Monday, September 18, 2006

Dead In Dallas

Let the finger pointing begin.

As the conclusion Sunday night's Debacle in Dallas became clear, Al Michaels and John Madden began the inevitable "what's the problem here?" analysis of the 2006 Washington Redskins. Al asked whether the team's lethargic performance was due to conservative play calling, or a failure to pressure Drew "The Statue" Bledsoe, or just the lack of their feature running back. (Chris Collinsworth, one my personal favorite analysts, termed this absence "ClintonPortislessness." You gotta love Chris.) Sir John Madden pontificated that Washington inexplicably didn't get the ball to its playmakers--Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, and Antwaan Randle-El--until the game was practically over. The EA Sports pitchman took his criticism a step further, claiming that Washington had the wrong personnel on offense. Ouch. He quickly clarified that he wasn't talking about *everyone* on offense. Just the quarterback.

On this Monday morning, with the loss' wound still fresh, it's easy to jump on the BenchMark (c) bandwagon and throw Brunell under the wheels. But I won't. Completely. In fact, I'll agree with nearly everything yesterday's broadcasters offered. Except that silliness about the wrong personnel.

The truth is that last night's Redskins played uninspired, ineffective, embarassing football indicative of their current position at the bottom of the NFC East. As I saw it, the Redskins were outcoached and outplayed. In that order. Offensive coach Al Saunders' gameplan, apparently, was to rely on the running backs to get the majority of the touches. Moss, Cooley, Randle-El, and wideout Brandon Lloyd each had *one catch* through the first three quarters. There were less than 100 yards of forward passing by that same point. By contrast, Peyton Manning threw for 100 yards while eating breakfast Sunday morning. By Theismann's perm, that's inexcusable. And when receivers were open, Brunell wasn't accurate; his only deep throw (garbage time excepted) was a Kyle Boller Hail Mary Special, easily intercepted by Roy Williams in the red zone.

Sure, the team misses Portis. But is this offense that uncreative without him? The Skins have one trick play in the 700-page playbook, and we saw it twice: the end around/fake end around. Total yards gained: none. Where were the screen passes to Moss to beat the constant blitzing? How about a Randle-El option pass? Did Saunders really think that the Dallas defense would bite on a draw play when Washington hadn't completed a pass for 20 yards to a wide receiver?

But hey, maybe the offense's plan was to rely on the defense. Good idea, except that defensive coach Gregg Williams' plan was to (1) give Bledsoe until four Mississippi to pass, (2) not worry about any offenive player not named "Terrell" and (3) play with reckless, penalty-producing abandon. That's the best I've come up with, because the Cowchips looked virtually unstoppable for much of the game. The fans knew it, too: they lustily booed when yet another first half drive ended with an open receiver dropping a pass. To their credit, the Redskins tackled well and were aggressive. But that was *after* the third down completion.

Two weeks into the season, Brunell's not looking like a 16-game starter. Moss isn't being given the opportunity to shine. The defensive line doesn't dictate. The secondary is vulnerable in its ShawnSpringslessness. But it's not time to panic. For now, some caution and concern are in order.
You push the Panic Button when you lose to the Houston Texans.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Knee-Jerk Reactions, Week One

It had to happen sometime. The combination of my work, church, and home lives took their toll and I had to step away from Hog Heaven. It was fun while it lasted. What I found, as I wrote less about my beloved Redskins, was that there was an itch that wouldn't stop asking to be scratched.

And so I will continue to cover the Redskins and NFL action as time permits here, at the original home for snarky, well-informed football coverage, The Redskins Review.

Let's get right to it, with this week's Knee-Jerk Reactions.

The good news for Washington fans is that no, the Al Saunders offense isn't nearly as inept as it seemed during the preseason. The long-awaited unveiling of the Redskins' new offensive scheme showed some sparks as Mark Brunell was able to find Antwaan Randle-El and Santana Moss for 8 receptions and more than 100 yards. Coach Janky Spanky even made a cameo, delighting the home crowd with a touchdown and nearly 40 yards.

The downside? The equally-anticipated Gregg Williams defense looked porous up the middle, committed costly penalties and the secondary (*cough*CarlosRogers*cough*) allowed game-changing big receptions. Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson at times looked like the man from years ago who led the Skins to the playoffs. There was some concern among the Redskins faithful that the defense looked vulnerable during the 0-4 preseason. It's far to early to judge that as valid, but the Vikings' last drive toward the winning field goal certainly is cause for concern.

Despite last night's mediocre performance, this is still a sound, competitive Washington team. At least, they better be for their next prime-time performance, this Sunday night versus the Dallas Cowchips.

Speaking of the ladies in silver, blue and paisley stars, the knee-jerk reaction here is simple: Drew Bledsoe, you are the weakest link. For their part, Julius Jones, Terrell Owens, and the offensive line played admirably against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. But in a tight, hard-fought game, Bledsoe looked to be terminally inaccurate. When the Jaguars were down in the first half, the Cowchps couldn't move the ball effectively enough to gain a comfortable lead. Don't tell anybody I said so, but Dallas has real playoff potential. But my immediate reaction on Sunday (after cheering a Cowchip loss) was "man, Big D might be in trouble if Bledsoe's starting and their alternative is named Tony Romo."

Much to the chagrin of all Redskins fans living in Baltimore, it appears that the Ravens are a team to be respected. So long as Kyle Boller's not under center. The Era of Steve McNair got off to a picture-perfect start against Tampa Bay. He wasn't always sharp, but he was in command, he was comfortable, and he can still break tackles when he scrambles. When it comes to Ray Lewis and Company, you expect quality. You don't expect them to blank playoff teams on the road. But that's what they did--with authority--while the offense played well enough to eat the clock and frustrate a very good Buccaneers defense. Ever silver cloud has a dark lining, so B-more fans should pray every week that McNair doesn't get hurt. Boller came in during Garbage Time and got a delay of game penalty, fumbled twice, and made some handoffs. Rich Gannon, giving booth commentary, virtually called him a dimwit.

Lost in the analysis of Sunday's NFL action is the creeping reality that the Miami Dolphins just might be a good team. They took it to the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers for three quarters. Unfortunately, the league had mandated FOUR quarters for each game. But for most of the contest, Daunte Culpepper, Reggie Brown and their defensive line looked better than competitive: they looked like winners. That was, until their secondary got porous and sloppy and their quarterback suddenly lost receivers in the lights. Just as with the Jags/Cowchips (and Bills/Patriots), you really have to kick a great team when they're down. For instance, don't give them free third down conversions with illegal contact penalties.

Today's knee-jerk fantasy tip: if you don't have Dolphins wideout/kick returner Wes Welker on your free agent pickup, you're missing out on one of the season's sleepers. You're reading it here first.

Last but not least, my knee-jerk reaction to the CBS/ESPN/NBC broadcasts this weekend is thusly: bring back last season. It just doesn't feel right, having ESPN hosting Monday Night Football, or Buck and Aikman without Cris Collinsworth, or James Brown chuckling it up with Shannon Sharpe and Dan Marino on CBS. (Who is that Black guy playing straight man to Terry, Howie, and Jimmy Johnson?) You can't manufacture interpersonal chemistry. And can we find one simple format for displaying down, yardage, score, and a ticker between the stations? Hey, maybe we don't *need* to know every other game's score constantly. We've already got multiple Game Breaks--why not update us then? Or take it back to the 80s when they'd take 30 seconds and fill the screen with every game played and its score. Is that so hard? Do I have to own a widescreen hi-def TV to see all of the action on the field?

Oh, and if the league could kill those horribly unfunny Coors Light pseudo-press conference commercials, that's be great. Thanks.