Monday, November 16, 2009

Week Eleven: One for the (Back of the) Books

Washington 6, Dallas 7

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.

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