Sunday, September 19, 2010

Week Two: Be Very Afraid

Houston 30, Washington 27 (OT)

When your team allows twenty unanswered points and nearly 500 yards at home on the way to losing a practically won game in overtime, there are plenty of people to blame. Some even call it a repeat of last season's Zorn-rific choke to New Orleans. Contrarians are preferring to celebrate what appears to be an excitement that hasn't been seen in Washington in nearly ten years.

I prefer to view these 2010 Redskins as...scary. I've seen enough football and horror films to know when to trust my fear-fueled spider sense, which tells me that something ain't what I thought it would be. In lieu of What Worked and What Didn't Work, here's what, if I'm the rest of the NFL, just might make 'em shake in their shoes:

Fear #1: Donovan J. McNabb is still a top-ten NFL quarterback, and it was the steal of the offseason for Washington to have him. Every dollar of DJ McNabb's contract was verified by his outstanding performance on Sunday: 38 for 48, 426 yards, one touchdown, and zero turnovers. Throw in the absolute lack of run support--more on that fear in a moment--and you have one of the best Redskins quarterback performances in a decade. The Philadelphia Eagles may have found a stopgap to their QB troubles in Michael Vick, but I guarantee you they saw McNabb's performance and felt a twinge of fear and regret. How good is McNabb? Even ancient Joey Galloway is a deep threat. DJ is the Man of the Game.

Fear #2: The Redskins' 3-4 defense looks like it's been in Washington all along. There was concern in the offseason (and, frankly, in the preseason too) that coordinator Jim Haslett's adjustment to the traditional 4-3 would take time to gel. But Brian Orakpo, LaRon Landry, and London Fletcher lead an aggressive, pressuring attack that has the potential to harass even the best quarterbacks. The Texans' Matt Schaub hit the dirt five times--how long has it been since that happened for the Redskins?

That said, Sunday's loss exposed some facts that should keep coach Mike Shanahan sleepless throughout the season:

Fear #3: The Washington defense lacks a shutdown corner. DeAngelo Hall is good, not great. The rest of the secondary's quality drops quickly and dramatically from there when it comes to pass coverage. Fans were shocked (some gave sarcastic praise) when Carlos Rogers caught his first interception in recent memory. Safety Reed Doughty led the team with ten tackles, but that wasn't from blitzing; it was from Schaub's receivers getting open early and often. And for the second week, an opponent's primary target got open on a fourth and long when an incompletion would have iced the game.

Fear #4: The Redskins' running game is a thinly-veiled facade. I mentioned last week that the ground game is more diversion than attack. On Sunday, the two-headed Pop Warner running game produced 18 net yards on 17 rushes. That's one yard per run, a statistic that would make the Hogs of yesteryear spin in their pigpen. Part of McNabb's performance was from necessity--he had no help in milking the second-half clock or punching out four yards on third downs. It was bizarre that the Texans were fooled on any play action passes after the first quarter. The optimist in me thinks that the Redskins can make 8-8; but with this comical running game 7-9 would be impressive.


OFFENSE: C+. It's just unfair to soil McNabb's outstanding performance with the running game. But that's football. The worst moment was Larry Johnson deciding to not lower his head and attack a defender but circle around and lose ten yards. His production: two rushes, minus-seven yards. Hang Your Head. Is Trung Canidate available and in shape?

DEFENSE: D. It's accepted that the Texans possess an emerging QB and a top-five receiver. But for the love of Chris Hanburger, can the defense not allow them to connect during the critical plays? Can this defense put their opponent in a sleeper hold and not allow them to stand up?

Sp. TEAMS: C. Graham Gano had his game-icing field goal deflected by an unblocked Texan, and then missed a second attempt at a 51-yarder to win in overtime. Otherwise, fantastic directional kickoffs by Gano helped pin Houston deep.

COACHING: C. For all the knowledge that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan possessed of Houston's plays, the defense did little to stop them. Where was his father's kicker-icing timeout? Didn't he invent that annoying tactic? And for the record, one last time, let's say that Shanahan needs to either play Haynesworth or trade him. (If you really want to twist his nose, put Albert on special teams.)

OWNERSHIP: C. My club-level gameday experience was great: cool air conditioning, still-comfy leather chairs, and 50 of my new friends cheering the Dallas loss on the HD screens. Then there was the $34 for two shakes and two cheeseburgers at Johnny Rockets, and I shook my head.

If you've played Madden for any length of time, you know how the CPU will be able to ramp up its efficiency in the fourth quarter. You know it's happening when the running back suddenly turns into Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders' love child and bursts for a five-tackle-busting 80-yard touchdown. Or when, on a game-winning 4th and 10, the quarterback avoids the rush and lanches a long touchdown to a receiver who is unbelievable open for the score. That's what happened to Reed Doughty and Philip Buchanan, who provided little resistance to Andre Johnson on the tying score. The lesson: if you're in double-coverage on their best receiver, don't worry about whatever's happening at the line of scrimmage. Just stand near the guy you're covering!

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