobby.

OK, I'll buy that.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Week 2: OK, Breathe…Easy…Inhale…Think Happy Thoughts…

Washington 14, New York 20

Over this summer some college buddies and I got together and caught a Saturday matinee. There were some interesting movies out at the time, including The Manchurian Candidate, Collateral, and The Bourne Supremacy. Not a bad selection to choose from. When we couldn’t agree on which to see, Norv, Dominic and I somehow found ourselves sitting in Alien vs. Predator. We certainly didn’t have high hopes for the film, as movie review compiler RottenTomatoes.com had it rated as less than 40% “fresh.” I personally blame Dominic for his mere suggestion of this film.

What we saw, scene after scene, was abysmal direction, clich├ęd dialogue, and a general pooping on two celebrated action/horror franchises. More like a cheap 90’s MTV Headbanger’s Ball heavy metal video than classic monter vs. monster battle, my boys and I were stunned at how consistently flawed and banal A v. P was. If there weren’t scenes where the action was completely indistinguishable, there was Sanaa Lathan (God bless her for trying to maintain some dignity) with a ridiculous gutted Alien head for a shield outrunning a befriended Predator in a dead sprint, and, in a tender moment, bandaging his wound. Hel-LO! Predators don’t make friends. They kill people. That’s why they’re called Predators.

There’s something to be said for consistency; even more when something is consistently bad.

That was Alien vs. Predator.

You know where I’m going with this.

It was a lot like watching the Redskins on Sunday.

Here’s what we saw, for those who wisely avoided all stats and information on this game:

Mark “My Hammy!” Brunell: 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 1 fumble, 1 hamstring injury.

“Mr. President” Clinton Portis: 260 previous carries without a fumble…two fumbles Sunday, one for defensive touchdown.

Patrick “Happy Feet” Ramsey: 1 touchdown, three interceptions, zero confidence.

For those mathematically challenged, that’s two touchdowns and seven turnovers. Add it together and you get one miserable football contest. It’s difficult to comprehend Chief Joe Gibbs coaching a team that makes that many mistakes in one game. (Wrap your brain around this: it could’ve been nine turnovers—we recovered an additional two other Ramsey fumbles.)

I had to keep reminding myself “it’s only one game…it’s only the second week of the season…Gibbs is gonna whup some tail this week…it’s only one game….”

If there is something for Redskins fans to celebrate (besides the game mercifully ending), it was that the defense played well enough to keep the falling-over-itself offense competitively in the contest. Let’s give credit to the New York Giants, proving that they really aren’t too strong a squad by shanking field goals, avoiding easy first downs, and never delivering a knockout blow.
One other note: while I try not to get into the what-ifs game, I did predict a Skins win 24-10. Had the Skins scored when they got into scoring range and not committed the turnovers, the game would’ve been almost precisely that point total and result. Miscues on the both sides resulted in the actual score. (This is what people who predict scores say to themselves to maintain their pride.)

WHAT WORKED

Once again the defense saved the day. I was a wee concerned that the Giants’ receivers looked open on most pass plays in the first half, but I think the D tightened up enough to limit New York’s production in and near the red zone. Matt “Blitz Me!” Bowen again is playing above last year’s form in his quarterback pressures, and linebacker Marcus Washington shined with 11 tackles.

A tip o’ the hat to Chad Morton and the special teams, no longer playing as if they stepped off the short bus. Morton averaged over 20 yards per kickoff return (bonus Madden points there) and John Hall made four field goals to keep the game honest.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK

Ay carumba. Was I mistaken, or was Portis benched for Ladell Betts midway through the game? After Portis’ second fumble, the FOX cameras showed Sir Portis, sans helmet, pacing the sidelines with the Skins offense on the field. No matter. He returned and was, generally, ineffective.

It’s much too early to second-guess, but Mark Brunell’s got some work to do if he wants to gain Redskin fans’ approval. Would Jeff Garcia (who had a hor-REN-dous day against the Cowchips) or—gasp!—Kurt Warner been wiser choices instead? Perhaps even let Patrick Ramsey finish earning his stripes under center. The mind wonders. (Forgive me, Gibbs, for questioning your coachitude.)

Brunell and Ramsey’s numbers might not have looked so bad had the Washington wide receivers not dropped sure catches. I dunno whether they were spooked by footsteps or the ghost of Jimmy Hoffa but I saw Coles and Rod “Parkay” Gardner ruining great coaching and quarterbacking. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m putting the loss on the receivers. Hey, if Gardner catches his third quarter touchdown, Ramsey doesn’t throw his next pass into double coverage for a Giants touchback interception and the Skins are tied at 20 with an extra point to go. Coles doesn’t drop an easy third down play during the Skins’ last drive and who knows what happens?

Where’s Michael Westbrook when you need him? Just kidding.

SCORECARD

OFFENSE: D (I said last week that Laveranues Coles would break a sweat during the game. Didn’t know it’d be all over his hands.)
DEFENSE: B (The only squad who deserves not to run suicide wind sprints Tuesday through Friday.)
Sp. TEAMS: C+
COACHES: A (I know, I know. But coaches don’t tackle, they don’t catch passes, they don’t throw blocks, and they certainly don’t complete passes. I like the gameplan and it would’ve worked. Anybody care to challenge me on this one?)


FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES

Anybody want Rod Gardner from my fantasy team? He is, statistically speaking, fresh doo-doo. He lets good points for my Young Avengers slip away as if he doesn’t care about me winning yet another Festivus Maximus championship. I have to put my hope in—eww—Terrell Owens of the Egos to make up my 29 point deficit to Wes “Not The Momma” Greer’s 4Gen Warriors.

One other note, if anybody’s online with the PlayStation 2 Madden 2005, send me a message for a game: GoSkins 72.

NEXT UP

The luster on Monday Night Football’s contest against the Dallas Cowchips is a bit dull following the Redskins’ loss, the Cowchips’ drubbing by the Vikings in Week One and the comedy of interceptions Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. But ah, it’s still prime time on the national stage, it’s a classic rivalry, and most importantly it’s two of the most respected coaches in NFL history squaring off one more time. (Reminds me of the greatly anticipated battle between Optimus Prime and Rodimus Prime after Optimus came back to life following the Transfomers movie because Megatron, who later became Galvatron, killed him to acquire the Matrix for Unicron but lost it to Hot Rod who led the Autobots now as Rodimus…and…um…nevermind.) My point is, this ain’t Dave Campo and Steve Spurrier.

This is why I like the NFL. This match up offers two teams who face virtual elimination from the wild card race with a loss or two in the division. And it’s still September.

At the risk of being obvious, turnovers will be critical to winning this one. I’ll bet anyone a Quizno’s sub that Portis doesn’t fumble next week. Vinny “AARP” Testaverde should make enough mistakes to allow Sean Taylor and company to win this one. Keyshawn Johnson will commence whining like a little girl.

The Skins need to get the passing game going. The run will be there; I think our offensive line can handle their defensive line and blitzing linebackers. But if our quarterbacks (whoever they be) continue this sporadic play, the game will be much closer than it should be. That’s what, sadly, I’m predicting.

As sportscaster Keith Jackson says, “Whoa Nelly! This one should be a dandy.”

Skins win, 21-17.

Monday, September 13, 2004

WEEK 1: THAT’S THE WAY (UH-UH UH-HUH) I LIKE IT…

Washington 16, Tampa Bay 10

Folks, the King has returned. Redskins football—hard nosed, ball-controlling, grind ‘em out wins—is finally back in Washington. And I’m more than a little giddy about it. I wasn’t alone yesterday as the Skins offensive line and defense dominated the Buccaneers. I was among the more than 90,000 fans that watched Coach Joe Gibbs bring his successful Old School gameplan to the 21st century NFL. And y’know what? It worked like a charm. Mostly. More on that later.

I won’t take all the credit, but I like to think that last year’s November 17 Redskins Review ( http://redskinsreview.blogspot.com/2003/11/week-11-if-wishes-were-horses.html ), where Coach and I dialogued following a stinging loss to the Panthers, somehow influenced him to re turn to the game. Sure, he didn’t say he’d come back, and it took me nearly passing out for us to talk, and yeah, I made the whole thing up, but I’m pretty sure I had something to do with Coach Gibbs’ decision, and therefore, yesterday’s win. Ahem.


Let’s get to Sunday’s action.

What a joy to have the Hall of Famer, His Joeness, the man responsible for 25% of all Washington Redskins victories patrolling the sidelines; how fitting that this victory was for our franchise’s 500th regular season win. Gibbs immediately made a statement about how this team was going to walk at the pregame player introductions. A la New England, the Redskins were introduced as a team: “And now, Coach Gibbs and your Washington Redskins!” The whole team ran out. Coach emerged from the tunnel, walked behind the cheerleaders and benches and headed directly to the Redskins sidelines. Ready for action. Oh yeah.

I attended yesterday’s game with my Pops. During the offseason majority owner Daniel “I Can Really Fleece You Now That Gibbs Is Here” Snyder opened some new sections in FedEx Field. Pops upgraded his seats from Club Level (aka the Joe Gibbs Level) to Suite Level, and the change is welcome, with some slight reservations. I love the view—just like playing Madden, with the formations and field completely visible. I love the exclusivity of taking elevators up to the level, the free Sunday Washington Post papers sitting out, the multiple plasma TVs broadcasting the day’s action. I like the ledge in front to place your drinks, hat, camera and stuff on. I dig the leather seats. I’m not, however, completely sold on the game watching experience. Here’s why, and it’s easily summed up: nobody danced. I won’t dwell on this now, but to me, you can judge how fanatic (or drunk) your section is by whether anybody stands up and shakes their booty to K.C. & the Sunshine Band. That’s just me.

Nonetheless, the stadium was rocking early in the afternoon. You know a crowd is pumped up for a game when they’re chanting “D-fense! D-fense!” after the coin toss. Arrington, Smoot, and company must’ve fed off of our energy because they quickly ended the Buccaneers’ first drive. In fact, the Redskins defense, under some fantastic coaching from Gregg Williams and playmaking from Smoot, Bowen, completely dominated the first half of play.


According to my notes (taken between swigs of my $4.50 20 ounce Coke), Tampa Bay’s 7 first-half drives went like this:

Drive #1—3 & out
Drive #2—3 & out
Drive #3—Matt Bowen sack, fumble, recovered by Washington
Drive #4—3 downs, 47 yard field goal
Drive $5—3 & out
Drive #6—1 first down, punt
Drive #7—1 first down, end of half.


I know Baltimore Ravens fans love to roll their eyes at any and every comparison to their vaunted defense (which, judging from yesterday’s score, still hasn’t played its first regular season game), but this was reminiscent of Ray “EA Sports Coverboy” Lewis’ squad. And we loved every minute of it.

They only reason Tampa Bay was able to kick that field goal was because of horrendous special teams play. The only reason Tampa scored the other 7 points was because of an offensive miscue. The Bucs’ final three plays all ended in sacks. Two seasons ago, SportsCenter joked that they should be called the “Re-skins” because there’s no D in Washington. Those days, thankfully, are over.

Speaking of the offense, Gibbs called what some later called a conservative game. The Tampa defense is still formidable, so His Joeness ran short passes (I recall only one attempted for more than 30 yards) and lots and lots of running. I was a wee skeptical on the choice to kick a field goal in the first quarter facing a 4th and inches on the two or three yard line. I think our offensive line, unstoppable up to that point, could’ve pushed us in. Further, on the Skins’ second drive, they passed on a 3rd and 2, leading to a missed 50 yard Hall field goal. But when Joe Gibbs is calling the plays, well, you let the man do his job without question.


Clinton Portis? “Mr. President” Clinton Portis? Absolutely worth it. I wasn’t sold during the preseason contests; the offense looked, to quote Gibbs, “listless.” Sultan McCullough, backup-backup running back, seemed to have more success than Portis. But oh, did he silence the critics of the monster trade that sent Champ Bailey to Denver when he hot-stepped his way 64 yards on the game’s third play from scrimmage. More important, let’s note that he earned 80 additional yards throughout the remaining minutes and broke tackles to earn critical, game-clinching 3rd downs. It’s early in the season, sure, but Portis looks like he’s a perfect fit for a Gibbs-run team.

WHAT WORKED

Clearly the defense ruled the day. Would’ve been nice to see a shutout pitched, but football’s a team game. Hope the D doesn’t get overconfident. Apparently the stadium staff was so sure that Tampa wouldn’t score a last-second touchdown that the announcer reminded everyone that our next home game was two weeks away, Monday night, against Dallas. This game certainly wasn’t decided, though Bowen put a definitive stamp down to end the contest.

Let’s also not forget that there were ZERO sacks given up by the offensive line, our backs ran for over 160 yards, and there were a total of THREE penalties by the Skins. Take that, Steve Spurrier.


WHAT DIDN’T WORK

The Special Teams…not so special. Kickoff returns were the only bright spot for the Bucs and one particularly heinous play resulted in Tampa’s only non-turnover points.

The offense didn’t wow me, but I’ll take Riggins-style clock-chewing any day that it produces a win. I dunno if I’m sold on Mark Brunell yet; he had a couple passes thrown into double coverage. I can’t help but wonder how Patrick “Pharoah” Ramsey would perform with a monster running game and good pass protection. Plus there were three center/quarterback miscues. After the second miscue, Gibbs pulled the center and replaced him with a gentleman who promptly tripped Brunell, causing the fumble that was returned for a game-tying touchdown. Egad.


SCORECARD

OFFENSE: B (Hopefully next week Laveranues Coles will break a sweat during the game.)

DEFENSE: A (Only way to a higher grade is via complete shutout.)

Sp. TEAMS: C- (Bad coverage + good tackling = long returns)

COACHES: A (Gibbs, Joe Bugel, and company showed they can show young coaches like Jon Gruden how the game should be played.)

FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES

Some of you may remember that last year I was owner of two championship fantasy franchises: Young Avengers and Damage, Inc. Well, the latter team is now defunct (though undisputed!) because I wasn’t invited back to play in their little namby-pamby, whining, girlie-girl league. That’s okay, I didn’t want to defend my championship anyway. And no, I’m not bitter.

My Young Avengers are well on their way to a win against Daniel Truxler’s Juggernauts. My squad is composed of:

Mike Vick—Marshall Faulk—Willis McGahee—Terrell Owens—Rod Gardner—As-Zahir Hakim—Mike Vanderjagt—Steelers D—Bengals & Jaguars QBs and some other forgettable players. I’ll post how the season progresses.

NEXT UP

The New York Giants host the Redskins, and are coming off a whuppin’ by the Philadelphia Egos—I mean, Eagles. Tiki Barber padded his stats in garbage time but was limited, and Warner looked average. I hear that the Giants pay people to play pass defense and cover their best receiver. No evidence of that yesterday.
Skins win, 24 – 10.