October 23, 2008

Redskins Reality Check

"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war,

while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."

- Sun Tzu

“First you win, then you get good.”

- Bill Parcells



It’s one thing for “the media” to lose sight of reality—it’s what they do. They have bills to pay and sponsors to appease; it’s their job to create drama, ignore context and blindly compress the marathon NFL season into weekly hype segments.

It’s another thing when fans and followers of a given team—those who take it seriously enough to read, listen and talk it up on a daily basis—let ourselves fall into the trap.

As “serious” Redskins fans, we’re supposed to know better.

Listening to a large percentage of callers to local sports talk radio, however, reading the blogs and message boards and even just batting things around in line at the grocery story, I’ve discovered there are many among us focusing this week on all that could go wrong when the 5-2 Redskins travel to 0-6 Detroit to play the Lions on Sunday.

The mantra I’ve heard more than any other, and find most jarring, is the one I’d like to address today:

“They have to win this one big.”

I beg to differ. Before getting into my reasoning, a brief overview is in order.

Head Coach: Rookie
Record: 5-2

QB: 129-for-202 (64%), 1426 yds, 7 TD, 0 INT, QB Rating 96.3
RB: 163-for-818 (5.0 ypc), 116.9 ypg, 7 TD (leads league)
Defense: 6th overall; 8th scoring

Standings: 1/2 game out of first place in “best division in football”
Division Record: 2-1, road games complete
This week: 8-point road favorites to go 6-2

If you’re among those fretting over whether or not the Redskins will win “convincingly enough” Sunday, ask yourself this:

Before the season started, do you recall your realistic midseason expectations for the Redskins won/lost record? Was it 5-3? 6-2? Because if it was, you were one of very few, and either a bona fide Seer, hopeless romantic, or perhaps more likely, nipping at the tailgate refreshments a bit too heartily for August. Which is fine. It was hot. But come on.

And yet … as the Redskins head off to Detroit as prohibitive road favorites to reach midseason breathing rarified air at 6-2, some of us—presumably including some whose “realistic expectations” before the opener were closer to 2-6 than 6-2—are worried about whether or not the Skins are going to “finally get their blowout.”

As if anything less would be a disappointment.

As if anything less would be an indictment.

As if anything less would indicate the team isn’t “there” yet.

Well, as this apparently needs to be said … they’re not “there” yet. Nor should we expect them to be.

This isn’t an established winner hitting its midseason stride and battling for playoff seeding. This is a team not quite halfway through their first season under a rookie head coach.

It’s a team not quite halfway through its first season of installing and getting up to speed in an entirely new offensive system.

It’s a team with a young quarterback not quite halfway through his first season, in his third offensive system in a four year career.

It’s a team that plays in the consensus toughest division in the NFL, with zero “gimmes” among the six games they’ll spend slugging it out in the last old-school, smashmouth division in the game.

And … it's 5-2.

With a good shot at hitting midseason 6-2.

Which would put them no worse than a game out of first place with all their remaining division games at home.

Not sure how else to put it. The 2008 Redskins are so far ahead of schedule I think many have lost sight of exactly who and where they were just a few short weeks ago.

Would a blowout win against the Lions be nice? Damn straight. But would it mean any more in the big scheme of things than another last-second squeaker, beyond giving us a nice nice warm glow inside for a day or two before turning our eyes ahead to the Pittsburgh Steelers? Not really.

One stat matters at this point for the 2008 Redskins. Wins. By the end of the season, the Redskins may have evolved into a powerhouse—the kind of team fans who understand the context from whence they came can reasonably expect to take the field and soundly beat a “lesser team.” But not yet.

The Skins could beat Detroit 50-0, then come home to face Pittsburgh the following week and get pummeled. Or they could lose to Detroit (shudder), come home and beat Pittsburgh. Point being, the 5-2 start has not changed the fundamental underlying truth about the 2008 Washington Redskins—they’re an unknown quantity; a team in its first season under a new regime.

They are a work in progress; the team we see today is not the team we’ll see in six weeks, or eight, or a year from now.

They are learning on the fly … and, as it happens, learning how to win while doing so.

The 2008 Redskins are a wonderful surprise midway through the season. Perhaps to a fault, as their fast start has set in motion a media machine eager to crown (and then chop off at the knees if possible) “the Next.” Well, shame on the media for already looking for chinks in the shiny suit of armor they themselves prematurely created. Shame on them for suggesting the Redskins “should” run roughshod over the likes of St. Louis, Cleveland or Detroit. A month ago, many those same solemn sages were dismissing Washington AS such a team.

The real shame, though, is if those among us who actually follow the Redskins on a daily basis, and understand the context in which 5-2 has been achieved, let ourselves forget said context and buy into the hype created by those paid to ignore it.

If someone had come to you before the opener and offered a guaranteed 5-3 start to Jim Zorn’s first season—straight up, with no qualifiers—what would you have you have said?

I know what I would have said. “Show me where to sign.”

Well, here we are two months later and the Redskins have a shot at doing better than that. By Sunday night they may very well hand us a 6-2 start, wrapped up with a big bow in Sunday Night’s nationally televised home date with the Pittsburgh Steelers … and a chance—a chance—to hit the bye week 7-2 and starting to look like the real deal.

But that’s thing. It’s a chance to do something great. It is not—or at least it shouldn’t be—an expectation. Not yet. Don’t buy into the hype. 5-2 is a wonderful way to start a new regime, no question. But in the real world, this is still a new team, with a new dynamic, still finding itself and its way. It’s a team seven games into crafting a new identity. That it is winning while doing so is cause for joyful, yet measured, celebration.

Forget style points. All that matters right now is the left column in the standings … earning wins while the foundation solidifies, by any means necessary, and perhaps setting the table for January adventures worthy of the kind of hype and expectation being bandied about so cavalierly today.

Don’t keep moving the bar, fellow Redskins fans.

We’re supposed to know better.

14 comments:

LizKauai said...

Whew, I guess I needed that cold shower!
Thanks, OM!

Now back to business-
SEE YOU IN THE SUPERBOWL!!!

YEE HA!

;-)

Mark "Om" Steven said...

I was kinda going for "cool shower." Guess my temp gauge was off. :)

Ah well, look at the bright side--we'll be clean and smell good at the Lion taming.

M.

Anonymous said...

Instead of the cold, or cool, shower everyone is talking about, I'd like to thank the writer of this excellent piece of writing, and for the much needed......

BURGANDY AND GOLD SHOWER!!!


Seriously though, the Washington Redskins, by all measure and BS, as clearly referred to above, expectations thrown out of the window, really should at LEAST cover the miniscule in my opinion spread against this horrendous Detroit Lions defense. I know we should be thankful and satisfied with the way the Redskins have defied expectations and battled to a very respectable and strong 5-2 record in clearly the strongest, toughest and most hard nosed kick u in the groin after kicking your dog division in the League. But there comes a time in which the Leagues most talented and dedicated rusher, one of the leagues most talented and mistake free young quarterbacks, and THE LEAGUES most undervalued and often overlooked defense, need to quit playing down to other teams levels (I know its only happened for 2 weeks, but....) and put them away. If the Redskins do not start pulling the trigger and killing these teams early in the game, bad things are going to happen. If you look at the last 2 weeks, statistically, it looked like we completely DOMINATED THESE GAMES. But, in turn, letting them hang around, fumbling the football in both games, in positions when we are about to score, and then giving them the ball so they can take full advantage of a 2 score swing, is going to give the game away and instead of that coveted and earned "W", against better equipped teams later on down the road, we will most definitely get an uncoveted "L".

mechanix544 said...

The redskins really are playing down to other teams levels. They need to start putting these teams away. As stated above, I know that its only happened the past 2 weeks, but it could develop into a problem that inhibits the skins ability to get some much needed wins. In all fairness, the redskins didnt allow the rams to even get CLOSE to scoring a offensive touchdown in that game, and even with 4 fumbles, 3 recovered by the Rams, the redskins should have still pulled that game out. That is a great testament to the strength of this often overlooked and never respected team. This week, in my opinion, is a very important week. If the skins beat the lions by more than 10 points, then it will show that the skins, even after the rams debacle, can put crappy teams away, and deserve to be talked about when the topic is the NFL's elite.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Anon,

Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I agree with you completely ... the next step in this teams' evolution--if it's in fact turning into the team we think it is--has to be developing an assassin's mentality on offense.

I think chances are good they will, as Zorn and Campbell continue to develop trust and understanding of what the other sees/wants/needs. We've seen what the offense is capable in bursts, so we know they have the tools. The rest of the season will be all about continuing to chip away at the block of granite until the statue within is revealed.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

mechanix,

Sunday is definitely a measuring stick game. One of the things that separates good teams from the pack is the ability to consistently win the games they "should" win. What separates the great teams from the good teams is the ability to consistently win those games convincingly.

The Redskins may yet turn into a great team, but at least for now, all I'm realistically expecting from them is to show they can be "good" week in a week out.

Here's to making that a short stay before movin' on up though.

mechanix544 said...

Mark,

BTW, the anonymous comment was me, just posted before i signed up on your blog. I really appreciate your insight, knowledge of the games and ability to thread significant statistics and thoughts into a well written and planned out post. Bravo for being an excellent sports writer, but double bravo for your love of this great team. Being that i live here in idaho at this time, its hard for me to find a fellow skins devotee that i can sit down and have an intellectual and meaningful conversation that has some substance and can hold my attention. From looking back at the archives and your latest blogs, I look forward to reading your thoughts, commenting on them and watching this team eventually catapult into greatness. (Just a quick hit tho, I really look forward to Kelly getting back and healthy, and putting him as the #2 and lining him up in the slot with Moss and R'El. Wanna kno your thoughts on your expectations on that. Do you think that after a few more games and even a couple more seasons, do you forsee this WR corps really vaulting themselves among the leagues elite? Its a topic that not many fans have talked about lately, but with the type of offense we run complimented by Mr. Portis, I am really excited about the possibilities of Kelly as a big, sure handed and fast reciever opposite S.M. and Antawn.) Anywho, heres to a big win on Sunday, and HAIL!!!! to all those naysayers!!!! Playoffs, here we come!

- Mechanix544

mechanix544 said...

Just looked at your profile, and it says that u are from virginia. I was born in Alexandria, and grew up in a small town called Woodstock in the Shenendoah valley. Just wondering, have you ever eaten at 5 guys burgers and fries? EXCELLENT eatery and burger joint, not to mention that Mark Mosely owns a bunch of em. LOL, I was in VA last year and i got his autograph and a couple pics taken with him at the resteraunt in woodstock. Pretty cool, but if you've never tried them, u should, especially since your a die hard skins fanatic m8! TTYL!

AstonJay32 said...

Aw, come on... one bad prediction and you go all conservative on us? :)

This time, I've tried to get nervous about this game. Tried to tell myself Campbell is still shaky, the offense is still in progress, they have nothing to lose, we're looking ahead to Pittsburgh. Trying to think trap game. Trying to build up the home field advantage. Trying to be scared of ... that polish dude they got under center.

Not happening. In fact, if you're a numbers guy, this shouldn't be a matchup at all:

QB
WAS 129 for 202 (64%), 1426 yds, 7 TD, 0 INT, 96.3 QB rating
DET 39 for 74 (52.7%), 518 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT, 72.9 QB rating

RB
WAS 163 for 818 (5.0), 116.9 /game, 7 TD
DET 52 for 256 (4.9), 42.7 / game, 3 TD

WR
DET 25 for 531, 21.2 / catch, 4 TD
WAS 33 for 518, 15.7 / catch, 4 TD

TE
WAS 34 for 377, 11.1 /catch, 1 TD
DET 7 for 61, 8.7 /catch, 0 TD

Offense
Passing
WAS (19th) - 195.4 / game
DET (22nd) - 187.3 / game
Rushing
WAS (3rd) - 158.1 / game
DET (30th) - 77.7 / game
Scoring
WAS (23rd) - 20.0 / game
DET (27th) - 16.2 / game

Defense
Passing
WAS (12th) - 192.3 / game
DET (31st) - 251.2 / game
Rushing
WAS (7th) - 86.4 / game
DET (31st) - 167.5 / game (REALLY!)
Scoring
WAS (8th) - 18.3 pts/game
DET (32nd) - 31.2 pts/game

So, we may not need to win big, or have to win big, but based on the reality I'm in, we don't have an excuse not to kick the shit of these guys. :)

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Mechanix,

- On the receivers, along with the need for at least one more pass rushing interior down lineman, that may be what stands between the Redskins and being a legit championship contender. We’ve seen how limiting Santana Moss downfield affects the Skins offense the past two weeks.

Until and unless the Skins develop a consistent 2nd WR option to move the chains and occasionally break one, we’re still a half-step below the top offenses. All we can do is wait to see if we have that guy from among the rookie crop.

- My wife grew up in Stephens City. We know from the valley. :)

Since you’ve lived around here, 5 Guys has exploded. They’re opening stores all over the place. In fact, there’s one about 1.5 miles from my house in Woodbridge. Which is a good thing ... aside from the effect on my boyish figure.

Whatcha gonna do?

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Aston,

1) My prediction wasn’t *that* bad. But for a late turnover when the Skins were running out the clock, they dominate statistically and win by 11. I predicted 14. Where I guess I screwed up was not anticipating Campbell’s limiting groin injury on the first series or CP’s fumble on the last. :)

2) I’m *not* a numbers guy--I’m a “feel” guy to whom numbers are but one factor among many. So there.

As to not having an excuse should we not [punt the stuffing] out of the Lions … all I will add to the original piece at this point is this:

They’re certainly capable of it. And there’s a good chance they’ll do it. But only great teams should have that kind of expectation pinned to them in today’s NFL, and I don’t believe the Redskins have earned that tag yet. It’s too soon.

LizKauai said...

Om is good.
Om is wise.
Om protects us from ourselves...

GO REDSKINS!

Fanzak.com said...

A couple of good Skins articles

http://www.fanzak.com/fzrants/The_Dismal_Days_in_the_Big_D

http://www.fanzak.com/fzrants/The_Anti_Bandwagon

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Nothing wrong with a little self-promotion I guess. Feel free to actually comment on the topic next time as well.

BTW, I'm fine with the premise, but not sure the "Anti-Bandwagon" piece was necessarily the right one to lead with today ...

"Just wait until next week after they lose to the lowly Lions and they are 5-3. The record is still good, but the cushion that they gained by beating the Cowboys and Eagles will be gone. We have to start now before it is too late."

Oops.