September 29, 2009

With 2009 In Dire Straits, what should the 'Skins Do In 2010?

So we lost to Detroit. It's a fitting testament to the past ten years worth of disappointment. The 'Skins continually reload on paper only to find that some other problem springs up.

This little Dutch Boy plugging up the dam act has got to stop. It's time to get serious, make a plan and stick to it.

If a loss to the Lions doesn't convince the little Dutch Boy (Danny) to reevaluate his strategy, nothing will.

This is a good time for an overhaul. The core players are aging and there is little depth. The 'Skins have a full complement of draft picks next year and should have a completely new coaching staff.

Can you smell that fresh springtime atmosphere? I sure can and I like it.

I know a lot of you are probably willing to stay patient because you think we have a lot of good players who we can keep together for a few more years. You might be attached to Clinton Portis or Fred Smoot, but let's face it: this is far from a Super Bowl winning team.

This team was never going places. The offensive line has been plagued with injuries for the past four years, the defensive line has been non-existent. Receivers, what are they? Chris Cooley has been underused while Portis has been worn out.

We should have known Joe Gibbs was milking the full potential from this group. Instead, we criticized him for limiting it. It took 19 games with Jim Zorn for me to realize this team just isn't that good.

The coaching staff has been incredibly bad. The team, as I said, isn't a Super Bowl team, but it could definitely win nine or 10 games. With Zorn, they look like they might win six.

So assuming Snyder axes Zorn and his entire staff (as he should), the 'Skins get new life with a new staff. Now comes the tricky part: Will Snyder hire another puppet or someone who will be able to fully insert his philosophies on the team?

That will be the most critical juncture. It will determine what the 'Skins will look like in five years. If Snyder lands a Cowher or a Shanahan, he must give them the reins. They have built winners before and they can do it again.

Snyder just needs to sign the checks. Period. If he can find the right coaches who can get the most out of the team, then he will have done his job.

Hiring new coaches is a no-brainer. The big thing will be deciding who belongs in the nucleus of the "new" Redskins and who gets the boot.

I'll give you that next.

September 22, 2009

Barbs Exchanged In Redskins Organization

So the fans aren't the only ones who are frustrated with the Redskins struggles.

Sonny Jurgensen openly criticized Jim Zorn's playcalling on the 'Skins live postgame show and Dan Steinberg covers it here.

Sonny comes right out with it and I like that. He points out what everyone wants to say and Zorn bristles at it. Definitely not your run of the mill postgame press conference.

As far as Zorn's excuse, I don't buy it. "We called it to work." Well obviously. But there's such a thing as a feel for the game and a feel for what your offense can give you.

Twice now Zorn has killed drives with busted trick plays. The way the offense struggles to run its bread and butter why on earth would Zorn complicate things. He lacks a basic trust in Campbell and you can tell it affects his playcalling in important situations.

Campbell can't grow with what Zorn calls. I was especially disappointed with his decision not to pass on the fourth-and-one. That was a big play in the game that I wish Zorn would have put on Campbell's shoulders.

However, I don't know if Zorn is in touch with his offense. He is very conservative and it shows on big downs. He has no problem dialing up plays between the thirties, but whenever the 'Skins are close to either endzone it seems like he gives up on the drive altogether.

But I digress because Robert Henson also had some verbal assaults yesterday. Via Twitter, he trashed half-hearted 'Skins fans, calling them "dimwits."

There was some booing on Sunday, but in my opinion, it was merited. Henson is a rookie who isn't familiar with the organization. We have been seeing this for years, Robert, and unlike you we don't see an end in sight. So sorry you find us to be pessimistic.

We aren't half-hearted, we're just smart.

September 21, 2009

'Skins Offense Still Under Construction

It wasn't pretty, but it was a win. Still, the Rams didn't prove to be the solution to all the offensive woes the Redskins are suffering through.

There have been some legitimate flashes in the passing game. Antwaan Randle El has been able to get open consistently in the slot while Jason Campbell has been accurate in some stretches.

Of course, the red zone woes have been well documented (CSN has a great piece on that). Two drops cost the Redskins TDs and the playcalling once again left a lot to be desired.

I love the fact that Jim Zorn went for it from inside the five on fourth down, but a stretch play? Either playaction or straight up the gut. A long-developing run play is not the answer on fourth and short. In fact, it would probably be the last choice for any playcaller (apparently except for Zorn).

Anyway, the choice to go for it was the right one. A score would have sealed the deal (duh), and as we saw, starting from inside the five did the Rams no favors.

So what do the 'Skins need?

They are certainly lacking confidence, and they did themselves no favors this week. Winning is a big step, but scoring might be a bigger one in the case of this offense.

They simply shoot themselves in the foot one way or the other. Dropped passes, poor playcalling, penalties, missed throws, you name the 'Skins have done it. If they could simply shake that aura of inevitable failure that permeates the offense for a week, there's no telling what that could do.

They moved the ball well en route to amassing 362 yards of offense and controlled the clock for 35 minutes, well up from the 23 minutes from the week before.

Those are steps in the positive direction, but the 'Skins will need to capitalize on those where it counts the most: the scoreboard.

They have another weak opponent in the Lions this week to get themselves together. The offensive line will need to jell quickly coming off the loss of guard Randy Thomas to a season-ending triceps injury. And Malcolm Kelly will have to continue to emerge (four grabs for 41 yards).

But the biggest factor is the Zorn-Campbell performance. If Zorn doesn't find what works as far as playcalling goes the offense won't move the ball. And if Campbell can't get the offense to execute, this will be another long season.

September 17, 2009

Are We Watching A Repeat?

Not much changed for the Redskins during the offseason. Sure on paper maybe, but not on the playing field.

Playcalling was a nightmare. Offensively, Jim Zorn pushed the panic button after a pair of first half gaffes by Jason Campbell. Apparently no one told him you have to be aggressive when trailing.

Zorn seemed content to play it safe and run the ball on first and second downs repeatedly. Of course that set up a ton of third and longs, putting Campbell in more difficult passing situations than had he been throwing on first and second.

I don't think Zorn comprehends that his job is on the line. Playing conservatively when down ten points doesn't save head coaching jobs in the NFL.

Zorn has two weeks worth of cream puffs to get down and dirty. He can't play it close to the vest against Detroit and St. Louis. He needs to get the offense in motion and they need to steamroll these teams.

If the offense squeaks out victories against the Lions and Rams (or worse, loses) they will have failed to gain some much-needed confidence. These two weeks can provide the shot in the arm the offense requires.

The checklist should read as follows:

1. Use the passing game to set up the run. The 'Skins had a lot of success with this scheme last year as it kept extra defenders out of the box.

2. Find a possession receiver. Malcolm Kelly deserves another shot, but it's beginning to look like the 'Skins might have missed ona ll three of the 2nd round draft picks in 2008.

Kelly has the size to be dominant, but his effort last week was lackluster. He didn't show much burst and his route running was not up to par. He'll need to get open if he wants to put up numbers.

3. Win the time of possession battle. The offense can do nothing if it doesn't get on the field and find its rhythm.

In the first half against the Giants, Washington controlled the ball for under ten minutes. You can't establish your gameplan if you don't touch the ball. By the time the 'Skins got a decent shot, they were down 17-0.

4. No early turnovers. Obviously, the turnovers played a factor. Back-to-back drives early in the game ended in turnovers and that really ruined any shot the Redskins had at establishing themselves.

Turnovers are never good, but if they occur in the opening stages of the game, they can be devestating. Zorn must stress avoiding them so the team can preserve time of possession and field position.

Blache To Blame For Poor Defense?

Following an uninspiring performance from last year's number four defense in a 23-17 loss to the New York Giants, it's time for Greg Blache to take a long, hard look at his scheme.

Soft coverage on third downs kept the defense on the field while the blitz schemes were anything but imaginative. Missed tackles plagued the defense along with an average performance in the trenches.

Say what you will about the offense being at fault for the large gap in time of possession, but it was the defense that failed to force a punt in the first half. It was also the defense that allowed the Giants to convert 46% of their third down opportunities.

This defense, so highly touted coming into the season, looked downright ordinary. But why? With all the star power it's hard to come up with excuses.

My first stone cast at Deangelo Hall. He signed a big deal in the offseason, and played well below his potential. He gave up numerous big plays in key situations against receivers who lined up both out wide and in the slot. His interception came solely from a smart play by Laron Landry who tipped the ball after Hall was beaten over the middle.

Speaking of Landry, he didn't play well either. Landry leaves his feet far too much going for the big hit and was step behind in coverage. Poor tackling technique from the whole secondary led to missed tackles throughout the game.

However, the biggest problem is the playcalling. Blache didn't make the most of his talent, and that must change quickly.

The 'Skins have never been an aggressive defense, but this year they are equipped to be. Instead, Blache employed a lot of soft zone coverage, which Eli Manning picked apart.

Hall is certainly a weak link in either zone or man. He is fine against the deep ball, but doesn't give much of an effort on short and intermediate routes. The 'Skins would be better suited to
playing a press man coverage as it would allow Landry to play more aggressively. Playing so far back limits his playmaking skills and doesn't allow him to freelance.

Another issue is thst Blache's blitz schemes consist of sending extra bodies simply for the sake of it. There's no rhyme or d reason to his blitz packages; they aren't staggered or mixed. Two or three extra defenders simply run right into the interior of the line.

That's it. No attempt to find the gaps or establish an edge rush; just an occasional dash into the center of the line. That's to straightforward for an experienced offensive line like the Giants.
Blache needs to rethink his defense. He needs to blitz more and locate weaknesses along opposing lines. He only blitzes in the most predictable situations and his defenders aren't adept at timing their rush.

Blache is a straight shooter with little creativity. That's a bad mix with the abilities of this defense. There's too much talent to play bend-but-don't-break. This defense is capable of creating turnovers and sacks at will under the right direction. However, the front four was once again ineffective in getting to Manning as he had plenty of time to throw.

Granted poor coverage by Hall certainly didn't help the defensive line's cause, but there was still little penetration. Credit is due to strong play from the Giants line and yet Washington's defense is better than their performance. They just need to the right guidance.

The Titans defensive line played well without Albert Haynesworth last week. Their scheme just works. The linemen are aware of which gaps to shoot and they play with passion. They find the weaknesses and expose them. We didn't see that from the Redskins defensive line. In my book, that’s poor coaching.

Against the run, the Redskins did not disappoint. They allowed only 3.3 yards per carry against one of the better rushing offenses in the NFL. However, they failed to consistently penetrate into the backfield the way Tennessee and other top defensive teams do.

Blache's defense is better than this; much better. It was an underwhelming performance overall, and that must be fixed if the 'Skins wish to compete against contenders. The effort was poor and if Blache wants to stick around, he'll be working plenty of overtime in the coming weeks.

September 8, 2009

Sell Out? Redskins Ticket Scandal

So the 'Skins have been quietly trying to unload tickets around the DC metro area, making it appear like the tickets are a once in lifetime deal.

People on the season ticket waitlist (including yours truly) have been receiving calls from the ticket office. Tickets are opening up at a rapid pace.

The team even has deals in place with the DC lottery to win tickets.

With the Washington Post bringing out a series concerning online ticket brokers who resell Redskin tickets, I've become more in tuned to the fact that Danny Boy might be struggling to fill the stadium.

We all know that FedEx doesn't sell out anymore. The premium seating costs a fortune. The team is mediocre. Combine the two and fans aren't going to come out see a game much less a full slate of games.

They are going to resell their tickets to the highest bidder especially in these economically trying times. So fans of other teams won't be hard pressed to find tickets.

Something has to give. Eventually Snyder will need to do something to alleviate an apathetic fan base. Things aren't code red, but how much more will fans put up with?

Of course winning would make everything better, but if the victories don't start piling up fast, fans will continue to leave and watch from the more affordable confines of their living rooms.

Here's the link to the Post's article.

September 6, 2009

Redskins Roster Review: Special Teams

With the roster set I can finally finish off the roster review with a look at special teams.

Things actually appear to have improved after last year’s dismal performance. Hunter Smith was added to bolster one of the worst punting units in the NFL.

Already, Smith’s impact has been noticeable. He had the third most punting yards in the preseason with 1060 and was eighth in average yards per punt among punters with twenty attempts or more (44.2). Smith also put six punts inside the twenty.

However, the punt coverage team has been a little suspect. They allowed the fifth most punt return yards in the preseason with 173, something that could be a major problem in the field position game.

With the inconsistent nature of the Redskin offense, the field position battle is vital. The kick coverage teams can’t afford to struggle once the game begin to count.

Keeping Marcus Mason might be a liability for the special teams. Mason, while a solid option at running back, is not one of the better special teams players on the squad.

Players like Reed Doughty, Marko Mitchell, Robert Henson, Rock Cartwright, Justin Tryon, and Kevin Barnes will have to pick up the slack on the coverage team.

Henson was a good special teams contributor while with TCU while Mitchell has shown a willingness to participate wherever needed. Doughty is already a special teams stalwart while Barnes and Tryon have speed to play on the outside.

The coverage teams are fairly average, but the kicking game is the main concern. The competition between Dave Rayner and incumbent Shaun Suisham was non-existent as the ‘Skins scoring opportunities were few and far between.

Suisham won the job, but he ranked last in field goal percentage last season (72%), and he came up short on a 52-yard field goal against New England this preseason. He did make a 48-yarder last week against Jacksonville.

Suisham doesn’t have a strong leg and has yet to show consistency as a placekicker. Rayner was a kick-off specialist, but had similar numbers kicking field goals. Suisham tied for 34th in kick-off average while Rayner was seventh in limited action with Cincinnati.

It’s sad there isn’t much of an alternative to Suisham, but there really doesn’t appear to be one. The ‘Skins must capitalize on all their scoring opportunities, and having Suisham leaves that in doubt.

Moving on to the return game, the Redskins possess one of the most consistent kick-off return men in the NFL with Rock Cartwright. Cartwright ranked 11th in kick-off return average last year with a 25.6 avg. He isn’t much of a threat to score, but he consistently puts the ‘Skins on the 30 yard-line.

The punt return game seems to have remained the same. Antwaan Randle El retains the job despite his struggles returning punts the past two years.

Randle El is also listed as the number two WR on the depth chart, meaning he is again being miscast as a split receiver. He belongs in the slot, and the added pressure of being the number two WR could lead to another shaky season returning punts.

However, the only challengers to the spot were cut because they had little else to contribute. So unless someone emerges in practice Randle El will handle the bulk of the duties.

Overall Grade: C-

The kick-off return game and Smith as punter are both major positives. Having a good punter will solve some of the field position problems.

However, the ‘Skins offense isn’t good enough to overcome a bunch of missed field goals. Shaun Suisham is far from dependable and that will be a big concern.

Throw in average kick coverage, plus some terrible punt returning, and the ‘Skins aren’t exactly a well-oiled special teams machine.

Anyway, thanks for all those who kept through this Roster Review series. I spent a bunch of time on it throughout the offseason and I am thankful for the positive feedback the series received.

Next up, my predictions on how the Redskins will fare in their 2009 campaign.