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


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