Monday, October 23, 2006

The Bad, The Worse, and the Ugly

Washington 22, Indianapolis 36

When the Redskins stepped onto the manicured turf of the RCA Dome, they had already admitted that this was a game they must win. That was an understatement: the Redskins needed to win this game to not only improve their record and counteract an apparent slide, but to restore some confidence in themselves and, most importantly, gain some semblance of league-wide respect. Surely, beating the only undefeated AFC team in their home--heck, just putting up a good fight--could serve as a catalyst for a possible climb out of the depths of mediocrity. But Washington didn't just come up short.

They were terrible. Cover-your-eyes awful.

Oddly enough, my Pops wasn't fazed by the Redskins' play. "This isn't such a bad game to watch," he remarked midway through the third quarter as the Colts continued their offensive clinic, "because I had no expectations for Washington." He smiled and continued munching his popcorn.

Well, I had some expectations, but they were dashed so carelessly that I could only hold my head in my hands. From the foreboding beginning to the black comedy of the Redskins' touchdown in the final seconds, there was plenty to put Redskins fans in anguish:

* Before you could even say "blowout," Indianapolis drove 92 yards for a touchdown, needing to convert only one third down. Peyton Manning was 5 for 6, the Skins were down 7, and it looked like the only way Washington wouldn't lose by 40 points was if Manning's arm gets tired.

* While the FOX broadcast team applauded the Skins defense for holding the Colts to 13 first half points, the truth was that they gave up nearly 200 passing yards and the only reason Washington wasn't losing at halftime was because Marvin Harrison forgot to put his first foot down on his booth-reversed touchdown catch.

* You want bad? The Colts' opening drive of the 3rd quarter was 55 yards, four plays, two minutes, and zero resistance from the defense. Surgical.

* The numbers don't lie: Clinton Portis rushed ten times for a paltry 52 yards against the worst rushing defense in the NFL. Ugh. But that wasn't nearly as nauseating as...

* What in the name of Mike Martz was Washington doing, gameplanning short passes on third downs? Analyst and Cowchip Ring o' Famer Troy Aikman was right on when he was befuddled by short routes on long-distance downs. Remember when Santana Moss was Mr. Third Down and the Skins led the league in converted percentages? That seems like a long, long time ago.

* Maybe part of the reason for Brunell's dump-offs was because his offensive line played pitifully. Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen did their best Jonathan Ogden impressions, allowing the Colts' defensive ends to blow past them on a regular basis, either to pressure the pass or destroy the run. When one of your best running plays is made by a wide receiver, your offensive line has underperformed.

* So much for a healthy Shawn Springs' return to help the defense. His presence didn't seem to make much of a difference, as Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison each had stellar days. Springs was notably owned by Harrison on a third quarter, in which Marvin ran right past him for a 38 yard reception. Speaking of galloping ghosts, Wayne is now carrying the jock strap of Kenny Wright after torching him for a 51 yard touchdown in which he, um, ran right past him. But the worst display of defensive work was courtesy Mike Rumph, who faced Harrison on the one yard line. Harrison faked inside-outside-inside. Rumph stopped defending on "outside" and was left tripping over his broken ankles as Harrison caught an easy score. Where's Darrell Green when we need him? I doubt he'd consider returning, after seeing...

* Was there an uglier series of plays for Washington than when they pressed down to the Colts' 11 yard line, preparing to take the lead? In less than a minute, the Skins gave up a sack, then had a Moss headbutt penalty for 15 yards tacked on, and Nick Novak clangs the resulting 49 yard field goal attempt. Can the Redskins ever get a clutch kicker (and is it too much to pray we can have one who can nail a 62 yarder outdoors with the game on the line)? Where's Mark Moseley when we need him?

* Alas, there was an uglier series of events for the burgundy and gold. Without a single second of the play clock expiring, the Redskins reminded their opponent that yes, you can beat us. Right after we beat ourselves. Antwaan Randle-El gave the Skins their first (and only) lead via an exciting touchdown return but earned a questionable 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct celebration penalty to be imposed on the kickoff. Sean Taylor commits an offisdes penalty on the kickoff attempt, backing up the play 5 more yards. Inexplicably, kicker Derrick Frost goes postal (what do kickers have to get that mad about?) and removes his helmet so that the referees can better hear him yelling about nothing. Tack on 15 more unportsmanlike conduct penalty yards and voila! You have the makings of a situation rarely seen. In fact, I've *never* seen a kickoff from the 5 yard line. Have you?

* The final view of the Redskins offense was perhaps the most pitiful, yet fitting of the day's performance. Down 33-14 with 4:36 remaining, the Redskins went no-huddle yet STILL took 4:23 minutes to go 70 yards. Why? Because they decided to throw short on every one of the nine passes Brunell attempted. Even the official
NFL GameCenter called them "short." Moss and Portis sat on the sideline, dejected and injured, while Washington relied on Ladell Betts to move the football down the field and score a meaningless, fruitless touchdown. There was no celebrating, hardly a high five. And rightly so. The Redskins stank up the dome, and couldn't even earn a measure of respect in the process.

With the team listlessly sitting at 2-5, the inevitable question is whether to start Jason "The Future" Campbell against the remaining opponents. Right now, it's too painful to consider where to put the medicine with this team. But I will proffer that, in two weeks, if the Redskins lose at home to the Cowchips, we can officially end every glimmer of hope for this season and Campbell should get every remaining snap. Sigh.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Shades of 2000

Tennesee 25, Washington 22

More than 24 hours after the loss, the questions don't just linger, then haunt:

If I'm a coach, and my team's playing Washington, how soon before gametime do you break out the "Boys, the odds are good that one of you is going to have a career day like Chris Brown, Tiki Barber and Jared Allen speech?

In Redskins forums, the issue raised is whether to blame the offense's Coach Gibbs or the man calling the plays, Al Saunders. I'll see that question and raise you another: is this offense better off without Saunders?

Sure, it hurts to lose to a team that ESPN Radio predicted two weeks ago might go 0-16. And yeah, the cut's a little deeper when you were favored by double digits. But is there a worse feeling than doing all of that at home, with your best cornerback returned to the lineup, against a rookie quarterback, while simultaneously allowing a guy to run for nearly 180 yards?

Seems like it was a long, long time ago when the D.C. press heralded the incoming of Adam Archuleta, Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle-El, doesn't it? Isn't the letdown eerily similar to the Mark Carrier/Bruce Smith/Deion Sanders/Jeff George All-Viagra team of 2000?


When the Redskins stink, as they appear to do right now, it's tough to open the ol' email inbox. Inevitably, somebody's left some smack there for me to read. Sure enough, there was this question, posed by my Cowchip-loving colleague, Mr. Lim:

Re: redskins... tough loss.
Did you enjoy the eagles loss?

Cunningly posed question, as it both inquires about a mutual opponent and completely dismisses the Redskins as competitive. Nonetheless, I responded:

As much as I like watching the enemies in the East falter, it was hard to enjoy anybody losing when my team loses to a team that's LOST EVERY GAME THEY'VE PLAYED. Sure, the Titans played the Colts tough the other week--I believe they call that parity. But by all rational preseason predictions, the Skins should have beaten the Vikes, Texans and Titans, maybe beaten the Giants and Cowchips, lost to the Jags. That would put Washington at a respectable 4-2 or 3-3. But I'd give up the Jags win for Vikes/Titans wins any day, even if
they meant the inevitable "but they haven't beaten anybody yet" arguments.

At this point, I'll take any positivity for this team.

Meanwhile, things are quiet in Baltimore after a knife-twisting loss to the Panthers at home in which the second best defense as skewered for more than 300 passing yards. Hearing the game on radio, I drew the conclusion that Kyle Boller, king of the Hail Mary pass, had a pretty good game in Steve McNair's spot. But on further review of the three touchdowns he threw, only one wasn't tipped by a defenseman--and that one was thrown to Todd Heap who was double covered! How many Immaculate Receptions can one guy create?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Anyone Seen Last Week's Redskins?

Washington 3, New York Giants 19
Oy vey, this was a tough game to watch, and not just because the hulking Washington offense that posted more than 70 points and a gabillion yards in two weeks reverted into a feeble, three-point weakling Bruce Banner. No, this game was also a snore because, from beginning to end, the Redskins never looked like they had a legitimate chance to win this game. As a fan, you kept waiting for some big play (maybe try throwing a long forward pass to Santana Moss?) to happen, and...and...

[still waiting]

Reasonable minds might differ, but my biggest concern is with the Redskins defense. My boy BigWes argued that when you can keep a team under 20 points, your D has done its job. True, but this defense isn't supposed to be this porous, this lenient, this, dare I say, breakable. The Giants won the time of possession battle by nine minutes, but it sure felt like 20: they converted 9 of 16 third downs while Washington managed a poor 27% of theirs.

Every game has singularly critical moments that define the eventual outcome. On Sunday, there was a series of drives that, once finished were unofficial permission for you to turn off the TV and do yard work.

The score is 6-3, Giants. With 4:28 left in the second quarter, New York began a drive at their own 2 yard line. After a false start penalty, the Giants were left with the entire field to cover for a score. Over the next 4:22, Eli Manning and company covered 85 yards, converted three third downs and kicked a field goal to send the game into halftime.

The Giants receive the second half kickoff and begin their drive at their own 31. Who-dat running back Brandon Jacobs converts two third-and-shorts. With the ball on the Redskins' 26, facing 3rd and 16, Manning completes a pass to Amani Toomer for 21 yards. Two plays later, Plaxico Burress catches a touchdown. 13-3, Giants.

The Skins get the ball and mount their best drive of the day (which isn't saying much: they never cracked the opposing red zone). On third and one on the New York 24, rather than pound the ball up the middle with Dolemite--I mean, Clinton--Portis, Washington elects to have Mark Brunell attempt a pass into traffic, intended for Chris Cooley. This is the same Chris Cooley, mind you, who was the intended receiver on four out of five of the passes on this drive. The ball drops incomplete, and I begin yelling at the screen "Man up! Do not settle for a long field goal! Run the friggin' ball for ONE YARD! It's just ONE YARD!"

John Hall lines up for a 42-yard field goal. Shanked. I'm now holding my head in my hands and considering spending time with my in-laws.

Speaking of things that give a fan bubbling gas...

Unlike the Skins/Giants, Sunday's battle against the Philly Eagles (hard to call them the Egos when you-know-who's not on the sidelines) was one for the NFC East Classic video vault. Despite the look of the final score, Donovan McNabb's statistics, and Terrell Owens' lack of production, Dallas has every reason to feel confident that they could have won this game.

...Except that their quarterback is Drew Bledsoe. You know how its said that a single player can't make a team...but he can sure sink one? Drew is exhibit A. If I root for the Dallas Cowchips, the only reason I'm not calling for his immediate benching is because Tony Romo would then have to play quarterback. Oh, he was horrific. If it wasn't his statuesque posing in the pocket that led to seven sacks, it was him ignoring Owens for the first half, or one-hopping passes to other receivers. And then there were the interceptions. It's no secret that you can win if you pressure Bledsoe; how Dallas didn't compensate (they ran the ball well enough) by rolling him out is beyond me. If this game qualifies for NFL Replay honors, keep an eye out for Terry Glenn and T.O., independently shown, sighing and looking like they want to strangle Drew.

Yet, despite the play of the Dallas quarterback, the Eagles couldn't put this game away. Sure, they had some big throws to L.J. Smith and some guy named Baskett, but those were on blown coverages. The Philly run game was average, their passing attack was spotty. If I'm a Philly phan, I'm not feeling all that confident in my team. Even if they only have one loss.

Then again, as a Redskins fan, I have no idea which coaching staff and team will trot onto the field, week to week.

Friday, October 06, 2006

He's Gone! Moss is Gone! (24th Viewing)

Gentle readers, in light of my inability to watch much of the Skins/Jaguars original broadcast, allow me to present to you the analysis of a gentlemen I call Herbs. He's one of those fanatic, dress-like-an-idiot-on-gameday diehards who outfit their unwitting infant sons in burgundy and gold. When the Redskins lose, he is unapproachable by family. Herbs has been known to get into juvenile, finger-pointing shouting matches with drunk Dallas fans.

He is my brother, and I couldn't be more proud. In an email to me this week, he offered these thoughts on Sunday's win:

The ‘skins are now #3 in total offense for the NFL. They are #4 in time of possession in the NFL. Now if that ain’t a sign of good things to come…

Total offense shows that Al Saunder’s offense is starting to click, especially when you consider how lackluster the first two games were, and how that probably dragged their stats down. I have the OT period on TIVO, and have watched it no less than 5 times this week, and seeing Santana catch that pass, and hearing the crowd ramp up to a deafening roar as he started sprinting down the sidelines, still gives me goosebumps. In all likelihood, our offensive prayers have been answered. Now, if Gregg Williams can get the defense, currently middle-o-the-pack 15th, motivated (and still have a shot of taking over as the ‘skins head coach when Gibbs does Retirement #2), we will look a lot like the Bears do now. And be a Super Bowl contender by December. You heard it here first – as long as Portis is healthy, Brunell is healthy, and we have a minimum of two of our receivers excelling (between Moss, Randle El, Lloyd, and Cooley – we’ve got a glut, I think David Patten is the new coordinator of the Redskin cheerleaders), I can’t see why we can’t contend for the big game.

I will admit that, since Monday, I've seen Moss' touchdown no less than 10 times. I finally caught the overtime on the ten minute NFL On Demand recap, and got to enjoy Larry Michaels screaming "He's gone! He's gone! He's gone!" until I had my fill.

By the way, has anyone determined why Sam Huff is still on the broadcast team? I respect that the's a Redskin legend, but he exclaimed that #47 Chris Cooley was hurt trying to make a tackle on defense (it was really #41 Curry Burns); and then he almost ruined the moment of Moss' winning score by saying "that's his second one!" when everyone who watched the last three hours of football knew it was his third. His wisdom on a long Jaguars touchdown pass was summed up with "you live by the blitz, you die by the blitz." Thanks for the insight, Sam. Does he have blackmail pictures of Dan Snyder shining Jerry Jones' shoes or something?

I recorded the NFL Network Replay of the game and was pretty impressed: it's the entire game, minus timeouts and worthless plays, straight from the network broadcast. Plus you get insightful, postgame conference nuggets from the players and coaches after big plays. I immediately fast forwarded to the overtime period and watched Santana's catch and run three or four times there, basking in the hysteria of the crowd as they realized that Moss had broken free of the double team and was headed for glory.

And then, when it was rebroadcast in the middle of Thursday afternoon, I watched it again. And again. It was just that great a moment. If ever there was a moment when the stadium police should have allowed fans to run onto the field, like a high school beating its homecoming rival, that was it. "Oh my! Down go the goalposts!" Dick Enberg would say...

That said, the Redskins have some issues which they had best address come Sunday in their NFC East battle with Sabado Gigante. Principally I'd be concerned about the defense. Herbs is right--the offense is clicking enough that they should be able to adjust their attack to whatever the Giants D allows. But nearly every team this season has been able to beat the defense to convert critical 3rd downs, and what's worse, do so with big plays. Defensive coach Gregg Williams seemed satisfied with Sunday's performance, excusing the long Jaguars gains with "we sometimes played too aggressively." I'll agree. Shawn Taylor was an absolute monster on the field, making his presence known with teeth-rattling hits to Jacksonville receivers. But he can also take horrible pursuit angles, as he did on Maurice Jones-Drew's long touchdown scamper. Meanwhile, cornerback Kenny Wright sometimes looks like the second coming of Ade Jimoh, getting burned on curl routes near the sidelines.

So if I'm gameplanning against Washington, I'd prepare for safety blitzes up the middle from Archuletta or Taylor with dump off screens to Barber. If I'm the Redskins, I would fake my blitzes early, then attempt delayed blitzes, then in the third quarter, return to the standard attack.
But this should be a great game, as most NFC East battles tend to be. The other East game should be good, too, but contains 87% more drama with the T.O./Philadelphia reunion. With the Giants, Eagles, Skins and Cowchips being so evenly matched, the only way to ascend to the crown is to win your divisional road games. Here's to hoping Washington can pull it off.

Monday, October 02, 2006

We Won...Right?

Well, for the second week in a row, I have managed to completely miss the substantive portion of a triumphant Redskins win. Last week, when the Skins toasted the Texans, I was hustling around town with friends from out of town (how dare they not be football fans) and I forgot to set my Comcastic! DVR. Used to be that I'd record NFL Primetime and be satisfied. But Berman and Jackson have been banished to the netherworld of midnight NFL highlights, replaced with fifteen inferior highlight shows. So I missed just about all of the Texans' game.

On Sunday, with Washington pulling off a exciting, gutsy victory over the playoff-caliber Jacksonville Jaguars, I again found myself distant from football. Quality time with the Mrs. But this time, I was ready: I set my recorder to capture every minute of yesterday's action...little did I realize that the game went into OVERTIME and Santana Moss provided some post-7:00PM heroics.

I haven't reviewed the recording, but I pray that there weren't too many commercials, injury time outs and penalties. Maybe I got fortunate and can postumously enjoy every scintillating minue. The game was so good that the NFL Network has decided to feature it on Wednesday's broadcast of NFL Replay. I'm so happy that I can ignore those poorly-lip-synched commercials with Chad Johnson and Jeremy Shockey.

It's odd that I have been able to see more of the Ravens' play than the Redskins'. And I like what I see: a defense showing shades of 2000, clutch special teams play, and an offense that, frankly, doesn't screw up too much. It's crazy to say, but if Steve McNair isn't under center this season, 9 out of 10 doctors agree that the Ravens would be sitting at 1-3, possibly 0-for-everything. That's how much better this team is when Kyle Boller's riding pine.

Week after week, McNair runs an efficient, if mediocre, offense for three quarters, and then when the game hangs in the balance, he completes 80% of his passes and scrambles for crucial 3rd down conversions. On Sunday, against the Chargers' top-3 defense, he broke tackles, threw strikes, and found the winning points. All without a timeout. He ain't great, but he's gold when it counts, and he's this season's early favorite for Comeback Player of the Year.

More on the Skins--and the on-again/off-again greatness that is Mark Brunell coming as soon as I watch the broadcast.