November 3, 2008

Three Keys to MNF vs Steelers


Had a longer list working, but in the end I distilled it down to three keys. Well ... four actually. Couldn't help myself.

See if you don't agree.

1. Jason Campbell

Campbell will need to take another step up. His overall play this year has been above reproach—witness zero interceptions reflecting excellent decision-making with the ball. But that care does has not come without a cost.

The kind of quick-strike touchdowns that can break close, defensive games open rarely come from conservative decisions, they more often than not come from bold downfield forays to receivers that are, by conservative standards, “covered.”

I’ve been watching Campbell closely for signs of finding enough of a comfort level in the new passing scheme, and in Jim Zorn’s trust factor, to start taking some chances downfield … and my instinct is telling me the Redskins will need him to take the risk tonight. Ball control and field goals won’t be enough.

2. Avoid the Slow Start

The Redskins have developed a troubling habit of winning the yardage and time of possession battles early, but failing to turn them into points. That won’t cut it tonight either. Falling behind by more than a score against a pass-rush-happy team like Pittsburgh, particularly with a slowed or absent Chris Samuels on Jason Campbell’s blind side, could be too much to overcome.

Here’s hoping the Redskins come out swinging from the opening gun and be the ones to set the early tone—not the other way around, as has been the case since the Philadelphia game in week four.

3. Catch the Damn Ball

There will be opportunities for Redskins defenders to pick off Ben Roethlisberger tonight—off deflections at the line of scrimmage, and on the kind of attacking passes mentioned above. Roethlisberger, in a word, is not shy about taking risks with the ball or forcing it into coverage.

In what shapes up as a classic defensive slugfest (now watch this one end 38-35), turnovers and field position will almost certainly be the difference. Washington simply cannot continue to let those opportunities slip through their fingers—not tonight.

And one to grow on:

4. Smack ‘em in the Mouth

Pittsburgh is one of the few teams in the league that comes into a game with a reputation that can have a tangible impact on the result. Baltimore and Philadelphia have earned it with their defense over the past decade. The Raiders used to have it before a decade of Al Davis’ ridiculous excesses frittered it away.

And the Pittsburgh Steelers most definitely have it, having managed to keep it alive 30 years since crafting it during their magical run in the 70’s.

Tonight, on their home field, under the bright lights of Monday Night Football’s national stage, the Redskins must match the intensity and physicality you can be sure Pittsburgh will bring to the table. And they need to do it right from the start.

What holds true for the schoolyard bully holds true at the highest level of sport—the way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him and make it clear you’re not backing down. And if that’s not enough, you smack him in the mouth and let him know you’re going to be there all day.


Tonight’s game is a great opportunity for the Redskins to take “the next step” ... to go from “surprising first half story” to “team to be reckoned with" down the stretch.

Losing to the Steelers wouldn’t be a disaster—at 6-3, Washington would still be in prime position to make a playoff run. But it would be a huge missed opportunity to announce to the league—and more importantly, themselves—that they are now one of those teams you’d better have your chinstrap locked down tight against from the opening gun.

Nike had it right, Redskins.

Just do it.


Anonymous said...

awesome job the insight

Unknown said...

I don't disagree with your assessment but I think the Skins have proven they can go toe-to-toe in a physical contest with anyone this year. I don't think that will be as important as proving they can put points on the board against a decent defense - heck they've had trouble against weak defenses!

That ties in with your "big play from Campbell" and "avoid the slow start ideas". Somehow they've got to put the ball in the endzone, and if Moss is out, that becomes that much tougher.

I may be the only Redskins fan who's still a little uneasy about this team. They've won big games, but I'm still not sure what I'm seeing. Hopefully tonight will bring things into focus.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Thanks, stat. We'll find out in a few hours whether it was insight or the proberbial fart in the wind.


That's fair. The Skins have yet to be physically overmatched and there's no reason other than leftover Norvousness to suspect that will happen tonight. Here's to staring the bully down.

As to the scoring issues, to me that's 100% a function of the learning curve. New coach, new system, new offense. The last part of any offense to gel is the red zone, where the field is compressed and it's all about the fine-tuning. It will come.

The gratifying thing is that the team has been able to win games even while learning on the fly. Could suggest big things down the road.

Richard said...

Great assessment of the opportunity tonight. Coach Z is as much in the spotlight as Campbell, in as much as play calling will certainly make a huge difference in this game. I see this as the stark contrast between Gibbs and Zorn. Gibbs played too much ball control and field position football to make the skins winners in his last tenure. Also looking forward to both physical and mental toughness against a team that hits back.

Mark "Om" Steven said...


Absolutely right--this one's a Zorn Referendum as well. It was one the "keys" I ended up taking out in the interest of brevity, but it was right there.

Zorn has answered every challenge so far and earned the benefit of the doubt tonight as well. Here's hoping he's approaching this as an opportunity to be the aggressor as opposed to just counterpunching.

Lizkauai said...

Om strikes again...
Way to call it!
Now for the lessons learned and improving for the next game.

Go Redskins!s

Unknown said...

Well Mark, you were right. Unfortunately the Skins whiffed on most of your keys. JC didn't handle the pressure well, even when it wasn't there. I was a little disappointed in his performance but that happens.

Carlos did it again. A huge pick slips through his hands. Definitely a different game if he takes that one back.

Start fast? Nope. Got the ball in Steelers territory on the first two possessions and couldn't get a first down.

I'm not dismayed though. Pitt was better last night and I think they're a better team overall. No shame in losing this game. The rest of the season will have lots of ups and downs for this team that's still growing.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

I have to admit that when Rogers let that damn ball (and arguably the game) slip through his fingers, I thought about this silly blog entry and wished I hadn't mentioned it.

Bottom line, for me this one was about Zorn getting schooled by a future HOF defensive coord in Dick LeBeau. That man had the Steelers one step ahead of the Skins O all night.

Hopefully, Zorn will incorporate the hard lesson learned and come out the other end of this game a better coach.

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