August 28, 2009

Redskins vs Patriots Preview - Meaning, Expectation, Colt & Chase

As happens every year, the talk all week has been about how Preseason “Game” Three—for the Redskins, against the New England Patriots tonight at FedEx Field—is the most “real” test of the preseason.

You know the drill; the starters will play longer, the game-planning will be more complex, the results will be more meaningful.

I don’t buy it. Never have, never will. To me it’s simply the high point of the artificial buildup and hype surrounding the entire preseason phenomenon that the NFL has so brilliantly marketed.

Yes, it’s the most “meaningful” preseason game. In the same way as timing yourself against a stopwatch in the streets of Pamplona the day before they release the bulls is your most meaningful practice.

After the requisite Week 3 buildup last year, the Redskins marched off to Carolina, where the Panthers handed them their asses, 47-3. The starters were down 34-0 at the half.

The Redskins starting offense that day? Three consecutive three-and-out possessions to start the game, a two-first-down possession ending in a RB Ladell Betts fumble at midfield, three more three-and-outs, and a meaningless kneel-down possession deep in their own end to end the half.

The Redskins proceeded to start the regular season 6-2.

Three other 2008 Preseason Week 3 results, just for effect:

Buffalo 20, Indianapolis 7 (17-0 Bills at the half)
St. Louis 24, Baltimore 10 (17-3 Rams at the half)
Detroit 26, Cleveland 6 (16-0 Lions at the half)

We remember the ’08 Lions. RIP.

Point is … whether the Redskins get blown out by the Patriots tonight, play a typical back-and-forth preseason scrimmage or blow them out, you will not find this observer assigning any more meaning to it than any other preseason scrimmage. Not beyond the context of individual performances by certain players about whom the jury is still out:

QB Jason Campbell, WR Devin Thomas, OT Stephon Heyer, OG Chad Rhinehart, RB Marcus Mason, CB Justin Tryon, DT Antonio Dixon … feel free to add your own.

Stated another way, Preseason Game Three (“When Starters Play!”) will have no bearing on how the Redskins fare in 2009. Their season will be determined by a combination of factors, like these and others, that will simply not be foretold by anything that happens tonight.

 Jason Campbell’s development/performance in clutch situations
 Jim Zorn’s development
 The health of the offensive line
 The emergence of receiving threats to complement Santana Moss/ Chris Cooley
 The defense contributing turnovers/dictating field position
 Special teams locking down kick returns/converting clutch field goals
 The occasional fortunate bounce of a funny-shaped ball
 Etc.

It's just another preseason “game.”

So … what do I expect to see tonight?

Honestly, I expect to see QB Tom Brady lighting it up.

The Patriots are coming off a yawner of a home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in which the vaunted New England offense—one season removed from shattering the NFL scoring record—scored six points.

Tom Brady—one season removed from setting the NFL record for TD passes in a season (50)—is no doubt itching to show the world he is in fact back from the injury that cost him all of last season.

Nobody gets rid of the ball quicker or with more deadly efficiency than Tom Brady. That's a bad recipe for this Redskins defense. If their front four bring good pressure early, I expect to see him whip the quick, accurate throws to the flat and underneath coverage he is so very adept at … and/or audibling to draw plays … forcing the Redskins linebackers and defensive backs to close fast and tackle sure.

Based on the last two times the Redskins have tried to deal with Brady that way—a 41-0 preseason loss in 2006 and a 52-7 regular season laugher in 2007—that's not a good bet. They were simply not competitive. Brady stood at the line of scrimmage, calmly read what the Redskins were doing like a text book, and dissected them with casual ease.

Until I actually see a Redskins defense in the Gregg Williams/Greg Blache system slow Brady down, my default expectation is to see more of the same. Sometimes you get the bear, but generally, you end up meat.

And for the record, should they actually find some success against him, you won’t finde me projecting regular season success into it.

That isn’t to say a popping Brady a couple of good shots and holding their own agaisnt him wouldn’t bring a few moments of satisfaction—it would. But by the time the Redskins take the field for the regular season opener in two weeks against Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs and the New York Giants in the Meadowlands, anything that happened in Week Three, good, bad or ugly, will have been long forgotten.


The Backup Quarterbacks

Before Colt Brennan threw a goal-line interception against the Steelers last week, I thought he had performed solidly and rebounded well from his shaky start against the Ravens in Week One. Colt was quick with the ball, on target and appeared in command.

Then came the interception, and because of the game situation—seemingly in hand late—it seems everything that came before it was forgotten.

What I saw was Brennan a split-second late on the throw. One beat quicker, or a couple of feet of better placement, and that pass could just as easily have resulted in the game-clinching touchdown, or just another incompletion. Instead … it became a preseason brouhaha.

Truth is I feel the same about Colt Brennan heading into tonight as I did heading into training camp. I think he’s going to be a good NFL quarterback in a year or two, and I think he’s tailor-made to the offense the Redskins are running.

Whether the stars align to put him behind center in meaningful regular season games or not, we cannot know—far too many variables are in play today.

Which brings me to Chase Daniel.

Here’s the short version (believe it or not ) ...

I’ve followed Daniel's career since was in high school, mostly because he played at Southlake Carroll, outside Dallas, which happens to be my brother’s neighborhood, and the school my niece will be attending next year. All Daniel did in his time there was lead Carroll to two Texas 5A titles, one mythical national championship, get named national high school player of the year and compile the kind of silly numbers that are almost impossible to digest.

After he graduated, he was deemed too small and weak-armed to play big-time college football, however, and so ended up “settling” for Missouri.

Where he compiled even sillier numbers.

And where, every time I saw him play, he displayed the same characteristics that have had me commenting, to anyone who would listen, since the first time I saw him play, that he was as polished and natural-looking a quarterback as I ever seen play in forty-plus years of watching football.

What does that mean?

That he sees the field.
That he reads defenses and makes the right choices with withering consistency.
That he senses the rush and moves as if on autopilot to avoid it.
That on the move, he is under control and able to deliver accurately and on time from any platform.
That he is tough as nails and bounces up after taking hits and never wavers.
That his arm is anything but weak.
That he is an athletic, instinctive runner with a knack for taking off and gutting defenses with huge runs in key situations.
That he commands the huddle and is the kind of natural leader teammates look to and rally around.

If I hadn't seem him play, I would read that list and laugh. He's too small and weak-armed, right?

Sadly, like just about everyone else … after he graduated I bought into the prevailing “expert” opinion that he was too small and too weak-armed to play NFL football. I didn't have the courage of my own convictions.

Well, what you saw the other night against Pittsburgh was what Chase Daniel has done at every level. Quite simply, he played the quarterback position as naturally, effectively and sometimes apparently effortlessly, as anyone I have ever seen.

I’ll admit it … I half-expected the experts would be proven right from the start, Chase would be exposed and that would be the end of it. I’ll also admit that when I saw him pick up right where he left off at Missouri, in command of himself, his offense and the game, in his pro debut, against guys wearing the same uniforms worn by the defending Super Bowl champions … I kicked myself for not having the guts to have predicted it.

Was last week a mirage? Will Chase Daniel’s stature, arm strength and inexperience catch up to him tonight against a Bill Belichick defense, or next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the preseason finale, or the day he might eventually stand over center in a real NFL game?


But don't bet on it.


Anonymous said...

"After the requisite Week 3 buildup last year, the Redskins marched off to Carolina, where the Panthers handed them asses, 47-3....
The Redskins proceeded to start the regular season 6-2."

Uhhh... how'd they finish the season? The Skins are likely to start hot again this year against very week competition -- the Lions, the Rams -- but age and the schedule will catch up with them. By midseason, Vinnie Cerrato will be calling up 450 pound washouts to plug in his offensive line. Wait, he already did. When Samuels, Rabach, and Thomas miss time -- and at their ages and injury histories, all likely will -- the Skins go straight down the toilet. Midseason also happens to coincide with the tough part of the schedule.

But let's get back to tonight's game: the preseason is very important. It's time for the offensive line to play together. It's time for QBs and receivers to work out the bugs. It's time to test young players. And it's time to install pieces and parts of your offense and defense. Preseason is glorified practice. Do you think practice is unimportant? Maybe if you're Allen Iverson (who never won jack, incidentally), but not if you're the Skins.

And tonight's game is the biggest practice of all. The last chance to make any changes before it matters. The last chance to establish an identity. This game means nothing to the Pats -- they know who they are. This game means everything to the Skins. They are bottom-feeders hoping to climb to respectability.

Ignore it at your peril.

Sean said...

Agree with you about Brennan and Daniel. Brennan looked great before the interception. Daniel just looked great.

But where does that leave Campbell. He's entering the last year of his contract. The team is wavering about re-signing him. So he performs well and leads the team to the playoffs, team wants to re-sign.

But what if Campbell doesn't? Draft? Brennan/Daniel? Too inexperienced?

Remember, Campbell didn't perform as well against backups in his first preseason as Brennan and Daniel are performing.

Strange times.

Mark "Om" Steven said...


Very dramatic. And completely missing the mark.

On your fist question--what the Redskins 2-6 finish had to do with either the 6-2 start OR the preseason--the answer is ... absolutely nothing. Which was the whole point.

On the second part, you have bought into what the media, sportstalk radio and message boards have been selling. I have not. The offenses you see the Redskins and Pats running tonight are not the offenses they'll be running in two weeks. Same for the defenses.

Buy the hype at your peril.


Way I see it Jason has between 4-8 games to make the case. If he and the team are faltering and his play is clearly contributing to that, I think Zorn will pull the plug. At that point we would see Collins, and, depending on how he fares and the season goes after, whoever is left standing b/w Colt and Chase.

And head into spring looking still looking for The Man. Maybe Colt, maybe Chase, maybe someone from outside.

If Jason plays well, then he, Zorn and the FO will have a tough spring trying to hammer out a contract that satisfies both sides. If they can, woot. If they can't, and he ends up leaving, the Redskins will head into spring in the same boat they've been since 1985---looking for The Man.

AstonJay32 said...

Partially agree with preseason meaning nothing. In terms of stats, results, and it's "projection" capability, I agree that all of that is essentially meaningless. But that's not what I focus on.

You hear the word "vanilla" a lot during preseason, typically when describing the offense. Most defenses are pretty vanilla too, and so to me, preseason is nothing more than a tool to measure the fundamentals of individual players.

In general:
How well do they block/shed blocks?
How well do they tackle/break tackles?
How well do they cover/get open?
How well can they catch/throw?

Among other things, I've learned that Kelly has hands that be depended on, Tryon is not fit to be a man-on-man corner, Orakpo is the most talented end we've had in a decade, Doughty isn't as bad as I once thought, and Chase Daniel seems to have more natural skill than any other QB on the roster.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

I think we're on the same page, Aston. In the piece I referred to these affairs not having meaning anything "beyond the context of individual performances by certain players about whom the jury is still out ..."

To me that's what preseason is useful for---for the coaches to evaluate where certain players are physically and mentally, so they can use that information to cover said weaknesses once the gameplanning starts as needed, and/or make roster decisions on those few slots per year that are actually undecided.

Coaches can use the "game" situation films to supplement what they see every day in practice ... and those of us watching from the stands or our living rooms can form impressions of players as well, even if they are without the context in which the plays are run.

All of which, as it happens, goes to my premise that the Week Three hype is nothing but that.