Sunday, November 29, 2009
The 2009 Redskins find themselves at a dismal, we're-playing-for-pride-and-paychecks 3-8. For the second consecutive week, the Redskins faced a division opponent, held that team's offense in check for three quarters, began to smell a win...and then flubbed the finish. They once again began to take on the persona of a competent and competitive team; but when the game's most deciding moments loomed, they yielded big plays on defense and failed to make big plays on offense. When the Redskins again had opportunities to aggressively attempt to distance their lead, the coaches opted instead to protect rather than conquer.
Nonetheless, this was Washington's most complete, best team performance of the season. The good news is that the Redskins succeeded in holding ground against a longtime rival while fielding a team of third stringers and league-minimum salary makers. And though journeyman-now-starter tackle Levi Jones was beaten like a night burglar by Eagles defensive end Trent Cole for much of the contest, quarterback Jason Campbell was only sacked once. The offense had, at one point, completed eight of their eleven third downs and chewed up clock with a nine play scoring drive. The play calling from Sherman "Sherm In the Box " Lewis actually resembled a smart, effective attack that protected Campbell with shotgun sets. The Redskins' fourth-ranked defense provided another stellar three quarters of a game performance, which combined with Eagles coach Andy Reid's questionable game plan, placed the Redskins in a solid position to win.
But oy vey, these be the 2009 Redskins. When cornerback Justin Tryon intercepted a Donovan McNabb pass early in the fourth quarter, placing the Redskins' offense near the opponent's 20 yard line, the team went limp, never attempting a pass in the end zone. They settled for a field goal, never got anywhere near the end zone again and--surprise!--those missed points were the difference in the game. Not much later, the defense needed to nurse an eight point lead in the fourth quarter but gave up a ten play, 90-yard touchdown drive. And then a two point conversion. Forty-six yards of that drive came on just one play, a pass to wide receiver Jason Avant who bounced off of an unnecessary shoulder tackle from safety Laron "Highlight Stick" Landry and rumbled forward for a nice chunk of those yards. The secondary had a repeat performance from Dallas, proving vulnerable in man coverage and at the worst possible times.
FOX color commentator Daryl Johnston exalted the Redskins at halftime of Sunday's game against the Eagles, saying "When you look at the performance in the last two and half games, these Redskins don't look like a 3-7 team."
Actually, Mr. Johnston, the Redskins look precisely like a team that has won just three games. Teams at or near .500, like the Titans, Ravens, and 49ers, give their fans a confidence that their team has the playmakers to mount a big comeback against a division opponent with a two minute drive. Or simply wallop an opponent so that the game is over before the fourth quarter.
But the Redskins? They are in the summer school of Fan Confidence Building, possessing the unique power to play up or down to their opponent but usually ending up defeated. Did any of the Washington faithful really think Campbell would lead this team into field goal range from their own 15 yard line with 1:44 left and no timeouts?
At least the 2009 Redskins haven't gotten blown out. Then again, the New Orleans Saints and their league-leading offense come to town next week.
OFFENSE: B-. Campbell's continued audition for 2010 free agency is showing signs of improvement, even if he still stares down his intended receivers too often.
DEFENSE: C-. At this point, even slow-motion President Obama could get open deep on the Redskins' secondary. Kudos for outstanding work by Chris Wilson, Andre Carter and the defensive line for pressuring McNabb most of the game without $100 million man Albert Haynesworth sucking up their oxygen.
Sp. TEAMS: C. They had the opportunity to put the offense in position to win with a good run back before Washington's last drive. Instead: first and ten at the fifteen.
COACHING: C. For the record, Pittsburgh's third string quarterback, who'd only thrown one NFL pass, started against the Baltimore Ravens defense on Sunday night and attempted more deep passes than Jason Campbell.
OWNERSHIP: D. Better than an F, and that's only due to the Cyber Monday specials at the Redskins.com store.
New Orleans visits FedEx Field, averaging just over 420 offensive yards per game. I can't do that in a Madden franchise season unless I adjust the CPU difficulty from All Pro to Pro. Fortunately, the Saints' defense allows an mediocre 330 yards per game. Will the Redskins' resistible force triumph over the Saints' movable object? Of course not. But the entertainment level should be sky-high. Get your fantasy players ready. Skins win (and this is pure imagination), 21-20.
Monday, November 16, 2009
I love Redskins/Cowchips games. This series is the most angry of sports rivalries. These are the games that, despite the respective records, always contain quietly simmering, long-standing bitterness just waiting to explode. When Washington and Dallas collide, it's often either an epic beatdown by one team or a shocking, "I may have soiled myself!" finish that leaves sends one group into euphoria, another into a week's worth of therapy. In fact, all week on Redskins radio shows, callers proclaimed that even if this season was essentially a wash for postseason play, it would all be better if the Redskins beat Dallas.
But if ever there was a game destined for the forgotten, dust-filled corner of the rivalry vault, this was it. At halftime, there were more injury timeouts than points. In the second half, even the Dallas faithful were enthusiastically booing every three-and-out and missed field goal. You know it's a slow game when viewers eagerly wait for FOX game breaks of the Cleveland versus Detroit contest.
Kudos are deserved for the Redskins defense, which is able to hold its head high and say "hey, this one ain't on us." Anytime a defense goes on the road against a well-known opponent and holds one of the most prolific (at least statistically speaking) offenses to a mere seven points, their quarterback to a less than 50 rating for more than three quarters, and their wide receivers without a catch for most of the game, they've done their job. The 153 net yards rushing are even forgiven, considering that $100 million man Albert Haynesworth didn't play.
The offense came right back to earth after the moderate liftoff shown last week against the Broncos. Jason Campbell and Sherman "Sherm in the Box" Lewis must have some secret, unspoken plan for Campbell's post-Redskins future because Lewis continues to call a short-to-intermediate passing scheme that allows Campbell to finish with decent statistics but few points to back them up. Campbell threw for more than 250 yards on 24/37 passing and his only interception was off a tipped ball. And sure, he made a couple of good throws against Dallas' blitz. But at what point does this offense say that yes, they have patch worked protection, but no, they're not going to live off of running back dumpoffs, wide receiver screens, and seven yard routes?
The future for the offense looks all the more bleak with late news that Ladell Betts is likely out for the season with a ligament injury. One of the ironies for Washington is that despite their offensive line not having any depth, the Skins are (bad pun alert!) rock solid at running back. Third stringer Rock Cartwright filled in for Betts admirably, accounting for more than 100 yards from scrimmage. He was a nonfactor in the fourth quarter, rushing just two times. Nonetheless, he appears to be able to fill in adequately if Clinton Portis is unable to continue next week.
It's said that close games are lost by the coaches, blowouts by the players. This game certainly lends some validity to the cliche, thanks to yet another week of simple errors and questionable decisions. To wit: Dallas had just missed a field goal to tie, and now with fifteen seconds left in the second half, Washington reached its best field position of the day, the Dallas 20. A lengthy booth review process left Washington with a full six real time minutes to look through the playbook, determine a pass play into the end zone, and take an opponents' heart by taking a 10-0 halftime lead. Or, they could stand around talking with the referees, leave their kicker on the field the entire time, then wimp out and kick a field goal. Zorn and Sherm opted for the latter, and it severely cost them as Shaun Suisham shanked the 39-yard kick. If a team is relying on their kicker to score their points, well, something is terribly wrong.
But that's the byline for this entire season, isn't it?
OFFENSE: F. Six points? Really? As my disgusted Pops said, "If you can't score a touchdown, you don't belong in the playoffs."
DEFENSE: A. Outstanding tackling and coverage, particularly from the good-on-paper secondary.
Sp. TEAMS: C-. The miscues include two missed field goals and an illegal wedge penalty on the kickoff when the team needed yards to retake the lead. Credit goes to Devin Thomas' strong kickoff returns.
COACHING: D. Zorn at least admitted that he screwed up the time out usage in the second half.
OWNERSHIP: F. I challenge Snydely to name his starting offensive line. Without notes.
The Redskins travel north to Lincoln Financial Field to face Macho Harris and the Philadelphia Eagles. (And yes, "Macho Harris " is one of the best names for a football player, alongside "Dick Butkus," "Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala," and "Fair Hooker.") Despite perennial thorn Brian Westbook's likely absence, the Skins' defense will have its hands full of McNabb-to-Avant, McNabb-to-Jackson, and McNabb-to-Celek. Stopping them is possible. What may not be possible is for Washington's offense to live off of the legs of Rock for sixty minutes. I wish them well, and let's hope that Washington wins, 16-13.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
But make no mistake, these aren't the Redskins of previous decades. No, the 2009 Redskins ran the ball in the second half because, frankly, they had no choice. Jason Campbell finished another game with deceptively good statistics (17 for 26, one touchdown, no interceptions) but after the game's first series he looked uncomfortable and wasn't accurate on his long throws. He was bailed out of incompletions by his receivers because his passes were high, hard, and behind their targets. Sherm In The Box must've recognized the inaccuracies because the play calls showed much more trust in the run than the pass. Campell's only second half pass completed for more than 18 yards required the receiver, Devin Thomas, to break four tackles along the way. And don't forget that Campbell held the ball too long, resulting in sacks on three of the twelve pass plays attempted in the second half.
If calling for run left-run right-run center was obvious for Washington, it should have been equally so for Denver. The play of the game for the highlight shows was the Hunter Smith to Mike Sellers touchdown trick play, but in truth the game changed when Denver's quarterback Kyle Orton was injured and had to be sat down for the second half. For the first half, Orton had carved the Redskins' secondary for two touchdowns and nearly 200 yards. In fact, had he not overthrown a ridiculously open Eddie Royal, the Redskins could have been blown out early for the second consecutive week. Nonetheless, Orton still efficiently lead his team on a Madden-esque 18 play drive in response to Sellers' score.
With the injury to Orton, backup Chris Simms stepped in and he looked every bit like a man who plays football without a spleen. He completed just two passes for six yards before earning one more garbage time completion for seven yards. He also completed a pass to the Redskins via an unnecessary, horrid deep interception into double coverage. Meanwhile, Denver's curiously named running back Knowshon Moreno ran for 97 yards and the team averaged an impressive 5.5 yards per carry. So for all the "we shut 'em down!" chest-thumping that the Redskins defense did post game, the reality is that they were very fortunate that a man named Simms stood opposite under center.
The Redskins now sit at a poor-to-mediocre 3-6 record and without any identity. They face a murderer's row of upcoming opponents with a running back controversy, a porous secondary, and with a continuously injured $100 million Albert Haynesworth. But this win is a moment, like that clip from 1984, that is just enough reason to smile.
OFFENSE: B. The offensive line and running backs deserve Monday off, if for nothing else than to recuperate from pushing the Broncos' defensive line and linebackers up and down the field.
DEFENSE: C. If the defensive line and linebackers are the Beatles, the secondary is Ringo Starr. There's no excuse for the blown coverages seen every week.
Sp. TEAMS: D. Suisham pushes two kickoffs out of bounds and Randle-El watches a punt bounce at the 31 and makes no effort to stop it from rolling to his team's nine. Egad.
COACHING: B. Was that Zorn taking credit for play calls after the game? Or did he mean "I" in, like, an organizational sense?
OWNERSHIP: F. Snydely rescinded the ban on fan signs at FedEx Field...just over an hour before kickoff when most fans were likely already on their way. Man of the people, that Danny.
The Dallas Cowchips and the Big D faithful welcome Washington to the home of their monolith jumbotron. Now that the afterglow of this week's win has faded, the truth of the Skins' deficiencies is still too blinding. Can the offensive line have two great weeks in a row? Will the real Santana Moss please stand up? Will Miles Austin be open for a 30, 40, or 50 yard touchdown? I am standing firm that without more evidence of improvement, I cannot pick the Redskins to win. I also stand firm on my lifelong pronouncement that I shall never root for Dallas. My dilemma is solved thus: Dallas 13, Washington 13.
ONE MORE THING
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
With all the confusion, discord, and general malaise surrounding the 2009 Washington Redskins this season, it has been difficult to narrow down a reason for their poor record. Have there been too many injuries at key positions without strong second string players? Have the plays signaled in by Currently Coach Zorn/Sherman Lewis been poorly called and/or executed? Is Snydely Whiplash finally reaping the full measure of what he has sown in his years of mismanagement? Is this offense just great on paper and the defense overrated? Have they incurred the burning wrath of honored veterans John Riggins and Sonny Jurgensen? The answer to all of these questions, sadly, is yes.
However, in Sunday's loss--another in a now four-game Parade of Patheticisim--the 2009 Redskins have revealed yet another reason for their bottom-feeder performance: they have no fear of their leader.
Let me qualify that conclusion, somewhat, by stating that I haven't attended Redskins player-only team meetings, or been hiding in the dirty jersey bin and overheard the players' locker room conversations. Nor was I out golfing with NFL insiders Peter King or Chris Mortensen and picked up the latest clubhouse rumor.
Instead, I watched Sunday's game and here's what I saw:
With just under two minutes left in the first half, the Redskins are getting completely blown out of Atlanta's Georgia Dome, 21-3. The offense has produced 69 total yards, given up five sacks, and earned three first downs. The defense, supposedly ranked fourth best in the NFL, has already given up two touchdowns and allowed two 30+ yard runs to Michael Turner. The defense is on the field once again, hoping to preserve some measure of respect. Another Atlanta touchdown and the twenty Redskins fans in attendance might consider beating the traffic home.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan scrambles right and heads out of bounds at the Atlanta 44-yard line to preserve time. Redskins safety Laron Landry, in pursuit, doesn't pull up and extends himself to hit Ryan into the Falcons' sideline as he (Ryan) is already out of the field of play. The referees throw an unnecessary roughness penalty on Landry. Cornerback Deangelo Hall, near the area, ends up in a shoving match with more than five Falcons players and two coaches (!) and eventually is pulled away by Redskins cornerback Justin Tryon. Redskins tackle Albert Haynesworth comes over and hits a Falcons player and is also flagged for unnecessary roughness. Cut to a shot of Currently Coach Zorn and he appears to be walking on the field, deciding whether to talk into his headset. Watch the whole brouhaha here.
As I saw this play happen live, I felt that this team had sunk to a new low. Not just in performance--I kind of expect that now--but in professionalism, in code, in honor. Where is this team's self-worth? Its respect? Its fear of consequence?
First, Laron Landry played without discipline on his hit. Ryan clearly exhibited an intent to get out of bounds on his scramble, and he certainly looked far enough ahead for Landry to accept that Ryan had the necessary yards for the first down. Why would Landry nonetheless launch himself into a quarterback, the most protected of all players?
Even if Landry gets a "heat of the moment" pass, take a look at Deangelo Hall. Pregame reports stated that Hall announced that he was looking forward (and not in a good way) to playing his former team. The first opportunity Hall has to mix it up with the Falcons, he's right there and is posing a potential detriment to his team. I don't buy his postgame explanation that he was just trying to help Landry. Justin Tryon, #20, is trying to help Landry. These are vastly different interpretations of "help." The video clearly shows Hall jawing and shoving with the Falcons even as Landry has already calmly left the scene.
Next, $100 million free agent Albert Haynesworth enters the fray after Hall has been separated from the Falcons and a full twenty seconds after the play is over to land an unprovoked punch on a Falcons player. This is the same Albert Haynesworth who had two penalties (one on the first play!) that helped extend the Falcons' first touchdown drive. What was he thinking--that he had a free hit since Landry's personal foul would be accepted? Did he think no one would notice? And most troubling of all, did he care?
And what did Coach Zorn have to say about three of his premier players committing unnecessary and unsportsmanlike conduct? Was he ready to tear some heads off? Was he considering some great punishment for the offenders? Here's his postgame reaction:
I thought everybody kept it together. I thought the officials handled it very well. I was watching on the big screen and I knew that DeAngelo was over there and I knew that was a bad place for him to be so I tried to get over there and help the situation. But even DeAngelo coming back to me, he had a real sense of control about the situation, too.You're reading that right: Currently Coach Zorn thought that mess of a moment--the Associate Press called it a melee--was under control. (Zorn's interpretation of "help" apparently involves walking slowly and looking confused.) This was his chance to make clear that such unprofessional, undisciplined actions would not be tolerated. This was Zorn's Shaka Zulu moment, where he could publicly demand the strictest discipline, perfection and loyalty from his followers. He could have at the same time remind Snydely, Cerrato, and, most importantly, the fans that he is ultimately responsible and in control of this team.
But he didn't. That video clip isn't just a routine, harmless professional football scrum. This, and the other nine penalties (four giving Atlanta first downs), multiple dropped passes, and first half listlessness is evidence that the players don't fear what their coach would do to them if they embarrassed their fans and franchise with underachievement. This team has allowed itself to be defined by its circumstances. And while those circumstances are grim, frustrating, and dark, there is no reason for the players to relinquish one of the few things left to hang their hat on: the honor.
Now all that's left is the possibility that the Redskins can achieve yet low point in this season of low points. Maybe the fans will be graced with another public Snydely "I feel your pain!" statement.
OFFENSE: C. I'm not impressed with their ability to have two good drives per game.
DEFENSE: D. If this team can't stop the opposition, there's the possibility of the Skins being blown out of nearly all their remaining games. Egad.
Sp. TEAMS: C. Wouldn't it have been a better measure of revenge for Deangelo Hall to return a punt for a touchdown?
COACHES: D. That first half was the result of two weeks of game planning?
OWNER: F. Thanks to a Redskins fan in Atlanta who held this sign up during the broadcast: "Confiscate This Danny! Fire Vinny!"
With teams like the Denver Broncos, the Cowchips, and Saints still on the season menu, these 2-6 Washington Redskins may be remembered as having one of the worst seasons in modern Redskins history. Given their consistently poor performance, I can't in good conscience predict them to win any future games. Broncos win, 24-13.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Editor's note: For all of my analysis, devotion, and, yes, love of the Washington Redskins, it did not occur to me until the last few years that my favorite team's namesake was possibly politically incorrect. And maybe just a little mean. As I read recently that the trademark lawsuit alleging that the Skins' name and symbol are derogatory will be ruled on soon by the Supreme Court, I decided that I had to take some position on my own. Hence, the following. I welcome your feedback.
[Fade in to: studio audience applause and "The Next Movement" instrumental by the Roots]
Jeff Jones: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the Redskins Review. If there is one issue that continues to be a source of controversy within the proud heritage of the Washington Redskins, it is, oddly, with the very name of the franchise. Here today to give her unique perspective is a well-known American icon, a woman whose name and face have been a part of the first meal for generations. Please help me welcome… Aunt Jemima.
[Enthusiastic audience applause]
Aunt Jemima: Great to be here, Jeff. How is the family?
Jeff: They are eating well, I assure you! [Polite audience laughter] And you’re looking great for 120 years old. What’s your secret?
Aunt Jemima: Well Jeff I don’t let my mind rest. Waste not, want not! I recently finished my master’s degree in social and behavioral sciences and I plan to pursue work with the National Women’s Studies Association. I get plenty of sleep…and having breakfast every day doesn’t hurt. [Winks at audience, who laughs and applauds]
Jeff: Indeed! Now, you have enjoyed an impressive record of commercial success, but your image has been no stranger to controversy. What do you make of the lawsuit and issue surrounding the name “Redskins.”
Aunt Jemima: Jeff, it’s all too familiar. Here we have a profitable business that, even though it has a long history, refuses to get with the times because of its own arrogance and naïveté. That football owner, Daniel Snyder, is so misguided that he believes he knows better how to honor a group of people than they do. That’s what this whole situation boils down to.
Aunt Jemima: You know, I haven’t always been represented on your waffles and pancake boxes with my pearl earrings and permed hair. No, dear, I was once drawn as an overweight, big smiling, bandana-wearing, batter-stirring mammy who was just all too eager to “make y’all summa mah fluffy, energizin’ pancakes!” [Nervous laughter from audience]
I started out as a joke—a joke!—from a minstrel show, and an enterprising person thought that the look, the name, and the image would be a great way to sell some ready-made mix. Yet now my face and name help sell hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of food.
Jeff: Your look today is quite different than in the past. Why is that?
Aunt Jemima: Well, the NAACP and lots of regular folk fought back against the presentation of me as that happy heavyweight. Back then, my image connected consumers to the days of the Old South—a time when the inhumanities of slavery seemed to be justified by the images of people like me smiling, just as happy as we can be. The mammy was to the kitchen what a field Negro was to the cotton field. To make it simple, the marketing was all about convincing white women that they could have the benefits of a southern black woman-made pancake without all that uncomfortable servant-guilt stuff. It was quite successful, even in the face of protests. The press even mocked the NAACP’s efforts to have me better reflect African-American women, saying it was futile and quixotic. But, thankfully, they didn’t believe the corporate excuses and justifications.
Jeff: Even now the Quaker Oats company describes your former image as “large, gregarious, with the face of an angel.”
Aunt Jemima: [Laughs and rolls eyes] Talk about spin city. But that’s what’s going on with the Washington Redskins. History is written by the victors, Churchill once said, and the Redskins’ history of racial intolerance gets spun like drawers in a dryer. The organization acknowledges that they were named by an unrepentant, racist owner, George Marshall, who once said that the team’s colors were “burgundy, gold, and Caucasian.” He didn’t want African-Americans on his team and fought it until he had to give in so he could use the stadium that became RFK. He wanted his team to represent the Old South, just like my old image.
Jeff: Not exactly a good foundation to build on, eh?
Aunt Jemima: Hardly. So Snyder and the team really believe that this guy wanted to honor Native Americans with the team name? Right, and the original fight song saying “Scalp ‘em, swamp ‘em — we will take ‘em big score” is a love lyric to the Native American community. I wonder if the coach referenced by the team name was ever asked if he wanted to be honored that way. Heaven knows I sure wasn’t asked if I wanted “Dixieland” sung on my early radio commercials.
Jeff: What about the Redskins organization’s legal arguments, you know, about the percentages of Native Americans not offended by the name?
Aunt Jemima: There’s all this argument about how many Native Americans were polled, how they were asked, and so on. The Redskins may have asked Native Americans if they were offended by the name, but did they ask “Hey, do you feel honored? Do you like how this company has chosen to honor you?” Those are very different questions.
Then I think about the likeness—it’s a dark, red-skinned man on their helmet. Whether such and such dictionary says that “redskin” refers to skin color, or to war paint, or whatever, the point is still that the team has a red-skinned guy as their symbol. Honestly, who in today’s times uses skin color to describe a people? “Black” might be the only exception, and even then it’s inaccurate and refers more to culture, and that is defined by African-Americans. Not other people. That’s why I mentioned the arrogance earlier.
Jeff: So what are you suggesting the Washington Redskins do, lose millions of dollars over the protests of a small minority?
Aunt Jemima: Do you know what would happen if they changed the name on my box to Aunt J’s or replaced my picture with a platter of steaming food? People would buy the box and go make pancakes. Do you know how many Redskins fans would root for the team if the name were Warpath or Monuments? I’ll tell you: all of them. Marketing 101 says that if you have a good product and good promotion, people will buy it. Even--what do you call him, Snydely?--he understands that.
If Danny humbly stated that he thought it over and wants to honor the Native Americans by choosing a less divisive name, he’d win major PR points and also have the chance to sell a whole new style of hat and bumper sticker. Recycle the unsold Redskins products and he’s managed the politically correct trifecta! [Audience applauds]
Jeff: Well said! That’s all the time we have. Thank you, Aunt Jemima, for joining us and sharing your insights. Say, any truth to the rumor that you and Mrs. Butterworth are still not on speaking terms?
Aunt Jemima: Well, you can’t believe everything you hear…!
[Audience laughs and applauds. Fade out]