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
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.