September 3, 2008

Setting the Stage

Listen … do you smell something?

I do. And I’d be rich beyond the dreams of Avarice if I could bottle pebbled leather, icy beer, sizzling brats, cool breeze, manicured grass, spicy wings, pungent cigars, nervous pre-game sweat … and some other stuff. I’d call it NFL Chanel and live out my days managing my fortune and cruising the seas in tasteful luxury.

Meanwhile … we’re just a few hours from kickoff of the Redskins 2008 season. Time for a last quick look around before the rollercoaster finally crests the long offseason climb and plunges into the regular season fray.

What can we expect from Jim Zorn’s team? To answer that, first we need to place them somewhere on the Expectation Scale. For me, the NFL boils down into three basic groups of teams. Not everyone will agree on my categorization of each specific team, of course, but it’s a solid jumping-off point.

1) At the top of the ladder are those few teams coming into the season having already proven they can win, and, assuming nothing too unexpected happens (Tom Brady breaks his throwing arm, Peyton Manning gets amnesia, Norv Turner remembers he’s Norv Turner), we reasonably expect to be there at the end.

The short list of teams that belong in this category heading into 2008 includes New England and Indianapolis at the top, followed one step below by teams like Jacksonville, NY Giants, Pittsburgh, San Diego … Dallas (sorry). You can finish/fine tune/flesh out the list yourself, but chances are our lists will be very similar.

2) At the other end of the spectrum are the expected also-rans—teams not on the realistic playoff radar at all. I’m talking Detroit, Atlanta, the Raiders, Arizona, San Francisco … again, not offering an exclusive list, just an example of teams I think most would agree don’t figure to be players when the snow flies.

3) And then there’s the rest—the majority—of the NFL. Teams for whom a casual thumbs up or down from the football gods can spell the difference between working weekends in January and top ten draft picks in April. Teams with enough positives on paper to merit attention, but enough questions to keep your smart money neatly folded in your pocket.

Unlike popular opinion, the gridiron gods aren’t punitive, just fickle. They manifest themselves in key injuries (or lack thereof), scheduling breaks, the unpredictable bounce of an odd-shaped ball, in a few “That one could have gone either way, Bob” whistles … the cumulative weight of which can ultimately make the difference between 6-10 and 10-6.

The Washington Redskins are such a team.

There are enough cards seemingly stacked against the 2008 Redskins that a couple bad bumps in the road could lead to 6-10 and no one would be all that shocked. Rookie head coach, new offense, unproven young quarterback, aging and brittle offensive line, injury-prone receivers, new defensive coordinator, pass-rush challenged defensive line, safeties in diapers, challenging schedule in the toughest division in football … you get the idea.

On the Bright Side, with their fair share of good breaks, the Redskins are also a team that could roll into January looking for a meal. It’s hardly a stretch—they did just that eight months ago.

They have the storied franchise’s all-time single-season record holding rusher and receiver healthy and in the primes of their careers. They have a young, strong-armed quarterback long on potential (more on that below). They have a line that, at the very least, has shown it can be effective when healthy.

Hell, they even have Cooooley.

They head into the season with the last season’s eight-ranked defense (fourth against the run), a unit that has since added the NFL’s leading active sack leader. They have a young beast-in-training roaming the secondary in sophomore lottery pick Laron Landry. All this on a defense that has new DC Greg Blache—not a man given to platitudes—saying his 2008 squad might be special.

So it’s not like this is a team without weapons. If they can keep their head above water early, they could be dangerous down the stretch as the parts begin to mesh.

The preseason wasn’t much help in forecasting any of this, of course. Early on they showed flashes of offensive brilliance, but that ended abruptly in game three. Which means either the Jets, Panthers and Jags “figured out” Zorn’s offense in a hurry, or the Redskins pulled in their horns and are planning to unveil the “real” offense again up in New York. Which would be nice.

Defensively, they looked solid in a bend-but-don’t-break way right up until Jason Taylor’s knee bent sideways against Carolina. After that … not. Which also could mean it only took a couple preseason games for the league to “figure out” the Skins on defense as well ... or it could just be that preseason means squat.

We’ll start getting answers in (checks watch) about 30 hours.

One more thing, if I may. Unlike many of the league’s middle class teams, the Redskins do have one possible, major advantage—they seem to think they have themselves a Quarterback.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: no one player, at any one position in any team sport, can have a greater impact on his team’s fortunes than an NFL quarterback. Don’t take my word for it … look at just about any team that has had sustained success in the modern era (with one notable, local exception), and you’ll find one common denominator—a Franchise Quarterback.

Should Jason Campbell emerge as that most precious of NFL commodities in DC, the Redskins have enough around him, on both sides of the ball, to be a legitimate playoff contender—perhaps for a while.

I hate putting numbers on something like this, but if pressed, I’m suggesting Campbell alone could make a 3-4 game difference this year … which could translate into more next year, which in turn could lead to the kind of organizational momentum you see when a team finally finds “the guy,” and suddenly the whole franchise starts to look faster, stronger, smarter. Franchise QB’s do that for teams … it’s what separates most of the perennial top-rung franchises from those that stumble on a formula for a year or two, then fade back into the pack (see Baltimore, Trent Dilfer; Chicago, Rex Grossman.

But there will be plenty of time to track (and argue) that. To the moment at hand:

Tomorrow night we get our first look at the Jim Zorn Redskins … and we are without any real compelling objective criteria upon which to base predictions. They could get trampled ... they could go toe-to-toe and win or lose on the final possession ... or, they could be most unwelcome guests and thump the Giants in their own house, even as Gotham basks in the warm, fuzzy glow of pregame championship festivities.

That’s the thing about life in the middle class—it’s not that far between the outhouse and the penthouse. In a football context, that's a little scary … and a lot exciting.

May the winds be favorable.

***

STAT TRACKER (Preseason Final)

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)
Game 5 (L) – 1/1 (=)
Season (3-1) – 5/7 (-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%)
Game 5 – Off. 1/10 (10%); Def. 10/17 (58%)
Season – Off. 19/60 (31.6%); Def. 27/70 (38.5%)

*

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%)
Game 5 – Off. 0/0 (ugh); Def. 2/3 (66% 2TD)
Season – Off. 4/10 (40%, 4TD); Def. 4/12 (33%, 4 TD)

*

Since I don’t think I can get away with not doing this …

Washington 23, New York 20 (corazon)
New York 24, Washington 17 (cabeza)

1 comment:

Cardas said...

Always a good one my freind.
Here we go again...

Love the Ghostbusters homage.