October 28, 2010

Synaptic Shotgun - DaView, London, Going Deep, Wimoweh

Occasional, recurring short-form posts about
the Washington Redskins, NFL and maybe even Life.
Almost like a blog.

Season Record: 4-3 (2nd, NFCE)

Don't mind me. Just enjoying da view.

Been a while since I felt like I was watching something being built. Yes, Jim Zorn started 6-2 in his debut season, but with Vinny Cerrato and Jason Campbell large and in charge, even then it was hard to get too excited about the upside. Respectability maybe. Possible championship(s) not so much.

This feels different. Allen, Shanahan, McNabb, Williams, Orakpo, Landry ...

Hey I'm not saying how far off. Just that if I squint my eyes just so, I can almost see it from here.

Meanwhile let's not forget to stop and enjoy some of the roses along the way. With winning comes suddenly finding familiar favorite names and faces starting to appear on all those lists and features that for so long Redskins fans have viewed from the outside looking in.

Do they "mean" anything? No, not really.

Is it cool anyway? Oh yeah ...

October 25, 2010

Not Your Same Old Redskins

When Mike Shanahan accepted the Redskins’ head coaching job last January he made it clear right from the beginning that his first season would be no rebuilding project. He acknowledged that certain areas of the roster—the lines in particular—needed rebuilding, but didn’t agree the Redskins needed the kind of raze-it-to-the-ground fresh start many fans and observers were clamoring for.

He wanted to build, but also to win. Now.

At first blush, it appeared he and general manager Bruce Allen intended to do that with a Back to the Future is Now approach that would have made George Allen and his famous Over the Hill Gang approach proud.

Six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb (33) was brought it to replace popular but ineffective incumbent Jason Campbell (28).

Running backs Larry Johnson (30) and Willie Parker (30) were brought in to compete with Clinton Portis (29).

At wide receiver the team signed graybeard Joey Galloway (39) and not-spring-chickens Bobby Wade (29) and Roydell Williams (29).

Key names expected to help transition the defense from a base 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 included Philip Daniels (37), Vonnie Holliday (37), London Fletcher (35) and Ma’ake Kemoeatu (31).

Before you knew it word on the street was the 2010 Redskins, the “oldest team in the NFL,” were simply the latest incarnation of Dan Snyder’s Flying Circus and destined to crash and burn.

But a funny thing happened on the way to disaster.

An opening night victory over ballyhooed Super Bowl favorite Dallas was followed up by a close loss to the suddenly relevant Houston Texans. A road win over division rival Philadelphia and surprising victory over preseason Super Bowl favorite Green Bay had the team 3-2 and suddenly being called “rugged” instead of “ancient.”

In a matter of just five weeks, the national conversation about the Redskins had evolved from clichés about age and “buying championships” to “tough and improving.”

On the fly, without fanfare and even while changing the losing culture fielding a competitive team in a transition year, Shanahan and Allen are also making the Redskins younger...

Get your free subscription to Hail! magazine to read the rest. You won't be sorry!

October 22, 2010

33 Yards Between Glory and Unemployment

As Redskins placekicker Graham Gano lined up to kick a potential game-winning 33-yard field in overtime against the Green Bay Packers, I jotted down the phrase that would become the title of this column.

In the heat of the moment the comment seemed utterly reasonable. If in the cool light of hindsight it reads a little hyperbolic, that is because Gano coolly drilled the kick down the middle, sealing the Redskins’ dramatic come-from-behind victory over a team that had dominated them throughout most of the game.

Had Gano missed, however, the title might well have served as a roster move announcement.

In the NFL placekickers are generally noticed—only truly register with fans—when they miss. Professional field goal kickers are “supposed” to make routine 33-yarders to win overtime games. And they do, for the most part.

When they succeed fans go home happy and spend the afterglow hours talking about everything but the kicker. They talk about the quarterback that drove the team down the field to set the kick up; they talk about a defense that dug in its heels and limited one of the NFL’s most dangerous offenses to three second-half points.

If the kicker misses, it’s a very different story.

October 21, 2010

Synaptic Shotgun 10.21.10 - Da Bears, Some Dude, Norval, Viva

Occasional, recurring short-form posts about
the Washington Redskins, NFL and maybe even Life.
Almost like a blog.

Six games into the 2010 season, the Redskins are 3-3, one game out of first place in the NFC East and heading to Chicago to play the Bears. Transition year (new Redskins regime) or not, it's a Big Game.

Win on Sunday, and the happy vibes and upward trend in DC continue as the Redskins stay in the thick of early playoff position jostling. Lose, and the darkness of doubt settles in again as the team dips back below .500, and all the same old questions and demons Washington fans have become so accustomed to come a'calling.

Like I said.  Big.

Weird thing about the Bears these days though. It's hard to get a good mental image of this game. When I think about the Redskins at Chicago I still conjure smashmouth. Monster defense, power running game, faceless quarterbacking, icy wind off the lake and SOLDIER FIELD.

I'm struggling to shift gears and envision the Flying Martz Circus, baby-faced, lazy-eyed gunslinging quarterback Jay Cutler and this shiny thing passing as Soldier Field:

Hey, call me curmudgeon, but this is Redskins at Chicago:

And this.

This, not so much:

The new Redskins, Bears and Soldier Field have work to do.

October 18, 2010

Colts 27, Redskins 24 - Damn.

Synaptic Shotgun Lite
Random short-form day-after reactions
to the mini-dramas that are Redskins games

The Redskins never really seemed to be in it.

Oh, they tied it up at seven early, but it didn't last. Peyton Manning pretty much did what he wanted, when he wanted to, and reclaimed the lead. You just never got the sense the Skins would take, or if they somehow did, hold on to, the lead.

And when the Skins somehow managed to hang around, narrow it to three late with the game on the line, the ball, all their timeouts and all the momentum, they couldn't get a first down much less a touchdown.

That's the bad news.

The good news? The first-year Shanahan Redskins have come far enough, fast enough, where losing a last-minute scrambler to Peyton Manning in prime time is cause for gut-churning disappointment.

The Redskins are still rough around the edges. They lack the kind of offensive refinement and timing that makes the difference between a converted third down on a key drive and a ball that falls incomplete by a matter of inches. They are missing key components on both sides of the ball it will take at least another offseason or two add.

But they're tough. They hang around leave you knowing you've been in a football game. If you're a glass-half-empty guy you have plenty to bitch about this morning. But if you're a glass-half-full guy, you might just be thinking this thing isn't that far from coming together.

 Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is bit of a Golden Boy in Washington. He's Mike's son after all. His stint as offensive coordinator in Houston was wildly successful. And if not formally anointed, he has at least been openly whispered about as the likely successor to Dad as head coach of the Redskins one day. Through six weeks of his debut season as OC in Washington, however, it's been hard to see what all the fuss is about...

October 11, 2010

Staying Alive

Given the dramatic swings from week to week during an NFL season, it is difficult to get a sense of how good a given team might be or project where they might be headed.

That holds true for teams recognized as “elite” heading into the season, to hopeful playoff teams looking to break through, to struggling teams simply trying to find their footing.

No team may have been more difficult to get a read on than the 2010 Washington Redskins.
Heading into the season with a new general manager, new head coach, new offensive and defensive systems, new quarterback and dozens of new players, putting winning expectations on the Redskins was unrealistic and unfair. Or at least it should have been, in a perfect and reasonable world.

The 2010 NFL universe of course is no such place.

Context, perspective and common sense take a back seat to passion once fur and footballs start to fly in September. The weekly spectacle of the NFL, and the intensity with which fans invest emotions and identify with their teams, quickly turns the dispassionate analysis of May and June to the Monday morning angst or chest-thumping of September and October.

Case in point…your Washington Redskins.

For many, it matters not that this franchise last hoisted a trophy—or even threatened to—19 long years ago. It matters not that as recently as January the team was coming off a 4-12 season and a two-year circus that saw franchise sink as low on the NFL scales of respect and relevance as fans of the burgundy and gold can remember.

Put names like Bruce Allen, Mike Shanahan and Donovan McNabb on the letterhead, and then hit the quarter pole of the season at .500 (2-2), with the wins coming against hated division rivals Dallas and Philadelphia, and you give rise to expectations.

More than that—to playoff expectations.

Yes, the dreaded P word. The word that sent former New Orleans Saints head coach Jim Mora into public paroxysm when an intrepid reporter dared mention the word after a tough loss. The very word that defines success in the NFL.

As fans of a perennial non-playoff-expectant (“losing” is as hard a word to utter as it is swallow) team, Redskins faithful have been left going year-to-year for a very long time, wondering if this is finally the year their team will qualify for…the word.

Well, brace yourselves. One quarter of the way through the first season of the Shanahan Era, the reality is that this team in transition is very much a part of the post-season conversation. At 2-2, with two division wins, the Redskins were alive and well...

Grab your Free Subscription to HAIL! Magazine to read the rest

October 8, 2010

Synaptic Shotgun 10.8.10 - TGIFBARG

Occasional, recurring short-form posts about
the Washington Redskins, NFL and maybe even Life.
Almost like a blog.

Remember the offseason? Remember how looooong it was?

Me too.

Thank god it's Friday before a Redskins game.

● I will keep beating this drum 'til there's reason to stop. Through four weeks the Redskins have yet to show they are capable of sound halftime adjustments. Whatever the cause, be it schematic, age or something else entirely, they have become a lesser team the longer the game progresses.

Four weeks is long enough to constitute a pattern.

Heading into Sunday's game against Green Bay, I fully expect the Redskins to be competitive on both sides of the ball in the first half. Maybe even a little better than that. It's what happens after that, when the Packers have had a chance to make adjustments at the half, that I will worry about until the game is decided.

Heading into the second quarter of the season, this has become my single biggest concern over not just the 2010 team; it has also raised (at this point still whispered) questions in my mind about the ability of this coaching staff to made effective in-game adjustments.

Alarmist? Let's hope so.

● When we last saw rookie LT Trent Williams, the Redskins were 1-0 and tied 27-27 with the Houston Texans with a minute-and-a-half left in game two. Williams was beaten for a sack on Donovan McNabb by Mario Williams and injured on the play.

On the subsequent play, a 3rd-and-20, his replacement, Stephon Heyer, was called for holding, negating a huge apparent 22-yard completion from McNabb to Santana Moss.

The offensive line has been surviving Williams' absence ever since, but not much more than that. Word is he's back on Sunday. If he plays at or near the level he was playing before the injury, it should mean only good things for a Redskins offense still trying to find its way (in the second half anyway).

● So...here we are at the 2010 season quarter pole. Let's check the standings:

October 5, 2010

State of Grace

When Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder hired Bruce Allen to succeed Vinny Cerrato as head of personnel last fall, long-frustrated fans of the burgundy and gold took notice. Deliverance was a long time coming.

When Allen and Snyder landed future Hall of Fame head coach Mike Shanahan to succeed Jim Zorn, fans raised eyebrows and no doubt a few fists. The overnight return to credibility was as exhilarating as it was unexpected.

Then, when Shanahan and Allen pulled off the NFL trade of the offseason, acquiring perennial Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb from the Philadelphia Eagles to replace classy-but-limited Jason Campbell, Redskins fans found themselves facing something of a dilemma.

2010 may be a transition year, but given the nature and quality of the upgrades, should the new Redskins be competitive right away?

To put the question in context one needs to consider the history.

Washington hasn’t fielded a consistent winner in almost twenty years.

The last time the Redskins even turned in back-to-back winning seasons was in ’96 and ’97, under the unlamented Norv Turner. Neither campaign ended in playoff appearances.

The franchise is coming off a dispiriting two-year misadventure under Zorn, capped by a 4-12 season in 2009, that erased the brief return to relevance enjoyed under Joe Gibbs between ’04 and ‘07.

If the names on the Redskins marquee in September 2010 had read Smith, Tobias and Jones, no one would have been thinking playoff contention. But the names in lights weren’t just any names—they were Shanahan, Allen and McNabb.

Context, meet dilemma.

No educated fan should impose winning expectations on a losing team in a transition year. No new head coach can be expected to assemble a new staff, assess inherited personnel, retool and re-deploy a scouting staff, install new offensive and defensive systems and acquire enough new pieces to turn a perennial loser into a winner in one offseason.

But given the names, it became impossible not to daydream.

Over the course of a long offseason of quarterback schools, OTA’s and minicamps, as the roster was methodically retooled and an air of competence settled over Ashburn, a jump from 4-12 to 8-8 suddenly didn’t seem so far fetched.

When April’s NFL Draft fetched a potential cornerstone left tackle, and reports out of Ashburn had the Redskins coming together in a sense of quiet confidence, it did not seem out of the realm of possibility this team could play an extra game or two in January.

Preseason did little to quell heightened expectations. The opener against Buffalo was cathartic—the Redskins looked crisp, efficient, professional. Then they stared down and bested the NFL’s brash “it” team, the New York Jets.

By the time the Redskins out-slugged and outlasted the Dallas Cowboys on opening day, it was hard to find a fan in burgundy and gold not prepared to at least entertain the notion the 2010 team might do something crazy. Something like skip right over the inevitable struggles endemic to any transition year and move straight to respectable. Maybe even a little better than that...

Get your free subscription to HAIL! Magazine to read the rest

October 4, 2010

Redskins 17, Eagles 12 - Let There Be Light

Synaptic Shotgun Lite
Random short-form day-after reactions
to the mini-dramas that are Redskins games

A few quick Monday morning thoughts:

Ø      Why Bookies Wear Bling. At kickoff yesterday, I think it's fair to say 90-plus percent of Redskins fans and media had effectively written the stumbling, 1-2 team off. With the Eagles, Packers, Colts and Bears on tap, I suspect 75-plus percent would have bet even money the Redskins would emerge from that gauntlet 1-6. It's a damn good thing most of don't actually place bets.

Ø      I've said it before, I'll say it again. Even at probably 80-90 percent of the player he was five years ago, quarterback Donovan McNabb is better by orders of magnitude than anyone the Redskins have had masquerading as a legitimate NFL quarterback for a very long time. McNabb is a professional NFL quarterback. He gives his team a chance to win, and he will win games for the Redskins with his arm, legs, brain and leadership.

The man is also going to get better. Maybe a lot better. Let him actually learn the offense (two years per Shanahan, remember?), get his legitimate left tackle back, maybe even have a legitimate number one wide receiver to throw to (anyone want to care to wager the team enters 2011 without one?), and apparently serious comments suggesting the man is just another Patrick Ramsey or Jason Campbell will be relegated to even the most cynical fans' dustbin.

And a few quick things we know:

Ø      Coffee and breakfast tasted a whole lot better this morning than a week ago.

Ø      The Redskins passing game will show flashes of Thunderbird brilliance. In the first half. In the second not so much...

October 3, 2010

GAMEDAY: Redskins vs Eagles Notes, Prediction

If the Redskins hadn't overslept last week, and failed to realize they were in an NFL game until it was too late, previewing today's tilt against the Philadelphia Eagles would have been a different exercise.

We would have been discussing two hot, 2-1 teams vying for undisputed hold over first place in the NFC East.

We would have been solemnly parsing the million-and-one angles surrounding the quarterback matchup between returning prodigal (if adopted) son Donovan McNabb and the dogged reincarnation-in-progress that is Michael Vick.

We might have spent time pondering the possible passing of the title of Unofficial Best Head Coach in the division from incumbent heavyweight Andy Reid to legendary old welterweight Mike Shanahan.

As it stands however, with the Redskins' suddenly staggering defense set to face the hottest quarterback since Alexander exploited the Persians' too-deep zone in the 4th Century B.C., the focus of today's game is far simpler.

All the other angles are still out there of course. But as far as the Redskins are concerned, today is—or at least should be—simply about proving that last week against the supposedly hapless Rams was an anomaly. That it was a single unfortunate pothole along the road back to respectability. That it was one of those simultaneous hiccup/burp/fart deals.

Don't laugh—we all have 'em.

Win or lose, Washington needs to come out swinging this afternoon and play a respectable NFL game, forcing the Eagles to beat them rather than giving another game away with self-inflicted wounds and mistakes.

If they do that, those of us who care so damn much about the burgundy and gold can go back to projecting a strong(er) finish to the 2010 season and bright(er) future. If they mail it in however, or look disinterested, disorganized or just plain bad...well...if you thought things were bad this week, next week Redskins Nation will all but self-immolate.