Sunday, September 27, 2009

Week Three: Pardon My French

Detroit 19, Washington 14

There was a moment, during the fourth quarter of this game, when the sideline cameras caught Jim "Currently Coach" Zorn's emotional reaction to one of the many errors made by the Redskins. His eyes were moist with desperation, his eyebrows furled with disbelief. Even his headset was off kilter in frustration. Though the viewers couldn't hear his voice, it was easy to read his lips. This is a family column so I will give it a gentle translation.

"What the [naughty word] are you doing?!?"

Zorn wasn't alone: my Pops and I watched the Redskins' performance against the Lions and said some variation of the same thing. For sixty game minutes. I practically screamed it as Zorn called a Hook and Ladder with eight seconds left that began with Santana Moss, who lateraled to Antwaan Randle-El, who tossed to...Ladell Betts. Watch the play. There's no one else in position to receive a Betts lateral. That's right: Zorn actually called a play designed for his backup running back to weave his way through the entire Detroit defense. (Equally egregious was Betts' decision to not run out of bounds when the final two seconds could have been saved.) Even still, why would you draw up a Motor City Miracle that begins with your best receiver catching the ball thirty yards from the end zone?

"What the [flip-flarn-filth] are you doing?!?"

It really is difficult to quantify how pathetic it is to lose to the Detroit Lions. This is a team which hadn't won a game since before the recession. They were on pace to earning the title of Consistently Worst Team in NFL History. (Yes, I made that up.) Their starting quarterback was heretofore leading the league in interceptions. Googling "How bad are the Detroit Lions?" produces more than a million hits. Even the Baltimore Orioles would point and laugh. Watching Detroit for the last year and half was worse than enduring a marathon of those painfully unfunny Coors Light press conference commercials. (Though I would submit that viewing Jared the Subway Guy "singing" with Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck comes a close second.) There was zero mystery in facing this team. With apologies to Dennis Green, the Lions were who we thought they were.

Armed with this information and the knowledge that the Redskins needed desperately to salvage the remaining slivers of league respect, Currently Coach Zorn's team led the perhaps the worst thirty mintues of football in franchise history. Zero rushing yards. Eight minutes of offense. 94 passing yards. Detroit converted 9 of 11 third downs. Scoring drives were allowed of 11, 12, and 17 plays, including one drive of 99 yards. Detroit's quarterback was having a ball, winking to receivers, slapping buttocks and wagging his tongue like Jordan as he embarrassed the Skins' defense.

As the FOX halftime circus began, Pops and I played a depressing but nonetheless entertaining game of "Who Screwed This Up?" We don't really call it that, but that's where the discussion usually ends up. Pops, never a member of CHASM, laid the goose egg of scoring at Jason Campbell's feet. (It didn't help that Campbell let a dry football slip from his hand while trying to pass, Bad News Bears-style.) I argued that Zorn's horrendous decision making raised the stink--who doesn't take the easy field goal but instead calls a lazy off-tackle run on 4th and goal? Who accepts a third down penalty, giving a red hot Detroit offense another attempt when they'd just effortlessly moved the ball 60 yards on your defense?

"What the [cheese 'n grits] are you doing?!?"

Pops always gets the last word in Who Screwed This Up?, and his pearl of wisdom was "You know, George Allen always said that 'Your first drive of the second half determines how you'll finish. '" Um, I didn't think Allen ever said that, but I deferred on the grounds that I was around five years old when he coached. The Redskins did register a pulse by scoring quickly on their first drive of the second half. But then they reverted right back to the inepticalities (trust me, it's in the dictionary) and had to scramble at the end to try and save face.

Mike Wise asked the question "if you lose to the worst team in football, doesn't that make you the new worst team in football?" Ouch. Allow me, sir, to proffer another question: "If Jim Zorn can't prepare his team to face the worst team in football, and can't rally his troops to come back after half time against the worst team in football...then why are you here?"

What the [shizzlesticks] are you doing?!?

Offense --
C. Kudos to Santana Moss for gouging their secondary for nearly 180 yards. And not getting into any fights.

Defense --
D. No, make it an F. The defense was so bad it made Pops run to the computer to add Matthew Stafford to his fantasy team. "He's gotta be good!"

Sp. Teams --
B.- I said it last week, I'll say it again: could we run back a kick for a touchdown? Once? Please?

Coaching --
F. My buddy Big Wes sent me this text: "The Saints called. They would like to donate their holey paper sacks to wear for your next home game." Well that was hurtful. Believe me, if I was attending, you'd see me sporting a Whole Foods chapeau. Perhaps Zorn could use one to escape off the field next week.

When this season started, fans looked at the home game versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as just another of the candy canes the Redskins would beat on their way to a probable 5-2 start. (Lose to the Giants, beat the Rams, Lions, Bucs, Panthers, Chiefs, lose to Dallas.) At this point, there are no easy games, no guaranteed wins, and no room for error. If I were Daniel Snyder, I'd place a cardboard cutout in the owner's box and watch from home. Just in case the fans realize who really is at the center of this mess of a team and storm his suite with flaming seat cushions.

I am hoping against hope, wishing all I can wish, dreaming of what might be. Skins win, 17-10. I need to lie down. The percocet's setting in...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Week Two: Taboo to boo?

Rams 7, Redskins 9

I've followed these Washington Redskins for more than three decades, and I feel confident in saying that I have experienced the full range of highs and lows. But I have never, ever, ever seen the Redskins booed by the home team after a win.

Yes, the Skins have had their share of despicable home performances, such as the 1997 Monday night loss to the Giants when Gus Frerotte injured himself celebrating at touchdown and the Skins couldn't muster a field goal to break the tie. Then there was the 35-point loss in 1998 to the Steve Young 49ers at then-Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. The Redskins deserved every catcall, hiss, and boo that rained down from above.

But on Sunday, did the Redskins deserve to be jeered like the Undertaker as they left the field after outscoring another highly paid, highly trained franchise?


Here's how the rest of the media viewed the win: "Redskins edge Rams in low scoring affair" (NBC). "Redskins settle for field goals to get past Rams (ESPN)." "I think I haven't seen a win that seemed so much like a loss as Washington's 9-7 snoozer over the Rams (Sports Illustrated)."

So imagine how I, and approximately 90,000 of my Redskins-loving brethren, felt when Zorn and his West Coast "offense" produced nine points at home against a far inferior opponent. What level of frustration might we have been experiencing for three hours when we saw dropped touchdowns, Zorn fooling no one with a failed red zone 3rd down option pass, and not one but two tremendously dangerous 4th down rushes when a field goal would seal the game?

How do you express your displeasure at such gridiron impotence?

Booooooooooooooooo! (Breathe.) Boooooooooooooo!

Not only did I boo during the game, but I booed the Redskins hours later as I watched the Cowchips and the Giants display gritty, competitive, score-some-points football. (Even if they did so in the Den of Iniquity where they feature Go-Go Girls and Jerry Jones' habitual nose-picking.) I booed when I saw that the Baltimore Ravens are the second highest scoring offense in the league. Truth be told, I let a boo slip out Monday night as I watched Peyton Manning hit Dallas Clark for an 80- yard touchdown on the first play of the game and as Miami responded with the multiple Wildcats to tie the game moments later.

For the Redskins fan, we booed because we know that our team plays in the toughest division in football. We booed because we know that medicore performances might make us a contender in the pansy NFC West (apologies to the good lookin' SanFranSingletary 49ers), but it is certain to doom us to being bottom-feeding plecostomus of the East. We booed because the Redskins haven't beaten an opponent by more than eight points since Zorn arrived.

We booed because--wait a minute, there's a Tweet coming in from a Redskin player, Robert Henson. Let's see if he can shed some light on the fan reaction from Sunday:
All you fake half hearted Skins fan can .. I won't go there but I dislike you very strongly, don't come to Fed Ex to boo dim wits!! ... No I didn't play but I still made more than you in a year and you'd [gladly] switch spots with me in a second, I was talking to the fans [who] said the crazy stuff, I'm use [to] heckling but I've never been booed in my own stadium....
Well that was enlightening, Mister 186th Pick In The Draft. Henson, whose jersey can't possibly get soiled as third string middle linebacker, also added that the fans can't possibly know what the team should do since they work 9 to 5 at McDonald's.

Now, to be fair, Henson did apologize on Monday, after he was corrected by fans, veteran teammates, and on the air by a livid Comcast SportsNet's Brian Mitchell. (No one enjoys the journalistic use of expletives like Sir Mitchell, eh?) But the damage is done.

The irony of Henson's tweets is that the exact opposite is true: I have every right to call you out vocally when I use my 9 to 5 to subsidize your multi-million dollar contract. I am perfectly justified to boo from my $5000 Dream Seat when your offense can't get out of its own way. Heck, I can boo you because I wear your team's colors on my back and its symbol on my head.

I can boo you because we fans deserve much, much more than what you're giving us. Don't like it? Move to Jacksonville where they blackout telecasts because the fans don't go to the games.

What Worked

The defense played well, though it again allowed sustained drives by the opposition. "Bend but don't break" as a defensive philosophy makes me nervous. I am continually concerned that DeAngelo Hall tackles like Deion Sanders after his manicure and that LaRon Landry goes all-or-nothing on some of his hits. But I'll take those issues, especially when the team so greatly benefits from the guys up front: Orakpo, Haynesworth, Carter and Griffin. Add in team leaader London Fletcher and I suspect the D will save the offense's bacon more than a few times in 2009.

Jason Campbell helped stave off the folding of CHASM (Campbell the Hero Apologist Society of Maryland) with a "well, at least he didn't lose it for us" performance. But getting to the promised land isn't the same as going in the promised land. Just ask Moses. If he's available. Should the Redskins score just a touchdown or two on those 12 plays inside the 10 yard line, they look like they've hit a stride and are expected to win the upcoming games against the Detroit Sisters of Mercy and the Kansas City Glee Club.

What Didn't Work

Anyone seen Santana Moss? Does he still run patterns designed to make him available to catch a forward pass?

OFFENSE F (Thank Heaven there's a Cooley on our team.)
Sp. TEAMS C (Wouldn't a nice, long, highlight-making punt return be nice? Once a year too much to ask?)
COACHES F (I'm reserving the Z-minus for when Zorn really tanks a game.)

Detroit welcomes Washington, hoping to put the game out of reach by scoring 14 points. Fletcher and Company will have none of it. Redskins win, 13-7.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Week One: Back on Familiar Ground

Week One: Back on Familiar Ground

It has been nearly three years since the Redskins Review dove into the exciting, hopeful, and heartbreaking world of the Washington Redskins. When last we spoke, it was November 2006, and the Redskins were enduring a painful 5-11 end to a their season. Under center was the rapidly deteriorating southpaw, Mark Brunell. (Would you believe that he's still earning an NFL paycheck? Is he 60 yet?) The last Review post, ironically, noted that Jason Campbell, a 2005 Auburn draft choice by Coach Gibbs, was to be named the starter on November 19, 2006. At the time, Gibbs said, "When we drafted him we felt like we had a very talented person there, and certainly when we give him the starting job we're going to do everything we can to support him, and hopefully it's going to be something that he takes and makes the most of."

In 2007 the Redskins fans finally got to taste a bit of the sweet nectar that owner Daniel Snyder has been spending gazillions on: the playoffs. The team endured a mid-season four game losing streak (including Gibbs' infamous double-time out gaffe versus the Bills) and the unsettling murder of Sean Taylor to make a wholly unexpected late season run into the playoffs, where they self-destructed in Seattle.

In that offseason, Coach Gibbs downshifted into the NASCAR sunset, defensive coordinator and fan-nominated successor Gregg Williams left after being snubbed for the head coaching position, and the Era of Zorn began in 2008. Jim Zorn, whose previous claim to NFL fame was as the Seattle Seahawks' quarterback coach, rode into a town where virtually none of the residents knew his name. That's not necessarily a bad thing--a virtually unknown Illinois senator managed to earn D.C.'s most powerful position when two years prior few could spell his name correctly. But it had to be clear to Zorn when he signed on the dotted line: win now or else. (Or as I like to say, "you can't spell 'Washington' without the 'win.' " Something like that.)

To what heights did Zorn take the Redskins, a team who has had only two winning seasons and hasn't won their division since 1999? What did his West Coast, zippy-pass offensive stylings produce? Might the Redskins destroy the teams they're supposed to beat, and stand tall against superior talent? Would there be, finally, a prime-time worthy performance during prime time? Could they win against a four-fingered Tony Romo?


8-8. Mediocrity.

The team lost 7 of its last 11 games after starting 4-1, losing to mutton chops San Francisco, St. Louis, and Cincinnati.

Let it be said that from 2006 until now, I have been a card carrying member of the Campbell the Hero Apologist Society of Maryland (CHASM). We meet on Tuesdays. Our once vivacious and vocal group has slimmed from hundreds of members to, well, a few hard core dreamers. (The initial meetings were held in the luxury boxes at FedEx Field. Now we're relegated to the "executive dining area" of the Route 100 Golden Corrall.)

In our manifesto it is decreed that: 1.Sir Campbell, when given the same benefits of consistent coaching enjoyed by the Peyton Mannings and Tom Bradys of the world, will prove to be the man worth three draft picks. 2. Campbell simply needs a good offensive line, a fair amount of time to pass, and a moderate running game to be able to take the Redskins offense to heights nary seen in decades. 3. Campbell is a great guy, a God-fearing gentleman who not only gives back to D.C.'s community, but dates Miss District of Columbia 2007. (Now if that's not commitment to your new home town, I don't know what is.) By this we stand, ready to defend what some might see as inconsistent/nonexistent decision making in the pocket.

This brings us, fatefully, to Week One of the Redskins' 2009 NFL season. The talk before kickoff was that this season--a contract year for Jason Campbell--is to be the Year We Get It Together. After dumping more than $100 million into Albert Haynesworth and the defense, now that draft picks Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas are fully healed, given that Campbell has finally learned one playbook under one offense, it is assumed that it will all come together for positive, postseason success.

Giants 23, Redskins 17.

Egad. Don't let the six points fool you: the Redskins were handled for the entire game. The Redskins looked, aside from one brilliant (or was it desperate?) fake field goal touchdown, exactly like the Redskins of last season...of the previous season...of the one before that. Even when it looked like it was maybe-just-maybe possible that they could score once, get the onside kick, then score again, the team had already emitted such a mildly irritating odor that Redskins fans just knew it wasn't going to happen.

(One quick aside: the New England Patriots faced nearly the exact same circumstances on Monday night against the Buffalo Bills, yet I watched expecting Brady and company to pull off some miracle. I was sure that Magic Tom would somehow score quickly, then alter time, space, and NFL rules and get the ball back again, then score a last-second touchdown. How did it turn out? See for yourself.)

So how quick was the fallout from the Redskins' performance? Let's see what the Washington Post columnists thought: It's Early, But Soon It May Be Late, New Year, Same Results So Far , Waiting for a Huge Impact ,Under Center and Under the Gun. Here are the cliff's notes: Campbell and the Redskins had better win, and do so soon. As in, Sunday against the doormat Rams.

CHASM would humbly add this as well: Campbell simply cannot have another "garbage time touchdown/interception/two fumble" day. He cannot get happy feet in the pocket before getting sacked. He cannot stare down Chris Cooley before he throws his way. He must manage the game, not be managed by it.

Jason Campbell must manage this game to success. The future of CHASM, and perhaps his future as a Redskin, depend upon it.