October 30, 2008

At the Half – 2008 Redskins

At mid-season, perhaps the biggest surprise in the NFL is wearing burgundy and gold.

It hasn't only only caught outside observers off guard, either. The Washington Redskins have been a hugely pleasant surprise for their own fans; fans who just two months ago had little more to base their hopes and expectations on than last season’s emotional run to the playoff following the death of emerging superstar Sean Taylor ... and hopes that the winning would somehow carry over through a complicated transition from legendary head coach Joe Gibbs to new offensive coordinator-cum-rookie head coach Jim Zorn.

No doubt about it, the end of last season was quite a ride—as was the offseason that brought us to New York City opening night.

But it pales in comparison with what’s happened since.

Preseason Expectations

Blown out of the water. If you’re reading this, you probably already know the litany; new coach, new offense, QB learning yet another new system, etc. And yet here are the Washington Redskins, at 6-2, breathing rarified atop all the power rankings and giving very indication of being a team with not just a good shot at qualifying for the playoffs but making some noise once they get there.

Having burst from the gate as they have, of course, the Redskins have created for themselves a whole new set of expectations. For many fans and observers—regardless of how good or bad they thought the team would be before season started—anything less than a playoffs berth (and at least one game) after such a start will have them describing 2008 as a disappointment.

And frankly, unless the team gets hit with a significant number of key injuries, you’re probably looking (metaphorically) at one of them.

But that’s for later. For now, I hope I can safely say there are few fans of the burgundy and gold not feeling pretty damn good about things this week. As first halves of first seasons of new regimes go, I’d say this one rates at least as high as … well … can you think of one better?

Coach Zorn

Fact is, since about halfway through his first press conference ("maroon and black" notwithstanding), I've been taken with the man. Today, halfway through his debut season, I’m pretty much taken with the Coach as well.

Oh sure, it’s possible the universe is playing a cruel joke on Redskins fans and we’ll wake up this time next year recalling a Noravalian collapse in 2008 and maybe staring at 1-7 … but sitting here today, there is no sound reason—none, zilch, zero, squadoosh (what ever happened to Rich Gilgallon, anyway?)—to believe so. The man has shown nothing but aptitude, attitude and would seem to rapidly be gaining altitude.

It’s starting to look like we have something here.

Of course, we do still live in the real world:


The Washington offense, as good as it has been at ball control, moving smartly up and down the field and showing flashes of brilliance, still has a ways to go. As Zorn will tell you himself, any drive that don’t end in a touchdown is a disappointment, and his offense has had a lot of them.

The Redskins are moving the ball between the 20’s as well as anyone in football, but aren’t there” yet in the red zone (39%, 17th).

There’s good news and bad news on that front.

As often as not, it’s the Redskins themselves causing themselves to come up short. Penalties, dropped passes, botched handoffs … the kind of self-inflicted errors that bail out back-peddling defenses and force your offense to “settle” for field goal attempts that end up feeling as much failure as success. The good news is that it’s correctable.

The bad news is that until you do correct it, you’re keeping teams you are otherwise dominating in games, and perhaps fatally reducing your margin for error at the end.

This may well be the key area to watch the rest of the way. Until and unless the 2008 Redskins begin finishing a higher percentage of drives by punching into the end zone, they won’t take the next step from playoff contender to championship contender.

And make no mistake, it’s a big step.


If there’s one other area as central to the continued, or increased, success of this team, it’s in forcing defensive turnovers. More good news and bad.

The good news is the Redskins continue to take care of the ball offensively as well as anyone in the league, having coughed it up just six times in eight games. In the NFC, only the defending champion NY Giants have protected it better, burping it up just four times in seven games. And you may be surprised to learn that the only other team in the NFL with less than six giveaways on the season are the six in seven games gacked up by Bill Parcells’ Oklahoma Dolphins.

The bad news is, after a promising start to the season, it’s déjà vu all over again and Washington's defense can't take it away. After a rollicking start (recall Chris Horton’s debut against New Orleans?), forcing 1, 3, 2, and 1 in their first four games, the Redskins have settled back into a troubling pattern of forcing 0, 1, 0 and 0 in their last four.

That’s not going to cut it. This too leaves too little margin for error, and puts too much pressure on an offense to have to march the length of the field for points on every possession. Today’s NFL is just too unforgiving for that—even against the “bad” defenses.

It’s not like the Redskins aren’t getting their hands on loose balls, they’re simply not coming up with them. If they’re going to be a serious player down the stretch, the Redskins are going to need the occasional short field for their offense, perhaps even—gasp—the occasional defensive TD. You remember the last one?

Bet you’re having to think about it.

As much as any aspect of pro football besides having a Pro Bowl-level QB doing his thing, creating turnovers and getting the easy (a relative term) points that often come with them separates the teams that end up dancing in January from those that end up watching on TV with the rest of us.

Meanwhile, back on the sunny side of the street …

The Tall Kid Behind Center

In my view, the emergence of Jason Campbell in the last seven games is the single biggest on-field difference between the 2008 Redskins and any team it has fielded in a least fifteen years.

The offensive line is playing well, but not that much better than over the past couple of years when healthy.

Clinton Portis is running the hell out of the ball, but yard total notwithstanding, not that much better than in years past.

Santana Moss is being Santana Moss—meaning, when healthy and not the sole focus of opposing defenses, almost unstoppable—but basically doing the same breathtaking things he’s always done.

And the defense, while admittedly revitalized and more than exceeding expectations themselves, are also not playing all that much better than in years past.

No, says here the main reason the Redskins are 6-2 is the elevated play of their young quarterback. Credit to Jim Zorn, the offensive coaches and all the players around him for helping in his development, but mostly, credit to Jason Campbell for looking into the abyss late in the fourth quarter of the Saints game, seeing nothing looking back, and in that moment finding his character.

A cheroot to the first person who gets the reference.

For the time being, heading into games with the Redskins, opponents are still talking about stopping Clinton Portis. As they should—man’s a beast. Says here, though, that by the end of the season they’ll be talking about stopping Jason Campbell.

Always Be Closing, Part I

Speaking of JC, a quick statistical interlude:

1st Qtr: 39-for-61 (63.9%), 315 yds, 0 TD, 0 INT, QB Rating 76.9
2nd Qtr: 46-for-72 (63.9%), 583 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT, QB Rating 103.0
3rd Qtr: 33-for-49 (67.3%), 385 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT, QB Rating 104.5
4th Qtr: 34-for-48 (70.8%), 471 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT, QB Rating 122.8

Have you noticed something missing from conversations about the Redskins young quarterback of late? I have. No one is talking about his inability to close the deal any more. With games on the line, Campbell has been raising his game to Pro Bowl level. Which happens to be what separates good quarterbacks from great ones.

Jason has also been shown remarkable consistency and steadiness on the road, something I suspect most of us rarely think about. This stat certainly jumped out at me ... you might find it encouraging as well.

HOME: 78-for-115 (67.8%), 886 yds, 4 TD, 0 INT, QB Rating 102.3
AWAY: 74-for-115 (64.3%), 868 yds, 4 TD, 0 INT, QB Rating 98.8

Bottom line, the confidence that Campbell’s clutch play is earning from his teammates week after week may well prove the difference between a depressing December and a joyous January. It's a quarterback's league, and the Redskins, after lo these many years, appear to have finally found theirs.

Always Be Closing, Part II

Through eight games, this may be the single most encouraging and exciting thing about this young team:

It finishes.

.............1st Qtr......2nd Qtr......3rd Qtr...... 4th Qtr

The Redskins have been at their best, both offensively and defensively, in the fourth quarter. It will certainly make things less stressful for those watching if and when they get past the slow starts and stop having to finish strong every week … but, fact is, with games on the line, the Redskins been able to bear down and make that one last, clutch play that they absolutely have to have.

Don’t discount that—that’s the same one last, clutch play this team has consistently not made for longer than any of us care to remember.

It guarantees nothing, of course ... but it does suggest.

It suggests physical stamina and mental toughness—the ability to bear down when the body is screaming. It suggests sound halftime adjustments. It suggests a team you better not turn your back on should you happen to knock them down early.

If the Redskins can translate that in-game, closers mentality to the 2008 season, we may well be watching the start of something special.

Half a season gone, Skins fans.

Half a season—and perhaps a little more—to go.


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.

October 17, 2008

Harmonic Convergence

Tried all week to be nervous about Sunday. Listened to my gut. Gave it my best objective, intellectual effort.

Couldn’t do it.

And it’s not like I gave the opponent short shrift ...

I watched Monday Night. I saw Cleveland rise up and take out the undefeated defending Super Bowl Champion Giants in front a raucous, re-energized Kennel Club.

I watched last year’s out-of-nowhere media darling, QB Derek Anderson, play lights out, throwing for 300-plus and two scores.

I watched WR Braylon Edwards haul in 5 passes for 154 yards and a TD, looking every bit the part of the mercurial 21st-century wide receiver superstar.

I watched RB Jamal Lewis, he of 295-yard potential, grind out 88 tough ones against the defending champions’ celebrated defense.

I watched the Cleveland defense harass and/or bait Eli Manning into happy feet and essentially throwing away the game with three “wtf was he thinking?” interceptions.

I even watched Head Coach Romeo Crennel do a pretty good impression of a guy you really don’t want to piss off.

No doubt about it, the Browns looked pretty good. And they’re coming to Washington this weekend confident their two-game win streak has righted their ship. Thing is, Sunday isn’t going to be about Cleveland.

It’s going be about the Washington Redskins.

Yes, Derek Anderson had a great game. Good thing too, given his numbers on the season.

Derek Anderson (29th): 76-of-146 (52.1%), 853 yds (170.6/gm), 5 TD, 6 INT, Rating 64.1
Jason Campbell (8th): 115-for-179 (64.2%), 1262 yds (210.3/gm), 6 TD, 0 INT, Rating 96.2

Does the disparity guarantee a Redskins win? Of course not. Just that one team has a clear edge, and it isn’t Cleveland.

Yes, Jamaal Lewis has been, and can be, a monster. He’s probably going to need to be.

Jamal Lewis (17th): 90 carries, 323 yds (64.6/gm), 3.6 avg, 1 TD
Clinton Portis (1st): 136 carries, 643 yds (107.2/gm), 4.7 avg, 6 TD

Does the difference guarantee a Redskins win? Of course not. Just that one team has a clear edge, and it isn’t Cleveland.

Yes, Braylon Edwards had an impact game against the Giants. And it helped his overall numbers.

Braylon Edwards (67th): 16 rec, 259 yds, 15.6 avg, 2TD
Santana Moss (14th): 29 rec, 443 yds, 15.3 avg, 3 TD

Does Moss’ superior production, even on the heels of two quiet games, guarantee a Redskins win? Of course not. Just that one team has a clear edge, and it isn’t Cleveland.

I understand TE Kellen Winslow, Jr. will play. Probably a good thing.

Kellen Winslow, Jr. (54th): 19 rec, 170 yds, 8.9 avg, 1 TD
Chris Cooley (11th): 30 rec, 345 yds, 11.5 avg, 1TD

In fact, if you’re a serious numbers guy, this game hardly looks like a matchup at all.


Passing: WAS (17th), 201.7 ypg; CLE (26th), 161 ypg
Rushing: WAS (3rd), 152.3 ypg; CLE (23rd), 98.4 ypg
Scoring: WAS (14th), 20.5 ppg; CLE (27th), 15.6 ppg


Passing: CLE (11th), 188 ypg; WAS (13th), 202 ypg
Rushing: WAS (6th), 83.8 ypg; CLE (25th), 137 ypg
Scoring: WAS (23rd), 19.5 ppg*; CLE (25th), 20.4 ppg

* 21 of 117 total points surrendered from 2 punts returns and 1 fumble return. Defense itself has surrendered 16 ppg.


FG: WAS (6th), 12-for-15, 126 pts; CLE (22nd), 8-for-9, 89 pts
Punting: CLE (19th), 21 punts, 44.8 avg, 0 TD; WAS (21st), 26 punts, 39.6 avg, 2TD

Well, at least in perhaps Washington’s weakest area, punting, the Browns have the edge. Does that advantage mean the Brown will win? It helped the Rams. But two weeks in a row? You decide.

I know what you’re thinking—it isn’t about numbers. Hell, the Redskins had even more favorable statistical matchups going into the Rams debacle.

And of course you’re right. I know it too. Thing is, the reason I’m not nervous about this game has little to do with statistics (though it felt pretty good to look ‘em over). After a week of wrestling with the idea, turns out the real reason I’m not nervous is because of what the numbers say.

And what they say to me, in no uncertain terms, is that this game isn’t about what Cleveland does, it’s about what Washington does. Because the Redskins are the better team. If the numerical evidence hasn't driven the point home, watching them play this year has.

The 2008 Redskins have been no fluke. Since halftime of the opener against the Giants, they have been physical, consistent and well-coached. Their gameplanning, playcalling and in-game adjustments have been sound—sometimes inspired. Their playmakers have made plays. Their role players have, with few exceptions, played their roles well. And with one glaring exception, they have protected the football and not beaten themselves.

If the Redskins play their game—physical, fundamentally sound football—and avoid shooting off so many toes they can’t stand up at the end like last week, they will win. Perhaps comfortably.

Cleveland can come in and play well—I actually kind of expect they will—but unless the Redskins play overly generous hosts again, turn the ball over repeatedly and hand the Browns points, it won’t be enough. Not two weeks in a row. Not with the nasty aftertaste of squandering a precious “W” they know should have been theirs still in their mouths.

As was the case last week, there is every logical reason to expect the Redskins to come away with the win. Last week they fumbled one away. The Rams know it, the Browns know it, and far more importantly you can bet the Redskins know it.

Says here it won’t happen again—not this week.

Much as I’ve waited for trace amounts of Norvousness to bubble up in my gut this week, as they have so many times before, I can’t feel them. And much as I’ve wracked my brain for coldly analytical, objective reasons to doubt this week, I can’t hear them. This team looks different, and this team feels different.

This isn’t a Turner, Schottenheimer, Spurrier or even Gibbs II team.

It’s a Jim Zorn Team … and remarkably, six short weeks into his debut season, that already means something.

So I’m not fighting it.

Those of you who have read my stuff for any length of time know I view football seasons as forests, not stands of trees. I rarely make game predictions. But when my gut talks, I tend to listen. And when my brain happens to sync up with it, despite trying out all the best counterarguments … I’m willing to lay it on the line.

This isn’t cockiness. This is one of those rare instances where logic and gut feeling achieve harmonic convergence and make beautiful music.

Clinton Portis: 120 yds, TD
Jason Campbell: 230 yds, TD
Shawn Suisham: 3-4
Special Teams or Defensive TD

Washington 30, Cleveland 16



CLE - QB Derek Anderson


HOME - 47 for 85 (55.3%), 590 yds, 3 TD, 2 INT, Rating 79.0
AWAY - 29 for 61 (47.5%), 263 yds, 2 TD, 4 INT, Rating 43.3


HOME - 134 for 231 (58%), 1867 yds, 14 TD, 6 INT, Rating 93.5
AWAY - 164 for 296 (55.4%), 1920 yds, 15 TD, 13 INT, Rating 73.9

You're welcome.

October 13, 2008

Redskins vs Rams - Gut Reaction

In response to those who have requested (okay, chided me to man up and post) first-blush responses to games, I’m setting aside my self-imposed 24-hour Rule this week.

So, for better or worse, unedited and unvarnished, here are notes written during the game and a few message board thoughts offered in the hours after the game and earlier this morning.

From laptop notes written during and just after the game:

• evident early on that Redskins offense has little juice. Playcalling predictable and uneven, which is understandable when you can’t convert 3rd downs and stay on the field. No way to get into a rhythm.

• offensive line can’t get started. Doesn’t matter if against 4 down linemen of pass pro, or trying to open running lanes for Portis/Betts, Skins OL looks sluggish, like they’ve left too much of themselves on the field the past 4 weeks.

• simply godawful punting.

• dropped INT’s could be story of game.

• false starts - tired legs? concentration?

• fluke TD on Kendall fumble; if Skins lose this will be play of game. Shit happens.

• Campbell just average today. Missed short throws, hesitation in pocket even after Rams overwhelming the line. Good day to scramble more. Take a couple deep shots to loosen up front 7. No cohesion.

• isolation on Torrence on big play at end. If that’s scheme by Rams, brilliant.

And some thoughts as posted on message boards:

• … this one comes down to the fluke TD on Kendall's brainfart, two other turnovers that stopped promising drives, and two dropped lost opportunity gift INT's we dropped.

No, the O wasn't crisp—particularly the OL, which looked like it never really got started after the effort of the last two weeks—but not even great teams overcome that many crucial turnovers and lost opportunities often. And no one with their brain turned on thought going in that the Redskins are a great team. Not yet.

If you didn't proclaim them great after the Dallas and Philly shows of strength, you can't now call them [crap] after the Ram letdown.

• The Rams played scrappy and with nothing to lose, caught us in a letdown week offensively, got every conceivable break including a gift touchdown and stole a last-second long distance FG upset from a team that dominated most of the play.

Sometimes teams lose games.

If this happens again next week, then we can start worrying it's a sign of things to come. Right now it's a stubbed toe they will hopefully use as a learning experience.

Stay medium, folks.

• Meanwhile, the machine-like, exquisitely constructed, dynastic New England Patriots, the same organization that made a joke of the NFL through the better part of a decade and through the greatest regular season in league history just a season ago, now stripped of their franchise quarterback become just another team.

QB Theory lives.

Oops. How did that get in there?

• I'll be honest ... today was about a team unable to sustain the intensity it had for four straight weeks. The OL was sluggish and a step slow all day and the Rams took advantage of it. Give them credit. Throw in a fluke TD against and two dropped gift INT's that were potential game-changers, and that was enough.

Those looking for signs of the apocalypse will see this as the team getting exposed as a fraud.

Those willing to wait a week or two before doing that can look at this one and understand why it could have happened, and maybe even take a little solace in the fact the team kept slugging until the end, and but for a clutch 49-yarder against them at the end, would have stolen a win in a game they played about as poorly on one side of the ball as a good team can.

• Way I see it, the Skins paid the price today for leaving it all on the field the last four weeks. It was inevitable they'd have a flat game at some point. It showed glaringly in the play of the OL, who seemed a step slow and sluggish all day.

Yet even while playing uninspired offensive football, having a fluke TD against totally change the complexion of the game, dropping two potential game-changing gift INT's, getting concentration-lapse penalties that killed drives and generally just having everything to wrong a team possible can, they still led with 2 seconds to go and a 49-yard FG attempt facing the opponent.

Bad teams don't generally even stay in games where they play as bad on one side of the ball as we did today. What this one looks like to me is a good team suffering a let down, and losing due to a series of bad turnovers—both those committed and those they let get away.

We'll definitely find out a lot about Mr. Zorn and his ability to get the team back up to the intensity level of the 4 game win streak now. If he can, and they do what I expect and beat Cleveland handily, this game will be remembered as a reality check. If they come out flat on O again next week though, and let another one get away, it will be hard not to start worrying at least a little.

• With you, (my friend). Particularly after watching the team rally from 9 down in the 4th quarter despite all the crap of the first 3. But for an underthrown pass allowing a WR to beat our 4th corner to set up the final FG, the Skins win that game ugly. Which is what good teams do on weeks they play like poo. Which we did today on offense.

Bring on the Browns. I wanna see what we're made of.

• If I see the same offensive lethargy (particularly along the OL) next week as I did yesterday, I'll be more concerned. But I'll be honest--the one thing I kept saying all afternoon watching them get overrun but a mediocre Rams front seven was "they look tired."

If I had a fear going into that game it was that at SOME point it was likely there would be a letdown, that the past four physically and emotionally intense games would take their toll. In Philly it took them a quarter to get it going. Yesterday, they never really did until it was too late to safeguard against a last-second wing-and-a-prayer bomb like Bulger threw to get them in final FG position.

I think the Skins spirit was willing yesterday, but some of the flesh was weak. The OL is the oldest component on the team, and was (after the potential franchise QB of course ;) ) the primary driving force behind the Cowboy and Eagle wins.

If I'm right and that's what it was, it will be clear next week and the O will have that "crisp" look again that it only showed in flashes yesterday.

If I'm wrong, and defenses have already "figured us out" and even bad teams can put a lid on us ... well, let's not go there. The only reason we'd fear that sitting here today is residual Norvousness.

That’s it. Reading those back over, I’m comfortable I didn’t say anything too reactionary or emotional. After digesting the game a couple more days and taking the temperature of the team (as best one can through interviews, body language and public comments) perhaps I’ll have a different take, but I kind of doubt it.

Way I see it, the only thing we really learned yesterday is that the 2008 Redskins are not quite good enough yet to overcome multiple turnovers and lost opportunities (three coughed up plus two dropped INT’s), anywhere from 10-20 in point-swing as a direct result, and an inconsistent, sometimes tired looking offense, and still win.

Had Leigh Torrence batted down Marc Bulger’s wing-and-a-prayer bomb to Donnie Avery at the end, or had the Rams missed that last-second 49-yard FG, we might be having a very different conversation today—one about playing through sloppiness and bad breaks and fluke plays and still gutting out a tough win—but that’s not the way it went down.

Like the old cliché says, the only stat that ultimately matters in the NFL is W’s. So enough with “if only” and on to the “what’s next.”

If the Redskins are the solid, up and coming team I still believe they are, they will come out with bad intentions next week, take care of business against the visiting Cleveland Browns and yesterday will become just a pothole in the rear view mirror.

If they are not that team, and largely beat themselves again against a lesser opponent … well, let’s cross that bridge if and when we come to it.

Coach said “stay medium.” That applies even more after self-inflicted losses than it does transformative wins.

October 12, 2008

Here's Tae Us, Redskins Fans

There's an old Scottish toast:

Here's tae us. Wha's like us?
Damn few - and they're a' deid.
Mairs the pity!

Ran across a couple of Redskins message board threads the last couple of days that brought that wonderful Highland sentiment to mind. Not going to make a habit of this, but I'm going to link them here, both for posterity and because of what they signify.

Both pieces speak to aspects of the 2008 Redskins that have struck me as well, and they have both done so eloquently. But it's more than that. It's in the way they reflect the unselfconscious, powerful sense of confederation we feel with "our" chosen team. It's that sense of "us" that has been at the heart of my compulsion to write about them the past few years.

It is an uplifting time to be a fan of the burgundy and gold ... and nothing lifts me higher or makes me prouder than seeing my fellow fans moved to eloquence in expressing that.

First, from Schneed10 on TheWarpath.net, a recognition of the impact Joe Gibbs has had on the Redskins franchise currently surging under new Head Coach Jim Zorn:

Thank You - An Open Letter to Joe Gibbs

Amidst all the excitement, the Redskins buzz on the airways, the cheers by the fans, the positive press from national media, amidst high hopes and the praise for new coach Jim Zorn; amidst all of that I just wanted to stop and smell the roses while we sit here at 4-1, and say thank you to the man most responsible for the Redskins' success this season...

Joe Gibbs.

This is in no way to take away from the job Jim Zorn has done/is doing, and in no way to take away from the sound decisions Vinny Cerrato has made since taking the reins as the football boss. It is because of Jim Zorn that our offensive schemes are creative, balanced and unpredictable. It is largely because of Jim Zorn's tutelage that Jason Campbell has taken his game to the next level, winning four out of five tough games without committing a single turnover. It is because of Vinny Cerrato that rookie Chris Horton now mans the safety spot, generating four takeaways for the Redskins through five games. Jim Zorn and Vinny Cerrato have been a success thus far, and we're all excited for what's to come with them at the helm.

But as I watch Clinton Portis put up nearly 150 yards on the Eagles in Philly, I can't help but think of the day Joe Gibbs traded for him. As I watch Shawn Springs shut down Terrell Owens in Dallas, I can't help but think of the day Joe Gibbs flew on Redskins One to sign him as a free agent. As I watch Chris Cooley (who Gibbs traded up to acquire in the 2004 draft) catch a TD pass against the Eagles from Antwaan Randle-El (who Gibbs acquired as a free agent in 2006) I can't help but think of Joe. And especially as I watch Jason Campbell develop into a star QB, making key plays on third down to move the chains and ice games, I think back to the day Gibbs traded three picks to jump up and take him 25th overall.

Marcus Washington. Cornelius Griffin. Rocky McIntosh. LaRon Landry. London Fletcher. Carlos Rogers. Fred Smoot. Casey Rabach. Santana Moss. In addition to the players mentioned above, these guys all have three things in common:

- They're 4-1.
- We love them.
- Joe Gibbs acquired them.

Joe Gibbs built the foundation of this team, but more than that, he restored the pride and character in this team ....

Click Here to read the rest

And second, this piece from Macgulf (SFC J. McCree, U.S. Army - Retired), at Extremeskins, needs no setup:

An Observation

At four and one, the Washington Redskins have made me a believer again…once again…after many seasons of heartbreak and near misses.

I’ve been a fan since 1972.

I, like you, watch, listen, hope and even pray that this team will win on Sunday. I read what the press writes, consider the game plan, and match up the Redskins players against the other team’s players.

What has changed? How have they convinced me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are a quality team?

What I say next might surprise you…it might even surprise them.

It surprised me…for I have not seen this “Thing” that so convinced me…in many, many years…anywhere.

It was not their execution on the field. It was not their play making ability; it was not who they beat, where they played, or how many of them were injured during the last four wins.

It was not the coaching, the play calling or the time management.
It was not even the first “Hip Hip Hooray” that Coach Zorn called in the locker room that made me believe in them again.

It was the second one.

I watched a shirtless Antwaan Randle El on my computer screen call for a specific cheer…in the middle of a bunch of tired, stinky, worn out professional men…and they responded like…

…Delta Company, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment…at range 301 in Graffenvier, Germany in 1989…after we took the highest award during gunnery.
I watched the same “Thing” all over again… in a locker room hundreds of miles away.

My mind was flooded with the memory of…

…02:30 in the morning, we all smelled horrible, we were tired, hungry, worn out from a month in the field on maneuvers. It was cold, damp, everything was wet and we were miserable. Yet everyone one of us were bright eyed and bushy tailed. We had just won the Super Bowl of Tank Gunnery. We were “TOP TANK Company”. We did it!

This “Thing” I speak of …is difficult to describe, tough to maintain, and gone before it’s realized.

What is this term I speak of…that has been missing from my life…our lives…from our leadership, politics, corporations, companies, for so very long?

What one “Thing” can transform a group of people into a winning team?

Esprit de corps ...

Click Here to read the rest

Thank you both, and to all fellow followers of "our" Washington Redskins familiar with the emotions being tapped into here, willing and able to feel them so deeply and speak them with such strength. You do us proud.


October 10, 2008

Friday Quick Thoughts

Random thoughts/observations on a sunny 4-1 Friday:

The Redskins are 8-2 in their last ten games. The two losses? A playoff game in Seattle (7-1 at home on the season) on the heels of an emotional four-game sprint to the playoffs in 2007 … and a road loss to the defending Super Bowl Champion NY Giants in rookie head coach Jim Zorn’s debut in 2008.

Not too shabby.


Remember the Brian Mitchell/Clinton Portis brouhaha a couple weeks ago? The one that stemmed from BMitch’s critical comments about a Washington Post quote from Portis?

In an interview Wednesday, Portis, Washington's top back since the 2004 season, said he wished he "could go to a team for one week with the best offensive line, or the team with the best scheme, and switch places with their back and see how others would do in this system."

Guess what. Whether or not you think CP went about saying what he wanted to say artfully … he was on the money.

Here’s his statistical progression in 2008:

23 carries, 84 yards, 3.7 avg. (@ NYG)

21 carries, 96 yards, 4.6 avg. (NO)

21 carries, 68 yards, 3.2 avg. (AZ)

21 carries, 121 yards, 5.8 avg (@ DAL)

29 carries, 145 yards, 5.0 avg. (@ PHI)

Says here that neither Portis nor the offensive line are playing any harder--or any "better" beyond a couple more games worth of conditioning/familiarity under their belts--over the past two weeks than they did in the first three. Way I see it—because I’m a QB Theory guy—the exploding running game has been a direct result of Jason Campbell’s emergence as a legitimate big time passing threat.

Don’t take my word for it. Take its primary beneficiary’s:

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson watched the Dallas film. He saw Campbell repeatedly converting third downs and avoiding the rush to hit Santana Moss downfield. It's why Johnson built his gameplan around taking Santana out of the game. He did a damn good job of it, too, holding Moss without a catch.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, one side-effect of his decision—a fatal one—was allowing the Redskins running game to face an honest defense again. “Honest” meaning one unable to overwhelm the line of scrimmage with bodies to take away the run, which you can do (and teams have against Washington for years) when you don’t believe the QB can beat you with his arm.

It would appear those days are over. Turns out Johnson's choice was getting slowly, methodically trampled versus risking the lightning air strike. (Sorry, this is fun.)

So now St. Louis has a decision to make as well—commit extra bodies to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, and take your chances with Campbell, Moss, Randle El, Cooley and company* … or go with seven in the box to contain the passing game, and hope you can do what Philly could not and contain Portis … or, mix and match and hope to hell you outguess Jim Zorn.

Perhaps Mr. Haslett knows his Shakespeare ...

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.


Two story lines that seem to have developed independently of each other that I think are, in fact, directly related.

1) The Eagles held Santana Moss without a catch

2) Jason Campbell once again did not throw any interceptions

Was the fact Moss ended up with zero catches more a function of effective targeted defense by the Eagles … or a result of Jason Campbell’s continued outstanding care with the football, being unwilling to “force” the ball to a targeted Moss the way Dallas QB Tony Romo kept forcing it to Terrell Owens a week earlier?

The answer, of course, is ... yes.


* Sneaky suspicion ... look for rookie WR Devin Thomas to announce himself to the NFL Sunday. Each week he has appeared more and more comfortable with the speed of the game and in his assignments (if not yet cognizant of the well known NFL fact that only Michael Irvin was statutorily authorized to push off), and Jason Campbell has appeared more and more willing to look the rookie’s way. And Zorn has proven to be pretty cagey—he knows the Rams are spending this week scheming to contain Campbell, Moss, ARE, Portis and Cooley.

Says here Thomas gets at last a half dozen targets against the Rams, including at least one deep shot. And that by this time next week, we will be hearing about his emergence from the talking heads.

We knew him when.

October 8, 2008

Becoming the Hunted

“Every NFC team will be hunting for us …” - Jim Zorn

So much for stealth.

Two short weeks ago, the 2-1 Washington Redskins were background scenery. Mayonnaise. Filler in the lineup of sexier early-season NFL headlines:

Patriots Lose Brady for Season
Favre Goes Gotham Green
Browns Crash Back to Earth
We Love Us Some Dallas Cowboys
Redskins Recover from Ugly Opener, Go 2-1

Well, as of this past Sunday, Washington is supporting cast no more.

After summarily dispatching a desperate Philadelphia Eagles team on the road, a week after turning in a physically dominating win over the presumptive Super Bowl favorite Cowboys in Dallas, the Redskins went from bit player in the NFL drama to central character in the blink of an eye.

Tune in to Sportscenter’s NFL segments and the NFL Channel heading into week 5. The burgundy and gold will be everywhere, referenced in “I’ll tell you what” tones by many of the same experts who, if they talked about them at all, were dismissing the Redskins as an NFC East afterthought less than a month ago.

When the new “power rankings” are all out this week, see how many you can find that don’t have the Redskins in the Top 3 (think about that ... the Redskins ... Top Three). And if you do find any, check to make sure they aren't written by Dallas fans, Philly fans or Jason LaCanfora.

(Sorry, Jason. I know these last few weeks have been tough on you.)

But here’s the thing … as much fun as Redskins fan are having suddenly finding their favorite team getting the “media respect” we (for some reason) crave … and as undeniably cool as it is to flip on the tube to find burgundy and gold splashed all over the NFL highlights and promos … and as much pride as we take in having our team at long last again a central figure in serious national pro football discussions … we’re going to notice a change in the tenor of that conversation.

And it won’t take long.

Had the Redskins lost close, tough games to Dallas and Philly, say, and entered this weeks Rams game 2-3, things would be different. The Redskins would still be an “after the break” teaser segment on the talk shows, and still generally be considered an interesting little story about a team breaking in a quirky new coach and probably about to even its record at 3-3 and wouldn’t that be nice.

Well, the Redskins screwed that up.

By smacking down two heavily favored, assumed playoff contenders in a row, on the road no less, in old-school smashmouth fashion … the Redskins skipped right over “the Next” and became the hunted.

Washington is done sneaking up on anybody. They’re done being prohibitive underdogs (until and unless they get steamrolled a couple times, which, given the immediate schedule, seems unlikely to happen anytime soon). They’re done being the team with the spiky-haired, old/new school rookie head coach and rangy, quiet QB with the bad ‘stash learning his 17th offensive system in the past 2 months or whatever it is.

No mas. Honeymoon over. Even as we speak, evildoers are anticipating the Redskins demise.

Yeah, I went there.

Somewhere, even as you read this, “official” NFL talking heads and writers are singing the Redskins praises, while secretly planning to tune in Sunday to see if it's time yet to rip 'em. To see if the team that's been so unexpectedly impressive the last couple weeks can sustain the intensity they’ve shown in crashing the NFL party. To see how they handle the role of favorite. To see how the team reacts should the underdog Rams (gasp) make a game of it.

And, since some of those writers consider it their sacred mission to first build up “the Next,” then proceed immediately to tearing it down to make room for the next “Next” … they’ll be eyeballing the Redskins for even the slightest hint of weakness.

If you’re a fan of the 0-4 St. Louis Rams fan this week … first, condolences … and second—correct me if I’m wrong—you’re looking at the 4-1, new-money, media darling Redskins and thinking, “I don’t buy it. Good wins the past 2 weeks, but you snuck up on Dallas and Philly. That’s over. We’re coming to town with nothing to lose and our hair on fire, ‘cuz if we take you down, people will stop snickering at mention of the Rams for a few days.”

If you’re a Rams coach or player who has an ounce of pride in your team and your profession, your thoughts are much the same. You don't fear the Redskins. You resent them. And you’re looking at them as nothing more or less than an opportunity to shut your critics up for a couple news cycles.

If you’re a Redskins fan given to assuming the worst, looking at the 4-1 start with all the confidence of a drinking doe at high hunting season, you’re looking at the Rams game with the same sense of certain impending doom you’ve had since Norv Turner’s teams routinely mailed it in (and they didn’t even use FedEx) in games like this. As you will the week after this, should the Redskins beat the Rams and head into the Cleveland game a week from Sunday at 5-1. It's sad, but it's true.

Oh, and if you’re Donovan McNabb, you’re dismissing the Redskins entirely and excusing the woodshed job they laid on you as a function of your team simply not showing up. Because that’s what you do when the downside of an almost-great career suddenly slaps you across the face.

You get the idea.

This Redskins team, with its out-of-nowhere cruising rookie head coach, unproven quarterback, new defensive coordinator and 15 year history of underachievement broke from the gate far faster, and far more impressively, than even their most optimistic fans expected. They ran a gauntlet almost unthinkable just 10 days ago, beating two of the three teams in their division the NFL world universally trumpeted as superior teams … and did so convincingly.

And it’s been no mirage. There’s been no smoke and mirrors—the Redskins have won with muscle, smarts, poise and a killer instinct not in evidence around here since the climax of the Glory Years, when Joe Gibbs and Co. cut a swath through the league in their last championship run 17 years ago.

No … I’m not equating this team to that one. The Redskins have at least 14 more games to play before that’s even a legit topic of conversation. What I am saying is that as of today, as they emerge from the early part of the 2008 season thrust essentially overnight into the spotlight among the league’s elite, they are now a target. A measuring stick for other teams to see “where we are.” A team taking the field with "expectations" … which are both compliment and curse.

Don’t get me wrong--I’m loving every damn second of this. More than any arguably mentally sound adult probably should. But the honeymoon is going to be a short one. It’s the way of the NFL world.

All week long, heading into the Rams game, the momentum will build. The hype machine loves “the Next” … and right now we’re it. So enjoy it. Soak it in. But by virtue of crashing the party as fast as they have, don't expect it to last long.

The Redskins will take the field against the Rams prohibitive favorites, propelled by a week’s worth of hype and consistently building expectation. What if the Rams, under new Head Coazh Jim Hazlett—a team with literally nothing to lose—come in like Dallas did in ’91, with onsides kicks, Hail Mary’s, going for it on 4th-and-5 from midfield, etc.? What if they actually make a game of it?

There are those out there poised and ready to start stage-whispering about what dark portents that might carry … count on it.

Welcome back to the other side, Washington. Your days as the hunter are numbered.

Are you ready?




NFL Rankings

Offense: Yards - 6th (351.2); Scoring - 17th (21.8)
Defense: Yards - 13th (303); Scoring – 11th (19.6)


Turnover Differential
(Caused / Committed)
Game 1 (L) – 1/0 (+1)
Game 2 (W) – 3/1 (+2)
Game 3 (W) - 2/0 (+2)
Game 4 (W) – 1/0 (+1)
Game 5 (W) – 0/0
Season (4-1) – 7/1 (+6)


3rd down Efficiency
Game 1 (L) – Off. 3/13 (23%); Def. 7/14 (50%)
Game 2 (W) – Off. 3/11 (27%); Def. 3/10 (30%)
Game 3 (W) - Off. 5/11 (45%); Def. 5/11 (45%)
Game 4 (W) – Off. 6/15 (40%); Def. 6/12 (50%)
Game 5 (W) – Off. 11/19 (57%); Def. 5/12 (41%)
Season – Off. 28/69 (40.5%); Def. 26/59 (44.06%)


Red Zone Efficiency
Game 1 (L) – Off. 1/1 (100%); Def. 1/3 (33%)
Game 2 (W) – Off. 2/6 (33%); Def. 2/2 (100%)
Game 3 (W) - Off. 3/3 (100%); Def. 1/2 (50%)
Game 4 (W) – Off. 2/6 (33%); Def. 2/3 (66%)
Game 5 (W) – Off. 2/2 (100%); Def. ½ (50%)
Season – Off. 10/18 (55.5%); Def. 7/12 (58.3%)


Time of Possession
(Redskins / Opp.)
Game 1 (L) – 24:17 / 35:43
Game 2 (W) – 34:14 / 25:46
Game 3 (W) - 33:05 / 26:55
Game 4 (W) – 38:09 / 21:51
Game 5 (W) – 34:45 / 25:15

October 3, 2008

Dear Coach Reid

Dear Andy,

I can’t do this publicly because, well, our fans scare me. If they saw this they’d probably melt the darn internet. Plus, we apparently just spent a lot of time and money awesoming up our website and stuff, so I don’t want to irritate the marketing guys while things are going so good.

So just between you and me … I hear they’re putting some pressure on you to win this weekend. Don’t worry about it. I don't think we have a chance.

After all, Las Vegas isn’t exactly in the business of being wrong.

And then there’s your McNabb guy and his friggin’ regenerated arm. Man’s not only hitting the barn these days, he’s knocking the damn thing over. Lordy. What’d you guys do, build him one of those hyperbaric chambers what’s-his-face used for his modeling hand in Zoolander?

Oh, and don’t even try it. I know you punked my B. Westbrook. I know your B. Westbrook will play, the goddamit-he’s-not-that-fast-but-there-he-goes-again bastige.

(Sorry about the language.)

And hey, you may be 2-2, but you’re the best damn 2-2 team in football. I saw how you had Dallas beat down there too—you just fumbled it away. I hear one of my predecessor's teams' did that one year. They still aren't over it. And then, even without your B. Westbrook, I saw where you come up just shy of beating Chicago in Chicago. But for another couple inches, right?

Heh. That’s what she said.

And I guess you heard, Shawn Springs is hurt. That more or less, you know, sucks for us. With that guy healthy, our secondary—heck, the whole defense—has pretty much been cash money. Without him, well—

"Oh hey Greg. This? Nothing … just, um, my shopping list for the way home. Yeah. What're you gonna do? Okay cool. Yup. See ya then."

That was close. Dude scares me. :)

Then there’s this whole turnover thing. I hate to jinx it by talking about it, but man … four games in and my QB hasn’t really come close to throwing any picks. And we haven’t even coughed any fumbles up in traffic. What are the chances? I'm guessing The Turnover Demon must be hungry by now. Bummer.

And speaking of chances, my kickoff coverage has had me puckering on the sidelines all year. I mean, when they’re good, they’re good, but they’ve also left some gaping seams guys have flown toward but just gotten tripped up. Had my buttcheeks clenching once or twice, I don’t mind sayin’. And now you’ve got that rookie with the sprinter’s speed? Just great.

You probably saw where my dreadlock rookie (you’ll love this—when Blache first introduced me to the kid, we shook hands and I was, like, “Hello son. Zorn.” So he goes, “Good to meet you. Horton.” And I’m like … “Who?” And quick as a flash he says, “I heard that.” It was great.) Anyway, those 4 turnovers he bagged that made the league vote him DROM? I know you know better from the film. Heck, I hadta sit the kid down in the second half last week. So tell McNabb to please go easy on the kid. Doughty, too. No really.

We aren’t exactly last year's regular season Patriots (what's the latest word on Bill's blood pressure, btw?), you know. My guys are saying all the right things and all, but geez … what are the chances they can muster up the energy, focus and general kickassedness necessary to win TWO in a row, in the NFC East, on the road? To say nothing of me trying to outthink that dude ya got running your defense. What’s his problem, anyway? Some quarterback beat him up when he was a kid?

It wasn't as easy as it looked down there in Big D, lemme tell ya. There at the end? I was so concerned I had to turn off my iPod (kidding, of course) to yell at Cooley for not going up for the ball on the onsides kick. Did you see that? You think his blog's interesting now, let me tell you what, it'd have interesting to read after I got through with him THIS week if that Cowboy could actually catch.

Well, this is probably long enough, so I’ll sign off. Best to the missus and I'll look forward to seeing you on Sunday. Even though I should hardly bother making the trip what with everything we’re facing.

Ah well. Life as a head coach, right?

Much love,

Z Man

PS. Sorry, meant to send this earlier. Forgot while rushing off to practice. Tell you what, that was one helluva ...

You know everything I said before? We're coming anyway.

Bring a lunch.

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.