[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.
* * *
(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.