December 26, 2008

What's To Be Done In DC?

Aside from the tremendous success of the Washington Capitals in the recent year, there has been little to cheer about in the nation's capital. The Nationals lost out on their bid for Mark Teixera and the Wizards just blew another one away to Cleveland while the beloved Redskins have struggled with consistency for the past decade.

Looking at the Caps, I would say there are lessons to be learned from that franchise.

Pre-lockout the Caps dumped their aging, underachieving talent i.e. Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Brendan Witt, etc. They determined that to achieve long-term success they would need to undergo some short-term struggles.

So they drafted Alexander Semin, Alexander Ovechkin, and Nick Backstrom. They brought up Mike Green and Tomas Fleischmann from the minors. Once they had their nucleus in place, they brought in veteran leadership last season with Victor Kozlov, Tom Poti, and Sergei Federov.

Then in their run for the postseason they added the final piece in goalie Cristobal Huet. Huet carried them into the play-offs and the Caps took the Flyers to game seven in the first round.

This year the Caps returned almost the entire cast and it's paying off. They spent several years struggling while developing talent and now they are contending with the best of them.

Granted they did make a huge mistake in signing Jose Theodore to replace the departed Huet, but they got lucky with Brent Johnson and up-and-coming rookie Simone Varlimov.

In addition, the Caps have been able to overcome injuries, displaying loads of depth that they have stored in the minors. Martin Giroux has the makings of a goal scorer while several other young guns are also filling in nicely.

The Caps also possess a hunger instilled in them by a great coach. Bruce Boudreau has really demanded more from his team than they probably even knew that they could give. The commitment to the plan, young talent, veteran leadership, solid coaching, and tremendous depth all factor into the Capitals success.

Now the questions begs: Do the Skins possess these intangibles necessary to establishing a consistently successful franchise?

I would say they half-heartedly pursue most of these intangibles. Different people in the organization seem to be going different places. No one seems to know what the other is thinking. In essence, there appears to be a little order amidst a lot of chaos at Redskins Park.

They lack a set plan. Dan Snyder often trades away his draft picks and signs players that don't fit his system. Then when he seemingly swears off his mindless signings, something catches his eye. Be it coach or player, he will snap them up at first glance.

What he needs is a football-savvy mind to control operations. Vinny Cerrato has been a disaster (partially due to Snyder's controlling ways) and its time to land someone who demands complete control, coming equipped with a plan which he will not abandon for the latest free agent attraction.

When the plan is a scattered mess it's difficult to consistently bring in young talent. Hoarding up young talent is the first step. Once you have that young base, then comes the time to bring in veteran leadership.

Currently, the Skins have an ancient lineup with very few young stars. Now would be the time to bring in a crop of youngsters. Sure they have talent now, but it is certainly not enough to win a Super Bowl. Considering this team is among the oldest in the league, the time to reload is now.

As much as I want to see success next year, I think that with a more careful approach, things could be that much better in two or three years. Jim Zorn is a great coach to have in this situation. He brings a cautious demeanor to the club that would work well with a experienced determined GM.

Zorn knows his system can work, but he needs the right players. In particular he needs to oversee the development of his three big receiving targets. Malcolm Kelly, Fred Davis, and Devin Thomas will all have a big part to play in the coming seasons.

Zorn also must begin to bring in a completely new offensive line. They are aging and their skills are eroding rapidly. Together with O-line wizard Joe Bugel, Zorn must convince Snyder to bring in a host of young offensive lineman.

This year, the Skins were unable to overcome injuries because they lacked depth in certain areas. The linebackers struggled at times while the offense bogged down due to the age of the line. The pass rush was also lacking due to injuries across it.

The Skins need to have a plan. Jim Zorn is the one to give it to them. Along with a solid GM, he can bring in youth, cement it with the addition of veteran leadership and quality depth, and give DC a quality football franchise again.

Take a page from George McPhee and the Caps, Dan Snyder. Be patient and good things will come. Oh and stay out of the front office.

December 22, 2008

Plenty Of Positives Today

Although the Skins season has been quite a disappointment today's victory over the Eagles really shone a light on how dominating this defense really is.

They can hit, cover, and downright pound opposing offenses into submission.

If only the offense could get some life.

The Skins defense is once again top ten in the NFL. They boast a great secondary consisting of Laron Landry, Chris Horton, DeAngelo Hall, Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers, and Fred Smoot. These guys have really held their own throughout the year. They have to bring them all back.

Springs will most likely retire and Hall will be a free agent. If Springs does quit, resigning Hall will be the top offseason priority.

Hall is a playmaker. That is something the Redskins have very little of. He does take risks, but often the risk reaps a reward. He is lightening-fast and is a top flight man corner when he is on top of his game. Smoot and Rogers are solid, but Hall is spectacular. He will be needed next year on defense that fails to generate a lot of turnovers.

Secondly, today's game showed that Jason Taylor still has something left in the tank. He had a burst and enthusiasm that I haven't seen since the calf injury in week 3. Perhaps the injury took more out of him than we anticipated.

We gave up two draft picks for him, and I think we should give him another year to pan out should he decide to return. Besides what else do we have that is better?

Andre Carter has struggled and Demetric Evans is far from a force (although he has overachieved this season). Bring Taylor back. I have a feeling he'll pay off next year.

The defensive line might not rush the passer well, but they have stopped the run for the majority of the season. They rank fifth against the run and this week they shut down longtime nemesis, Brian Westbrook.

Adding a little depth in there should help the line stay strong. Cornelius Griffin is aging so he'll need a replacement. The draft is the place to look.

The defense has some holes, but the offense is where there are some problems. Primarily I see a lack of rhythm as the key problem.

The offensive line played well considering the two starting tackles were missing. The pass blocking was solid against the blitz happy Eagles. Run blocking needs more chemistry and that was clearly lacking today.

However, Clinton ran hard to make up for it, which paid off inside the red zone. He was running with a full head of steam and that enabled him to get that crucial score.

Jason Campbell threw the ball well, but Jim Zorn seems determined to stay conservative. Screens on every third down do not work. Zorn has to get that intermediate passing game working because it's Campbell's strong suit and it allows the Skins to get first downs on second down rather than have to convert on third down every drive.

Converting on first and second really puts a defense back on it's heels an let's the offense get some confidence. An offense needs that confidence to convert third downs when they have to. The Skins just seem to be resigned to being faced with third and longs all day. That is a terrible mentality and a lot of that has to do with the conservative play calling.

Zorn should improve. The addition of a consistently viable threat opposite Santana Moss can only help matters An early observation suggests taking a look at Anquan Boldin. Granted Devin Thomas will be good next year, but I don't think of Antwaan Randle El as a quality player. The offense is still missing that possession receiver to help free up Moss.

Overall, we saw the Skins play well tonight. Some continuity throughout the offseason should only help matters. Let's regroup and gear up for another year with Zorn in 2009.