October 29, 2008

Ugliness Aside, It's Good To Be 6-2

Sure the Redskins need to think about scoring points. They can run up all the yards they want, but scoring wins games. That's a huge concern for the second half of the season, but overall, who cares? The Skins are 6-2!

Halfway through the regular season the Skins are in prime position to secure a play-off berth considering they have upcoming games against the Niners, Bengals, Ravens, and Seahawks. On the other hand, they still have to contend with the Eagles, Cowboys, Giants, and Steelers.

Taking a quick peek at the first half of the year, it sometimes hard to believe we are 6-2. After the Giants game, it looked like the typical Redskins. Sloppy, sluggish, and downright vanilla. Then Jim Zorn opened up the playbook and let it rip. Jason Campbell went on a tear that led the Skins past Dallas, Philly, New Orleans, and Arizona.

Clinton Portis was running well, the offense was minimizing it's mistakes and capitalizing on the majority of their scoring chances. All of this crashed down around them with a loss to St. Louis.

The Rams came into DC winless and the Skins certainly played unispired football against an uninspired team (they have recently picked it up however). They committed their first offensive turnovers of the year, and failed to score enough points despite outplaying the Rams in almost every category.

Things didn't change much for the next two weeks against Detroit and Cleveland. The same vanilla effort. The same offense that can do anything it pleases except punch the ball into the endzone. However, the Skins did salvage out a pair of wins and that's all that matters. Now, they need to look to the second half because chances are, these Skins have a lot to look forward to.

October 25, 2008

"Trap" Game For The Skins? Don't Count On It.

The experts this week are predicting a Skins choke job. Memo: That was two weeks ago. The Skins don't lose to Detroit. It's happened only a handful of times since my birth. Maybe twice, but not much more than that.

However, Peter King predicted a loss, the guys on CBS Sportsline think it'll be really close and the Lions might pull it off, and then the guys on NFL.com are predict a loss. Come again?

The Skins will be going up against one the worst defenses in the NFL. Clinton Portis is on fire and Jason Campbell will get back in his groove in this one. The defense has to worry about one player only: Calvin Johnson.

The Steelers are next week and the Skins can't flub this one up because Pittsburgh will be a real challenge. Jim Zorn screwed up once against a winless team, but, to quote The Who, he won't get fooled again. He knows what it's like to be upset and he's too smart to let it happen again.

The Skins will come out focused, stay focused and romp. 31-14. You heard it here. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Peter.

October 23, 2008

Could Romo Miss The Skins Game?

Reports are out that Cowboys' QB Tony Romo could miss the next two games and not return until the November 16th game against our Skins.

CBS Sportsline reported that Romo will not even be the team's emergency QB this week when they play the Buccaneers this week. He will also miss the divisional game against the Giants the following week before the Cowboys have their bye.

Romo can't grip a football properly and meanwhile his team can't get a grip on themselves. Jerry Jones is the self-proclaimed team physician; Terrell Owens has yet to meet a mike he didn't like; Pacman Jones has probably ridden in just about every cop car in existence and Wade Phillips is on thin ice.

Things aren't exactly great in Dallas as they could be looking at a 4-5 record when they head to DC. I would be interested to see if Romo even plays in the Skins game. If he does, there will certainly be some rust.

So how great could that be? The Skins sitting at 6-3 or 7-2 playing the Cowboys who are struggling to even stay in contention for a play-off spot. Like Mastercard, that's priceless.

October 22, 2008

Jason Campbell: More than A Game Manager?

Jason Campbell came into the season with the entire Redskins Nation holding its collective breath, waiting to witness his performance. Would the young signalcaller step up his game to lead the Redskins offense to some much-needed success? Would he grasp a new offense with a new coach?

Seven games into the season, the answers are slowly coming. Campbell has experienced several great games, but is still in the process of becoming a great QB.

The game against the Saints in week two saw Campbell throw the game-winning 67-yard score to Santana Moss. He threw for over 300 yards in the game and then proceeded to throw a pair of touchdowns in the following week's win over Arizona.

Campbell completed over 73 percent of his passes against Arizona, but his best was yet to come. He led a balanced offense to a victory over the Cowboys in which he tossed two touchdowns and threw for 231 yards.

However, following the Dallas game, Campbell has only thrown one touchdown and the team has only scored 54 points in the past three games. That's an average of 18 points per game.

On the flip side, Campbell has attempted fewer passes the past three weeks (29 against the Eagles, 26 against the Rams, 23 against the Browns) than he had against Dallas, Arizona, and New Orleans. So the question is: does the offense need more of Campbell?

To me, the answer is simple. Campbell needs more involvement. The offense has put up an average of 26.3 points a game when he makes 30+ attempts. When he goes under that mark, the offense averages just 15.3 points per game.

Last time I checked points win games. The Skins are seventh in the NFL in yards per game, but only 24th in points per game. The offense scores more points when Campbell gets more opportunities to throw the ball to Moss and Cooley.

Clinton Portis is having a phenomenal season and the Skins offense has been moving the ball freely all year, but they have had trouble getting the ball in the endzone. Against the Eagles, they had to settle for three field goals in the first half; against the Rams they turned the ball over twice in St. Louis territory. That can't happen and the best way to keep drives from stalling is to get Campbell more involved. If Jim Zorn can bring this about, it will add extra dimensions to the offense.

So it's time to fully entrust the offense to Jason Campbell. He is more than a game manager this year. And it's time to let him prove it.

October 21, 2008

Redskins Defense: Battered, Bruised, But Not Beaten

The Cleveland Browns were knocking on the door deep in Skins territory, down 14-3 late in the fourth quarter. It had already been a hard-hitting game, but London Fletcher brought it to a new level as he stuffed the truck-like Jamal Lewis on two consecutive plays. Then the rest of the team caught on and stopped the next two plays to get the ball back.

Fletcher stepped up to fill the void in a big way all day with twelve tackles. Not only does his play speak volumes, but his fire and leadership really sparks the team. Those primal screams jumpstarted the team several times yesterday. They have been ravaged by injuries, but that didn't seem to matter.

Fred Smoot, Carlos Rogers, and Chris Horton all played with injuries, ensuring that the loss of Shawn Springs would be softened. Horton notched eight tackles and came up with some timely stops. Smoot continued his hard-nosed coverage while Rogers came up with two huge hits and consistent coverage all day.

The physical coverage the Skins have been relying on more and more the last few weeks has been working. Receivers get frustrated as they are beat up and have no room after the catch. When Springs returns, expect to see even more man coverage and more lockdown defense.

Meanwhile the defensive line was able to get a little pressure, but came away with just one sack. This is a line with Jason Taylor and Andre Carter and they can't provide pressure. That needs to change.

However, the line has been stopping the run. They are ranked 7th in the NFL in run defense, only yielding 86.4 yards per game. They stick runners at initial contact and rarely give up big gainers.

On the whole, the Skins defense has been tremendous this season. They are ranked number six overall in total defense and allow just 18.3 points per game. They could stand to force more turnovers and create extra pressure, but as things stand, this defense is as stifling as they come.

October 20, 2008

Where Did The Offense Go?

After two tremendous wins over the Eagles and Cowboys, I expected to see the Skins take at the very least two out of the next three games. Three cream puffs: the Rams, Browns, and Lions. Two games at home and a road game against a Detroit team who looks like the division I-AA team thrown into division I.

However, the Redskins have decided to make things painful for us. Joe Gibbs' offense was supposed to leave with him, but it didn't seem so yesterday. Jason Campbell doesn't throw interceptions, Jim Zorn. So why did you refuse to throw downfield in the first half.

Sanatana Moss is a guy who can score on any given play. That being said, why not throw to him more often. The way Clinton Portis is running, Moss will get single coverage more and more frequently. He needs to get the ball early and throughout games.

The Skins did a great job moving Moss around the field, making it difficult for the Browns to double team him. This is what Zorn will have to continue doing so his top receiver will have some room to work with.

Again though, the playcalling needs to open up. Zorn did a fantastic job after week one, mixing it up and using the pass to set up the run. This week Zorn seemed to focus on using the run to set up the pass. I think to maintain consistency the Skins must stay aggressive. That killer instinct to finish drives has to be present in every game. The more Campbell gets comfortable early, the more scoring we will see.

So please, Jim Zorn. Take a chance. Let the Campbell to Moss connection work. It will pay off.

October 15, 2008

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October 12, 2008

Fear Not Skins Fans, Things Are Fine

I know everyone will want to panic after today's loss, but let's stay reasonable. As the entire FOX crew abandoned their belief in the Skins, I sat back and laughed.

After back-to-back road wins against divison opponents and four straight wins, a letdown was expected. With the next two games coming against the Lions and Browns, the Skins will get back to their winnning ways.

What the Skins really need is that killer instinct to crush the bottom feeders. They don't need to play a ball control game against the Rams. Just air it out early and often challenging that secondary.

The Skins did play very well in terms of moving the ball for parts of the game. However, turnovers hurt the Skins badly. Three fumbles, two deep in Rams territory took points off the board. What Pete Kendall was doing was beyond ridiculous. The fluke plays need to be stopped.

In addition, the defense failed to generate sacks. Two sacks against a weak offensive line just isn't enough, but with two more easy games, they have time to regroup.

More to come.

October 3, 2008

Can't Have A Letdown This Week

Washington needs to stay focused after a big win in Dallas. They have won three in a row and now this trip to Philly means they can make it a huge four game win streak.

The first five games of the schedule were, as I said at the start of the year, the hardest stretch for the Skins. Now after Philly, they have the Rams, Browns, Lions, and Steelers before playing Dallas. That's a far cry from the Giants, Saints, Cardinals, Cowboys, and Eagles.

I said if the Skins went 3-2 then we could possibly have a play-off year. Even if we do go 3-2 at this point, we are still contenders. We beat the Cowboys and this game will tough to follow up on that. Imagine if we do follow it up.

4-1 would make us the top team along with the Giants in the NFC in my opinion. We have been through the toughest five games thus far and emerging at 4-1 is exactly what is needed for a play-off run. And a divisional run as well.

The Eagles need this game in a bad way though. They are 2-2 and 0-1 in NFC East play. This game will determine whether they will have to play catch up all year or be right in the mix.

I like the Eagles chances even with a banged up Brian Westbrook. Their defense is unlike anything Jim Zorn has played against and I think the Skins will struggle to establish themselves on the ground. The defense will have to keep them in it and without Westbrook at 100% I think they will be able to manage this.

It's a tough game to win because of the Dallas win and the back-to-back road games in very hostile stadiums, but I think Zorn is giving his team the right mentality. Skins win 24-17 in a close one.

First Quarter Review: Defense

While much of the credit for a 3-1 start goes to the Redskins' offense, the defense is certainly carrying its weight as well. They are ranked 14th in the NFL giving up 20.2 points a game, but the average numbers don't tell the whole story.

In the Dallas game, the Skins only gave up 10 1st half point and prevented the offense from getting into any rhythm. TO only had two catches in the first half, and the secondary played a physical man coverage which Dallas struggled beating out.

In the second half when Dallas made the necessary adjustments to spring TO, the Skins retaliated with a huge interception by Chris Horton. That was really what allowed the Skins to take a two score lead.

This opportunistic play isn't confined to this one game, however. The New Orleans game was very similar. The Saints, like Dallas, have a great offense capable of scoring in bunches. The Skins played a bend-but-don't-break defense for most of the game, but when New Orleans made a mistake, the defense was there to take advantage.

Horton recovered a fumble caused by Rocky McIntosh and caught two tipped balls for picks. The second interception sealed the game and allowed the Skins offense to run out the clock.

In the next week against Arizona there was much of the same. Kurt Warner caught fire late in the game after being stymied for much of the game. He threw a deep TD pass to Larry Fitzgerald and then went right back to the air on the Cardinals' ensuing possession. This time the ball was tipped in the air and intercepted by Carlos Rogers. Another big play by the defense when they were on the ropes.

This isn't the most dominating unit we've seen, but it stays strong for long stretches. The offense stays on the field for such long periods of time that it really keeps the defense fresh and when the defense has stumbled, someone step up and makes a play.

Sure, the defense needs tightening up. The offense won't be dominant in every game and so the defense will have to really put on better performances. There's room for improvement and with time I think we'll see it.

Firstly, the defense has been going up against great offenses all season, but now they will a reprieve over the next month. The offenses playing the Skins after Philadelphia will be St Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. These teams are not powerhouses and actually can be downright awful. This is a great remedy for a team looking to get over the hump. The turnovers and sacks are coming slowly, but they might pour in over the next month.

As for individual performances, the most disappointing would have to be Jason Taylor. He hasn't been healthy or productive. He has one sack and his absence really means that the defensive line is reduced to stopping the run. You can't get sacks on a QB with just Andre Carter and Demetric Evans.

The line has been able to generate some pressure, but the sacks are few and far between. Taylor needs to come back at full strength if the line wants become anything special. However, it's wise that no one is pushing to come back quickly. He will be needed healthy down the stretch.

As for the run defense, the Skins are ranked 11th, giving up 92.2 yards per game. Cornelius Griffin continues to play at a high level despite his age while a rotating front has kept the line fresh. The Giants and Cardinals both ran with much success against the Skins which leaves some concern.

We really haven't seen a team just pound the ball against the Skins with the exception of the Giants so the line might be tested more in the future if opposing offenses see this as a weakness, but for now the line appears to be much improved against the run since week one.

London Fletcher is a constant plug and phenomenal leader in the middle. He ranks second in the league with 36 tackles and is a steady presence who will always keep the defense at home.

The outside backers are a mixed bag. The good is that Rocky McIntosh has really developed into a reliable LB. He doesn't wreak havoc, but he has a forced fumble and half a sack. He also has 26 tackles and his performance is always solid with no glaring mistakes. As for the bad, Troy Aikman commented in the Dallas game that Marcus Washington is looking old and a step slow. I agree with this. Washington is definitely struggling with injuries and can't cover like he used to. HB Blades is the future in the middle, but he played well in Washington's place in week two. Look for him to get more time if Washington's struggles increase.

Jim Zorn and Greg Blache have shown no favoritism thus far. They have been playing the best players. Jon Jansen was benched and Todd Wade was cut; Reed Doughty was also shown benched for the vastly superior Horton.

Speaking of Horton, the read he made on Romo's out route this past week was beautiful. The man makes plays, wraps up ballcarriers, and can cover unlike Doughty. He has athleticism, strength, and speed which enable him to play either on or off the line with ease. Strong safety was a question mark until he came along. Not anymore.

LaRon Landry has yet to really take off and yet he hasn't been beaten in coverage. You want to see him lower the boom or make a great interception and don't worry it will happen. He is a freak athlete who will make his mark. Unfortunately, he is stuck in the shadow of Sean Taylor who made a highlight reel play just about once a game. Landry is good, but no Taylor.

The corners are battling those nagging injuries and that is the thing that worries me the most. Shawn Springs is the life of the defense. At 33, he can still cover most receivers with little help, but his shin and calf injuries have forced him to miss time already. Fred Smoot has been playing physically and he seems to fit well at nickel corner. Carlos Rogers has also been steady in coverage.

The secondary has room for improvement and it would only get better if the defensive line started sacking QBs. I know they are ranked 23rd in pass defense, but they really have made the most of opposing QBs mistakes. In addition, they have played against Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, and Drew Brees. They have done a great job against these guys and the good news is that they won't be playing them every week. I expect them to really turn it on against Jon Kitna, Marc Bulger, etc.

Overall, I think given the matchups the Skins have played great defense and will be even better when they get to the easier parts of the schedule. Greg Blache has a disciplined unit that responds well to challenge and their confidence will soar once more results come.

First Quarter: Offense Review

Four games into the regular season and the Skins have given us plenty to think about. After a devastating week one loss to the Giants, it seemed as if the transition from Joe Gibbs to Jim Zorn would take some time. Then in week two everything fell into place.

Gone was the timid play-calling and vanilla offense and in was the pass to set up the run.

These are not your average Skins.

After everything went horribly wrong on that opening Thursday night, things changed. Now Washington can only do right and boy, is it sweet.

Of course there's the fear that the Skins will regress back into their impotent selves, but for now they are experiencing the thrills of offensive success.

What have they shown us thus far? Well, taking a quick look, fans can quickly see that Jim Zorn has adapted swiftly to coaching and his decisions have been masterful.

Firstly, the offense has been much improved. It has always had great potential for the past several years and Zorn's play calls have really brought it to fruition.

Zorn has made sure that his top playmaker Santana Moss gets at least five or six touches a game. Moss has delivered with these touches as he has 27 catches for 421 yards and three TDs.

Moss is fully healthy for the first time since 2005 and it shows on the field. The fact that he has Antwaan Randle El and Chris Cooley drawing some coverage doesn't hurt either. By 2005's end Jimmy Farris was playing opposite Moss.

Chris Cooley has made strides as a blocker. He seals off edges with more authority while his pass catching abilities haven't eroded in the least. He has 17 catches for 179 yards.

Interestingly, Cooley hasn't been as big a target for QB Jason Campbell this season. Cooley is still a big part of the offense, but it no longer feels as if Campbell needs him as a security blanket. This is a big step for the offense because it shifts defenses' focus away from Cooley, spreading them thin as they try to account for every weapon.

The offensive line has kept Campbell off the ground for the most part, but there is room for improvement. Campbell has been sacked seven times in four games, leaving him on pace to be sacked 28 times.

Fortunately, Campbell can avoid pressure and has cut down on the fumbles. In fact, his ball protection and awareness in the pocket have improved tremendously. So combining Campbell's newfound awareness with a line that should continue to improve, the sacks totals should decrease. In addition, the line will squaring off against weaker fronts like Cincinnati and Cleveland as the season progresses, meaning the number will drop even more.

Stephon Heyer's injury is a concern, but some of that worry was alleviated by Jon Jansen solid effort on Sunday. Jansen has clearly lost a step and yet he still held his own against a ferocious Cowboys front seven. Chris Samuels remains a reliable blindside blocker, and overall the line has done a good job protecting Campbell since their dismal week one game against New York.

The run blocking opened up holes for a phenomenal 161 yard performance by the backs against Dallas this past week. It has paved the way for the Skins' backs to rush for 132.5 yards per game, 11th best in the league.

Randy Thomas continues to remain a terrific guard whom Clinton Portis loves to run behind. However in the Dallas game, all five Dirtbags were generating a strong push in the second half. Zorn dared the Cowboys to bring up eight men in the box by just pounded the ball down their throats. The Cowboys knew it was coming and they still couldn't win the battle in the trenches.

The line's success has largely been due to clock control. A defense gets tired when they can't get off the field and the Skins' offense has remained on the field for an average of 32 and a half minutes per game. In the Dallas game, Washington had the ball for about 38 minutes. When a team gets a decisive advantage like that, then they have to take advantage of it and wear the opposing team down. The Redskin line does just that as the running game has been very effective in the late stages of the last few games.

Clinton Portis has spearheaded the running attack with 369 yards rushing, tied for fourth most in the NFL. He is coming off of a 121 yard game in which he punished the Cowboys defense with some hard-nosed running. He is averaging 4.3 yards per carry which is up from last year's dismal 3.9.

The running attack is remarkably different from years past primarily because of Zorn's West Coast style. Portis does a lot less running in the early stages of a game as Campbell picks apart opposing secondaries. Once the Skins force defenses to respect Campbell, Portis starts to pick up steam. His power and determination are more apparent than last year as there is no longer a "brick wall" in front of him. There are good holes which he hits hard with positive results.

The main concern here is that the running game has yet to be something that can dominate when Campbell struggles. Should there come a game when the Skins have to establish a threat on the ground early on, things could get tricky. The offensive line has done a solid job up to now, but can they ensure the running game's success early in games? I think the Skins might struggle to dictate the line of scrimmage in a game where Campbell struggles. The line is older and the running game has yet to carry the offense so trouble might arise.

This week's test against Philly might solve the problem. I would expect to see more running in the first half due to the Eagles blitz-happy schemes. After this week we could have a better idea of whether or not the run can set up the pass for Washington.

And finally, Jason Campbell has been near flawless following since his bland start against the Giants. He has not turned the ball over while throwing the ball 124 times. His 65.3 completion percentage is five points higher than 2007 and he has thrown for 6 TDs.

The leadership is there; the confidence is there. His precision and calmness under duress have been fantastic. Nothing proves it better than his game-winning 67 yard TD pass to Moss against the Saints in week two. That throw really opened the floodgates and brought forth a new Jason Campbell.

This new Jason Campbell is winning games and making plays. Drives don't stall anymore; they end in scores. Optimism runs high. Now the team must remain focused on continuing their offensive success.

Next up, I'll offer a look at the defense and what we know so far.