Monday, December 27, 2010

Week Sixteen: The Expendables

Washington 20, Jacksonville 17 (OT)

When the Redskins' season gets to this annual point--where the team is far from playoff contention, many of the early-season starters are benched or injured, and it's a holiday weekend--the motivation for players to play and fans to watch can be lessened. This year, despite the change in managerial and on-field leadership, Washington found itself in a similar place to Jim Zorn and Jason Campbell's team from a year ago. In week fifteen of the 2009 season, the Redskins were pummeled on
(surprise!) national television by the New York Giants, 45-12, in front of new GM Bruce Allen.

This season, for reasons to be debated well into April 2011, the Redskins stood their ground and pulled off an underdog win against a playoff aspirations. That was inspiring. What made it even
more poignant (and watchable) was that Mike Shanahan fielded a team missing many of the best players on the roster--LaRon Landry, Brian Orakpo, Clinton "Remember Him?" Portis, and Donovan McNabb.

Like the real-life version of a team-up of Sylvester Stallone, Terry Crews, and Jet Li, it was The Expendables who pulled off what hadn't been done but five times all season: play a full 60 minutes and win.
During the game, the broadcast team joked with the truth that Mike Shanahan and the coaching staff weren't sure of all the names of players they were using. But it was practice squad and castoff guys named Rob Jackson, Macho Harris, and Byron Westbrook who made plays while veterans like Chris Cooley and Rex Grossman had average or sub par games. Jackson, for example, went from not being on the practice squad weeks ago to making three solo tackles and forcing a fumble.

The Jaguars offense, minus Maurice Jones-Drew, had everything to play for but were held to 17
points, 78 rushing yards, and just 336 yards. (Yes, 336 isn't much to be proud of...unless your defense routinely allows 400 yards per game.) Moreover, the Redskins defense provided relentless pressure on quarterback David Garrard, sacking him four times and influencing his worst throw of the game, an interception in overtime.

After Rex Grossman's touchdown-a-thon against Dallas last week, the question in most fan's mind was whether the backup-now-starter was part of the Redskins' future winning equation on just another jersey you'll find on the clearance racks like Donovan McNabb's. The answer, after a medicore,
19-for-39, 182 yards, one touchdown/one interception day, is...don't waste your money. Contrarians might argue that Grossman's numbers are negatively affected by Cooley's four-drop day, which included an easy touchdown.

But when the game was on the line--the dreaded two-minute drill that Shanahan said McNabb hadn't grasped for most of the season--Grossman led the offense to produce one first down, burn a minute and thirty seconds, and produce four net yards before punting. The third down completion
issues from McNabb's leadership continued, as Grossman's team went 0-for-7 before finishing 4-for-15. Hardly an upgrade. How about starting John Beck against the Giants and see what happens?

But this day belonged to the second and third-stringers, who confirmed that this season isn't the total flaming mess of last year. (It's a mess without the flames.) And part of the difference, as shown in the last two weeks is that they players are playing for themselves, their pride, and their fans. Rob Jackson, when asked what this victory meant, put it best: "it means that we've got a lot of potential, a lot of upside."

OFFENSE: C. Why the Redskins ran on 24 of their 64 plays is a mystery for Kyle Shanahan to explain. Torain remains a solid back and should be in the backfield discussion come offseason.
DEFENSE: A. Carlos Rogers nabbed his first interception in forever, the defense got four sacks, and, most importantly, won the game. What more can you ask for?
Sp. TEAMS: B. The punting game was adequate, but isn't much better than when Hunter Smith was playing. Kicker Graham Gano gets his third game-winner and can breathe a little easier.

COACHES: B. Kudos to coach Shanahan for playing his young guys and for Jim Haslett for continually mixing blitzes. The D was energetic, aggressive, and effective.

The Philadelphia area was blanketed by blizzard-like conditions on Sunday, and the NFL postponed the Minnesota Vikings/Eagles game until Tuesday. The NFL's statement cited road safety and stadium clearing as reasons for the postponement, not player safety or impossibility in playing the game. With modern technology, the game could have been played. Instead, the NFL knew they'd lose out on lots of revenue if the seats are partially empty for their nationally-televised game. Even the governor of Philadelphia disagreed with the postponement.

It wasn't that long ago--okay, forty years ago--that the NFL decided to man up and was rewarded with one of its greatest games ever: the Ice Bowl Championship game of 1967. The wind chill was minus-36 degrees, the surface was rock-hard, and the referees' whistles froze right after kickoff. And you know what? They played anyway, because it's football and football is played regardless of the weather. (Um, unless there's lightning.) Who knows how the legends of that game--men like Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Don Meredith, Bart Starr and Ray Nitchske--would have been viewed if they preferred to make sure everyone could see the game instead of just playing it? The NFL should remember its own history...

Redskins photo courtesy, the Ice Bowl courtesy Sports Illustrated.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Week Fifteen: Half Full or Half Empty?

Washington 30, Dallas 33

Well, this was unexpected. Given the dwindling hope, negative media attention, and prominent roster change, it was easy to assume that the Redskins would walk into Dallas and provide another lackluster, disappointing performance. Instead, the team looked, well, unusually competitive and competent. But is this one day symbolic of anything substantial, or is it simply Fool's Gold? Let's look at the major headlines from the game:

Mike Shanahan: Genius All Along?
The facts are indisputable: Washington produced their best comeback of the season, twenty points, against their biggest rival, on the road. With Shanahan's choice for starter, Rex Grossman, at the helm, the offense was a perfect four for four in the red zone and converted two-point conversions for the first time in years. When previous Redskins teams would've folded like a cheap tent after a deflating first half, Shanahan's squad rallied to not only make it a game, but could actually have won. (Yes, when you've only won five times all season, you cherish every single one of them.) So maybe we cut Shanahan some slack, let him choose his starting quarterback, defensive linemen, and schemes when and how he likes.

On the other hand...the Redskins needed that wonderful comeback because his offense was indeed absent for most of the first half. Dallas had triple the time of possession and a 13 point lead by halftime. And despite a few defensive stands, the Shanahan/Haslett 3-4 scheme has once again allowed over 400 yards of opponent offense. Dallas spent the first half in the Redskins' red zone, and had they been just a bit more efficient, the final score would have certainly topped 40 points. None of this is a prescription for a winning game.

And let's not gloss over the disrespectful mismanagement of Donovan McNabb, which continued right into the game's beginning. Despite benching McNabb, Shanahan asked him to participate in the ceremonial coin toss. In a show of exceptional maturity and poise, McNabb did so. Why Shanahan would demote a player, then ask him to represent the team--what an awkward position to be asked into--is further circumstantial evidence of the minimal professional respect for McNabb. Hardly a genius maneuver there.

Finally, let's not forget that this was still a loss to a division rival. For all the philosophical and structural changes made, the Redskins are 5-9, just one game better than they were last year, and are again sitting at the bottom of the NFC East once.

Rex Grossman
: One Day Sale or Long Term Investment?
It's been a long time since the Redskins have witnessed a quarterback have a four-touchdown game. And hardly anyone predicted that Grossman would be the man to provide it. But on Sunday he finished with a very respectable stat line (25 for 43, four touchdowns, 2 interceptions, one fumble) and placed the team in position to complete a comeback. His second-half poise, particularly in the red zone, was the difference between scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. His perfectly-thrown pass to Santana Moss was dropped, but it could have capped an exciting, game-winning drive.

But let's not forget...that Rex is equally as capable of tossing interceptions as he is throwing touchdowns. His last season as a starter, 2006, shows him having four games with three or more interceptions. In three of those games, he didn't have a touchdown. It was widely considered that the 2006 Bears made the Super Bowl despite Grossman, not because of him.

Before Sunday, Rex's last relevant action as a starter was in the third preseason game against the New York Jets. After the game (a loss, by the way), Shanahan celebrated Grossman's decision making, quick release, and understanding of Kyle Shanahan's scheme. The reality was that he had third down passes deflected at the line, was solely responsible for a safety, fumbled on a sack, and sometimes tossed right into clear double coverage.

His career touchdown day against Dallas needs to be viewed in light of the two turnovers he had that led to 14 Dallas points. The offense looked no better than under McNabb for half the game, and if the Redskins are going to dream of being competitive against the NFC East's best, that's not going to be acceptable.

There is no denying that, for at least one moment in time, Grossman proved to be a winning hand. Let's see how he does against Jacksonville.

OFFENSE: B. It's an outstanding grade, considering that they were outplayed badly in the first quarter. But 30 points is 30 points. Ryan Torain again proved that he is dangerous in the open field and can make roadkill of opposing secondaries. If he can stay healthy in 2011...
DEFENSE: D. Lost in all the Grossman and Shanahan talk is the continual mediocrity of the defense. For all the upgrades on offense, if this defense can't stop anyone from putting up 350-400 yards per game, well, it's all for naught.
Sp. TEAMS: C. I'm sure many fans were praying that Brandon Banks would save the day with an outstanding punt return in the fourth quarter. It was not to be, though the special teams coverage and punting was adequate on the day.
COACHES: C. Kyle Shanahan, to his credit, called some great plays, including a blitz-beating screen to Ryan Torain. Also, I get that you go with what you think will work against an opponent. But the eleven Torain rushes are exactly why the Redskins fell behind in time of possession and points. Lastly, is it me or did Shanahan seem surprisingly happy after a loss?

The East provided not one but two close, down-to-the-wire finishes on Sunday. On the road in New York, the Philadelphia Eagles scored not one, not two, not three, but four touchdowns in the final seven minutes on their way to securing a hammer lock on the NFC East title. For those who haven't seen the miracle finish, it's breathtaking, even if you can't stand either franchise. The Eagles may not have the best record in the NFL, but I'm certain that, after the Patriots, they're the team you least want to play.

Photo courtesy

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reasons # 545, 546, and 547...

...on why you have to be crazy to be a Redskins fan. For the four people in Des Moines, Iowa, who aren't familiar with the bad reality show that this franchise has annually been, here's a small slice of the ridiculousness endured by the burgundy and gold faithful:

Reason #144:
Daniel Snyder hires Marty Schottenheimer to run the highest-payroll team in the league. Though starting 0-5, the team rebounds to finish 8-8, made the cover of Sports Illustrated and actually began smelling the playoffs. Snyder immediately fires Schottenheimer.

Reason #182:
Starting quarterback Gus Frerotte scores a touchdown against the rival Giants, but cannot finish the game due to a self-inflicted head injury created when he celebrated by slamming his head into a wall. Without Gus, the Redskins finished the game with a tie.

Reason #201:
Deion Sanders wears a Redskins uniform. 'Nuff said.

Reason #391:
In the midst of yet another losing streak, Daniel Snyder bans fan-made signs at FedEx Field. Parking and beer costs remain the same.

Reason #402:
Head coach Jim Zorn calls one of the worst plays in NFL history, where his punter takes a snap and, without any blocking, launches a desperation pass into the general direction of three opposing players. What's worse is that Zorn set the play up, the opponent called a timeout, and coach Zorn re-ran the play anyway. Result: an interception and national lampooning.

One might think, "Hey, weeping only endures for a night, right? I mean, the Cincinnati Bengals and New Orleans Saints fans didn't wear bags forever...give it some time while [insert coach/GM/QB here] gets things together." You would be wrong. The names, numbers, and press conferences may change, but the results are the same. Here are, sadly, more Reasons You Have to Be Crazy to Root for the Redskins:

Reason #545:
Two days after mishandling an extra point snap that would have helped provide game-tying points, punter Hunter Smith is fired. His numbers this season weren't spectacular, but he demonstrated honesty, ownership, and consequence for the error. He also had nothing to do with the offense's inability to score in the red zone, or kicker Graham Gano's inability to make easy field goals, both of which would have removed the necessity for Smith to make the failed play. So does Shanahan dump the kicker, or consider letting Smith go post-season, given that they're fourteen games into a losing season? No. Coach Shanahan dumps Hunter Smith and brings in some new guy. How refreshingly honest was Hunter, on his way out the door? Here's some of what he had to say to TBD's Parker and Parker:
"Am I a scapegoat?" Smith repeated. "I believe that in the NFL, there are a couple of different types of teams out there. There are some teams that display undying loyalty to their coaches and players. There are other teams that tend to want to make a little more of a statement in times of quote-unquote tragedy or something like this going on, by making an example out of somebody, by partially putting the blame on them for the loss. And I'm not saying that the Redskins are completely that kind of a team, but in this sense, I think that it does come down to that..."
If there's one thing the Redskins are good at, it's straightening the artwork on a sinking Titanic.

Reason #546: An interesting article at the Washington Post revealed a little-publicized fact about the Redskins: they are one of the few teams in the league who don't have a dedicated indoor practice facility. When the weather turns sour, as it did on Thursday when snow moved through the Washington area, practices are moved to odd venues like basketball courts or, in some cases, canceled. The article notes that in this season alone six separate practices were moved or postponed due to bad weather. Or more specifically, practices were altered because the Redskins lack the basic facilities with which to prepare for games.

Seriously? Daniel Snyder owns one of the top money-making franchises in the most popular and profitable sports franchises in America, yet
hasn't kicked out the cash so his team can prepare in less-than-ideal weather? Is it any wonder that the Redskins are 5-17 since 2008 in games after November? How is it that this team, in this climate, in this division, doesn't have anything comparable to its rivals, whom they're guaranteed to see twice a season? As a fan, wonder no more why the Eagles, Cowchips, and Giants mop the floor with the Redskins. But hey, at least FedEx Field has new giant video screens.

Reason #547: The Donovan McNabb Era has come to a close, with him on pace to reach 4000 yards, and in possession of a Redskins franchise record for consecutive games with a passing touchdown. It's hard to believe, but Mike Shanahan has officially benched McNabb, placing him behind Rex "Wrong Answer" Grossman and unknown commodity John Beck. Shanahan can't guarantee that DJ McNabb is coming back next season and McNabb's agent is furious, calling the move "beyond disrespectful."

There are plenty of angles with which to view this national-attention-grabbing story. (Was it justified? Why do this now, before a game against rival Dallas? What does this reveal about Shanahan's egotistical hold on his players?) But the must hurtful one is this, and it's a familiar one for longtime Redskins fans: Here. We. Go. Again.

If it's not Albert Haynesworth, Mark Carrier, Jeff George, Joe Gibbs, Steve Spurrier, or Dana Stubblefield, it's Adam Archuleta, Brandon Lloyd, Mike Shanahan, and, now, Donovan McNabb. This show is as scripted as "The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C." Regardless of the so-called philosophy, this franchise continues to pay big money and get small results. The veteran walks in town, takes money, and, by hook or crook, flies out quickly to new pastures with fatter pockets.

And the fans are fools for ever paying $80 for their jersey. They sport the colors on their car, they buy the Christmas ornaments, they spend three hours every Sunday hoping that the inevitable won't happen.

You have to be crazy to do that.

For the record, it was noted here at the Review, on April 5th, a note of caution about McNabb's trade to Washington. It bears republishing, if for nothing else than it's sad prophecy:

Now the Philadelphia front office won't admit it, and I'm sure head coach Andy Reid won't divulge the truth even under a cheesesteak lie detector test, but it's clear to me that the Eagles think that McNabb's best days are behind him...the Eagles did more than just trade a guy because they thought his skills were in sunset. No, they traded their franchise quarterback to a hated division rival who they knew had questions at quarterback. McNabb isn't going to Kansas City, a team they play once or twice every four years and has minimal effect on their overall record. He's landing with a team that impacts their Super Bowl chances at least twice a year.

In his post-trade press conference, Coach Reid spun a carefully crafted web of "been a great player here for 11 years...set every record you can set for this organization...nothing but good things to say about him...we're doing what's best for Donovan..." and other oddly pleasant reviews of McNabb's work in Philly. Which raises the question: if he's been that good, why let him go? This guy got you to the playoffs with no-name receivers and then again with managing the cancerous Terrell Owens. Might their training staff know something about McNabb's past injuries that the Redskins don't? Could the Eagles think McNabb is really toast?

Simply put, are little green men with wings on their helmets going to jump out of Donovan's [backside] and sabotage the Redskins' season?

Photo courtesy the Bleacher Report.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Week Fourteen: Rough Torain

Tampa Bay 17, Washington 16

Mike Shanahan and the 2010 Washington Redskins have been trying to establish some sort of identity, some form of consistency that defines the team. Are they a deep threat, high-powered offense, as shown against the Texans? Is their defense all about giving up yards but forcing turnovers, like the Indianapolis loss? Or are the hard-hitting special teams the x-factor that can snatch victories from defeat?

In Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (dropping the Redskins to 5-8), what became clear to fans is that whatever persona this team is going to establish will require a whole lot of their patience. The kind of patience necessary to sit in more than three hours of cold, rain, and wind, only to see a game lost on the simplest and most fundamental plays in football. Pack a valium lunch, Redskins faithful. It's going to be a long, difficult, rocky road.

The easy person to pin this loss on would be Graham Gano, who missed or nearly missed, every extra point or field goal he attempted. To his credit, he admitted that this was the worst game of his career. The weather should mitigate some of that criticism, but it's hard not to point a finger at any kicker who misses two easy field goals that would have kept the home team comfortably ahead. (Meanwhile the Bucs' kicker, Connor Barth, went 3-for-3, including a 44-yarder.)

The Donovan McNabb offense is more to blame. The stat line for the quarterback wasn't too bad--22 for 35, 228 yards, 2 touchdowns--but it doesn't begin to show how inconsistent he was. He was skipping passes off the ground often, and, ironically, if two of them hadn't been poorly thrown, they would have been easy pick-six interceptions for Tampa Bay. When Ryan Torain and the offensive line got the ball in six-point striking distance, the team consistently ran out of gas. After dominating the first half in production, they had ten points instead of 28. The offense disappeared in the third quarter, and ran the ball for just 12 net yards in the second half.

London Fletcher and the defense did a solid job holding back Tampa Bay from mounting a comeback, but they again neared 400 yards of offense allowed and gave up the winning touchdown with less than four minutes to go.

The good news, from this landfill of a season, is the emergence of running back Ryan Torain. In the Week Six review, Torain was crowned the future franchise rusher, and his return to the lineup certainly confirmed that coronation. From his first carry back from injury, he was in strong form. He patiently picked his holes, he ran through arm tackles, and he had a burst of speed when in the open field. He was positively Maddenesque in his first half production (18 rushes, 158 yards, 8.8 yards per carry) and seemed a lock for 200-225 yards and a touchdown by game's end. What you might notice in his highlight reel, however, is how the score barely changes.

These are the Redskins, so instead of preparing for Tampa Bay's halftime adjustments to the run, the burgundy and gold decided to more than double their first half pass attempts. Torain rushed just six more times for 14 yards. Sure enough, the Bucs won the time of possession battle in the second half and it was Washington scrambling down the field to try to tie the game.

Nonetheless, this may be the game that solidifies Torain as the favorite to run the rock in 2011. He's one of the few bright lights on this dark, frustrating road ahead.

OFFENSE: C. This offseason should be very interesting. Keep McNabb but draft a young QB? Draft only o-linemen? Find compliments for Moss and Armstrong? Jettison Portis? Every area needs help.
DEFENSE: C. Perhaps LaRon Landry's presence is more vital than anyone originally thought. The D allowed young Josh Freeman to continue to look like a future star in the league.
Sp. TEAMS: F. Their only good play of the game--a much-needed return by Brandon Banks, was foiled by a penalty. Otherwise, it was muffed routine plays, missed field goals, and ineffectiveness.
COACHING: D. It's tempting to think back to the Gibbs days, when in cold, rainy weather, the offense would pound the ball and eat up the clock. Kyle Shanahan put the game in the hands of his QB, and the results were unnecessarily dramatic.
OWNERSHIP: C. Would it hurt to have cheap, Redskins-logo'd free ponchos for fans when they've decided to spend their Sunday afternoon in the rain, rooting for your out-of-the-playoffs franchise?

...comes from Facebook. The Redskins, like every other business in America, has their own page on the social networking site. During and after games, they post updates and results. The comments section, particularly after losses, is where fans get to lay bare their frustrations with the team and ownership. After Sunday's loss, this comment surmised the burgundy and gold experience: "T
he biggest problem with being a Redskins fan is that when you run into someone who wants to talk $^%*, there's really nothing you can say back to them."

Monday, December 06, 2010

Week Thirteen: Holiday Wish List

Washington 7, New York Giants 31

A long, long time ago, back before there was Facebook, compact discs, and online shopping,
Sears printed and mailed a Christmas Wish Book to homes across America. The Wish Book was, for children, like receiving Moses' stone tablets every year. The two-inch thick book, containing the latest toys and video games, provided hours of childlike planning, dreaming, and coercion. It was the singular source for wistful hopes of happy days.

The Washington Redskins are, after another embarrassing division loss, hopeless. The offense is rudderless, the defense is a sieve, and the best guy on special teams is the size of a high school senior. You know a game day performance was the center ring in a Cirque de Suck when the
dominating story on Monday is who didn't contribute to the horror.

The fans of the burgundy and gold deserve much, much better. They have been demanding it, in various and sometimes hilarious formats, for years now. But until someone with more money usurps owner Daniel Snyder's power, well, all there is left to do is dream. The Redskins Review has been pouring over the 2010 season like an old Sears catalog. Here, then, in the spirit of the season and the futility in not being able to do much else, are the Top Five Wishes for the Washington Redskins. (Cue the Johnny Mathis...)

1. Find us players with heart, who care about winning more than themselves. Let's get this out of the way now: "Albatross" Haynesworth should be the last high-priced, massive-ego free agent ever hired for the Redskins. His training camp, preseason, and in-season selfishness should be immortalized on a poster in Ashburn, Virginia, with a warning that if anyone acts this way, begin cleaning our your locker. His marginal statistical line and salary should be laminated and charted in the head coaches' office. #92's story is well known: he doesn't want to show up for camp, he can't pass conditioning tests, he whines about having to play 3-4, he doesn't start, he gives half-effort when finally playing, and he shows up late for mandatory team meetings. Oh, and he is the highest paid defensive player in the NFL.

He is, unfortunately, just one in a sad history of poor choices by the "talent evaluators" at Redskins Park. It's easy to poke holes at Daniel Snyder, whose checkbook funds this madness. But he
doesn't scout, and he doesn't watch film of free agents. That's Gibbs/Zorn/Shanahan and their staff's job. Apart from London Fletcher, it hasn't been pretty. That must end. Now and forever more.

There's a chap in Pittsburgh who, on national television, took to the field against a top defense and pulled out a thrilling win in freezing temperatures. He did so with a poor defensive line, no running game, linebackers in his face, a bad ankle and an in-game broken nose. When was the last time the Redskins had anyone that dedicated?

2. Call some plays that require pelotas de acero. End the passive, let's-hope-we-can-get-these-seven-yards-on-third-down-with-a-screen-pass mentality that's been pervasive in this and recent seasons. Sure, the Redskins are currently less talented then Auburn, Oregon State, and that blue team from Boise. But does that mean that Kyle Shanahan can't call unexpected, oh-no-he-didn't stabs at yardage? What do we have to lose? Respect?

Now let's use a little wisdom; we're not talking about calling the Worst Play Ever, courtesy Jim Zorn. We're talking Joe Flacco launching not one, but two 60+ yard pass plays on third down from inside the Ravens' own five yard line. That's play calling that says "Screw it, we're here to win this football game. And if we fail in the process, it won't be because we didn't pull out every stop to try."

And speaking of wishing for offense...

3. Get us a Steve Smith. That's right, Steve Smith.
If the Redskins are going to keep old, backside-of-their-prime players on the roster, let them be fearless, soft-handed guys who still can challenge a defense. That's Steve Smith to a tee. At 31, he can still stretch a defense and has the will to play the game, despite being with the less-than-prolific Carolina Panthers. (That alone earns him kudos.) Santana Moss, by comparison, is also 31, the same height, weighs around twenty pounds more, and strikes a quarter of the fear in opponents. Don't even mention Joey Galloway.

Now it's true that Smith hasn't always been a model player or teammate. But his commitment and fire when playing the game at its highest level are unquestioned. The Redskins need to give Donovan McNabb a strong-minded target he can count on; the career-worst season he's having is coinciding with having to work with some of the worst receiver talent in his career.

If that Steve Smith-esque guy could be 6'5", that'd be nice too.

4. Call it old-fashioned, but return to Redskins football. The old heads remember the days when the offensive line dictated the offense. Regardless of what happened in the first half, fans knew that
after halftime, Washington would run, run, run, and then run some more. Kind of how the Giants did on Sunday.

The NFL goes through its phases of so-called success. Some seasons it's about the scrambling quarterback, others it's about the deep pass, some seasons it's about special teams. But one truism is that a strong running game will always keep you in contests. Old coaches used to say that “When you throw the ball, three things can happen—and two of them are bad.” For the Redskins, that 66% usually slides up to around 85%.

So let's wish that Washington finds a Peyton Hillis: a 3rd year, 24-year old back who is, as this video shows, all about "running guys over and scoring touchdowns." He is athletic enough to juke or hurdle, yet with the sheer strength and weight to make road kill of a safety. He is everything Redskins running used to be about.

If Ryan Torain remains healthy enough to be that kind of back, let's use this wish instead to hire solid second and third string offensive linemen.

Last, and most fancifully...

5. Can we get a one-team lockout for 2011? The NFL Players Association recently recommended that players store away their game checks due to the likelihood of a lockout next season. It's wishing a lot, but how about the Redskins simply sit out next season and rebuild? That's right, they forfeit the games in 2011. Dont' dress anybody. Keep the lights of FedEx Field off in the fall and winter. There won't be the excitement of a September kickoff...but there also won't be the inevitable frustration when they lose to a clearly inferior opponent.

Furthermore, there won't be offseason free agent nonsense, no inflated preseason posturing, no disappointing losses to division opponents. No snarky media fixation on the yearly Redskins circus.

In place of the inevitable embarrassments, the fans get to watch Mike Shanahan and the coaching staff dismiss the ineffective, overpaid, and unmotivated. He can actually devise an offensive and defensive scheme using the talent he brings in. Daniel Snyder and Bruce Allen actually get to manage a process without the pressure of having to concurrently deliver on the goods.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

There's no SCORECARD this week, on account of the complete failure by the offense, defense, and special teams to reach a level of mild productivity. McNabb, when he had time, wasn't accurate and fumbled. The receivers, when they got the ball, couldn't hang on or catch it. The defense allowed 200 rushing yards to two guys and an offensive line missing three starters. The special teams couldn't stop Redskins castoff Devin Thomas from blocking a punt. The coaches have now lead this team to two massive, inter-divisional blowouts in the last month.

...goes to John Riggins. On his postgame show, he had this wonderful quote: "This team may not win another game. You may be looking at 5-11. I joked that they are getting better each game at a time. So by the time they become a winning team, we'll all be dead."

Photo courtesy

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Week Twelve: Par For the Course

Minnesota 17, Washington 13

There's an old southern saying, "water will seek its level," that suggests that, given enough time, you can tell the real from the fiction. It means that, after all of the hullabaloo, subjects always reveal their true nature.

The 2010 Redskins are 5-6, and the record represents the pure mediocrity of the the team. They have the talent to usually be competitive, but will rarely win outright without the timely congruence of multiple favorable circumstances.

On Sunday, the favorable circumstances were present, but the Redskins' lack of talent in all three phases kept the Redskins below .500, exactly where they deserve to be.

For one shining moment--seven minutes and fifty-three seconds, to be exact--Mike Shanahan's offense functioned on all cylinders and looked very much like the squad expected at the beginning of the season. Even without Clinton "Elsewhere in 2011" Portis and a healthy offensive line, DJ McNabb ran Kyle Shanahan's creative offensive attack to perfection. Kyle dialed up the first appearance of the Redskins wildcat (though " warpath" has a better ring to it), the offense was four-for-four on third down, and McNabb was a perfect eight for eight with one touchdown.

...And that was the end of the offensive show. Washington didn't attempt a deep pass until the fourth quarter. The offensive line allowed McNabb to return to his run-for-yer-life mode and didn't open up many lanes for the nameless backup running backs. The Skins produced a very Indianapolis Colt-like 29 yards of rushing...but without the crisp passing and receiving. Santana Moss and the receiving corps weren't much help, dropping far too many catchable passes and not gaining enough separation to be a threat to the Vikings' secondary.

The defense, to its credit, provided the weak offense with multiple opportunities to beat Minnesota. They even took the Vikings' biggest threat, Adrian Peterson, out of the game. But all wasn't roses for Jim Haslett and his squad. On a critical third down, the 3-4 personnel showed its weakness: Favre (who may or may not be fifty years old) is able to scramble for the first down, largely because linebacker Lorenzo saw Favre break out of the pocket...and ran the other way. The only logical explanation is his desire to cover a receiver.
(For the record, this is is just one of quite a few times when Alexander and the other lineman-turned-linebacker, Andre Carter, have blown containment because they've looked awkward in their assignment.) If Alexander's told to simply rush the passer or contain the run, Favre doesn't come near that first down.

And while the defense can be proud that it limited the Vikings' somewhat-potent offense to just 17 points, they did let Peterson's backup, some guy named Toby Gerhart, plow through defenders for his first NFL touchdown...just like the All-Pro did in the first quarter.

And then there's the special teams, who won the game with accurate field goals and continued brilliance from Brandon Banks. That is, until they lost the game with a low-talent penalty by rookie Perry Riley that nullified a Banks touchdown that would've put the Skins ahead.

Perhaps it isn't fair to judge a team by its record. Look at the San Diego Chargers who were once 2-5, then 5-5, then stepped up to future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning and dismissed them on national television. In Indianapolis. The Bolts are a team that has learned to gel using the talent on hand and deserve the respect of a 7-4 or even 8-3 team.

The Redskins should be taken at face value.

OFFENSE: C-. This mere suggestion of a running game is big trouble for McNabb and the offense. It's hard to believe that, six months ago, the Redskins were looking at three Pro Bowl veteran running backs on its roster. Come January, it'll be time to bring in all new talent to compete with Ryan Torain for the starter.
DEFENSE: B. Something doesn't feel right about applauding their success in not giving up 400 yards, but here it is. Congratulations!
Sp. TEAMS: A-. For all the big contracts, big names, and big egos on the roster, it's refreshing that one of the leaders for team MVP is a little guy who joined as an undrafted free agent.
COACHING: C. If this group of coaches can pull a playoff berth out of this current roster, I'll take back everything I've said about them this season.
OWNERSHIP: C. There were an unusually-large amount of empty seats at FedEx on Sunday. Have the fans said that $4000 is too steep a price for mediocrity?

Just for fun, ESPN has Madden 11 run through each week's games and posts the predictions. Nice that they use the current rosters. I'm afraid to download the last update, which removes every semblance of a decent Redskins running game. To the game's credit, it wasn't too off on the final score. with the Vikes victorious: 19-16.

AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Week Eleven: Give Thanks

Washington 16, Tennessee 13 (OT)

The good news for Washington, after their historically bad performance against the Eagles, was that they still have seven games with which to find redemption and finally establish a recognizable identity. Facing the 4-5 Tennessee Titans, fans wondered two questions: how will this team respond? And should I care?

The good news is that the Redskins played with strong effort, displayed moderate levels of competency, and, most importantly, with the win gave fans a reason to not begin eyeing Baltimore Ravens merchandise.

The game certainly started off for the offense like a Monday Night Football hangover: on the first play, DJ McNabb drops back, trips, and it's a 7-yard loss. Next play: incomplete pass to Clinton Portis. On 3rd and 17, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan calls a run. And just like last week, the offense goes nowhere behind confusion, poor execution, and timid play calls. Add in a horrendous 22-yard punt, and within five minutes, the Redskins look like they're prepared to surrender many
more first-quarter points.

Then one of the most significant plays of the game happened. With the Titans in the red zone (they only needed one 14-yard Chris Johnson run to get there), quarterback Vince Young scrambled up the middle to avoid the collapsing pocket. Lorenzo Alexander, the play-any-position standout, came from Young's blind side and purposely slapped out a fumble, which was recovered by Washington. This averting of sure opponent points (though they were earned not much later by the Titans on a punt return) was a much-needed sigh of relief, showing that maybe, just maybe, the Redskins have glimmers of possibility left in the season.

And while the rest of the game wasn't always as inspiring, there was much to be proud of. Mike Shanahan motivated the team in overcome multiple pre-game and in-game injuries and win over a favored opponent on the road. Moreover, the battered and short-handed offensive line was unexpectedly strong, helping Washington to improve in their habitual worst area of performance: third down conversions. The Redskins dominated time of possession (40 minutes to 26) because they were able to convert 50% of their third downs. The o-line were able to give McNabb time to launch his 50 pass attempts, which helped Santana Moss have one of his better games of the season (6 catches, 106 yards, 1 touchdown) and for Joey Galloway, Chris Cooley, and Brandon Banks to actually contribute to the production.

The other piece of good news for the Redskins is that they aren't alone in facing difficult times. The burgundy and gold may not be good, but the purple and gold of Minnesota are on a year-long path of self-destruction. While Washington was considering changes to its coaching staff, the Vikings were nursing the wounds of a Super Bowl birth thrown and fumbled away. Their fans then watched an offseason sideshow featuring coach Brad Childress and the organization toyed with by Brett Favre; they begged him to return with a multi-million dollar bonus, then personally escorted him back. Ten weeks into the season, Favre and the Vikings are the NFL's biggest letdown, and the locker-room and organizational infighting wasn't helped with the month-long hiring of the cancerous Randy Moss. After Sunday's 31-3 home loss to the Green Bay Packers dropped the Vikes to 3-7 , Childress and their post-season hopes were shown the door. Now the team is left to go through the motions and start looking at 2011. And it's only Thanksgiving.

The Redskins faithful should pause during this holiday season and be thankful that even with the prime-time failures and confusion, the team could be a whole lot worse.

OFFENSE: B-. Credit the offensive line again for opening up 100 rushing yards and for giving McNabb the rare luxury of time to throw. The inspired yards after catch by underused tight end Fred Davis
were refreshing to see as well.
DEFENSE: B+. The pundits were sure that Vince Young, Chris Johnson, and the Titans were going to gouge the secondary for 20+ points. It wasn't pretty, and they were helped by facing a rookie quarterback, but the defense got the stops they needed.
SP. TEAMS: C+. How kicker Graham Gano comes up as short as he did on the last kick in regulation is disappointing. That he came back and booted a similar kick to win makes it all better.
COACHING: B. I've been critical of Kyle Shanahan's play calling, but I liked seeing the shovel-pass to Moss, the insertion of Brandon Banks, and the well-executed screens.

What exactly is Mike Shanahan's plan for Albert Haynesworth? Last week #92, the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, had an embarrassing, nationally-mocked half-effort against the Eagles. This week, facing his former team, he doesn't start and is minimally used. Has he been disciplined for his effort? Is his knowledge of the defense so small that he is no longer considered start-worthy? What's going on?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Week Ten Part 2: National Embrarrassment. No Joke.

Being a Washington Redskins fan is a torture unlike any other in the National Football League. To root for the burgundy and gold, in the last decade or more, is to wish upon a dream that has long since passed. It is to visit weekly with a childhood friend with whom you now have little in common, except the wonderful memories of sunny days, smiles, and simpler times.

For the fortunate fans who witnessed the Redskins of the 1980s and early 1990s, they saw a franchise that grew from its inconsistent but exciting 1970s into a continual contender. All the Super Bowls, NFC Championships, and playoff appearances produced a pride based in the trust that Jack Kent Cooke, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Beathard, and the front office knew what they were doing. Players like Darrell Green, John Riggins, Russ Grimm, and Doug Williams may not have been the most talented to play the game, but fans could trust that they gave their all on Sunday. And they found ways to give a little more against a division foe. That franchise of those Glory Days earned and kept the respect of the league.

In the last eleven seasons, this franchise has descended below mediocrity, below embarrassment, way down into the once-unimaginable depths of national joke. The mocking barbs once leveled at the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions now aim toward Washington. It seems that nearly every national sports publication snickers at the Redskins.

And why shouldn't they? Daniel Snyder's ownership has produced seven coaches and two playoff
wins. None of those coaches ended their tenure with better than a .500 winning percentage. The team has spent millions on the retreading of veterans like Jason Taylor, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, and, yes, Donovan McNabb. Young talent like Ryan Clark, Brandon Lloyd, and, yes, Jason Campbell were cut by the Redskins and miraculously play better elsewhere. Offseason after offseason the franchise brings in new saviors who either aren't given enough opportunity to shine or never shine at all: Steve Spurrier, Marty Schottenheimer, and, yes, Mike Shanahan. For every Sean Taylor or Brian Orakpo, there are draft choices traded away into nothingness.

Monday night's disaster was further notice that Redskins fans have been duped. While fleecing fans for more money, they have been spoon fed Glory Day nostalgia to believe the next high-priced defensive end is Dexter Manley. Or that Joey Galloway is really Downtown Charlie Brown. The marketing machine creates new anniversary jerseys, runs jumbotron montages, and produces DVDs of days long, long gone.

Then the franchise puts a team on the field that is a mere shadow of those men of respect and ability. And has the nerve to remind the bewildered to vote their favorite player for the Pro Bowl. Maybe fans will get to that when they finish considering where this loss falls in the pantheon of embarrassing Redskins losses. That is, if they can drown out the national chorus of laughter, the charges of aimlessness, and the second-guessing of leadership.

Ah, but the joke is on you too, Daniel Snyder and Washington Redskins. ESPN, ABC and the NFL Network don't continually schedule your team for nationally-televised games because they might win or potentially play well. You're there because your franchise is considered a bumbling circus sideshow whose inevitable failure makes for good ratings and easy, mean-spirited ridicule. Emperor Snyder has no clothes, and the media is laughing all the way to the bank.

As always with this team, there remains a glimmer of hope. Perhaps Mike Shanahan is just rusty in his ability to give plausible reasoning at press conferences. And maybe Bruce Allen really has a plan to build the team with quality young players, not just old ones. It might be that Daniel Snyder isn't sticking his nose in player issues and announcing contracts for maximum media buzz.

At this point, it's doubtful.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Week Ten: Shanahilarious

Philadelphia 59, Washington 28

This loss, before a national audience, wasn't bad: it was historically bad. It was the worst first quarter by a defense in NFL history. Philadelphia Eagle Michael Vick had a performance unseen in the history of the NFL (300+ passing yards, 50 + rushing yards, 4+ passing touchdowns, 2+ rushing touchdowns). The Redskins gave up the most points in a half in their history and allowed the most first quarter points by a visiting team in NFL history. The Eagles celebrated the most points in a half in franchise history.

Even the stats that aren't records indicate a total, Republicans-over-Democrats shellacking: just over fifteen minutes into the game, Philadelphia had five touchdowns (more than Washington would score all night) while the Redskins had run just twelve plays for 23 yards. Vick was his own Human Highlight Reel, finishing the first half with a perfect quarterback rating.

But really, in the end, what matters are two things: how it happened and who is responsible. Fortunately, both questions can be answered with three words: Shanahan's staff failed.

The Redskins coaches, blessed with two weeks to prepare, strategize, and practice, put a team on
the field that looked like it had just finished playing Detroit an hour before the Philly game. They were ill-prepared, unresponsive, and unmotivated.

If Mike Shanahan can't prepare his team in two weeks to play a division rival, at home, on Monday Night Football, then why is he being paid $35 million? How is he any better than quarterback coach-turned-head coach Jim Zorn, who was cheaper and didn't hire his son to run the offense? Spare us ESPN commentator John Gruden's effusing over Shanahan and his Super Bowls ("[He's] a great coach. He managed the bye well..[but it's] his team that has not played..."). The proof is in the pudding, and on the biggest stage the Redskins will see this season, he and his shiny Denver Super Bowl trophies comically failed.

Kyle Shanahan's offense were a phantom success. When the game mattered--the first quarter--the play selections were stale flatulence. How bad did it stink? Here's the first quarter: Vick throws an 88-yard touchdown bomb, Washington calls three run plays. Punt. Vick's offense runs five more plays, all different: touchdown. Washington has a 1-yard screen pass, a rushed 7-yard completion, then an interception as McNabb runs for his life. Vick and offense show variety and the series ends with a shovel pass, touchdown.

Young Shanahan's offense, down 21-0 and on the edge of being blown out, walks on the field and attempts two rushing plays and one pass, which was overthrown. Punt. Total output after three series: 21 yards.

Folks, the game was over right then. Moments later, the icing was on the cake when Philly no-name running back Jerome Harrison galloped 50 yards through a half-hearted defense for a touchdown. Shanahan's eventual offensive response--deep passes--came too late to sufficiently impact the deficit.

As for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, he was completely outcoached by Andy Reid. Sometimes it looked like Riverdale Baptist high school had invited Boise State to a scrimmage. The defense was on its heels for nearly all of the first half: they didn't stop Philly from scoring at will until 35 points later. But until then, Reid's playbook was completely unstoppable. Reverses worked. Shovel passes worked. Draw plays worked. Deep passes worked. Screen passes worked. Runs up the middle worked.

Haslett has answering to do when his players allow over 1000 yards and over 90 points in two weeks.

The worst moment, in a night filled with horrific moments, came after halftime. ESPN's Suzy Kolber reported that she spoke with both coaches during the half. Andy Reid, when asked what his strategy would be while leading 45-14. "Score more points," was his reply. When Kolber asked Shanahan about his team, he was at a loss in explaining the record-setting first period.

"Do you have any ideas?" was his reply.

Ha ha, coach of a national laughingstock. Hilarious.

OFFENSE: D-. McNabb's strong arm and elusiveness are the saving grace from F-ville. (Sorry Keiland Williams, score your touchdowns outside of garbage time, thanks.) The bigger question is whether those traits are worth a new five year contract...
DEFENSE: F-. This play encapsulates the defense's night: Vick has seven seconds to pass due to no rush, Haynesworth doesn't care enough to get up and pursue, and the nine guys playing the pass let a receiver open for a touchdown. Egad.
Sp. TEAMS: C. Lorenzo Alexander was a lone bright spot, crushing a kick returner as he did last time the teams met. Brandon Banks looked like 75% of his pre-surgery self. He really needs that other 25, apparently.
Give Shanahan a modicum of credit for beginning his press conference with the understatement of the season: "I didn't get the players ready."
OWNERSHIP: F. Daniel Snyder's years of mismanagement earned him the privilege of watching his team play the fourth quarter in front of Eagles fans.

...goes to my brother, who drove four hours from Virginia to attend the game, only to be so disgusted that he left early and drove another four hours back home. "I asked a guy next to me in the second quarter [as fans began streaming out], 'if the Skins score and no one is in the stadium, does it count?' "

Photos courtesy and

Monday, November 01, 2010

Week Eight: Gross(man) Misconduct

Washington 25, Detroit 37

Since taking over a 4-12 franchise, coach Mike Shanahan has enjoyed virtual carte blanche in reshaping the 2010 Redskins. Whether it was in shaping the roster (adios, Rock Cartwright and Antwaan Randle- El), rubber stamping the schemes (hello, 3-4 defense), or choosing his starters, Shanahan's powers have been unlimited and immune to the criticism that his predecessor routinely faced.

But on Sunday, Shanahan pulled a move so bizarre, so
unprecedented, that it defied all conventional strains of football logic. Even more, it guaranteed a loss to the one-win Detroit Lions, dropping Washington to a modest 4-4 record. In legal terms, it wasn't just wrong to do--misconduct--but it rose to the level of gross misconduct: so outrageous that it shocked the conscience.

Here's the scene: with just under two minutes left, the Redskins had the ball at their own 25 with plenty of timeouts. On the previous two drives, Donovan McNabb and the offense turned the ball over and failed to convert a fourth down. Nonetheless the Redskins were down just six points. Shanahan sends in Rex Grossman, not DJ McNabb, to orchestrate a winning drive. On the first play, Grossman is blindsided and coughs up a fumble that is easily returned for a touchdown. The game is essentially over.

Naturally, the first question asked of Coach Shanahan in the post game conference was why he benched a healthy McNabb. Shanahan's explanation was straight from the Andy Reid Short Answer 101 course: he thought that Rex knew the two minute offense better, that Rex gave them the best chance to win, and that his gut told him to do so. That was it.

Gastroenterology aside, this explanation is pure nonsense. Rex Grossman may have more experience in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense due to his work with the Texans, but he has zero regular season snaps and didn't outplay new-to-the-scheme McNabb in training camp to even be considered the starter.
Grossman's knowledge doesn't trump in-game experience; he hadn't seen the Detroit defense coming at him, except when a play happened to go out of bounds where he was standing with a clipboard and orange Gatorade. Yet he was called upon to walk in, cold, with 1:45 left and win a game.

Has there ever been a time when a coach replaced a healthy starter this way? This isn't baseball, where a hot closing pitcher can be called up in the bottom of the 8th. Even if it did exist in the NFL, Grossman isn't such a specialist. If he were that good, he wouldn't have bounced from Chicago to Houston to Washington.

In short: if Grossman's the answer, you're probably asking the wrong question.

To be fair, it is true that McNabb's performance wasn't great against the Lions. He was out of sync with receivers on some occasions, he awkwardly tripped twice on snaps, and he did little to improve the Redskins' next-to-worst third down conversion percentage. Under his leadership the team is horrific in red zone scoring and touchdown efficiency. And one can deduce that the reason the Washington defense allows so many yards per game is because they tire from being forced on the field by the ineffective offense.

But let's be real: the blame for the Detroit loss falls on many shoulders, not just McNabb's. The offensive line couldn't protect for the pass, couldn't provide for the run. Snap after snap, Detroit was able to get pressure on McNabb, sometimes without blitzing. The FOX broadcast reported that of his 36 dropbacks, there were five sacks, eleven hits, and ten hurries. That leaves just ten passes where McNabb wasn't having to save his hide from
Ndamukong Suh and company. Because the Redskins couldn't run, they faced an average third down of more than ten yards.

If Shanahan wants to truly evaluate McNabb's performance, how about he look at the two dropped two-point conversions by Fred Davis? If he wants to look for scapegoats, why not mention coach Jim Haslett, DeAngelo Hall and the secondary, who apparently decided to let Detroit's best receiver, Calvin Johnson, punk them all day? The "best chance to win" wouldn't have been necessary if Philip Daniels doesn't jump offsides on a field goal or Reed Doughty doesn't negate a kickoff return with a penalty.

Even worse, Shanahan's decision sends a powerfully negative message to his supposed franchise quarterback: I can singularly blame you for the failures of my offensive line, receivers, defensive backs, and assistant coaches. Sure, coach confidently said that McNabb is his starter after the bye week; but his action suggests that McNabb may be on thinner ice than even he realized. And that's just unconscionable.

OFFENSE: C-. Something's very wrong when your longest, non-QB rush of the day is eight yards. And don't look now, but Chris Cooley is quietly having a mediocre season of dropped passes. The o-line should have been made to walk home from Detroit..
DEFENSE: C+. Orakpo and the defense didn't put much heat on a rusty Matt Stafford, which let Calvin Johnson have a career day. Yet they still gave the offense a chance to win.
Sp. TEAMS: B+ Brandon Banks is smelling like a rookie steal. Twenty more pounds on him and he might be able to break more tackles.
COACHING: C. The coaches had little answer for the front four of Detroit, didn't adjust coverage on Johnson, and sent in the backup to win the game. Sadly, they still did better than Zorn's crew from a year ago.

Talk about odd: in my Madden Redskins franchise, I cleaned house of much of the current roster after winning the Super Bowl. (I went 16-1, thank you very much.) I made sure to keep Brandon Banks on the roster for season two, and though he's only a 55-rated wide receiver he's a 95+ speed rating. And just this week I finally got him to score a kickoff touchdown. On Sunday, the real Banks was dominant and finally returned a kick for six. Well done, sir.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Week Seven: Cover Your Eyes

Washington 17, Chicago 14

It's funny how life tends to repeat itself. Six years ago, almost to the day, the Redskins played the Chicago Bears and I was unable to fully review the game due to various intrusions into my football watching. (Actually, it was shopping with family.) I worked around these annoyances by employing my then-ten-year-old sister in law to take notes on the game. With marginal results. Nonetheless, the Redskins won by three and a substantial Redskins Review was produced.

On Sunday, the Bears and Redskins met, and again this thing called "life" frustrated the reviewing process. (This time there was a confluence of a sore back, an unfulfilled promise to purchase a new pet, and Comcast's choice not to bother airing the game.) And once again I employed a ghost writer--this time a wee older--to take copious notes on the Redskins' performance. And wouldn't you know it: the Redskins won by three.

Here then, are my brother's notes on the Redskins' very, very sloppy win:

There was a period in time where I wondered who wanted the game less. Started with a pass from McNabb making the rookie mistake of throwing while being dragged down for a pick-6. He didn't look as good as he has earlier in the season.

Thank goodness for the second coming of John Riggins, aka Ryan Torain. He looked great for a lot of the game, when we chose to run. Orakpu is our star on defense, continuing to collapse the pocket, and it looked like the Mad Genius had learned nothing. That didn't last. Martz actually learned by the middle of the second quarter that the long ball was not to be, and went with 3 step drops and quick slant passes. The Redskin D had no answer to it. Thank goodness halftime came, as the defense continued to unravel.

Jay Cutler reverted back to a year ago in the second half. He was our 12th mam, throwing an INT after every miscue of ours. Hall's 4th pick (all 2nd half) was a pick-6 and the last score of the game, as athletic as the INT the Colts had at the end of our last game.

Torain earned his paycheck (as well as Clinton "wish-this-was-two-hand-touch" Portis' paycheck) by running hard and getting 1st downs at the end, where normally we would end up running into a wall 3 times and punting.

Our run game is slowly looking like a Shanahan team. Armstrong isn't quite a go-to receiver yet, with a crucial drop. Moss was blanketed, McNabb's true security outlet. Maybe that was why he didn't play well.

Top performers:
Torain - he should keep the starting job even when Portis is healthy.
Hall - gambled the whole game, and beat the house.

Coach of the game - whoever it is that's in charge of special teams. Never kicked to Hester, ALWAYS out of bounds. Net yardage looked bad (how DO those refs figure out where it really went out of bounds?), usually netting 20-ish yards, but the alternative........

I think Haynesworth has an allergy to leather oblong shapes - you'd see him on the field, but never near the ball.

Well said. A few notes of mine: I like the Ryan Torain/John Riggins reference. Last week I compared him to Stephen Davis, a downhill runner who could plow over defensive backs and had just enough agility to make a man miss. Riggins ran much like that, too, though I can't recall him ever juking a player. He did have that extra, magical gear in his youth that I hope Torain finds. His second 100-yard performance is a great sign.

Second, the Redskins were fortunate that Jay Cutler and his receivers were so awful. Credit DeAngelo Hall, whom I've called good, not great, for his record-matching day. But Chicago's receivers didn't finish routes, didn't come back for the ball, didn't, well, help their quarterback avoid looking horrific.

Third, DJ McNabb is the best quarterback the Redskins have had in recent memory. But he is, as my Pops said, "sporadically brilliant." That means that the rest of the time you're hoping he throws the ball higher than shoetops and doesn't launch deep passes into double coverage. That said, he's a rare quarterback who can avoid a blitzer for just the one second he needs to get off a pass. I'll take that over the Jason Campbell-Patrick Ramsey-Todd Collins statuesque passers who simply took hits from linebackers.

I'll forego the Scorecard this week, instead to pass this important note: this may be the only week when Redskins fans maybe, just maybe, might root for Dallas to win. They face the NFC East-leading Giants on Monday Night Football. A win for the Cowchips puts Washington in a tie for first place.

Photo credit: Johnathan Newton/Washington Post

Monday, October 18, 2010

Week Six: If You're Gonna Lose...

Indianapolis 27, Washington 24

Mike Shanahan and the coaching staff will meet sometime in the film room after Sunday night's loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The coaches will see the Washington defense allow 469 yards of offense, including 170 rushing. They'll watch their offense drop catches and fail to take advantage of multiple Colts turnovers. And they'll have to accept the embarrassment of a prime-time loss on national television.

When the video stops and the lights come up, if they have any sense, they'll crack a small smile
and say, "Hmph, that was pretty good!"

The coaches will say that because they (and their observant fans) know that the 2010 Washington Redskins are of mere moderate talent. While the players have tremendous heart, hit hard, and are
good enough to create some fortune, they don't yet belong in the same class as the NFL upper echelon. Indianapolis has lived in that realm for years now, and they proved it on Sunday. The Colts are deep at receiver, devastating at defensive end, and are lead by one of the best field generals ever to play the game.

But Shanahan has to smile because his flawed
team showed something too: they can not only play with the best of the league, but take them to the wire. Every game has its positive take-aways, but the coaches can pump their fist about these from Sunday night:

(1) Ryan "Rough" Torain is the future running back for the Redskins. How fitting that Torain wear #46, which looks much like the #48 worn by storied back Stephen Davis. Like Davis, Torain is a large, solid downfield runner who simply can't be taken down by arm tackles. Torain showed patience for blocking, held onto the ball, and, unlike Clinton Portis, didn't need to be helped off the field after every third run. Torain, whose name wasn't on the lips of fans during the preseason, has emerged as a key component in the offense's balance. If he can work on his pass blocking, avoid fumbles and stay healthy, he can become yet another in Mike Shanahan's long list of prosperous runners. Even better, he can become everything this offense needs. His touchdowns from Sunday make the NFL films' highlights, but he had multiple plays where he broke away from tacklers to avoid a loss. The Redskins haven't had that powerful a back since, well, Stephen Davis.

(2) The defense, horrid though it may statistically seem, continues to put the Redskins in a position to win. The box scores don't tell the tale of the loss on Sunday. After all the yardage and points allowed, the fact remains that when London Fletcher and the defense needed to force second-half turnovers for Washington to have any chance of winning, they got two fumbles and a sack. When McNabb and the offense needed to get the ball back late in the fourth quarter, the defense forced Manning into a rare three-and-out. Slice it how you like, but defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's
guys are like an old hymn: they may not come when you want them, but they'll be there right on time.

(3) The future is brighter than even the coaches might have thought. The Redskins of previous
seasons (seriously, just pick one in recent memory) wouldn't have had much of a chance in keeping Sunday's game close. Tthose teams were, with some exceptions, stocked with high-profile veteran free agents who were either poorly coached, unmotivated, or both. The team that faced down the AFC Champion Colts wasn't expected by many to take out Dallas, Green Bay, and Philadelphia. And they nearly stole another win, even without Albert Haynesworth, Rocky McIntosh, and Portis. Might unsung players like Anthony Armstrong, Brandon Banks, and Torain be honored at Homecoming in 2025?

OFFENSE: C. McNabb can't ask for a better circumstance than three timeouts, two minutes, 57 yards for the win, 30 yards for field goal range. To come up empty is a reminder that the offense still needs work.
B. During halftime, I tapped a note to myself: "Can we have an error-free 2nd half? No drops? Grab every loose fumble? Can we keep Manning off the field?" Mission, largely, accomplished. Also, I will henceforth refuse to mention Carlos Rogers' name until he gets an interception.

Sp. TEAMS: B-. I love the tone that the Special Teams set, pounding runners and forcing turnovers. I can't remember a year when this squad has had this kind of literal impact.
COACHING: C+. If I were gameplanning against aggressive, sack-happy defensive ends, I would have called draw plays often. It's safer than a play action pass, which may roll into the aggression, and it forces the ends to think about whether to head upfield or hang back. Washington called, by my count, two. One on a throwaway 3rd and long.

B. My Pops and I got to the stadium early, anticipating the Homecoming parade featuring Rick Walker, Darryl Grant, Mark Moseley, and other Redskins greats. I never saw the parade, but I did get ten Hooters wings for $10, the best value of any food at FedExField. Thanks, Danny.

This week's moment is a no-brainer, a catch that only happens when you have the Madden receiver
skills turned up. In fact, it's superior to Randy Moss' effortless one-handed grab while a Patriot earlier this season. Indianapolis Colts receiver Pierre Garcon got open (as he was most of the night), and with a full extension catches the nose of the football in his right hand and completes the reception. It was like watching magnetism at work in a science museum.

Photos courtesy, NBC, and, um, me.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Week Five: Grand Theft Gano

Green Bay 13, Washington 16 (OT)

At some point in the 2010 season, the Redskins will win a game as underdogs over a high-quality opponent. They will do so by coming from behind and, through sheer willpower, create their own lucky bounces. When that happens, it will be celebrated as a team rising to the occasion and
demonstrating its inner strength and character.

For now, a win like the one on Sunday is pure thievery.

The Green Bay Packers had, for much of the game, the dominant defense and the more talented offense. The Redskins looked like their consistently inconsistent selves, unable to run, protect the passer, or slow down their opponent. After the first quarter, the Redskins had a tenth of the Packers' yardage, hadn't completed a third down, and was getting beaten by
backup tight ends and wide receivers. They had no answer for the Packers' blitz. By halftime, Washington was down 13-3, but Donovan McNabb was running or his life from an unrelenting and undeterred Green Bay defense. McNabb's best completion of the half (in which he was again scrambling) was for 52 yards, nearly half of his thirty-minute total. It was a wonder that the game's outcome was still in question.

But in all of this, something odd was slowly occurring: the Redskins' much-maligned defense, one of the worst in the league, bent badly but refused to break. It stood its ground at the goal line, pressured the great Aaron Rodgers into poor throws and influenced receivers into dropped passes. The Washington offense, whose production seemed to be limited to three-and-outs and third-and-longs, found a way to sneak in critical completions of more than 20 yards. A rookie wide
receiver, third on the depth chart, played like a veteran in the fourth quarter with game-saving catches.

And behind the clutch kicking of Graham Gano, the Redskins yanked an improbable, thrilling victory out from under a projected
NFC champion.

Washington had a lot of help from Green Bay: there were stretches where even their veteran receivers couldn't hold onto easy catches; the coaching staff didn't choose to control the clock with the run, and kicker Mason Crosby missed two field goals, one to win the game.

In postgame interviews, the Packers had the dazed look of a man who has an alarm on his Porsche but still woke up to find it sitting on cement blocks. Green Bay just knew they should have won.
“We just let an opportunity slip away,” receiver James Jones said. “There is no explanation for the way we lost this game. We lost it ourselves."

But might it be that the Redskins aren't great, but good enough to pickpocket a win from even the best?

OFFENSE: C+. DJ McNabb is an exciting quarterback. But he's also capable of "spotty brilliance," as my Pops puts it. With the empty running game, offensive production is squarely on his shoulders. He's got to complete more of the easy throws. Anthony Armstrong is a work in progress but he could be the one-on-one jump ball threat that Devin Thomas hadn't become.

DEFENSE: A. Another near-300 yard day by an opposing quarterback? 157 rushing yards allowed? And they get an "A?" Yep. LaRon "Hit Stick" Landry and Brian Orakpo held a strong offense to 13 points and got stops when they needed. A consistent offense would help the defense's rating tremendously.

Sp. TEAMS: B. Punter Hunter Smith and returner Brandon Banks can join Gano in taking a bow.

COACHING: B. The point was made in the radio postgame discussion that Mike Shanahan and the coaching staff are using essentially the same tools Jim Zorn had last season. (McNabb being the notable exception, of course.) But they're getting better results. I agree. In previous seasons, this game's a loss, with Washington allowing catches on tipped balls and giving up critical sacks. Or missing field goals. Or having pass interference penalties. Or dropping interceptions. Or...

OWNERSHIP: A. Wins like these further cement the brilliant idea by Daniel Snyder to let other people run the team while he signs the checks.

I'll suspend my Madden moment this week in favor of the pure hilarity of a postgame moment in the FOX Sports studio. You know who works there: Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Michael Strahan, Jimmy "Extenze" Johnson, and the guy in James Brown's seat. In their round-robin about the game, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy all went on about Green Bay's loss due to injuries, penalties, third down conversions, and solar flares. No mention of the Redskins, you know, playing well enough to take advantage of all those mistakes.

When they finished lamenting Green Bay's loss, the guy in James Brown's spot said, in effect, "Guys, last week we said the Eagles lost because of no Michael Vick. This week we're saying that Green Bay lost to the Redskins because of no Clay Matthews. When are we going to start taking Washington seriously?"

What erupted was a cacophonous five seconds of blubbering, side-stepping, faint praise, and empty sports cliches from all four commentators. "Oh yeah, well coached...lot of heart...McNabb...stepping up...I've always thought...a Shanahan team always...great victory..." I haven't seen this much shufflin' since the '85 Bears.

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