Monday, December 28, 2009

Week Sixteen: You've Earned A Trophy!

Dallas 17, Washington 0

If the 2009 Redskins' season were played on PlayStation, it would have achieved all the trophies required to earn the platinum Season Fail status. To reach this dubious level, a team must do more than simply lose their games; they must run the gamut of scenarios designed to humiliate, embarrass, and outright shun their loyal fan base. This effort is beyond being impressively unimpressive, it must descend into historically abysmal depths of pure disappointment. Best (or worst) of all, the Redskins have gotten there with one week still left in the season. Here's the checklist:

  1. Lose every game in your division. Remind your rivals of the joy of kicking around the Cardinals. Check.
  2. Lose a game against a rookie quarterback or quarterback getting his first start. Check.
  3. Lose to a team whose fans habitually wear paper bags to the games (and management has no problem with it.) Check.
  4. Win but play so badly that your own fans boo you off your home field. Check.
  5. Beat any team led by Jamarcus Russell and celebrate "turning a corner." Check.
  6. Lose a virtually-won game by doing any of the following: miss easy field goals, allow a touchdown of 30+ yards, or playing for the tie when you're ahead. Check.
  7. Beat a team led by a spleenless man. Check.
  8. Lose two or more games without scoring at least ten points and without scoring a touchdown. Check, check, check.
  9. Lose. Don't even threaten to score, as if there's an invisible, anti-you barrier constructed near the red zone. Check.
  10. Lose back to back games and be outscored by fifty or more points. Check. Additional achievement if done before national audiences. Ding!

I'm sure there's an additional hidden trophy the Redskins will acquire for losing to a team playing its entire second string. That comes next week against the San Diego Chargers.

All of this, topped off perhaps with Sunday night's public whipping at FedEx Field by Dallas, is evidence that perhaps the only solution left for the franchise is to pull a Tobacco Road by detonating the team and startin' all over again. Washington's coaches and players had their second, home-base, prime-time audition for new GM Bruce Allen and again showed that few deserved to be employed come January.

After posting a mere twelve points against the Giants, the offense actually took a step backward on Sunday, never getting further than Dallas' 23-yard line. Jason Campbell, though protected by men who couldn't make Dallas' practice squad, still made the same errors that contributed to last week's black eye. The running game was nonexistent, and the feel-good Quinton Ganther story dulled considerably. He ran seven times...for thirteen yards. The 218 yards earned by the offense are hardly much to cheer about, and most of those came during garbage time. ("Garbage time" for the 2009 Redskins may include up to seven minutes in the fourth quarter.) Perhaps this stat details the futility of the offense: following the interception on their first possession, the Redskins punted on eight of their final nine drives.

The defense didn't play all that poorly--they held a diverse Dallas offense to 17 points. But credit falls to the Cowchips coach Wade Phillips. He had two odd calls on fourth-and-short where he ran the ball up the middle and failed. Then Dallas tried a bizarre Wildcat reverse that lost fourteen yards, erasing a long completion on 3rd and 8 that had gotten them into Redskins' territory. Furthermore, Dallas mismanaged their two minute drill at the end of the first half and likely left three points on the field.

Nonetheless, the defense played stout, certainly well enough for even a mediocre offense to take advantage of. Alas, the offense in Washington is far less than mediocre. NBC's Chris Collinsworth called it "borderline unwatchable."

The analysis in the coming weeks will be to predict the outcome of an interesting game of professional-level Whack-A-Mole, as Snydely will begin the dirty, necessary task of cleaning house. For now, enjoy the unfortunate trophy collection earned by the current personnel


OFFENSE: F. The other point of analysis for the near future is whether Campbell's mediocrity is justified by the multiple offensive systems and porous offensive lines he has had to work with. ("It isn't fair," he finally vented on Comcast SportsNet Sunday night.) Then again, his backpedaling into sacks, inaccuracy, and intentional grounding habits have yet to be self-corrected. Hmm...

DEFENSE: C. Another game, another scene with Laron Landry chasing a receiver 20 or more yards down the field because he just can't play the pass. This week it was tight end Jason Witten outrunning Landry for a 69-yard completion on a simple crossing route.

Sp. TEAMS: C-. Punter Hunter Smith averaged just over 37 yards per punt, and the longest return by a Redskin was 24 yards.

COACHES: F. I'm not sure which is worse: that Zorn didn't know whether his team had reached the red zone in the game (they didn't) or that he thought that the Redskins' record was 4-13.

OWNERSHIP: F. I missed it, but quite a few post-game commenters noted Bruce Allen and Snydely enjoying a laugh while the final moments of the shutout commenced.


In the Washington Post post-game chat, it was noted how ironic it is that the Redskins will end their season, and likely the coaching career of Jim Zorn, against the first coach Dan Snyder ran out of D.C., San Diego's Norv Turner. The Chargers have nothing to play for, having secured the number two seed in the AFC and a first-round playoff bye by winning ten straight games. If I'm Turner, I'm keeping my starters' jerseys clean and seeing what backup quarterback Billy Volek can muster with the reserves. Washington decides to send its coach off with a win, 14-13.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Week Fifteen: Welcome to Washington, Mr. Allen!

New York 45, Washington 12

Dear Mr. Bruce Allen,

Merry Christmas and congratulations on your new position as General Manager and Executive Vice President of the Redskins! As you know, you are joining one of the most high-profile professional sports franchises in the nation, and you will enjoy the support of the most die hard, loyal fans anywhere. In fact, my formative years as a fan were spent watching your father, George Allen, coach a pride (and hatred of the Cowboys) into the team that still exists decades later. Those and the following years under Joe Gibbs were just a euphoric time to follow Washington's warriors.

I'm not sure if you were completely briefed during your job interview about the business you're joining, but the modern organization doesn't resemble, in any way, the Redskins we fans knew and loved.

May I be blunt? It is a complete, total, ineffective mess.

Since 1999, when Daniel Snyder bought the franchise, the Redskins have no Super Bowl appearances and have won just 46 percent of their games. Something is wrong when a team has had more coaches (six) than playoff wins (two) in the same time period. Compare that to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who since 1969 have only hired three coaches and have two championships in the 00's. The longtime fans aren't just disappointed. They are more than disgruntled. They are bordering on a revolt featuring a burning of the owner in effigy. Seriously.

But you have a great opportunity to step in and help change all of that with some shrewd roster and organizational moves. There are some decisions you've got to make, starting perhaps with quarterback Jason Campbell, who has been battered all season like a red-handed husband on Cheaters behind an offensive line made up of former Krispy Kreme employees. It looks that bad. Then there's the defense, who has earned a top ten statistical ranking but appears not to be able to intercept passes, disrupt plays, or tackle runners. The special teams you are inheriting features our newest kicker, Graham Gano, who injured his foot after just one game. The guy before him was the most accurate kicker the Redskins have ever had...even if he ruined the Redskins' best performance of the year.

And then there's the current coach, Jim Zorn.
It is a sad irony that Zorn was hired to run the offense, then given the head coach position, then stripped of the ability to run the offense. ("So what's he good at, then?" I ask myself weekly.) Reports are already surfacing that former Denver coach Mike Shanahan is a lock for the 2010 coaching position in Washington. I'm not sure how you'd handle this kind of situation in the future, but allow me to suggest that it is really, really not nice to openly start talks with your new employee without letting the first one go. At least pretend you want to keep the current guy around until the season ends. I hope you're taking notes on the business model your boss employs.

I am confident that even if nobody pulled you aside while you filled out your W-4 form and whispered to you these insights, you are aware of how dismal your new job is going to be. I caught a glimpse of you, sipping a beverage, in the coaching box during Monday Night Football. (I hope it was something strong.) Without any prior knowledge of this organization's woes, witnessing that Cirque de Suck tells you everything you know about the problems of the Washington Redskins.

There's an old Ice Cube song that's a guilty pleasure of mine, and it begins with a montage of mocking voices saying "Here's what they think about you." (Ice Cube then launches into a wickedly effective, profanity-laced verbal assault. But that's not my point.) For your benefit, I transcribed some of the broadcast commentary heard during and after the Redskins' nationally televised game. Here's what they think about your team:

After New York went up 14-0, and Washington had three total plays and negative three yards in more than a quarter: "This is an unbelievable statement by both teams."
After Washington's second three-and-out: "This is the biggest tail-kicking in the first twenty minutes I have seen all year."
"The Cowboys are watching this and can't get [to play the Redskins] fast enough!"
"The score is 24 to zero...and it hasn't been that close."
"They shut down the federal government, but [Redskins fans] still came out to see this."
After halftime, with Washington scoreless: "[Zorn] can't be pleased with one element of the football displayed by the Redskins. You're playing for each other and for your jobs. Not much else needs to be said."
With the score already 31-6, after Campbell overthrows his tight end, resulting in six more points for the Giants: "It is about as embarrassing as it can get for any franchise in what we see here tonight."
"This is the worst possible showing you can have for someone new in the front office."
"All in all, [this has been] one of the most pathetic performances I've seen in all my time playing and covering the NFL."
Worst of all, in the fourth quarter, the stadium was filled with "Let's go Giants!"

Mr. Allen, your hiring was timed, in part, so that a national audience and the media could recognize a new era of change in the Washington Redskins. The team walked on the field and looked worse than ever. And that's saying something, considering the performances against the Rams, Lions, Buccaneers, Chiefs, and Falcons. Your team was, by any account, an embarrassment. The Associate Press put it this way: "In theory, the Redskins (4-10) should have had a great purpose - a desire to put on a good show for Bruce Allen, hired on Thursday in a major front office shake-up. Instead, they did a good job of showing Allen that maybe everyone ought to be fired." Wow.


This was such a top-down, all-hands-on-deck collapse that I will suspend the usual scorecard. Just know that the offense, defense, special teams, coaches and ownership completely failed. Did I mention that this was on national television?

There is so much utter ridiculousness by Currently Coach Zorn from the game that these moments should be sewn into a flag and draped across his box of personal items as he walks out of Redskins Park. Here are the top three moments from Monday night:

(1) In the second quarter, with Washington beginning its two-minute drill, Campbell takes yet another hard sack. Zorn, unaware of both the continual loss of time and that his starting quarterback is writhing on the ground in pain takes ten full seconds to call a time out. Come to think of it, the whole team waited a full ten seconds to call a time out.

(2) That same drive turns out to be the best of the first half, and nears its end at the Giants' 20-yard line. On 4th down, Zorn sends out the field goal team, which switches formation into a trick pass play for holder Hunter Smith. The Giants, aware that the Redskins were successful on such trickery earlier this year, call a time out. When play resumes, Zorn calls the same play, which is so poorly designed that Smith is left defenseless against three rushers. Smith is crushed but gamely tosses the ball, where there are six Giants waiting to intercept it. Zorn's explanation? "Boy, I wish they hadn't had timeouts then, but they did. They played good defense and they sniffed [the play] out." Are you kidding me?

(3) Last, and certainly not least: Afte the game, Currently Coach Zorn listed snow as one of the many "adversities" the team faced coming into Monday night's game. Yes, the snow that ended early Sunday morning and was nowhere near the field on Monday. Funny, I recall a certain Baltimore team scoring 31 points on Sunday afternoon with that adversity.

You're a nice guy, Jim, but go. Just go.

Break out your old school "R" hats, it's Dallas Week. That's right, these are the Cowchips who just handed the previously-unbeaten Saints their hats down in the Superdome. Dallas has playoff position to play for, more than a week of rest, and zero fear of the Redskins. This details of Monday night's loss are just too fresh to even contemplate a scenario where Washington wins. Well, maybe some sort of Kwanzaa miracle could occur.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Week Fourteen: Accentuate the Positive

Washington 34, Oakland 13

Resist the urge.

Yes, we will resist the urge: say that the Redskins were supposed to win a game against a franchise so bad that fans pooled their money-during a recession!-to publicly cry out to their team's ownership. roll our eyes when we hear the final score (because who watches the Redskins anymore, right?) and say "well, it's about [flip-flarn-filthin'] time." say that after watching the Eagles and Giants produce nearly 900 yards of offense Sunday night, the Redskins look more like an annual distraction than a contender in the NFC East. lament that Washington could easily be in playoff contention if they had simply performed as advertised, splitting wins in their division and beating the teams they were more talented than. begin to fear the Worst Case Scenario: the Redskins win just enough games to fool owner Snydely Whiplash into forgetting how hideously disastrous this season really has been.

As the saying goes, if at first you don't succeed, redefine success. A Redskins final score finally looked like it was supposed to. We will therefore choose to stay positive, and celebrate Washington's outstanding defensive play, which lived up to its top-ten status by limiting the Raiders to 62 rushing yards, a 33% third down conversion rate, and dropping Oakland's quarterbacks a whopping eight times. (And no, we shan't mention that Laron "Hit Stick" Landry was still beaten in coverage multiple times for long gains.) We choose to applaud rookie kicker Graham Gano (hometown: Arbroath, Scotland!) for nailing two 40-plus field goals and all four of his extra point kicks in his Redskins debut. And Jason Campbell's maturity does indeed seem to be continuing as I predicted last week, finishing the day with zero interceptions and some smart choices to extend drives.

One negative aside: the final score shows a shellacking of the Raiders, but the win wasn't exactly entertaining. Until nearly the start of the fourth quarter, I considered naming this week's review "Week Fourteen: I Watch Washington (So You Don't Have To)." It was far from sparkling football. The score was 17-13, Oakland was being ineptly led by bench warmer Jamarcus Russell into nothingness, Jason Campbell was getting up slow again after another knockdown from a free-running defender, the referees were calling blatantly incorrect penalties, and FOX commentator Dick Stockton kept calling linebacker Brian Orakpo "Ryan." If I was able to see the game at home, I would've had my recording of Jermaine and the rest of the Jackson 5's money maker-excuse me, reality show-playing with the Raiders and Redskins in the small picture in picture.

There were some grumblings, post-game, that this game shared echoes of the Redskins' last win, a 27-17 knockout of Denver in that the level of opponent quality severely dropped with the insertion of the backup quarterback. And, sure, it's true that Jamarcus Russell's 10 completions for 74 yards and an interception don't begin to show how much he handcuffed an already yardage-challenged offense. And, OK, it's also true that Oakland is coached by a man who has no problem attempting ridiculous 66-yard field goals. In the rain. But Washington's defense played stout from beginning to end, and their pressure on pass plays was relentless enough that the Raiders could have put anyone back there and the Skins would have dominated them. As long as their first name was Matt and the last is Stafford or Cassel.

And besides, we're staying positive here.

OFFENSE: B. Can you imagine Fred Davis and a healthy Chris Cooley running routes inside the red zone? With a decent offensive line to protect [insert quarterback here], the Redskins have serious air attack potential next season.
DEFENSE: A. Kudos to Brian Orakpo, who earned his own NFL highlight montage with four sacks and a forced fumble.
Sp. TEAMS: B. 297-pound Lorenzo Alexander had two great coverage tackles that could have been easily overlooked. And did Dick Stockton really say that Antwaan Randle-El is "still a threat" on punt returns, when he hasn't run one back for a touchdown since November of 2006? Sunday's effort: two returns, zero yards.
COACHING: B. Currently Coach Zorn's choice to start Quinton Ganther seems to be the right one, and the play calling over the last few weeks has actually made sense. Imagine that!
OWNERSHIP: F. Say, how much does one of those billboards run, anyway?

The Redskins host the New York Giants, a team that is desperate to save their season after starting 5-0 and arriving in Washington at 7-6. Their losses haven't been to the likes of the Chiefs, Lions, or Buccaneers. No, the Giants are a quality team, and they have fallen to playoff-caliber teams like the Cardinals, Chargers, and Broncos. Watching Eli Manning and the Giants' offense post up 510 yards and win the time of possession battle by ten minutes against Philaelphia should put some healthy fear into Washington's best asset, its defense. That's where this game will be won and lost, and if the Redskins' front four can hold the New York running attack in moderate check and apply decent pressure to Manning, Washington wins, 23-17.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Week Thirteen: Epic

New Orleans 33, Washington 30

Remember when there was debate about which loss by the 2009 Redskins felt worst? Some said that allowing a 90-yard drive for the tying score, then losing by two to Philadelphia was just awful. Others, of course, pointed to a narrow loss to the hated rivals in Dallas where the Skins missed two field goals and allowed Tony Romo just one good series--the winning drive. I disagreed with them all, noting that the loss to the 0-for-everything Detroit Lions was the most disappointing loss of the year.

And then came Sunday.

The term "epic" gets used far too often, along with "awesome," "hate" and "love," in common language. These are powerful words, ones that signify an experience or moment that isn't just cool, or annoys you or is smile-inspiring. Really, does your new Civic exhaust really inspire awe? Is Sarah Palin's book truly worthy of hate? Did Cesar Millan really deserve your love for his handling of Puddles the angry poodle? Probably not.

But the fashion in which the Redskins lost to the New Orleans Saints ascends into a dimension of disappointment that hurts in the most heartbreaking of ways: epic.

To truly appreciate the epicness (yes, that's made up) of this failure requires actually viewing the entire game; you don't catch the last half hour of Titanic or Lord of the Rings, right? The transcendence of this loss requires total immersion in the ebb and flow, clarity and controversy of professional football. If you're like most fans, the viewing experience will leave you with jaw dropped, incredulous, and mumbling " have GOT to be kidding me."

Witness Jason Campbell with a career performance, throwing for three touchdowns and over 360 yards. (The Redskins had averaged just 207 yards per game before Sunday.) He was, for one day, the quarterback that His Joeness, Coach Gibbs, imagined him to be. Campbell was sharp with his reads, was confident in the pocket, and accurate with his throws. For the first time this season, he kept his jersey clean and was never sacked. He completed critical third down passes, including a 38-yarder to Santana Moss and a 44-yarder to Antwaan Randle-El. Campbell began the game smoking hot, leading the longest scoring drive of the season, 94 yards. He was magical, and every time Campbell got under center, he gave fans a feeling not felt in years: "Wow! The Skins can score at will!"

Witness the Redskins defense, who held a top-five rushing offense to just 55 yards, and harassed the number one-rated quarterback Drew Brees into three and a half quarters of mortality. The defensive line sniffed out the Saints' trademarked screens and batted down Brees' passes. Running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush were non factors for New Orleans. When the Saints were held to a field goal with six minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Redskins up by seven, fans felt: "I can't believe it! We can actually beat a great team."

Witness Shaun Suisham, who easily knocked in 32 and 28-yard field goals earlier, lining up to seal the win for Washington with a virtual chip shot kick from the 23 yard line. The offense wound down four of the last six minutes of the game, marching methodically down the field to set up this moment of victory. Fans could begin to exhale, feeling: "Hail to the Redskins! We've just pulled off the upset of the season!"

In the end, what made this loss so epically disappointing was that for the Redskins to continue their losing ways, they had to concurrently collapse in not one, not two, but all three phases of the game. The unstoppable offense had to lose its traction and turn the ball over. The defense had to go soft and allow the Saints to march without any resistance. The special teams had to pass up even the easiest of opportunities to score. All in around four minutes.

And it happened.

Witness Jason Campbell throwing his worst pass of the day, an interception to the Saints' Jonathan Vilma with 30 seconds left and the Redskins a mere ten yards from a winning field goal. And then there's fullback Mike Sellers, failing to protect the football in overtime, giving the Saints the ball and leading to the eventual winning score.

Witness Laron "Hit Stick" Landry and the defense allowing Drew Brees and the Saints offense to travel, with no timeouts and the game on the line, 80 yards in 33 seconds. The offense didn't even need to spike the ball to stop the clock once, because Brees completed his passes to players going out of bounds--the very area the defense was supposed to protect. And witness Landry getting faked out by the same double move he was faked out on for an earlier 40-yard touchdown, this time for--surprise!--a 53-yard touchdown to tie the game. This was the very area the defense was...oh, never mind.

And if you can stomach it, witness Shaun Suisham completely botching that 23-yard field goal that would have virtually won the game. Wasn't even close.

This was the game to redeem the season. Snydely Whiplash, Zorn, Sherm In the Box, and the organization could have held its head high and said that, despite losing to Dallas, failing in Philly, and being embarrassed in Detroit, they have a team that has learned to win.

Unfortunately, the fans can only conclude that the Redskins have learned better how to lose. Only now they can do so in the biggest, worst way possible.

OFFENSE: B-. Campbell, Devin Thomas, and Fred Davis were cruising toward a perfect score; sadly their overall good performances are footnotes in what New Orleans radio called "one of the greatest wins in Saints history."
DEFENSE: D. Memo to any sports TV commentators covering the Redskins: please stop celebrating the high statistical ranking of the Redskins defense. They're really not that good when it counts.
Sp. TEAMS: D. Currently Coach Zorn explained the missed field goal postgame, saying that the snap from center was high and that Suisham wasn't prepared for the ball to be placed on the ground so hard. What he should have said was "Yeah, he screwed up. He wasn't alone in screwing up today, but make no mistake, Suisham is paid a lot of money to do the one thing that he didn't do today."
COACHING: A. Coaches don't bite double moves, don't miss easy field goals, and don't fumble the ball. The gameplan against New Orleans was perfect, though not perfectly executed.
OWNERSHIP: F. A shocking loss and no candid views of Snydely in his luxury box, FOX?

I have been saying for some time now that the Redskins have mastered the art of playing up or down to the level of their opponents. Weeks ago, the Oakland Raiders looked like the one guaranteed win for Washington. Now, after they have knocked off the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals, and the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles, it's hardly a foregone conclusion. The Raiders, statistically, are horrible. They are 31st in points and total yards. They're dead last in passing yards. Is it possible for Washington to go toe to toe with the best in the NFL, then do the same with the worst? Absolutely. But Campbell continues his improved management of the offense and the Redskins win, 21-13.