August 18, 2010

Redskins vs Bills Final - When Wishes Come True

I won't make a habit of this, I promise, but letting this one go without a public appreciation to the gridiron gods would be sacriligious.

Not to mention it might irritate them again. I'm a Redskins fan. I can't chance it.

Last week I wrote a wish list for the opening preseason game against Buffalo. It was over the top. I asked for, well, everything.

Didn't expect to get it.


So, for the record...thank you oh wise and powerful pigskin spirits, for marking the end of the eight-month offseason odyssey from Jim Zorn to 42-17 in such otherworldly fashion:

12) I want to see some long, lingering looks at the renovated digs. The old Lite-Brite scoreboard was cute. Thing is, if it ain't holding pom-poms, there is no cute in football. It took 13 long years, but it seems Jack Kent Cooke Stadium may finally be "finished."
Sweet. Just sweet. We could grouse about the fact that it's 2010, and 13 years into their tenure in Raljon or Landover or whatever that plot of ground is called, and the Redskins finally have a stadium worthy of a flagship NLF franchise. But that would be crass. The New Big Jack debuted with a stirring, new-era-marking whupping of some team wearing blue. I'm going to bitch about the delay in adding a few pixels after that? I think not.

11) It won't take long for the cameras to focus on the Redskins' owners box. And that's cool. Not seeing this alone makes the affair Tivo-worthy.
If they showed a shot of the owners box, I never saw it. In fact, the only owner sighting I saw had a tanned, fit, humble and reserved Dan Snyder schlepping to the broadcast booth for a brief chat with Kenny Albert and Joe "I Played—Really" Theismann. Is this a great country or what?

10) I'm curious to see what new name(s) will jump into the discussion. Who will do something—good or bad—to catapult their name(s) to the top of the message boards? For the first time in eight long months we will get to see a Redskin do something on the field worth discussing. Here's hoping it's more along the lines of a McNabb-to-Thomas-TD-bomb than a Trent-Williams-getting-burned-and-McNabb-crushed variety.
There were more, but I'm trying to keep this short so I'll go with the first three that jump to mind...

Perry Riley. The rookie linebacker showed all kinds of promise. He did get caught taking a bad angle on an open field tackle that almost cost his team a first down (gasp), but looked mobile, decisive and quick on several occasions before and after. It will be a while before we see him starting, but if he shows up around the ball again next week, count on defensive coordinator Jim Haslett finding more and more excuses to put #53 on the field.

Brandon Banks. He might not last long in the NFL—at 5-7, 150, I cringe at the thought of his meeting a 6-3, 230 lb. linebacker coming full tilt the other way in the hole—but while he does, he's going to be seriously fun to watch. May the force be with you, Brandon.

Rex Grossman. Yes, that early sideline route probably should have gone the other way for six. The touchdown pass to tight end Fred Davis, however, despite all the protestations to the contrary, was a fine NFL throw. The cornerback was flat-footed, Davis was well-positioned and the ball was exactly where it had to be and when. The double-standard rule seems to be applying itself here: if Peyton Manning makes that throw it's just another example of his genius. If it's a guy with Grossman's baggage, it's lucky.

The touchdown strike to Devin Thomas was money.

Time will tell, but for now Rex gets major thumbs up for a controlled, professional debut in burgundy and gold.

9) I'd like to see the first string, on both sides of the ball, hold their own. I'd love to see a 17-0 halftime lead, don't get me wrong. But I'll settle for an unspectacular 3-3 and looking like a real NFL team waking up from hibernation. Like you'd expect of a competitive team in the first preseason game. Just don't give me 17-0 down and looking like someone forgot to set the alarm. That would be bad.
I saw the first string, on both sides of the ball, a little tight on their respective first series. The offense picked up one first down before punting; the defense overpursued, got run on and surrendered a 9-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a 38-yd Buffalo FG.  After that, though, I saw a pretty damn impressive full-costume rehearsal.

There are nits to pick, sure (Andre Carter's awkward performance springs to mind), but we'll save those for later. Today's entry is about the reality that we did not know what to expect, and were rewarded with far more cohesion, spark and bottom-line success than anyone had reasonable cause to expect.

Oh, and the halftime score was 21-3. It wasn't that close.

8) I'd like to see signs of cohesion on the offensive line. Zone blocking is less about mano-a-mano matchups than it is synergy; about knowing what the guy next to you is going to do and having him do it. First preseason game or not, watching one too many offensive lineman standing with hands on hips after a blown-up play and stariing at a teammate with that unmistakable, "Dude you were supposed to have him" pose...that would also be bad.
Not a day has gone by since the end of last season without someone expressing dire concerns about the offensive line. Not one fan who loves this team entered the Buffalo game comfortable that the rebuilt unit would perform even adequately, much less admirably. Well, opponent notwithstanding, credit where it is due—the offensive line was just this side of a revelation.

7) I know this Redskins' offense will be dangerous in the passing game with Pro Bowler Chris Cooley and possible ascending star Fred Davis at tight end. Plus they'll likely feature a dangerous Clinton Portis out of the backfield. But I would still really like to see a Redskins wide receiver make a play. Doesn't have to be a touchdown, although that'd be sweet. One streaking, in-stride catch over the middle for 30. A key 3rd-and-long conversion with the receiver coming back for the ball and taking it away from the defender. A deep sideline catch while tumbling out of bounds with toes dragging. Just show us something so we can start over-analyzing something else.
When McNabb hit Roydell Williams on the second possession in the flat, and Williams cut to the sideline and turned a short gain into a big first down, I nodded slowly.

When Anthony Armstrong posted up on the goal line and out-fought the defender for the ball and a score, I clenched a fist.

When Grossman routinely hit Bobby Wade over the middle for a big first-down conversion, I smiled.

And when Grossman found a streaking, wide-open Devin Thomas deep for a punctuation touchdown, I remembered what I have known all along but allowed myself to doubt over the past few years: receivers rely on their quarterbacks and offensive line to excel.

The Redskins wideouts will be just fine.

6) I'd like to see some surge in the run game. Don't need long bursts to put a smile on my face. I just want to end the night (or at least the first half when I know the names) with the sense there was movement up front. That Redskins running backs didn't spend the evening dodging wrong-colored jerseys in their own backfield. Give me 2, 3, or 4 yards a pop (oh, with maybe a couple longer bursts mixed in just for grins), and I'll be happy.
It took them a possession to get started, but then it slowly started working. Clinton Portis ran conservatively, but there was movement, most notably on fist and second downs in the red zone. Plus Ryan Torain and Keiland Williams combined for 113 yards on 28 carries (4.03 avg.) and two up-the-gut touchdowns. We'll know more—a lot more—when we look at the numbers next week after they face the Ravens. But Friday night, while not dominating, was certainly encouraging.

5) It's a brand new defense. I'd like to see the other team look more confused about what it's doing than the Redskins. No major breakdowns that spring opposing offensive players streaking free for six. No angry huddles on the sidelines with Jim Haslett's veins popping out of his forehead. Oh, and at least one turnover. Please.
The first drive was frustrating; Buffalo tested the edges of the Redskins' new 3-4 alignment and repeatedly found success. Hopefully it can be attributed to over-pursuit aggressiveness brought on by nerves and adrenaline. Even more hopeful was what happened on the Bills' next seven possessions:

3-and-out, 11 yds. (INT)
3-and-out, 3 yds.
3-and-out, 9 yds.
6-and-out, 18 yds.
3-and-out, 2 yds.
3-and-out, 4 yds.
3-and-out, 7 yds.
Total: 24 plays, 54 yards (2.25 avg.)

At that point, 4:24 remained in the third quarter and it was 35-3 Redskins. I don't care how bad Buffalo might turn out to be. I'll take it. It's the NFL—dominance like that does not come easy or often.

4) I say it every year, I'll say it again. I'd like to see some TEAM SPEED. Particularly so given this 2010 Redskins iteration is an "older" team. Too many Redskins teams of recent vintage have looked ponderous late in games and seasons; it would do the heart good to see a couple of blue jerseys chasing some white ones tomorrow evening and losing ground. Why this high on the list? Because speed kills, even in the NFL. Particularly if you don't have it.

3) It's a new Redskins team; new coaches, new systems, new quarterback, new everything. I'll be watching for early signs of organization and professionalism. I don't expect perfection, but I do expect promise. Do they come out fired up and ready to play? Do they get units on and off the field timely? Is clock management sound? This is one of those "you know it when you see it" deals. I really, really want to see it.
By the middle of the second-quarter, I was seeing it. And I was starting to feel secure. The kind of feeling that only comes when even a skeptical, believe-it-when-I-see it fan begins to accept that his team is, at long last, operating professionally.

2) I want to be able to say with clear conscience that Donovan McNabb looked "in charge." I'd like to see a coolly-directed audible or two ... that work. I'd like to see a couple of first-down conversions on smart, accurate, step-up-in-the-pocket NFL throws. I'd like to see at least one play where he has time to set up, scan the field, maybe slide a little to buy an extra half-second and hit an open receiver. I want that one crystallizing moment I can smile, nod, look at my buds and say, "Yup. There it is."
Didn't take long. On his very first pass, he converted a 3rd-and-8, stepping up and hitting tight end Chris Cooley in tight coverage for eleven yards. He fired decisively and on rhythm to Cooley again over the middle for 19 yards on the second possession. But it was the touchdown to Armstrong a few plays later that provided the crystalline moment. He made it look routine. It wasn't.

Stay healthy, Donovan.
1) No injuries.
Shhh. Don't jinx it.


There...thanks rendered, rosebuds gathered. Time to move on.

By the way, if any Gridiron Gods are still reading...feel free to swing by Landover again on September 12 at 8:20 pm EST, and set things right.

Just sayin'.


Anonymous said...

awesome... this is great recap.

Gabe Ortiz said...

god bless his heart, which is HUGE, but Jason in a million years does not even attempt that throw to armstrong ... it was amazing and GUTSY.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Agreed, Gabe. It's an instinct thing--McNabb didn't think about making that throw, he simply reacted. And fast--watch the replay and check out how quickly spots his man, locks, loads and delivers. Jason's instincts and processing speed, from day one, were much more deliberate.

No one supported Jason more than I did, but what we're going to see in McNabb is an entirely different level of quarterbacking.

If he can stay healthy and the OL doesn't disintegrate to injury again, this offense is going to compete.