August 30, 2008

Hokie, Hokie, Hokie Sigh

Yes, I'm a VT guy. Class of '83. Lived and died with this team since showing up there as a freshman in the late 70's with long hair and a bad print shirt.

I'm writing this with 2 minutes to go in the first quarter of the 2008 opener against East Carolina. Why? Because already several things are clear:

1) QB Sean Glennon will never be anything more than he's been for the past two seasons--a decent, streaky college quarterback with a penchant for inexplicable, game-costing mistakes at the worst possible moments. Can be very effective when given time to throw on rhythm to his primary receiver, but a hold-your-breath, watch-between-your-fingers train-wreck the minute he has to make a read or look for secondary receiver.

2) Offensive Coordinator Bryan Stinespring is Frank Beamer's blind spot. Never has one man's unimaginative, limited, outdated playcalling cost one team so many legitimate opportunities to rise to the next level. Stinespring is to big-time Division One playcalling what Sean Glennon is to big-time Division One quarterbacking: not quite ready for prime time.

Frank Beamer is the best thing to ever happen to VT football, but what is perhaps his single greatest quality--fierce loyalty to his staff--is also the cage he's built around his own program. As long as Stinespring remains, designing and running an offense one clear step below big-time D1 level, what you see with this program is what you're going to get.

3) VT 2008 will be the same team they've been for the last several years ... good enough to qualify for a decent Jan. 1 bowl game---possibly even a BCS shot if the ACC stumbles around them as it has the past few years---but not a serious threat to beat any legitimate Top 5 team once they get there.


August 28, 2008

Double-Edged Sword

The Breakfast Club basket case had it right.

Allison: It's kind of a double-edged sword isn't it?
Claire: A what?
Allison: Well, if you say you haven't, you're a prude. If you say you have you're a slut. It's a trap. You want to but you can't, and when you do you wish you didn't, right?

She wasn’t talking about preseason football, of course–the subject at hand was the as-yet undetermined intactness of Claire’s virginity–but she could have been.

Still walking a little funny after their date with those big meanies from Carolina last Saturday, the Redskins play the Jacksonville Jaguars tonight in their final preseason game.

That’s the good news. A least they have a chance to do something about it. They get to strap on body armor, whip themselves into a (relative preseason) frenzy and run full blast into people wearing different colors ... without getting arrested.

As fans we’re not so lucky. We have to decide if we're supposed to care.

I mean, it’s preseason. No matter what happened in the last game, no matter how many starters play, or for how long, or how good or bad they look, or what the final score is ... the fact of the matter is our favorite football team is going to run through the smoke and fireworks onto the FedExField grass tonight and line up against guys wearing different colors. And someone’s going to keep score. And then we're going to spend the next week talking about it.

Which leaves us having to decide, 1) if we care, and, 2) if we do, whether or not we’re willing to admit it.

If we say we don’t, that’s fine. There’s a certain cool detachment we can claim that looks good to others doing the same. But (for all but a few of us totally dead inside), we'll also have to hope that someone in our lives who actually knows us doesn’t wander by, just as we’re telling everyone who will listen how blase we are, and chime in about the lucky Fun Bunch boxers we're wearing, and how, if they time it right, they can probably catch us performing our solemn pre-kickoff ritual Samuel Adams toast (“XVII! XXII! XXVI! Hut!”) in the dark part of the hallway between the fridge and family room.

And if we say we actually do care, well, then we must be a slut. Seriously–how can you be so damn easy? Preseason doesn’t matter.

So you kind of want to care, but when you do (like say after 47-3) and find yourself clenching your fist and growling “That's what I'm talking about!" late tonight when Kareem Moore flattens some unsuspecting Jaguar 3rd-stringer late in the game ... you end up wishing you hadn’t. Particularly if someone sees you.

It ain’t easy being a fan.


Dear Football Gods,

We accept the fact we were kinda bummed about getting our asses kicked Saturday–in a friggin’ preseason game. But we think you're crazy to put yet another of these damn things on TV five days later, just so you can see what kind of fans we are. You see us as you want to see us ... in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a detached analyst ... a basket case ... an armchair general ... a potential criminal (if we ever have to play five of these damn things again) ... and a Redskins fan.

Does that answer your question?

August 26, 2008

BYO Water Level

[Disclaimer: If you believe the Carolina Panthers are 44 points better than the Washington Redskins, stop here.]


I know what you were thinking—I was too.

“What the hell was that?

Well, according to the more reactionary fans, and the radio provocateurs that incite them, it was clear indication the Redskins are in trouble:

QB Jason Campbell is indecisive, inaccurate and slow getting rid of the ball.

The offensive line—Jon Jansen in particular—is old, thin, fragile and can’t pass protect.

The defensive line still can’t rush the passer, and from the looks of things Saturday night, this year can’t hold the point of attack against the run, either.

Oh, and the linebackers can't shed blocks, the secondary is shaky at best and Head Coach Jim Zorn and Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache are in over their heads.

There’s more of course, but you get the idea.

And you know what? They could be right.

If you listen to others—though you’ll have to listen carefully to hear them above the din—they might suggest the surprising efficiency the Redskins displayed in the first two games might serve as a more meaningful barometer.

They might note, just for example, that Joe Bugel’s agony should perhaps be considered in assessing the mindset and more recent play of the offensive line.

They might suggest that the team hadn’t hit the inevitable post-training camp "wall" yet, and were playing on fresh legs (the Redskins have been in camp longer, and played one more game, than anyone other than Indy—how’d the Colts do this week?).

They might even point that Saturday night’s defensive disintegration in Carolina began the instant Jason Taylor collapsed in a screaming heap beneath a pile, his knee possibly ripped to shreds.

Carolina’s first four drives:

3 plays, -3 yards, Punt (sack)
4 plays, 17 yards, INT
8 plays, 40 yards, FG (sack)
6 plays, 9 yards FG (began at WAS 19 yard line)

Carolina drive in which Taylor got hurt:

Before: 5 plays, 20 yards, 2nd and 4
After: 1 play, 32 yards, TD

Carolina’s next four drives:

2 plays, 66 yards, TD (50 yard run)
3 plays, 79 yards, TD (60 yard run)
4 plays, 55 yards, TD (24 yard pass)
6 plays, 50 yards, TD (33 yard pass)

Cause/effect correlation? You decide.

There’s more, of course, but you get the idea. As bad as it looked, once the smoke cleared it was possible for the optimists to find reasonable mitigating circumstances to explain the debacle, particularly given the preseason context.

And you know what? They could be right.

I should note that there are those who will respond to any such suggestions with an axiomatic “These guys are professionals, they have to suck it up.” And in an old-school, armchair general, rub-some-dirt-on-it kind of way, I suppose they’re right. As fans, we’d like to think these highly paid professionals we are so emotionally invested in are impervious to off-field distractions and injuries to teammates. Whether that tough-guy mentality should extend to glorified scrimmages in mid-August, however, is a slightly sticker question; one that each of us has to answer for ourselves.

And then of course there are those who will tell you that reading anything into the preseason—whether your team goes undefeated and mauls everyone by 50 or goes 0-4 and loses by 50—is an utter and total fool’s errand. That the only thing that matters in preseason is surviving it. I’ll admit there’s a certain ivory tower appeal to that … I simply can’t quite believe it.

I do believe these games can mean something beyond the statistical data (interesting link for football junkies; recommend you check it out). At the very least, I think one can begin to identify and assess areas of potential strength versus potential concern heading into the regular season.

And in the wake of 47-3, it’s unfortunately the latter that have elbowed their way to the forefront.

• Inconsistent effort. Two games up, two games down. As illustrated above, it’s possible to come up with mitigating circumstances for the down efforts in weeks 3 and 4, but the fact remains the team came out in both of those games failing to match the intensity level of the competition, and lost battles both schematic and individual. I never expect my team to win in the regular season—but I do expect max effort every week.

I know Coach Zorn is a rookie, and like any rookie is entitled to a learning curve exception (including how to prepare a team and ‘gameplan’ for preseason week 3, which Carolina’s John Fox wasn’t shy about schooling him on), but I could use a little reassurance right about now that Coach Zorn will be able to coax consistent “A” effort out of his team when the games start to count. 47-3 will do that.

• Jason Campbell. I’ve been saying this kid might be special since his preseason debut in 2005. Haven’t changed my mind. What I am concerned about is whether he’s really and truly a West Coast Offense (modified or not) kind of QB. When I think of WCO triggers, I think of Drew Brees, Jeff Garcia, even that goofy blonde-magnet kid from Dallas. Quick feet, quick read, quick release. When I look at Jason Campbell, I don't see that guy; I see a big, strong-armed, classic drop-back passer in the Coryell/Gibbs mold—Dan Fouts, Doug Williams, Mark Rypien without the square wheels.

Throughout camp and the first two preseason games, I’d heard and seen signs those concerns might be misplaced; that maybe Jason could thrive in Zorn’s modified WCO much like Matt Hesselbeck has done in Seatlle. The last two games, unfortunately, have allowed those concerns back to the surface.

• Line of scrimmage. The last two games have also been a referendum on how to get beat in the NFL—lose the battles up front. The good news is, in the first two games we saw the offensive line dominate in the ground game and pass protect well enough. And the defensive line, while still not showing consistent pass rush, was stout against the run and effective in the red zone. Still, as the smoke clears from the Carolina debacle, nothing is of more concern to me as a Redskins fan than how the big people inside will hold up when the war of attrition that is the regular season gets under way.

There’s more, of course, but you get the idea.

With all that said ... nothing we’ve seen in the past four weeks comes close to guaranteeing how the 2008 Redskins will do when it counts. If they do well, we can look back at the first two games and say, “See?” Same with the latest two games, if they should do poorly.

So for two more weeks, those of us who watch preseason with more than casual interest are left to simply study what the Redskins have done, and not done, and decide for ourselves what it all means. They have given all of us, regardless of how we label the 50% water in the glass, plenty of ammunition to make our case.

There is one thing I can say with total confidence, however, and I suspect few Redskins fans will disagree ...

After Saturday night, the Washington Redskins won’t be hitting the field opening night overconfident.

* * *


Turnover Differential:

(Caused / Committed)

Game 1 (W) – 1/0 (+1)
Game 2 (W) – 2/2 ( = )
Game 3 (W) – 0/1 (-1)
Game 4 (L) – 1/3 (-2)
Season (3-1) – 4/6 (-2)


3rd down Efficiency:

Game 1 – Off. 5/10 (50%); Def. 6/14 (42%)
Game 2 – Off. 7/14 (50%); Def. 4/12 (33%)
Game 3 – Off. 2/11 (18.2%); Def. 5/15 (33%)
Game 4 – Off. 4/15 (27%); Def. 2/12 (17%)
Season – Off. 18/50 (36%); Def. 17/53 (32%)


Red Zone Efficiency:

Game 1 – Off. 2/3 (66%, 2TD); Def. 0/0 (n/a)
Game 2 – Off. 2/3 (66%, 2TD); Def. 1/4 (25%, 1 TD)
Game 3 – Off. 0/3 (oops); Def. 1/2 (50%, 1 TD)
Game 4 – Off. 0/1 (ouch); Def. 0/3 (0%)
Season – Off. 4/10 (40%, 4TD); Def. 2/9 (22%, 2TD)


By the way … Thursday night at some point, if you catch yourself grumbling about how the preseason is too long, boring and meaningless, flash back to, say, mid-July, slunk low in your couch watching Seinfeld reruns and jonesing for football so bad you might even have watched Canadian Arena ball.

(Nothing but love for my northern brothers and sisters; I'm just sayin').

One more scrimmage, friends. Then it's on.

August 20, 2008

Whispers Can't Swim

Sorry about the title–let me explain.

In their first two preseason games, the Redskins proved the more polished, effective team on the field. Forget the final scores–they simply played better than Indianapolis and Buffalo, and both wins (using the term advisedly), in soccer parlance, were “just.”

Yeah, it was only preseason–we all understand that. But, given the realities of where this team was heading into the season, truth is the way they looked in those first two affairs took me by surprise ... and I suspect I’m not alone. My guess is a lot of Redskins fans found their minds wandering, into places both too light and too dark.

You know the whispers:

“Damn, passing game looks good. Guys running open, time to throw, ball hitting people in stride ... and finishing. Sweet.”

“Holy shit, the running game is killing people.”

“You know, despite the new leadership and missing parts, the D ain’t looking too bad. Classic bend-but-don’t-break, and swarming to the ball. And doing so playing about as vanilla as an NFL team possibly can (early returns on Mr. Blache suggest he’s to preseason defensive playcalling what Joe Gibbs was to offensive).”

Some whispers are longer than others.

As are some darker:

“Oh great. They’re pulling a Cardinals, looking all dangerous in preseason, getting everyone’s hopes up ... before falling flat on their 5-11 faces.”

“You know, maybe the Skins are just taking these glorified scrimmages more seriously than the Colts or Bills.”

“Well of course they’re looking good–they haven’t lost half the team to injury yet.”

( * knocks solemnly on wood * )

It’s one thing to convince yourself preseason doesn’t matter when your team is out there sculpting bidet filler. You tell yourself they can’t possibly be that bad ... right?

And it’s not hard to convince yourself preseason doesn’t matter when your team is playing average, either–particularly in the case of a team like the Redskins, undergoing the kind of transition they are.

But it’s another thing entirely to have to keep reminding yourself these silly games don’t matter when the team shows up and looks far better than, even at your most optimistic, you had reason to expect. Stuff like that can drive one to strange behavior ... like pulling for the other team. It’s downright unsettling.

Well, Saturday night’s snoozer against the Jets turned out to be a timely bucket of water over the head. Because whispers can’t swim.

[Okay, if you’ve come this far, reading a mid-August indulgence on an obscure new football blog, you have officially abdicated your right to say you don’t care about preseason. You care. Don’t sweat it though–we’re all crazy here.]

There was precious little of that feel-good stuff against the Jets. Even the final, frenzied sequence that led to the “W” (thanks to how Jets Head Coach Eric “Hey, I like my sister” Mangini chose to play it) left an unpleasant olfactory residue.

Let’s be honest ... other than their 2nd offensive drive where the Redskins starting offense looked crisp, ultimately settling for a FG but not before crisply covering 69 yards in 14 plays ... and the very first defensive series, when Marcus Washington and Cornelius Griffin answered my call from last week and ceremoniously deposited Saint Brett on his backside ... and Kid Colt Brennan’s late-game magic ... the Redskins really didn’t give the impression they were all that into playing a football game.

Maybe it was just post-training camp dead legs. Or maybe it was that the Jets simply wanted it more (which to my eye seemed fairly obvious; from the end-around on Favre’s TD drive, to what felt like sell-out defensive pass rush all night, to the bizarre decision to play for OT at the end, I got the clear sense Mangini did not intend for Favre’s ballyhooed debut to end up in the "L" column) ...the Redskins looked a step slow all night.

Jason Campbell looked unsettled in the face of the constant pass rush, which came in large part due to offensive line looking shaky in pass pro for the first time.

The defense was certainly unremarkable. Yeah, they held the Jets to 10 (the final meltdown drive notwithstanding), but since I refuse to subject myself to the game tape again, the overall impression I walked away with of their effort was of the 3/4 speed variety, punctuated by missed tackles, uncovered receivers and no consistent pass pressure. But for a passel of dropped passes and Jet quarterbacks routinely hitting defensive linemen’s upraised mitts, the 10 points the Redskins gave up could easily have doubled or worse.

All of which sounds like I’m saying the Skins were flat awful. I’m not, because they weren’t.

For one thing, they answered the bell and didn’t wither under the bright lights of L'Affaire Favre. They gave as good as they got.

The aforementioned running game has been effective–sometimes wildly so–through all three games. Take away Rock Cartwright’s 73-yard scamper Saturday and they’re still averaging 140 yards per game and 4.99 yards per carry.

Marcus Mason is making everyone this side of Rock Cartwright smile.

Santana Moss continues to look reborn. Marcus Washington looks like a kid again. Cornelius Griffin looks like a beast again (hinting at an inside rush to complement the edge disruption Andre Carter and Jason Taylor will likely bring ... but that’s for another day).

And I have to mention Colt Brennan again, who, by virtue of his second magic act in three appearances, already has the skeptics invoking Babe Laufenberg in their haste to dismiss what is patently obvious–that the kid has exceeded expectations so dramatically already that, if nothing else, he’s going to be around for a while. Think there’s a buzz now? Wait until next preseason.

So it’s not like the team stunk up the joint. Saturday night was just generally ... bleh. A preseason “W” that felt a more like an “L.”

Which I’m saying was probably not a bad thing.

Preseason or not, 3-0 gets people’s attention, particularly if it seems to come easy. They say it can lead to overconfidence, complacency ... all manner of dark and foreboding things. Having a little sand poured into the ointment hopefully serves to avert that kind of thing.

So where does this leave us today? What does the objective, clear-thinking Redskins fan believe the 3-0 start to the preseason (2-1 on the Reality Meter) means in terms of the arc toward their nationally televised road date with the defending world champions? Probably nothing, out loud–that would be admitting this stuff matters. In his head, though, my guess is the whispers (having toweled off) are a bit more subdued than at this time a week ago.

Next up are the Carolina Panthers, on the road, in what tradition dictates is the one game in preseason teams tend to take, in relative terms, more seriously. You tell me, fellow football fan ... after the Jets performance, are you not right back where you were before the Indy game, before the team sprinted out and exceeded all expectations the first two weeks?

If you’re anything like me (my sympathies if so), you’re right back at square one, with no feel at all what kind of team you expect to see.

Nothing like a little cold water therapy.



Turnover Differential:

Game 1 (W) – 1-0 (+1)
Game 2 (W) – 2-2 ( = )
Game 3 (W) – 0-1 (-1)
Season (3-0) – 3-3 ( = )


3rd down Efficiency:

Game 1 – Off. 5-10 (50%); Def. 6-14 (42%)
Game 2 – Off. 7-14 (50%); Def. 4-12 (33%)
Game 3 – Off. 2-11 (18.2%); Def. 5-15 (33%)
Season – Off. 14-35 (40%); Def. 15-41 (36.6%)


Red Zone Efficiency:

Game 1 – Off. 2-3 (66%, 2TD); Def. 0-0 (100%)
Game 2 – Off. 2-3 (66%, 2TD); Def. 1-4 (25%, 1 TD)
Game 3 – Off. 0-3 (oops); Def. 1-2 (50%, 1 TD)
Season – Off. 4-9 (44.4%, 4TD); Def. 2-6 (33.3%, 2TD)


September 4 really can’t come fast enough.

August 14, 2008

And So It Begins

No one has been more pleasantly surprised with the State of the Redskins the past two weeks than I. Be it the consistently dangerous flow of the offense, the smoothness with which Jim Zorn has settled into his first head coaching job, or just the overall sense of camaraderie and potential pervading all things Redskin, everything has pretty much come up aces.

Thing is, we’ve been playing with house money. And that’s about to change.

The Hall of Fame game against Indianapolis was a setup. There wasn’t a football team in the universe that would have beaten the Redskins that night—not in that atmosphere, not on that field. Peyton Manning could have played the entire game and it wouldn’t have mattered. The universe owed a debt of recognition to the Glory Years Redskins and simply chose, finally, to make good on it, aligning the stars with two moving and magical days of burgundy and gold celebration.

Many have said playing the Colts in Canton felt “like a home game” for the Redskins. It was more than that. It was a Homecoming.

And last week, beating the Buffalo Bills in Zorn’s FedExField debut, while perhaps not as cosmically scripted, was still largely a no-brainer. It’s a game they should have owned. 90,000 (or reasonable percentage thereof) screaming partisans, aglow and agrog from celebrating the end of another interminable offseason with their first tailgate of the new season … watching an exciting and surprisingly crisp-looking young team that had yet to do anything bad this year to set the more dour among them to booing ... against an opponent that engenders little awe (no disrespect, Buffalo—just the way the cookie crumbles).

All in all, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s set the early part of the 2008 season to a stirring backbeat that’s got Redskins fan tapping their feet and nodding their heads in rhythm. Me among them; I ain’t too old to dance.

I’m just saying, Saturday things start getting real.

This week all the attention, energy, karma, expectation and other intangibles will be lurking on the other sideline. Brett Favre’s debut as quarterback of the NY Jets has the News (York and Jersey), league and entire football world in a classic media feeding frenzy. After a week of almost championship-style buildup, be assured that the Meadowlands, and more importantly the New York Jets, will be as fired up for a preseason game as perhaps any time in that team’s long, sad history since the day Joe Namath ran off the Orange Bowl field in Miami 39 ago wagging one finger in the air.

(Know what else was happening 39 years ago? Saint Favre was being conceived. Gives you chills man.)

Yeah, that’s probably hyperbolic, but you get my drift. The Redskins have stumbled into a situation where they’re set up as the proverbial ‘opponent.’ In the pregame billing, they’re the Washington Generals to Brett’s Favre’s Harlem Globetrotters.

Which, as it happens, makes it equal parts possible reality check and potential springboard.

I don’t care about the final score (much, though the day comes I truly don’t care if my team wins or loses anything is the day I give up sports and take up, well, dying, I guess--but that’s not important right now). What's important is how the Redskins respond to the challenge. Because either way, we’re about to really begin getting a sense for just what kind of team Jim Zorn’s Redskins are.

Will Jason Campbell and the “scary efficient” (courtesy Joe Theismann) Redskins offense sustain a couple of drives early, as they did in the first two games, helping overcome the emotional Meadowlands tidal wave the Jets and their fans will be riding? Maybe even grab a score, letting the football-watching world know there are two quarterbacks, and two NFL teams, on the field?

Or will the Jets, who you know are going to come out attacking the line of scrimmage looking to make things happen, send Washington back the sideline with dispiriting, futile three-and-outs, or worse, force turnovers, and set the tone for the game?

And what about the defense? Will the starting unit rise to the challenge Favre and Jets coach Eric Mangini are sure to throw at them? I hope no one thinks the Jets intend to have Brett Favre hand the ball off in his one or two series. Uh-uh. Not this week, not with the world watching. He’ll come out winging it, looking to light his team, the stadium and the NFL gossip-sphere on fire.

And it’s entirely possible they’ll do just that. They could march right down the field, score, carry Brett off on their shoulders, and petition the NFL to call the season off right then and there. I mean, the guy ain’t bad.

On the other hand … Jason Taylor and Andre Carter could just happen to meet at Brett’s midsection and introduce themselves to the football world instead. I don't mean they should, you know, hurt the guy or anything ... but seeing old #4 pick himself off the turf adjusting his chinstrap, and walking slowly, deliberately back to the sidelines wouldn't ruin my day one bit. Think how that would play on Sportscenter.

And then of course there’s the new coach. Will Zorn maintain his zenlike demeanor on the sidelines in that cauldron if, say, Favre leads the Jets to a couple quick scores and the Redskins are down 10 or 14 after a quarter? Will the electric atmosphere affect his playcalling? Will he continue liberally throwing the ball around as he has so far, or will he pull in his horns, looking simply to avoid the killer turnover and play field position?

Hey, preseason results mean nothing. All thinking NFL fans know that. But for those studying the 2008 Redskins for early indicators, good or bad, Saturday night shapes up as the teams’ first real test; their first real barometer.

If they get pushed around and the NFL gets to celebrate Saint Brett for another whole week, this time at the Redskins’ video expense, we’ll have been reminded that these Redskins are, after all, very much an unknown quantity facing a host of major changes and with many unanswered questions. Which, honestly, is probably the way we should be viewing them at this point.

If, however, under the bright lights and as Brett Favre’s designated tomato can, they were to turn in a third straight efficient, effective professional performance, and leave the Jets and football world fully aware that they were there … I’m thinking things could start to get interesting around here.

Very interesting indeed.


Going to track some weekly stats I think are seriously under-valued in today’s NFL. Why? Because I’ve always wished someone would, and I have nifty blog now, so I’ll do it myself.


Turnover Differential:

Game 1 (W) – 1-0 (+1); game clinching INT pick-six
Game 2 (W) – 2-2 ( = )
Season (2-0) – 3-2 (+1)


3rd down Efficiency:

Game 1 – Off. 5-10 (50%); Def. (6-14 (42%)
Game 2 – Off. 7-14 (50%); Def. 4-12 (33%)
Season – Off. 12-24 (50%); Def. 10-26 (38.4%)


Red Zone Efficiency:

Game 1 – Off. 2-3 (66%, 2TD); Def. 0-0 (100%)
Game 2 – Off. 2-3 (66%, 2TD); Def. 1-4 (25%, 1 TD)
Season – Off. 4-6 (66%, 4TD): Def. 1-4 (25%, 1TD)


Hey Brett … duck.

August 8, 2008

Go Buffalo

All right, about the PETA thing.

From what I’ve seen, Redskins Nation by and large seems pretty darn pleased with what happened Sunday night against the Colts.

Not me. Like I said, I’ve been sacrificing live chickens. *

The one thing I did not expect the Redskins to do Sunday night against the Colts was look good. I had hoped, at best, they’d not look like every reasonable fiber of my being thought they should: raw.

Seriously, do the math.

The rookie Head Coach, Jim Zorn, debuting on national television as a head coach at any level, and calling plays to boot, breezes through the game sans delay penalties, sans communication issues, sans visible deer-in-the-headlights or “oh shit” moments. Instead, units shuttle on and off the field crisply, people are where they’re supposed be, clock management is seamless … and the team wins, deservedly. All in all, the new coach looked every bit as comfortable and in command as the future Hall of Fame coach standing across the field.

This has me worried.

Add to that how the new-car-smell Washington offense kept the Indianapolis defense on its heels and guessing (mostly wrong) all night. What’s up with that? The Rookie Head Coach was just a few weeks into installing an entirely new offense. Reason dictated there would be gaffes—major ones.

You know … time-outs burned as play clocks wound down … quarterbacks turning left, handing off to running backs who have gone right … receivers reading Go routes just as quarterbacks release Outs (to the merriment of defensive backs running pick-sixes back the other way) … offensive guards expecting the carnivorous linebacker sailing past their ear to be picked up by the tight end, who, instead, is studiously drifting into the secondary looking for the seam … and like that.

But no. Instead … 19 for 22 passing for 216 yards. 3 TD’s. No picks.

156 yards rushing.

66% (2 for 3) red zone efficiency.

Overall, crisp and, dare we say it, professional looking.

19 for 22? The young starter, Jason Campbell—fresh off injury and hip deep into learning his 57th offensive system in 8 years—went 5 for 5 and a highlight-reel score. And the only reason he didn’t lead the team to scores on both his drives was the aging right tackle (bless his heart—more on that later) who got smoked by a backup DE and forced the young starting QB to eat the ball, effectively ending the second and final drive of said starter’s evening.

Better not have any passes hit the ground Saturday, Jason. They’ll think you’re slipping.

And let’s not even get started on Colt Brennan. Seriously, there’s been enough written about that fella this week already. Still … 9-of-10 for 123 yards and two scores? In his rookie debut? Try and top that this week, rook.

Hey, at least Todd Collins had the good sense to look awful. He seemed unsure, skittish in the pocket, a little soft on that one Out route, and … oh. Went 5 for 6.

I take it no one told these gentlemen about setting bars.

And would someone please explain to me what the offensive line was thinking in the running game, blowing up the middle of the Colt defense all night and allowing new cult hero Marcus Mason to hit the century mark (I’m rounding up—I like the kid). We’re not supposed to have OL depth, you know. Now people will expect that kind of thing … heading as we are into week 2 of the preseason … on a team with a new coach … and a new offense … and … you get the drift.

So yeah, I’m worried. And I’ve been doing rain dances in Skins garb and handing out rabbit’s feet all week, encouraging fellow Skins fans to worry with me.

Way I figure it, what we need the team needs to do Saturday night at FedEx against Buffalo is seriously stink up the joint. I mean really rot. Throw picks. Negate big plays with bonehead penalties. Go 3-and-out, a bunch. Get trampled defensively with starters playing on the line. Waste timeouts. Look sloppy, slow, disinterested and, above all … lose. Maybe even big.

Because if you don’t, and instead you go out and look like a crisp professional football team again … and the QB’s are smooth and successful again … and the running game rolls again … and the sideline looks cool and organized again … and god forbid you win again … things are going to get out of hand.

We don’t need that.

We need the media snickering at us. We need our more vocal endearingly negative fans (the ones that call themselves “realists”) to dominate the conversation. We need the Rookie Coach to have gobs of “Men, we seriously need to work on X” material to keep practices hopping, players sweating and the media happy.

Exceed expectations? Please. The Redskins ground them into fine powder, sprinkled them over fine tobacco and torched up. That won’t do. It’s too soon … way too soon.

Go Buffalo.

* Attention PETA: it’s a joke.


Mr. Dungy,

On sides kick? No-huddle offense? Due respect sir, but unless that was some inside-joke, haze-the-rookie-coach kind of deal … truth is I don’t know whether to laugh with you, or at you. Maybe I’ve missed the explanation this week. Hope so. And hope it was a good one. Otherwise … boo.


Until they closed the game out strong, one happily negative thing I couldn’t help notice (by that point I was looking for stuff) was how easily the Colts converted third downs against the defense.

Shudder. Bad recurrent dream there.


Going to be watching Jon Jansen in pass pro very, very carefully the rest of preseason. I know it’s dumb to read much into two series in the first preseason game, but sitting here today I’d not be surprised to see Jon lose the starting RT spot before opening day. That bad sack allowed Sunday wasn’t anything new or unexpected, unfortunately.

I’ve been afraid his best days were behind him for a couple years now. Up in New York there’s a front four waiting on us opening night that eats people. Here’s hoping they don't look at Jon right now and see fresh meat.



The Favre Elocution

I’ve always kinda liked Brett Favre.

I like that his first NFL pass was picked off and returned for a TD by Redskins LB Andre Collins.

I like that he’s from a place called Kiln. Guy named Favre, place called Kiln. It’s an elocutionist's dream.

I like that he plays the game the way I think I would have, had I been born a freakishly gifted athlete. Fearless, peerless … shameless. Interception? Bummer. Now gimme the damn ball—no way you get me again.

I even like that he’s part diva. Guy who plays like he does, and looks like he does (Marlboro Man Light) shouldn't also get to sound like James Earl Jones or exude Sinatra cool. It wouldn’t be fair.

So this is not about disliking Brett.

This is about tiring of the mantra I’ve heard over and over again throughout this whole exhausting drama that “Brett Favre gives the Packers the best chance to win.” The NFL talking heads throw that line around like gospel.

I’m saying, don’t be so sure.

Might want to allow for the possibility that Aaron Rogers, today, is the better quarterback—be it straight up or simply in terms of being the best guy for the Green Bay Packers, right here, right now.

No one on the face of the planet is better situated to make that call than Packer Head Coach Mike McCarthy. Forget the record books. Forget the mental highlight reel you can conjure of Favre sprinting down the field chasing one of his 442 touchdown passes. Focus on now and what’s at stake.

McCarthy was presented a choice—head into the 2008 season with Aaron Rogers or Brett Favre behind center. And make no mistake, the choice was ultimately his. Had he believed strongly enough that Favre was the team’s best option, he would have made damn sure the front office knew it, the players knew it, the press knew it and the world knew it. Had he really believed Favre was the better option, Brett would not be holding court in New York this week, he’d be back in Green Bay king of all he surveyed.

Yet McCarthy chose Rogers.

Why? There's no way to conclusively know … not unless you know Mike personally and he shares NFL pillow talk with you. Personally, I think it may have something to do with the difference between Brett’s regular season winning percentage, 160-93 (.632), and his playoff record, 12-10 (.545). And more pointedly, that after starting his playoff career 9-3, between 1992 and 1998, beginning with the loss to Denver in Super Bowl XXXII a decade ago (a decade?), Brett has since gone 3-7.

But that’s not the point--it could have nothing to do with that at all. Maybe Mike’s seen something in Brett’s delivery that tells him the arm’s going. Maybe he’s tired of the killer INT’s the rest of the world excuses as “just Favre being Favre”—hey it’s not their job on the line. Maybe the whispers out of the locker room, when the cameras and mics aren’t around, tell him Brett’s not really welcome there any more. Maybe Brett has bad breath. Most likely, as with most things in life, it’s a combination of all kinds of factors.

The point is that the one guy most qualified to make the call and the most to lose if he mucks it up, opted to go with Aaron Rogers. More than anything else I’ve heard or read from a million self-appointed experts, to me that speaks volumes.

So at least allow for the possibility. Don’t casually substitute your own judgment for that of a professional, at the peak of his profession, who has not just spent his lifetime making enough good football decisions to earn his place to begin with … and who is not just one of perhaps a half-dozen men on the planet who has watched Favre and Rogers with their own eyes every meeting, practice, game, workout, etc. for the past few seasons and broken down more film than Siskel, Hebert and Spielberg combined … but is also a professional whose very livelihood depends on his ability to make this kind of call.

Maybe he's wrong. Maybe Rodgers will flat on his face and Favre will have the last laugh. I’m just saying … don’t be so sure.

August 6, 2008

Don't Tell PETA

Apologies for the blogus interruptus.

Hoped to have a piece up by last night, but Life had other ideas. Still trying to figure out how my blogocolleagues manage to be as timely and prolific as some of them are.

So to both of you reading, I promise I'll try to get the hang of this.

I have been thinking about what I want to say, at least. Even have a rough draft mostly done. And I dare say it differs diametrically from just about everything I’ve seen and heard elsewhere.

From what I gather, Redskins Nation seems pretty damn pleased with what Washington did against the Colts … i.e., not falling flat on their faces, not looking like you might expect a team debuting as fundamental a change as are the Gibbs-to-Zorn Redskins, and beyond that, doing some of things they actually did.

Not me, brother. I’m sacrificing live chickens.

Please check back in the next day or so when I’ve wrestled Life to the ground long enough to polish my reasoning why for public consumption.

Meanwhile, if you’re a true Redskins fan … take one.

Use it.

August 3, 2008

Art Monk

I was going to wait until after tonight’s game to update, but …

I have to wonder sometimes. I mean, how does a guy like me—47 years old, not entirely uneducated, 22 years into the working world and bearing little resemblance to the wide-eyed kid I used to be—find myself alone in my living room on a Saturday night, tears streaming down my face, standing in silent ovation to a football player I’ve never met?

Hey, I have a mortgage (two, actually). One that reminds me every day it is not I, but a bank somewhere, that owns my home.

And I own two cars, neither built in this millennium, which my wife and I will continue to commute in until the doors fall off (the cars’, not hers and mine). What can I say, they’re paid for.

I also have three teen-aged kids—one getting ready to start her second year in college, another a senior in high school and just a year away from college himself, and a third just a year from entering high school, with definite university dreams of her own. I’ve done the math; twelve years of school at roughly $15K per.

Retirement? Sure.

And it's not like I’m claiming poverty, financial or otherwise. We take a nice vacation every summer. The mountain of loot under the tree, despite solemn parental vows to “cut back this year,” remains a testament to Western excess every Christmas. And far more importantly, we’re all healthy and love one another.

So it ain’t about that.

I know psychologists have good sound theories explaining “hero-worship.” And I know better at this point in my life than to
project otherworldly characteristics onto another man simply because of the uniform he wears.

So it isn’t that, either.

And anyway … I suppose we’re not that different from our fellow men and women around the world and through time. I suppose my counterpart in the cheap seats at the Colosseum two thousand years ago, for example, might well have understood.

"The Romans seemed ambivalent to the violent nature of the gladiatorial games and, though we may condemn them, the games are not unlike modern professional sports like hockey, rugby, and football. The gladiators were the heroes of their time … "

And if you could sit and talk with one face-to-face, on neutral ground during the off season, with plenty of space and a quick escape route at hand, and maybe some mace or at least a good right cross at your disposal … I suppose so even would our most extreme contemporaries in the futbol-playing world today … whose passions make those of us who consider ourselves fervent fans of other sports seem positively kitten-like.

So it ain’t just about being crazy.

Quite simply, I think we still crave champions. Goes back to prehistory, I'm quite sure, when the most popular member of our tribe, the one everyone admired and secretly craved to be, was the one best equipped to keep the sabre-tooth from dragging away our children at night.

Well, in a place and time without sabre-teeth stalking our nights, and where our wars no longer take place in our own streets (with one unspeakable exception noted), we don’t really celebrate our real-world champions as we once did. Our military heroes today are largely faceless … which, ironically, is precisely how I've found most of the very best among them prefer it.

So we’ve largely turned to sports. And even that’s not as simple as it used to be, given the realities of our time, our culture and their effects on our “heroes.” I won’t insult your intelligence explaining that further.

I’ll be honest, what I've come to realize is that I don’t really want to know what it is that moved me so deeply last night, watching Art Monk stand tall, silent and humble as wave after wave of pent-up adulation washed over him ... all before he’d said a single word. Hell, two minutes into that tribute, as far as I was concerned he could have simply nodded, maybe given a little smile, and walked silently back to his seat.

Although had he done so, I think I might really have lost it.

Truth is … I don’t really want to know, in some intellectual or clinical sense, what it was. One of the traps we fall into as self-styled “educated” people is our tendency to analyze the life right out of the very things that make us feel most alive.

So instead of some over-the-top paean (did I use it right, Ron? :) ), I’m going to honor Art Monk, and acknowledge the depth to which he has touched my own life … simply by admitting, in this semi-public place, that my private tears last night were perhaps 10% burgundy and gold, 90% simply honoring a Man.

August 1, 2008

Not Your Father's Redskins

A lot has changed since the last time I wrote about my favorite football team.

On a personal level (might as well get this out of the way up top), at the time I was still writing for, by and through the auspices of Extremeskins, the teams’ official message board. For a variety of reasons I won’t get into, that is no longer the case. Instead, at least for a while, I’m going to channel my burgundy and gold addiction through this blog.

To those of you who have been kind enough to ask, I honestly have no idea what the future holds in that regard. And as to this blog, while I have hopes some will choose to read it, I have no real expectations. The Skins blogosphere is already a robust one, so adding one more entry to the rolls may or may not register any noticeable impact. I also know my style isn’t for everybody. What I do know is I needed an outlet for my addiction, so here we are.

And that’s all I have to day about that.

Far more interesting are the changes that have taken place at Redskins Park since January. It would be hard to understate them.

When I last sat down to write about them, the Redskins had just finished a wildly emotional and equally improbable season-ending run to the playoffs. Through funeral tears, Bears, Giants, Vikings and Cowboys, the team wrote a storybook ending to their year you’d surely reject as ‘too Hollywood’ were sifting through screenplays.

In a classic Gibbsian late-season surge, the old legend himself had, for the second time in three years, willed a wounded, undermanned team to the post season.

The young QB Apparent, Jason Campbell, had fallen to season-ending injury in Week 13, leading in turn to the deus ex machina-esque appearance of perennial bridesmaid Todd Collins, who breathed life and fire into former Offensive Coordinator Al Saunders’ suddenly dangerous offense. In those heady few weeks, what the future held at the quarterback position in Washington became an even more intriguing question than before.

Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams’ defense, despite all manner of walking wounded and outright missing parts, had tightened up and were playing legitimate NFL post-season level defense. In their last three games, dominating the NY Giants in the Meadowlands, stifling Minnesota on the road and rolling Dallas at home, they looked capable of playing deep into January.

Just ahead lay the Seattle Seahawks, and had Washington’s karmic run continued another week, perhaps another date with nemesis Dallas, a team NFL observers generally agreed at the time wanted nothing to do with the Redskins again.

Largely gone was the public perception around the football world of the Washington Redskins as “Dan Snyder’s fantasy team.” In its place was a growing perception--for better or for worse depending on if your cup tends to half empty of half full--as “Joe Gibbs’ Redskins.”

It was impossible to imagine then, even as the magic ride ended in a flurry of late-game mishaps and mistakes in the cold Seattle night, just how different the burgundy and gold landscape would look seven short months later.

Which brings us to this weekend.

With Coach Gibbs gone—really and truly gone this time—and the new Redskins set to take the field for the first time Sunday night under new first-time head coach (and totally different kind of cat) Jim Zorn, I find myself standing on a kind of fandom threshold.

How so?

Well, I'm setting aside Saturday to wallow, one last time, in What Was. I find it highly fitting—serendipitous even—that Darrell Green and Art Monk, two pillars of the Glory Years, are being inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend. There’s a sense of closure about it—as if we have, at long last, come full circle.

For one more day, I’m going to allow my Inner Skin to relive, and revel in, the memories of those wondrous years. I suspect I’ll shed a private tear at Green’s giddy sincerity on the podium, and probably another, fiercer kind of tear at Monk’s sure-to-be understated acceptance of his preposterously overdue recognition.

And then ... after a good night's sleep, with the new day will finally come time for this veteran Skins fan to turn the page. Perhaps it’s just that I’m a product of those years, but looking back now I realize that between Gibbs’ first retirement in ’92 and the day he returned in ’04, I never really had. Not consciously, no ... but undeniably.

Looking back on those years, I recall at times dealing with the gutting disappointment of watching my team fall from the ranks of the NFL elite to just another struggling club, sometimes even a punch line, by recalling the championship years. We may have been getting pasted again on the field, but it was never too hard to take a short psychic step back, look at those helmets through my own personal filters and summon the memory of seeing them held aloft in ultimate victory.

Well … for a host of reasons I look forward to exploring in the months ahead, this old Skins fan is getting a distinctly different, and distinctly intriguing, vibe about the 2008 Redskins. One unlike any I’ve had in years. And as it so often does in life, everything seems to have coalesced to this very weekend.

Saturday is about The Past ... a glorious, perhaps once-in-a lifetime joy ride that will hold a special place in the hearts and minds of those fortunate to have lived it forever.

And Sunday is about The Future ... a future that sitting here today looks to be one of … well, let’s save that until after tomorrow’s trip down memory lane.

Only one word is capable of knitting together any attempt—even a ham-handed, bloggy one such as this—to seamlessly knit together Redskin Past and Redskins Future. I know you know what it is, but I’m going to say it anyway.