December 27, 2010

The Backup Plan: The Redskins Receive Contributions From Some Unlikely Characters

A column for SB Nation DC
If Sunday's win over the Jaguars was any indication, then the Redskins might have had pieces for the future in reserve all season. Injuries paved the way for a winning combination on the field in an overtime win at Jacksonville and the performance of several unheralded players might have been enough to ensure them a shot at playing in Washington beyond this disappointment of a season. It's true: Give hungry players a chance and they will produce.
Mike Shanahan made the final three games an evaluation process after being eliminated from playoff contention. He wanted to see what his scrubs could do when thrust in a prominent role and based on what he's seen so far, he can't be too disappointed.
The poor play along the defensive line has been a major issue this year. It wasn't against the Jaguars though. Somehow the lineup of Adam CarrikerAnthony Bryant, and Vonnie Holliday won the battle at the point of attack, commanded extra blockers to deal with them, and also pressured Jags' quarterback David Garrard all game long.
The Redskins held the Jaguars to 78 yards rushing and 3.4 yards per carry. Granted, Jacksonville was without Maurice Jones-Drew, but they still boasted the third best rushing offense in the NFL matching up against a run defense giving up 4.8 YPC. No matter, the defensive line overpowered the Jaguars blockers, playing a vital factor in stopping Rashad Jennings. Carriker, Holliday and Bryant led the way with a combined ten tackles and a sack.
Their success made life easier for a linebacking corps, which has been unable to grasp the complex 3-4 scheme implemented by Jim Haslett all season. With the Jacksonville offensive line occupied with the resurgent Redskins front, London FletcherRocky McIntosh and Lorenzo Alexander all played markedly better. And I can't leave two of the lesser known entities at linebacker out either.
Rob Jackson, in his first game action of the year, filled in for Brian Orakpo and not only did a passable job, but was instrumental to a Washington win. Jackson had a sack and forced a fumble while also establishing himself as fixture in the Jaguars backfield. Fellow linebacker Chris Wilson didn't show up on the stat sheet, but in overtime he came surging through the middle to force an errant David Garrard pass that was picked off by another youngster in Kevin Barnes.
Barnes's interception capped a busy day in which the second-year pro played safety and cornerback after the Redskins were without three safeties and Carlos Rogers. He didn't stand out for much of the day, but his interception led to a winning field goal by none other than boy wonder Graham Gano.
While the embattled Redskins kicker won the day, wide receiver Terrence Austin finally recorded his first NFL catch, converting what was, at the time, a big third down late in the fourth quarter with the score tied. Of course, the Redskins might have avoided the tie game altogether had they simply entrusted more carries to next year's number one running back Ryan Torain, but when has Kyle Shanahan ever wanted to run the ball?
The bottom line is that we discovered the Redskins have some talent stashed behind what they considered to be their starting lineup heading into the season. Five of the starters on defense today differed from the opening day 11, while the offense trotted out Torain and Rex Grossman rather than Clinton Portis and Donovan McNabb. The 5-9 Redskins, on a four game losing streak, beat the 8-6 Jaguars who were scrambling for a playoff berth. Welcome to the NFL.
What does all this mean for the future? This season, Shanahan has dug up several core players for 2011 and beyond, but which ones represent that future?

December 26, 2010

Redskins Roundup: Losing Streak Snapped Thanks To The Younsters

The young guns came out to play this weekend as the Redskins snapped a four game losing streak, downing the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-17 in overtime. The victory marked the third win of the year in four overtime appearances for Washington and severely damaged the Jags' play-off hopes.

While Jacksonville had everything to play for, it was the Redskins who dictated play early. Carlos Rogers had an early interception and a Rex Grossman touchdown pass to Fred Davis put the 'Skins up 10-0 after one quarter of play. The Redskins pressured Jaguar QB David Garrard throughout the day, sacking him four times and ensuring he couldn't pick apart a secondary missing three safeties and also Rogers in the second half.

Garrard did throw for 299 yards, but his second interception couldn't have been more ill-timed. With Jacksonville deep in their own territory on their first overtime possession, Chris Wilson came through the middle untouched and forced Garrard to throw up a pass to Marcedes Lewis. One of the youngsters, Kevin Barnes made the most of Garrard's errant pass, intercepted it, and left the Redskins in perfect position to kick the game-winner.

While Barnes and Gano sealed the deal, they had help from some other unheralded players. Rob Jackson, Fred Davis, Ryan Torain, Adam Carriker, Jeremy Jarmon, and others chipped into what was a solid team effort from top to bottom. The offense never got fully untracked, but the defense held up throughout the contest; a huge morale booster given the issues Jim Haslett's unit has dealt with all season long.

Redskins Vs. Jaguars: Pregame Notes

I would give keys to a win, but honestly in the long run, a victory wouldn't do the 'Skins much good at this point if they want to have a shot in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Luck is from Stanford like another quarterback Mike Shanahan once had (no, I'm not talking about Bubby Brister) and he seems to be quite NFL ready.

But I digress, the Jaguars come in ranked as the NFL's third best rushing attack. That's a bad sign for a defense giving up 4.8 YPC. MVP candidate Maurice Jones-Drew has led the Jaguars to wins in five of their last seven games. The superstud had rushed for six 100 rushing games in a row before last week's 34-24 loss to the Colts and on the season he has accounted for over 1,600 yard of offense. He is second in the NFL in rushing and has singlehandedly given hope to a team without much in the way of a fanbase or a front office.

Unfortunately for Jacksonville, Jones-Drew is unlikely to play tomorrow meaning backup Rashad Jennings will start in his place. Jennings is averaging 6.8 YPC in limited duty behind Jones-Drew and the Redskins must stop him if they want to win the game.

Jags QB Davis Garrard has been quietly efficient this season, completing 65.2 percent of his passes and posting a QB rating of 93.2, which is the tenth best among NFL signalcallers. He also has a flair for the dramatic, completing a desperation toss to Mike Thomas for the game-winning touchdown on the final play against the Texans a few weeks ago.

While the Jaguars are a run-first team, expect them to throw it more this week without Jones-Drew in the game. The Redskins secondary is depleted and will be without safeties Reed Doughty, LaRon Landry, and possibly Kareem Moore. The Jaguars pretty much need this game to remain in contention for the AFC title and they will think outside the box to win the game.

For the Redskins, they should look to establish the run early; something they really haven't done this year (with the exception of the game vs. Tampa). The Jaguars also give up yards against the run (4.6 YPC) and their pass-rushing defensive tackles in Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton (7.5 combined sacks) would be neutralized with early success on the ground.

However, considering Kyle Shanahan will probably continue to sling it around 40 times a game, the Redskins will be going up against the 28th ranked passing defense in the league. The downside will be of course containing the rush up the middle since Washington has been unsuccessful stopping other defenses' interior pass rush.

If the Redskins play this game wisely, they will keep it close because Jacksonville has their fair share of flaws. It won't matter in the end though as it's the Jaguars who have the incentive. The Redskins have won one game since their bye week while Jacksonville is making a significant play-off push. Intangibles go to the Jags and so does the win.

If you can't stomach a fifth straight loss watch this and remember it's for the greater good.

Update: Here's today's inactives via Grant Paulsen. With Jammal Brown out, Stephon Heyer starts at right tackle. Kevin Barnes and Macho Harris will start at safety. Anthony Bryant starts at nose tackle, Andre Carter at OLB, and Vonnie Holliday at DE due to injuries to Kedric Golston. Expect to see some of Chris Wilson and Rob Jackson at OLB as well.

Also per Adam Schefter, Donovan McNabb is expected to ask for his release at the end of the season. Trade or release, he's a goner.

December 23, 2010

Is James Davis The Next Big Thing In The Redskins Backfield?

Special thanks to Murf, aka Homer McFanboy, for asking me to do this feature on Davis for Hail! Magazine. Murf and I are part of Skinscast this year and Murf is also the editor-in-chief of Hail!  Hail! is a new digital magazine dedicated solely to the Washington Redskins. Think Sports Illustrated, but online and about your favorite team. Subscribe and enjoy!

It's no secret-more than a few professional athletes crave the spotlight. Fortunately for the Washington Redskins though, head coach Mike Shanahan’s latest addition to his ever-rotating stable of running backs, James Davis, is not one of those guys. The 5-foot-11, 218-pound youngster out of Clemson has no problem sharing gridiron glory so long as it helps the Redskins win football games.

“I’m definitely team-oriented,” said Davis. “My thing is I just want to win and that’s the goal for this team. I’m gonna definitely try to be that spark to bring this team up.”

Since his sophomore year in school, Davis has been accustomed to splitting the workload. Along with 2010 first-round selection C.J. Spiller, Davis was part of an explosive running back tandem at Clemson, which terrorized the ACC from 2006-08. Spiller was known as “Lightning,” a speedy back who averaged 7.3 yards per carry his freshman year and also left‹ Clemson as the ACC‘s all-time, all-purpose yardage leader. Davis was known as “Thunder,” a powerful runner who rushed for over 3,500 yards and 47 touchdowns, falling just short of the school’s all-time rushing record

Both running backs possessed big-time abilities and either could have claimed a fulltime starting role on another squad, but the duo made the most of their situation and did what was best for their team. The dynamic pair led Clemson to a 24-15 record through three seasons, receiving numerous accolades and high dra‹ft expectations from NFL scouts. Along the way, they also learned the value of splitting carries even at the expense of their personal numbers.

“Me at Clemson, I was the power back,” said Davis. “I think I weighed around 215 lbs., so I got most of the plays that ran inside and C.J., he’s a fast guy. He was probably about 190 and he had the jets. So we both had a different style of running and it was hard to stop us.” Davis, being a year ahead, took Spiller under his wing, but it was eventually Spiller who made sure Davis remained grounded.

Subscribe to Hail! to read the rest of the article.

December 22, 2010

New Skinscast: The All-Powerful Rexman

The guys have a great time bashing/defending Rex Grossman. Seriously, let's not get to excited here. It's the Rex Cannon. We debate the merits of John Beck and continue to bash the defense because, well, it's really bad. We determine which free agents should stay and which should hit the road and then praise the staff for putting Perry Riley on the field.

Reffkin cold-heartedly kicks Casey Rabach to the curb before we preview the Jacksonville game. Maurice Jones-Drew=big problems. But hey, at least it's Christmas time!

Listen to Skinscast here.

December 21, 2010

The Redskins Can't Stop The Run And Adam Carriker Explains Why

The Redskins run defense ranks 27th in the league and is giving up 4.8 yards per carry. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers give up more YPC (we saw why last week when Ryan Torain rushed for over 170 yards against them).

Maybe it's the switch to the 3-4, the bad tackling, or injuries, but whatever the reason, opposing teams know they can pound the ball on the ground at will. The Redskins, usually quite stable against the run, can't fill gaps and often overpursue, leaving cutbacks lanes Mack Trucks could fit through.

To get some answers to the defensive woes. I caught up with Adam Carriker to help me pinpoint what's been going wrong. Carriker has quietly put together a solid season, starting in all 14 games this year at defensive end and he looks like a role player on the defensive line for next season. He was drafted by the Rams out of Nebraska and many felt his 6-6, 311-pound frame would be perfect for the 3-4 DE position in the NFL. Now he's playing there in Washington and doing a pretty good job of it.

What's going wrong out there against the run?

We just gotta tackle. I mean it's not complicated, just tackle and get the guy to the ground....To be honest with you, it's different on each play. I mean there's some times when our guys don't have their gaps, sometimes it's just tackling, you know we just gotta stop them.

I agree with his point. The defensive line has struggled to fill gaps, their primary function in a 3-4. However, when the D-line does hold up, linebackers are out of position. When they linebackers are in position, they miss tackles. Same with the secondary.

Is the transition to a 3-4 leading to some growing pains and if so how much time will it take to get things up to speed?

That's something we're working on, that's something we're getting better on and we're just gonna keep getting better on the longer we're in it. The better personnel we get, the better the coaches get to know us within it, it will just get better and better.

The team doesn't have a true nose tackle to command double and triple teams. Without that it's hard to stop the run or generate a pass rush. You also have to factor in the comfort level for the players. Another offseason will certainly help. However, the personnel is is still a couple offseasons away if you ask me.

Despite the defensive struggles, you guys have shown an ability to make some terrific goal line stops. In tight situations you have been a tough out. Is that something you can build on?

Definitely. Mental toughness, the ability to fight through adversity, I mean somebody gets down to the goal line, a lot of teams just fold and let them walk right in, but we've shown we're not gonna do that. You know we're gonna hit you right in the mouth and make you earn it.

Jim Haslett did emphasize the importance of turnovers to start the year and you've created them as a defense. Even on a big play for an offense, you're trying to strip the ball and swing momentum. That's a good positive because last year the turnovers weren't coming.

Obviously you don't want to give up big plays, you don't want to give up yardage, but if you do that and you're able to get the turnover, it almost wipes it away. So that's why we've been emphasizing it more this year.

13 fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions for a total of 24 takeaways. The Redskins had just 17 last season. So it's better, but things have slowed down in the second half of the season. The other downside is that often the secondary appears more interested in the strip than the tackle. Turnovers are great, but not at the expense of giving up an extra ten yards.

Nothing an emphasis on fundamentals and a dose of LaRon Landry can't teach.

December 20, 2010

Are The Redskins Better Off A Year Into The Shanahaclan Era?

A column for SB Nation DC
No matter how bad the Redskins are, they somehow manage to captivate a national audience. It's rare to see a team, so ineffective on the field dominate headlines year-round. The circus-style atmosphere that arrived in 2000 with Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith has never left, making the Redskins prime targets for pundits year in and year out. For some reason, it hasn't grown old.
And how could it when the team loses prime time games in stupendous fashion, watches as their head coach has a staring contest with a 350-pound, $100 million free agent bust, and then stand by as their new face of the franchise is kicked to the curb after 13 games? It has gotten to the point where you have to wonder when Washington will run out of creative solutions to stay in the spotlight.
Dan Snyder has brought in a legendary college coach, three iconic NFL coaches, two first-round quarterbacks, two borderline hall of fame quarterbacks and one of the best running backs of the 2000s all to no avail. Now he has to make a choice on whether or not to intervene in the latest crisis regarding the future of his coach and his quarterback.
Mike Shanahan was given control of the football operations, but Snyder probably didn't foresee him benching Donovan McNabb. Reports indicate the Redskins owner is displeased with Shanahan's decision to sit McNabb and that he might make "major coaching changes." These coaching changes could be directed either at Shanahan or offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, who was apparently a strong advocate of benching McNabb.
It's easy to be outraged and call for both Shanahans' heads on a platter, but should Snyder fire them he'll be right in the thick of the decision-making he stepped back from this offseason. If he doesn't fire them, then say goodbye to the quarterback Washington surrendered two draft picks to acquire. Ironically in obtaining McNabb and Shanahan, Snyder has found himself in a lose-lose situation when it seemed like a match made in heaven before the season began.
By trading for McNabb, the Shanahans sent a message to fans that they expected to compete right away. They misjudged the talent on the roster and mortgaged the future to win this season. However, they aren't winning and their reaction has been to heap blame on McNabb despite a shoddy defense and weak supporting cast. The problems were only escalated by bringing the contract extension to the table in November.
Though I believe McNabb is the best bridge-the-gap quarterback when it comes to his leadership, example, and overall talent, he would be a very expensive option for a team likely to drop some serious dollars on a rookie quarterback in the near future. Whether they meant to or not, the Redskins have put themselves in position where keeping McNabb might be difficult. It would be monetarily sound to hand the reigns to a Rex Grossman or a John Beck, but of course it would come at the expense of losing a class guy like McNabb who is a better player and more respected in the locker room.

Redskins Roundup: Youth Movement

One half of good good football and it would be the norm in DC to get excited over the performance of Rex Grossman today. Four touchdowns and 300+ yards passing are certainly noteworthy, but there's a reason he threw the ball 43 times and it's because the Redskins ignored the run early, falling behind 27-7 before Grossman got comfortable.

I found it ironic that Grossman entered the game down 7-0 and threw three straight passes. Donovan McNabb came out against the Eagles just hours after signing a contract and Kyle Shanahan had him run it three straight times. The level of trust they have in McNabb must be completely non-existent.

With the Redskins defense on their heels right away it would have made sense to establish the ground game. They didn't and before they could blink it was 13-0. By the time they found a rhythm in the passing game it was all but over. Credit to Grossman for making it a game late, but let's be honest he would have been in a more manageable situation had Ryan Torain received more carries in the first half.

Torain had 11 carries just a week after rushing for over 170 yards. The commitment, or lack thereof, to the ground game is appalling.

Going back to Grossman, one game really doesn't indicate what kind of player he is. His track record shows wild inconsistency and one good effort against a mediocre team with a horrid secondary isn't going to make him the starter for next year. I could go on, but when John Keim writes my thoughts for me, why would I?

Switching over to the defensive side of the ball, the Cowboys dropped 33 points and 434 yards on Jim Haslett's unit. What else is new?

DeAngelo Hall gambled one too many times, Jason Witten was open on what felt like every other play, and the Cowboys rushed for 134 yards (4.3 YPC). Plus, the tackling was once again horrific. This defense rivals the 2006 squad when it comes to mastering the art of how not to tackle.

Brian Orakpo (hamstring) and Reed Doughty (head) both got hurt, forcing the Redskins to insert cornerback Kevin Barnes in at safety and Chris Wilson at outside linebacker. Middle linebacker Rocky McIntosh tweaked his hammy and so rookie Perry Riley played as well.

Barnes is a physical defensive back who laid a big hit on Tashard Choice in the first half. He has height and isn't afraid to lower the boom. It will be interesting to see if the Redskins try and work him in more over the final two weeks.

Riley had a key third down tackle on Jason Witten to force a Dallas punt in the fourth quarter with the Redskins trailing 30-22. He took a nice angle on the tight end after a catch and brought him down. No one else could tackle him, so it stood out.

Anthony Bryant played nose tackle for Ma'ake Kemoeatu. While he's better than Kemo that doesn't entail that he should be starter. The Redskins must find someone in the middle next season with size who can penetrate into the backfield and occupy double teams.

The other player of note was Will Montgomery playing right guard. Artis Hicks has been a huge disappointment there, but Montgomery has played well at both RG and center. In the least, he's a quality reserve lineman.

Against the Cowboys, Washington began to examine the unknowns they have on the roster and it's vital they endorse a youth movement in the months to come. With their record at 5-9, there is little to play for at this point. The prospect of having to stop Maurice Jones Drew this upcoming week is unpleasant. The Redskins' defensive woes will only get worse as the final game is against the Giants who will likely be fighting for a play-off spot.

2010, good riddance.

December 19, 2010

Rex Looks Sexy, But 'Skins Lose

With Donovan McNabb watching from the sidelines as Rex Grossman assumed the starting quarterback duties, the Washington Redskins flopped once again against a divisional rival in grand fashion.

The Redskins dropped their fourth consecutive game and third straight NFC East contest as the Cowboys backup quarterback, Jon Kitna, carved up a leaky defense en route to a 33-30 Dallas victory. Grossman, making his first start since 2008, was brilliant in the second half, but the early deficit proved too much to overcome.

McNabb went out as a captain for the pregame coin toss, but that was the only time he set foot on the field as Grossman struggled his way through a tough first half. However, after falling behind 27-7, he woke up and led a valiant comeback effort. Grossman tossed a pair of touchdowns to Santana Moss and Chris Cooley added a two-point conversion on the second score. All of a sudden, the Redskins found themselves trailing 30-22 with the ball and 11:40 to play.

Then the theatrics really got started. Ryan Torain touched the ball on four straight plays to put the Redskins in the red zone where the team had scored touchdowns on all three of their previous possessions. Grossman didn’t disappoint as he hit Cooley on a five-yard touchdown strike. Mike Sellers pulled in the team’s second two-point conversion, tying the game at 30 apiece.

But after a Cowboys punt, the offense was unable to get the go-ahead score. Grossman was sacked twice and a wide open Santana Moss dropped a pass down the left sideline. The Cowboys got the ball back and Kitna set up David Buehler for the game-winning 39-yard field goal.

Grossman went 25-43 for 322 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in a performance which will likely lead to speculation that he could be the starting quarterback in 2011. His impressive second half nearly gave the Redskins a much-needed victory that would have swept the season series against the Cowboys. However, the late-game magic wasn’t enough as Terrence Newman intercepted Grossman on the game’s final play to seal a Dallas win.

A stronger effort in the first half might have given the Redskins a win, but the offense failed to establish the run and subsequently the Cowboys controlled the clock for over 20 minutes in the first half and led 20-7 at the break.

The loss sums up the Redskins’ season in that they were once again in a position to win, but fell short. They failed to play the full 60 minutes, lost the turnover battle, and gave up over 400 yards of offense, but still could have won the game if a couple plays had simply swung their way. Yet the numbers were stacked against them and in the end, their initial inability to compete put them in a hole too deep to dig out of.

Redskins Vs. Cowboys: Pregame Notes

If Mike Shanahan is serious about evaluating his players, then he'll bench Casey Rabach and let Will Montgomery start at center. Montgomery might not be the answer, but Rabach has been overmatched in almost every game this season. He's a great individual, but his best days are long gone and Montgomery has been solid when he does play the position (e.g. vs. Tennessee) Plus, a matchup against Jay Ratliff, who normally dominates the Redskins, would tell us a lot about the Virginia Tech grad.

The Redskins have to win the battle up front to control the ball on the ground. Ryan Torain's punishing style can energize a team and he will be hungry to build off a tremendous performance last week. If the Redskins can generate a push, Torain will have a big day and Rex Grossman won't be throwing 50 times.

Should Grossman have to air it out early and often, you can scrap this game. The Cowboys pass rush will tee off on a quarterback who really isn't all that talented. He might put up yards, but he'll also contribute a few picks. The main point of interest will be how the playcalling changes with Grossman under center, and also whether or not the top weapons, primarily Chris Cooley, are targeted more frequently.

December 18, 2010

The McNabb Files: Dead Man Walking

The 2010 season hasn't been a kind one for the Redskins. It got much, much worse with the news breaking yesterday that Mike Shanahan would be benching quarterback Donovan McNabb for the rest of the season to evaluate the talent behind him for next season.

Needless to say, the move has further soured fans on Shanahan and his dealings with what might be the most credible signalcaller the Redskins have had in years. Albert Haynesworth is one thing. I wasn't a fan of Shanahan stirring up the pot, constantly making his battle with the mercurial Haynesworth the lead story out of Redskins Park, but his treatment of McNabb is what has really turned me off to his egotistical demeanor.

McNabb oozes class. Now that isn't a reason to keep him as your starting quarterback, but let's be clear: The Redskins have no better option under center in 2011. McNabb has the track record, the talent, and the leadership abilities no other available quarterback possesses and is in the very least the most capable player to bridge the gap between now and the future (which is whenever the Redskins draft their next QB).

What other quarterback would you want to mentor a rookie quarterback? McNabb has talent and experience, he's overcome adversity, and is still a top 10 QB when he's given a decent supporting cast. However, Shanahan has insisted upon doing everything possible to alienate the best QB on his roster in favor of Rex Grossman and John Beck.

Mike, not everyone is John Elway and Beck and Grossman are far from your next savior. So do yourself a favor and stick with McNabb instead of feeding your quarterback obsession.

The Redskins are in no position to contend for anything next season. They have gaping holes all over their roster, and yet Shanahan seems to believe there's some sort of quick fix. He doesn't want to acknowledge the defense can't stop the run or tackle while the offensive playcalling has under-utilized the little talent it has. Instead, he has placed the blame for a disappointing 5-8 season squarely upon the shoulders of McNabb.

McNabb hasn't been good this year. He threw at least one interception in 10 straight games until last week against Tampa Bay and has struggled with his accuracy. He wasn't the quarterback Washington was hoping for when they gave up a pair of draft picks to the Eagles in exchange for his services this past offseason. Despite the shortcomings, McNabb was coming off perhaps his best game where he threw what should have been the game-tying touchdown but for a botched point after that led to a one point loss.

The embattled quarterback has every right to feel ill-used and his agent has said he isn't happy. The odds of McNabb coming back at this point are damn near close to non-existent and you have to wonder how much longer the locker room will remain in Shanahan's corner.

Assuming the Redskins part ways with McNabb, it would mean they admit they didn't acquire the right QB and gave up two draft picks for a disappointing rental player. If you remember we had a guy who could have filled that role last year in Jason Campbell, but the Shanahans didn't want him, they wanted McNabb.

Which leads me to wonder, what on earth is the goal of this coaching staff? They must have fooled themselves into thinking McNabb would be a quick fix to years of offensive ineptitude. That hasn't worked, but why give up on him when there isn't another viable option? What's the mentality behind the insanity of benching McNabb for a proven non-asset in Grossman?

At some point, I believe the Redskins will draft a quarterback in the first round. Both Shanahans certainly crave a quarterback who fits their prototype and apparently they don't have the patience to stick with McNabb whom they feel can't do what they want him to do. That is the only way to explain their determined effort to move on so quickly.

However, I don't comprehend the treatment of this issue. McNabb is the best choice to keep the starting job warm for the next legitimate successor, but the team is settling for Grossman while using McNabb as the fall guy for a season gone wrong. If they don't want McNabb, then why don't they just say so rather than put him through this humiliation. I don't believe for one second anyone buys the "we want to evaluate the talent behind Donovan" route. If that was all the 'Skins were doing here, then I don't think McNabb would be as upset about this. Ultimately, he's a dead man walking.

The 'Skins have all but burned their bridge with McNabb, and now the question is what happens when the Grosssman/Beck experiment goes wrong? Alex Smith? Matt Moore? Tavaris Jackson will be available. None of those guys represent an upgrade over McNabb.

Again I expect you will see the Redskins make a play for a first-round quarterback in the draft this year, which is fine. The selection of a QB in the draft is an indication that the future isn't now. The youngster will develop under the Shanahans tutelage and likely become the quarterback Mike has sought since Elway retired. Unfortunately, a year and two draft picks have been wasted in a futile effort that might not never have happened if the Shanahans simply avoided a quarterback whose talents they've questioned since day one.

December 15, 2010

New Skinscast: Dallas Week

The guys break down the disaster that was the Tampa Bay game. Should Jim Haslett be fired and what will Donovan McNabb's future be in DC? We also talk about what they want to see from the last three games. Spoiler: We all want to see Terrence Austin.

Then comes the part where we all predict a Redskins loss to the Cowboys although one of us decides the 'Skins will pull it out in Dallas. Hey, I'm glad I don't have to bet on NFL football because knowing the way it goes, Washington will pull it out.

Click here to listen to Skinscast.

December 14, 2010

Donovan McNabb Shines In The Two-Minute Drill Despite Washington Redskins' Loss

A Column for SB Nation DC

LANDOVER, MD-Little happiness can be derived from a team's third straight loss and fifth in six games, but amid the turmoil preventing the Redskins from achieving on the field, the offense should be able to take solace in the fact they did their part in scoring a vital touchdown in another comeback effort gone wrong for the Burgundy and Gold.
One thing's for sure, the offense took a huge step in the right direction with the 13 play, 75-yard drive that Donovan McNabb engineered, in a two-minute offense no less. I can't remember how many times McNabb has failed to come through in crunch time this season, but I know in any scenario when I thought to myself, "this is why the Redskins signed Donovan," he's come up empty.
Against the Bucs, McNabb delivered on two big fourth down throws from inside the Tampa 10-yard line for touchdown passes and finished with a quarterback rating of over 100 for only the second time this season. He didn't throw an interception for the first time in 10 games and the final drive showed the organization he can still orchestrate some late-game magic.
"As a quarterback, you can't wait for that moment," McNabb said after the game. "Obviously, guys would like to win the game by a lot, but when you get in that situation in the two minute, you look forward to that. As a quarterback, that's how you get measured. Guys have to make plays around you, yet you have to call the right plays. We did a great job with that in being able to separate the defense a little bit and get more guys involved."
Though the touchdown ultimately meant little after Hunter Smith botched the hold on the game-tying extra point, the drive was key in terms of the growth of an offense which frequently discovers new levels of ineptitude.
McNabb went 8-12 for 79 yards on the drive, but the series would not have been praiseworthy had he failed to connect with Santana Moss in the end zone on fourth and goal from the six. Moss' touchdown reception meant the difference between the typical offensive shortcomings and a genuine display of proficiency rarely seen in the confines of FedEx Field.
"I thought was going well for us," McNabb said. "There were many opportunities for us. Each and every guy made plays for us. I think that's important because now you just can't key in on one particular guy."
Eight different receivers caught passes, attesting to McNabb's statement that when the ball is spread around, good things usually happen. He also hit four of those eight receivers on what would have been a game-tying drive save for the missed kick.
Say what you will about the down year McNabb is having, but whenever his teammates rise to the occasion and present him with a stronger supporting cast (case in point: Ryan Torain‘s monster day on the ground against the Bucs), he has proved capable. He may have missed a few throws, but he was passing efficiently and accurately at a near 63-percent clip.
With Rex Grossman waiting in the wings and McNabb reportedly on a short leash, there was a ton of pressure on whoever was under center to play soundly. McNabb responded by having one of his best days as a Redskin to date and then dismissed the benching rumors after the game.
"It was pretty much split up the way we've had it," McNabb said of the practice reps he and Grossman took this past week. "Nothing different I don't think."
Mike Shanahan also denied the storyline, telling reporters that he had "no idea what all these reports are about."
A stingy measuring stick is applied to McNabb here and with good reason. He is, after all, the first star quarterback the Redskins have had on their roster in decades. The expectations were high and he hasn't come even close to living up to them. However, he's been criticized early and often by everyone and their mother for his woes. Honestly, the guy hasn't been given a fair shot considering the personnel (or lack thereof) he's surrounded by.

December 12, 2010

A Pointed Affair: Special Teams Mistakes Doom The 'Skins

LANDOVER, MD-With time slipping away and the Washington Redskins heading to what appeared to be their third straight loss, Donovan McNabb and the offense had to drive 75 yards in 3:47 to come back from a 17-10 deficit to an up-and-coming Tampa Bay Buccaneer squad.
For a moment it seemed as if McNabb had pulled the Redskins' chestnuts out of the fire with a six-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss on fourth and goal. However, when Graham Gano went out for the all-important extra point to tie the score, the same misfortune plaguing the offense struck on special teams.
The snap from Nick Sundberg was high, but holder Hunter Smith failed to save the play as the ball glanced off his hands behind Gano. The botched attempt left the Redskins dazed after another last-second loss in a game that was theirs for the taking.
"Man it just hurts. There ain't a whole lot to say about it," said Moss who was clearly stung by the loss. "When you are going through it year after year, it just builds up man. It hurts. I don't have words for it. I just feel we work too hard to come out here and be mediocre on Sundays."
The touchdown came on the heels of months of frustration in which the offense has struggled to produce in key moments. The score capped a thirteen play effort in a pouring rain against a Buccaneer team in the thick of the NFC play-off picture and could have been a significant step forward for McNabb who has struggled mightily this season. But the missed point after killed any positives found in the final drive.
"It is tough, there is no question," said Smith. "It's raining, the ball is wet when it goes onto the field. It's wet when it's put down. It's wet when Donovan [McNabb] throws a touchdown pass to put us in a situation to tie the game and it's wet when I go out and have to hold the ball in a manner that we can kick the ball and tie the game up. I didn't do that."
Even though Smith ultimately took the blame for the loss, there was plenty to go around.
The Buccaneers trailed for much of the game until Josh Freeman threw a 41-yard, go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter to tight end Kellen Winslow. Winslow got behind the defense and caught the ball over an outstretched Rocky McIntosh for an easy touchdown. Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo appeared to be held badly on the play by left tackle Donald Penn, but no flags were thrown and Winslow's catch stood. Freeman ran in the two-point conversion giving Tampa Bay the 17-10 edge.
"He had a great sleeper hold on me," said Orakpo of Penn. "You now I've been having that all year man. I don't know what I have to do to keep getting these calls, but they missed that one. That was a huge play. If he didn't hold me, obviously the quarterback is on the ground. He knows it too. It's frustrating when you have a situation like that; you're trying to make a big play for your team and you get strangled like that."
His numbers weren't outstanding, but Freeman didn't turn the ball over and his strike to Winslow, plus the subsequent scramble for two points, proved to be the difference.
"It was really about finding a way to win today, really," said Tampa cornerback Ronde Barber. "All that matters is that we came out with a win and need to continue to move forward. We only have one game left on the road, but really it was just about finding a way to win today."
While the Buccaneers took the victory, it was Washington who dominated the first half without it showing up on the scoreboard.
Ryan Torain rushed for 172 yards on 24 carries in his return from a hamstring injury that sidelined him throughout November. The young running back filling in for Clinton Portis posted his third 100 yard performance in just his fifth start with the team. This one was especially impressive as he consistently found himself in the Tampa Bay secondary.
"It's good to see Ryan back and healthy and being able to run through some tackles and pick up some yards for us," McNabb told reporters. "He had an excellent game. In the first half, he was outstanding."
There was little question the first half belonged to him as he dominated the first quarter headlines with 10 carries for 121 yards, including a 54-yarder on his first carry to set the tone. That was the most 1st quarter yardage by a running back since Marshall Faulk in 2001 and Torain's 158 first half yards were the most in a half since Tiki Barber dashed for 171 yards in 2005, ironically against the Redskins.
"The offensive line was working so well," Torain said. "They were opening up big holes and we were stretching them and cutting back. And that's what we do. That's our bread and butter."
Washington ran the ball 22 times for 174 yards in the first half, punishing a Buccaneer front, which lost rookie defensive tackle and first round pick Gerald McCoy early in the first quarter to a biceps injury. However, blown opportunities cost Washington a chance to build a big lead.
Gano missed field goals from 34 and 22 yards and a goal line fiasco to end the first half meant he had to trot out for another kick, which he converted from 25 yards out. The Redskins mismanaged the clock following a timeout, forcing them to rush a third down play. It was unsuccessful and led to the field goal, making it 10-3 at halftime.
"Obviously, you want to win a football game like that," said Mike Shanahan. "You can take control of it, you got some long drives in the first half and you settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown. You have opportunities, even at the end of the half, and we had the ball on the two-yard line and we can't get it in the end zone....You can't make mistakes like that and still win."
Washington did hit pay dirt on fourth and goal from the one as McNabb found rookie tight end Logan Paulsen in the end zone to put the Redskins up 7-0 in the second quarter. It was Paulsen's first NFL touchdown and a crucial one given the prior two trips to the red zone had ended in missed field goals.
"They were in their goal line defensive package," said Paulsen in the locker room after the game. "Usually you have a defensive linemen covering a tight end and that's what they did. We had been preparing for that all week and it worked to perfection."
The rest of the day, however, didn't go according to plan. The Buccaneers squibbed the second half kick-off to keep the ball away from the explosive Brandon Banks, and linebacker Chris Wilson muffed the ball, turning it over to Tampa.
The Bucs chipped away at the lead with a pair of field goals from Connor Barth as Torain was held to one yard in the third quarter. The Redskins offense disappeared along with him, holding the ball for a paltry 3:47. They also failed to pick up a first down as Tampa made the necessary adjustments to stop the run.
McNabb's late-game heroics were part of one of his better outings in 2010. He went 22-35 for 228 yards and two touchdown passes. Notably, he avoided throwing an interception for the first time in 10 games and finished with a quarterback rating over 100 for just the second time this year.
"I've been a part of up and down seasons, but nothing to this point," he said echoing Moss' sentiments. "When you get in this situation, I think it's important, as a team, to continue to stay together and make sure that everyone understands that if you're not fighting for anything then fight for yourself and be a spoiler."
Washington falls to 5-8 with the loss, needing to win out to reach .500 on the year. They travel to Dallas next week to renew their rivalry with the Cowboys in an attempt to sweep the season series between the two.