Thursday, January 13, 2011

Interview with Ken Harvey

It's not often, as a sports fan, that you have the opportunity to have real, honest contact with the players you cheer for. Sure, you feel a connection to a player through game attendance, press conferences, or even Twitter. But there's something very special about talking, one on one, with the people who make you stand up and cheer.

I was fortunate to be able to interview one of the great Redskins, Ken Harvey, recently. It was surprising, friendly, and a lot of fun. Here's my interview, the first video for Jeff's Redskins Review:

The Redskins Review is also now on Twitter: follow me @JeffSkinsReview !

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

2010 Season Review

Every team's season contains highs and lows; but because it's the Redskins we're talking about, we have to include the supremely disappointing moments as well. Put on your Redskins gear one last time while viewing the best, worst, and facepalm moments in the 2010 Season Review:

There were many to choose from, particularly in the early part of the season when #5 was under center. For a period of time, Washington led the NFL in big plays. But the winner is Ryan Torain's 12-yard touchdown run against the Eagles. This play, against a division foe, was the throwback to yesteryear, when the Redskins had the personnel and guts to run the ball in the red zone. The fact that Torain made road kill of Quintin Mikell makes this play all the better. If there's a run that signaled the impending exit of Clinton Portis, this was it. Honorable Mention goes to Donovan McNabb and Anthony Armstrong's connection for a 48-yard touchdown in week five against the Packers.


While Clinton Portis' phantom fall down in week three against the Rams was a prime candidate for worst play, it simply cannot match the utter despair fans felt in week ten. On Monday Night Football, the visiting Eagles were humiliating the Redskins defense, 21-0 in the first quarter. The Redskins offense didn't have a first down and needed to do something to slow down the Michael Vick scoring juggernaut it, apparently, had not prepared for. The offense came on the field, ran twice for minimal yardage, and McNabb overthrew his receiver on third down. It was the last chance Washington had to put a respectable dent in the lead. The Redskins punted, the Eagles scored moments later, and the fans began streaming to the exits before the second quarter.


In week three, against the one-win St. Louis Rams, the first nine minutes were this: Washington had a punt blocked, lost a fumble, allowed a 42-yard touchdown, had 2 false-start penalties, a crack-back penalty, and were down 14-zip.

I've called DeAngelo Hall a good, not great corner. But in week seven, he was Madden-esque, tying an NFL record with four interceptions of Chicago's quarterback Jay Cutler. See them all here, but watch his second interception, a one-handed snag that he takes back for a lovely, long touchdown. Honorable mention goes to Hall as well, for his week one theft of Dallas' Tashard Choice for a pivotal touchdown.

The Redskins' defense finished far, far worse than last season, when it was a top-ten defense. Blame the scheme, blame the coaches, but there's no doubt that the players shoulder every bit of
the blame for the week thirteen touchdown against the Eagles. Michael Vick and Philadelphia had already carved the defense like a holiday ham, but this three-yard pass to Jason Avant proved that they were completely outmatched. The defensive line got no pressure, Albert Haynesworth rested on the ground for half the play, at least seven defenders roamed the end zone, and somehow Avant was still open.

In a season of great returns, Brandon Banks'
96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in week eight against Detroit stands out most. He showed speed, patience, and even some tackle-breaking ability as he covered virtually the width and length of the football field. Detroit had already given up multiple long returns to Banks; he was simply unstoppable that day.

Actually, the whole series of plays in this video qualify--in week fourteen, Graham Gano had a horrible kicking day capped by a
botched hold by Hunter Smith. His opportunity to redeem the multiple easy kicks missed slipped away, as did the opportunity for overtime. Honorable mention goes to any of the illegal blocks by special teamers that negated touchdown returns by Brandon Banks.

Week Two: "The optimist in me thinks that the Redskins can make 8-8; but with this comical running game 7-9 would be impressive."

Week Seven: "Donovan McNabb is the best quarterback the Redskins have had in recent memory." Some might say this is actually true. McNabb was on pace to hit 4000 yards while running for his life most snaps. But we never found out due to his benching, and it's likely we'll never know because he'll be wearing different colors in 2011. It would've been nice to see him groom a young kid into being the Redskins' future...

This may come as a surprise, but the introduction of the bootleg-play-action-pass-across-the-field into the offensive playbook was the best of the year for Mike and Kyle Shanahan. It wasn't just effective, it was consistently producing long-yardage and touchdowns. I noticed other teams employing it, I like to believe, after seeing the success in Washington. Here it is against Tennessee, the Texans, the Texans again, and the Jaguars. The greatness of this play lies in the quarterback being mobile enough to make distance between the now-free rushers and strong enough to heave a pass longer than normally necessary. McNabb
pulled it off regularly, and tight ends Fred Davis and Chris Cooley made most of their big yardage through it.


It is really tempting to anoint the 3-4 defense as this season's worst coaching decision. The roster was unprepared, untalented, and (it certainly looked) unmotivated to change from the 4-3. Introducing the scheme guaranteed an uphill battle for the players; the result was that the defense routinely gave up 400 yards of offense.

But the worst coaching decision was the week eight benching of Donovan McNabb. With just over two minutes left, and the Redskins down one score, Shanahan inserted Rex Grossman in to run to the drill and pull out a win. First play: Grossman is blindsided (by the defense he hadn't faced all day),Ndamukong Suh picks up the fumble and ices the game with a touchdown.
Shanahan's convoluted explanation after the game didn't help justify the bizarre choice.

Brandon Banks. I get that Santana Moss had a 1000-yard season and had the second-most receptions in Redskins' history. But Moss had critical drops, some of which hit him squarely in the hands. When the Redskins needed somebody to go out, electrify the crowd and energize the rest of the team, Banks answered the call. It's been awhile since the Redskins had a special player on special teams, a guy whom you could believe could take it to the house on any punt or kickoff return. Banks, if he stays healthy (and gets some help with legal blocking), could be that guy.

Coach Mike Shanahan. The 6-10 season result, his pitiful explanation of his last-minute benching of DJ McNabb, and his decision to keep Albert Haynesworth around indicated that, maybe, he's not the great genius of football operations Daniel Snyder, Bruce Allen, and the rest of the football world proclaimed him to be. He may have had a bunch of square pegs to fit into round holes, but the fan base expected better than a two-game improvement over the Jim Zorn train wreck. We expected the prime-time humiliations to division foes to end.

We didn't expect a playoff birth, but a simple return to respectability. And we got none of the above.

Is that the Redskins are on a potential upswing. They have a decent draft position, they played well down the stretch, and Daniel Snyder will keep Shanahan around long enough to right some of the wrongs of past years. It will take time. Maybe a long time--look how long it took to raise pieces of the Titanic. But Shanahan wants to go younger with this team, not unlike the Tampa Bay Bucs, who went from nobodies to 10-6. The good news is that, with patience and wisdom, anything is possible.

Is that the Redskins are still in the NFC East. The Cowchips performed well under interim-now-head coach Jason Garrett, managing to have a better overall record than the Redskins despite losing five in a row. The Giants faded toward the end of 2010, but finished a respectable 10-6. Only two teams in the NFC had better records. And then there's the Eagles, who are favorites to face Atlanta for the NFC championship. Somebody's got to bring up the rear in the division, and in the short term it looks like it's going to be Washington.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Week Seventeen: A Perfect Synopsis

New York Giants 17, Washington 14

If ever there were a microcosm, a conspectus of the 2010 Redskins season, it was this final game against the Giants. Many of the same elements of frustration that
prevented success for the franchise--and joy for fans--were on display Sunday evening. For every positive play that created hope in Washington playing spoiler, there were reminders that Mike Shanahan's team is a work in progress that hasn't progressed nearly as far as anyone hoped. In the end, the the season's final moment was the disappointing view of an opponent in victory formation.

In a month, maybe even sooner, this game will be nothing more than a statistical notation. But a closer examination of this season finale explains a lot of what's good and what's bad about this

Rex Grossman, for example, was good enough to be called a professional quarterback but made the errors that assured that he shouldn't be a starter in Washington. His final stat line included more than 300 passing yards and a gorgeous 64-yard strike to Anthony Armstrong. But he also had two fumbles, an interception, and couldn't lead his team into field goal range with two minutes left. His performances in the last two weeks were hardly an indication of the "he knows the system" advantage coach Shanahan has reminded us of all season.

Santana Moss was Grossman's favorite target, finishing with nine catches for 74 yards. And while it's proper to celebrate his fourth season of more than 1000 yards, he had another fourth-quarter
error, a red zone fumble.

Then there's the coaching: offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan ordered ten rushes in the first half for Ryan Torain, and the running back averaged a solid 4.8 yards per carry. In the second half, with the game still close, Shanahan got Torain the ball just eight times more while Grossman attempted 29 passes.

And let's not forget the so-called best defensive back on the Redskins' roster, DeAngelo Hall. He had a decent game in run support, finishing with four solo and two assist tackles. But for all of his continued claims that he wants to be matched with the opponent's best receivers, he failed miserably in defending the Giants' last good receiver, Mario Manningham, on a 92-yard touchdown.

Perhaps the best symbol of what the 2010 season has been like was in the first quarter, when Torain and the offense responded to the Giants' first score with a ground-game attack. The drive pounded into the red zone, and the offense, as it has done all season, fizzled. On came Graham
Gano, he who has won multiple overtime games for Washington, for a chip-shot 30-yard field goal for the tie. Gano's kick went horribly wide left, and Washington never came closer to tying the game.

As usual, the Redskins were good enough to make fans believe they could win but lacked the talent to actually pull it off. Here's to eight months of improving on the latter.


OFFENSE: C. I would be very interested to see if Mike Shanahan really believes that Grossman
provides a better chance of winning than Donovan McNabb.
DEFENSE: B+. They didn't give up 400 yards and kept an uninspired Giants team from running away with the game.
Sp. TEAMS: B-. At the stadium, there was a noticeable increase in energy when Brandon Banks took the field for punt returns. At times it seemed like he was one of the few players who has heart.
COACHING: C. For all the criticism leveled at the coaches, their players (backup and starter) came ready to do battle in recent weeks.
OWNERSHIP: C. Another rainy game, another day without free ponchos. The 2011 magnet-calendars are hardly consolation prizes. And what's with the #5 jerseys still being sold for $90.00 in the Redskins store...?

The Best and Worst of the 2010 Redskins season, my interview with Redskins great Ken Harvey, and reviews of the eagerly-expected NFL playoffs.