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?

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