Thursday, November 12, 2009

Week Ten: Old School Lovin'

Denver 17, Washington 27

During the CBS telecast of the Redskins game, the station began the second half with a promotion celebrating their 50th year of NFL broadcasts. For fifteen seconds, CBS took the viewers back to the grainy video of the NFC Championship game on January 8, 1984. There they were: the Redskins of old, playing on the wonderfully mushy turf of RFK stadium. The smooth tones of announcer Pat Summerall narrated quick highlights of Washington's win over the San Francisco 49ers. There was Joe Theismann with his single-barred helmet, protected by Hogs like Joe Jacoby and Jeff Bostic, orchestrating a perfect play action fake to John Riggins and decisively locking in a laser pass to "Downtown" Charlie Brown, who outran future Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott for six. RFK's cheap seats was rocking after Mark Moseley straight-kicked the go-ahead score. For the lifelong Redskins fan, seeing those Days of Glory felt like being surrounded by that tattered, stained, but still comfortable Redskins sweatshirt you received for Christmas as a kid.

That 1983 team outscored every other team that season and averaged 164 yards on the ground per game on their way to a 14-2 record and Super Bowl appearance. There was a confidence back then that even if the 'Skins fell behind in the first half, Coach Joe Gibbs would make some halftime adjustment, usually involving two things: (1) running the ball and (2) running the ball. The Hogs up front knew it, the fans knew it, and even the opposition knew it. But there was just no stopping a determined, well-executed, single-minded game plan. "We're gonna run 'til you ##$# stop us!" was the identity for the Redskins not just for that year, but for nearly a decade to come.

As Earth, Wind & Fire once sang, "Something happened along the way..." and Washington lost that identity. And a whole lot of games. But for thirty minutes on Sunday, modern fans felt a portion of the experience coveted by the longtime diehards. And the result was an old school beatdown of the Denver Broncos.

Backup running backs Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright followed the outstanding blocking of the patchwork offensive line for more than 150 yards on 35 carries. You know the offensive line is doing a great job when the Broncos' free safety, Brian Dawkins, leads his team with twelve tackles. The ground attack, combined with completing 50% of their 3rd downs, gave the home team an eleven minute time of possession advantage. The opposition simply had no answer for the pounding they received. Ah, just like the old days.

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.
B. Was that Zorn taking credit for play calls after the game? Or did he mean "I" in, like, an organizational sense?

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.

Coach Zorn revealed in a post game interview that during this past week he fielded a call from Albert Haynesworth's mother, who advised that the players weren't having enough fun on the field. Seriously. Can you name any other professional coach who consults players' mothers? Do you think Mike Ditka ever chatted with Momma Singletary or Aunt McMahon? And what professional coach has that much time on their hands, anyway?

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