October 1, 2008

Steady As She Goes

These are heady times for Redskins fans. And why not … a quarter of the way into the season, their team is 3-1, with a bullet, and they’re aglow from as satisfying a win over their silver-and-blue nemesis as any in recent memory.

The times are also a little confusing. Long accustomed to false starts and dashed hopes, Redskins fans are also asking themselves one key question … is this for real? Are the 3-1 Redskins the contender they appeared to be going on the road and pushing around America’s Drama Queens, or are they just the Flavor-of-the-Week?

We all know about the FOW … hell, Arizona came here two weeks ago practically dripping of it.

Well, making an objective decision about what’s really going on here hasn’t been easy. Everywhere you look these days, the people who bring you the FOW are doing their level best to make our heads spin.

Whether it’s Sagarin’s computer concluding the Redskins are the league’s best team, or the NFL’s official site splashed with burgundy and gold, or even the latest power rankings … Redskins fans who follow the league on a daily basis are finding their favorite team getting love just about everywhere. Hell, the cranky old weather vanes hosting local sportstalk radio calling the Redskins “we” already.

Of course, as thinking Redskins fans, we know better than to buy into the hype. Thing is, the Redskins themselves haven’t exactly been making objectivity easy, either. In fact, if you let yourself “go there,” it’s not hard to make the case that all things burgundy and gold seem to be falling together.


Left for dead after week one, the Redskins offense has morphed just three weeks later into whatever comes one step below juggernaut. Facing a Dallas defense the football universe preached all week would stifle Clinton Portis and blitz Jason Campbell into submission, all the Redskins did was methodically grind said defense into the dirt. 38-plus minutes of time of possession in the NFL is akin to child abuse.

The worst anyone seems to be able to say about their performance is that they “only” scored 26 points despite six trips into the red zone. Thing is … they made six trips into the red zone. And put together long, time consuming scoring drives at crucial times. And made big plays throughout. And converted 3rd downs. And had two TD’s nullified by penalties. You get the drift.

And at the risk of beating a dead horse … the single biggest factor behind the offensive surge has been the Pro Bowl level of play from their quarterback. There are any number of reasons for Campbell's sudden emergence (enough to merit a long column of their own), but bottom line, Jason Campbell is currently playing the position as well as anyone in football.

As long as he continues to do that, the Redskins will continue to win. The only thing that will change is people’s perceptions.


All the defense has done is continues to produce results. Last week I looked at the comparative numbers the Redskins D produced against the other teams they had played. Let’s do it again:

Dallas’ offense is currently ranked 2nd in the NFL. In their other three games, they scored 28 (CLE), 41 (PHI) and 27 (GB) points. The Redskins held them to 24. The ‘boys went for 487 yards against the Browns, 380 against the Eagles, and 452 against the Pack. The Redskins allowed 344.*

And as far as time of possession:

vs. CLE – 37:29
vs. PHI – 29:02
vs. GB - 32:12
vs. WAS – 21:51

* As anyone who watched the whole game knows, 153 of those yards and 10 of those points came against Washington’s singularly ineffective “prevent” defense (more on that below) in two drives; one at the end of the half (66 yards, FG), other in the frantic final minutes before the on-sides kick attempt (87 yards, TD).

If I have a bone pick, it's this:

In theory, the decision to play prevent—er, containment zone--both at the end of the half and the game--was sound. It really was. Drama or no drama, that was still one of the league’s most explosive offenses over there. Mitigating against the cheap, quick score by playing it tight was the smart move.

But GEEZ. I’ve been watching football for going on four decades, and I don’t believe I have ever seen a team as bad as the Redskins at playing prev—containment zone. I don’t know why that is; the line seems to pressure about the same as other teams, and they have a comparatively strong secondary (even with Springs sidelined). But when the Skins go CZ, I go out of the room. Okay not really, I do go out of my mind. Because we simply ... cannot … seem … to cover anybody.

Coach Zorn, I know you’re not reading this, but if in addition to your charm, wit and apparent nascent coaching wizardry you also happen to pick up random external mental projection … fortheluvagodman, please sit down with Coach Blache and come up with a way to get the CZ to put up at least token resistance.

This particular fan's digestive system would be forever grateful.

Special Teams

Still a little nervous about kickoff coverage? Me too. Because it seems at least once per game someone gets out of their lane and some flying return man makes a beeline for it. But that’s about my only gripe.

The rookie punter seems to have decided to swim. Antwaan Randle El catches everything, and has mercifully stopped running backwards. And perhaps most importantly, it’s beginning to look like the revolving door at placekicker may finally have stopped spinning.

Hats off to Shaun Suisham. Not only did he go 4-for-4 in a true early-season pressure cooker, he decided to [mess] with Cowboys fans heads as well. In addition to drilling three straight down the middle, he also Beckhamed one around the left upright that, to those of us watching on TV, looked a good yard wide. Sadly for Dallas fans grasping for excuses, however, the referee whose job it is to decide if a kick is good or not was standing directly under the upright, looking up at the actual flight of the ball ... not watching from home on TV with stars in his eyes and a beer hat on his head.



I’ll save the full version of this for another day, but the fact is that on Sunday this Redskins team looked as well-coached, disciplined, prepared and on-task from top to bottom, as any in recent memory. Jim Zorn, Greg Blache and the assistants all seem to be working in concert, and the players give every indication of buying in. As a fan, you can’t ask for anything more.

Plus, as I admitted halfway through his initial introductory press conference, I fell for Coach Zorn the man almost immediately. Now it’s starting to look like he might not only be a good coach, but … careful here if you’re afraid of heights … you can almost begin to believe he could have the makings of a great one.

But let’s keep that one sheathed for a while.




For years, deflected passes and fumbles always seemed to seek out the hands of the other team—more often than not, hopping up conveniently to a guy in full stride heading the other way. This year, the bouncing ball is finding Redskin hands … happily and coincidentally at the same time Redskin hands suddenly seem coated with Lester Hayes potion.

For years, the borderline whistle has always seemed to go against the Redskins, at the worst possible moment. Well, now that I think about it, given not one but two recalled TD’s Sunday, that may still be the case. Still, where in years past that would almost certainly have been the story of yet another crushing loss, this year the refs (those handsome, honorable fellows) decided to make good on their obvious inadvertence by allowing the Cowboys' Pacman Jones head to be spun a la Linda Blair, and Jon Jansen to get a head start on a certain key play (hey he’s old—give him a break). So maybe it’s a wash.

Know what? Given what we've dealt with the past 17 years, that's found money.

Big Picture

Here’s the thing: while fans remain understandably nervous/skeptical that this might all be a mirage, the players clearly do not. They went into Dallas confident, respecting the opponent but with an attitude. They were not intimidated by The Dallas Cowboys, and there is no reason to believe they will be intimidated by the Philadelphia Eagles either.

When you hear how MLB London Fletcher organized his defensive teammates to come in on the day after such a huge win, their off day, to study film on their next opponent, it’s not hard to see the makings of a serious professional football team coalescing before our eyes.

That doesn’t just bode well for 2008, but given all the other positive indicators, shines a whole new light on what the next few years might have in store for the team from the Nation's Capital.

Should the Skins lose Sunday, it won’t mean they’re going to spiral to 5-11 … just that they weren’t able to go on the road for the second straight week and beat another legit contender, in this case one needing a win so bad they can taste it.

And should the Skins win Sunday, it won’t mean they’re going to finish 13-3 and play deep into January … just that they are far, far ahead of where any reasonable preseason expectations had them, and are a legitimate topic of conversation at the grownups table again.

Back in Focus

Like I said, heady times. But we’re also not far enough removed from 17 years of Norvalian Swoons, Atomic Lip Boogies and assorted last second-heartbreaks to head into a game like Sunday's in Philadelphia without a residual sense of trepidation.

Well ... I say screw that. Enjoy Sunday.

Sure there’s a chance the Eagles will rise up and grab a convincing win. They’re a good team, coming off a loss looking to avoid a 2-3 start in a prohibitively tough division, playing in front of as rabid a crowd as there is in football. But if the last three weeks have proven nothing else, it’s that the 2008 Redskins are a pretty tough out themselves—if you’re going to beat them, better bring your A game.

Worst case (excluding injury), the Redskins emerge from their two-week road gauntlet 3-2, with three games (two at home) coming up against teams sporting a current combined record of 1-10. Best case, they head into that stretch 4-1 … and look out.

Point is, as I’ve suggested before, enjoy the moment. Championships are the ultimate prize, and it’s natural and healthy to aspire to them, but the road there is where you find the real magic.

It’s in watching the reputation, relevance and universal perception of your team morph from afterthought to player before your eyes.

It’s about looking out over the NFL landscape from a higher, sweeter vantage point.

It’s about the sudden realization that all around the football world, fans of other teams long perceived as afterthoughts are looking at yours the way you look at the guy tapping the new keg right after you just tried the buffalo wings labeled “At Your Own Risk.”

Revel, yes. Be in a rush to see where this is all heading? No.

Steady as she goes.


Public Service Announcement

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of a personal item misplaced at Texas Stadium on 9/28/08, please contact Mr. T. Newman at:

1 Cowboys Parkway
Irving, TX 75063-472
(972) 556-9900


Late Breaking News

NFL.com: Redskins vs. Dallas as Game of the Week. It just keeps getting better.



Rich Tandler said...

Good stuff as always, Mark.

In my blog I'm trying to think back to '05 and '07 when there also were 3-1 starts. This feels a little different, I think, but it's still early.

The difference is Zorn. He may prove to be a better coach for this team at this time than was Gibbs.

But, again, it's still early.

Mark "Om" Steven said...


Thank you sir.

Agreed on the different feel. The one thing I keep coming back to as THE big difference is the play we're getting at QB. We haven't had anyone play at this level since the first half of '99 and Brad Johnson.

To be honest, the rest of the team doesn't look all that different to me than the past couple of years. Better organized and less conservative offensively, but still not all that different.

I'll keep writing it 'til I'm blue in the face---when your QB is playing at Pro Bowl level, unless the rest of your team is just plain lousy, you're going to win.

Got my fingers crossed that Jason has officially turned the corner and moved in, rather than just visiting in this swanky new neighborhood.


Anonymous said...


As always, I love your stuff. The way Z is calling plays reminds me of how Gibbs-I used to feel... how Art Monk always got 8 yards when we needed 7 for the 1st.

Been way too damn long since I felt that confidence that our team was better coached and more focused than the other guys, and not just simply getting lucky. Now, I am just barely allowing myself the chance to feel it again... and DAMN it feels good!

Too early to know if it will blossom, but I am gonna enjoy it for at least the next week :)


Mark "Om" Steven said...

Wow, a house call. :)

With you, brother. Early in that final, clock-eating drive, I found myself shaking my head with each successive running play, and grumbling about how we need to "stay agressive."

But as Zorn kept pounding it, and they marched methodically--brutally, even--down the field ... at one point I turned to my son, and found myself simply smiling.

It was 1983 and the Riggo Drill all over again.

Loving every second of this.


Anonymous said...

EXACTLY what I was looking for. Excellent tone, steady as she goes... almost in the same sense as Zorn's "stay medium" statements.

You think this town and the football world in general is in a whirl now, if we actually take down Philly... That will be a most interesting blog post to read.

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