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.


ldy said...

Nice read. And you're right...nothing like a little reality to rocket a fan back to planet earth. I agree, they looked flat and uninterested, but they picked it up at the end of the game. I was happy. Do I think preseason means anything? Sure. It means we still don't know what September will bring on that field from what we're seeing in Aug. Nice job. Like this blog!

Rich Tandler said...

already has the skeptics invoking Babe Laufenberg in their haste to dismiss what is patently obvious–

I am not a skeptic!

But history is what it is! ;-)

Keep up the good work, my friend.

Mark "Om" Steven said...


Interesting how these meaningless affairs manage to mean something anyway, isn't it? God help me, I do love it so. :)


Thought about you when I saw the piece you'd written. Thought about editing to mess with you, but decided against it. You keep it as real as any Skins writer I know ... and I knew where you were coming from.

Appreciate the comment and right back at you.


Lizkauai said...

OM- I do love your writing style.