September 30, 2010

Darkest Before the Dawn




I don't care, you know.

I don't care about DeAngelo Hall's diarrhetic mouth, Clinton Portis' rubber legs or the vaccuum that is Albert Haynesworth's intellect.

I don't care if Mike Shanahan, Bruce Allen and Donovan McNabb are Sons of Washington or adopted sons passing through.

I don't care if Dan Snyder is sinner or saint.

For reasons that go way back, I do care whether the professional football team known as the Washington Redskins scores more points on a given Sunday than the team the National Football League schedules them to play.

It's a simple formula really:

1. Score more points than the other guy more often than not over the course of sixteen weeks, and chances are they will let you play another game.

2. Score more points than the other guy in that game and lo and behold they let you play again, and...

3. Everyone talks in reverential tones about how awesome, cool and sexy you are.

I vaguely remember the last time my favorite team was awesome and cool and sexy. I was 31 and had a full head of hair. I could still stomach cheap beer. Life was good.

Lots has happened in my life since then; stuff you don't care about and I don't feel like telling. Know what hasn't happened?

My favorite football team hasn't won.

Instead they have become an opponent. You know opponents. The Washington Generals are an opponent. Grenada was an opponent.

The Washington Redskins are supposed to be better than that.

I've had my fill of friends who don't follow football, or worse, root for other teams, looking at me Monday mornings with geniune pity or barely-disguised mirth.

I wish I could stop caring. Or at least I do for a few minutes after the latest soul-crushing loss. But of course I can't. I'm a lifer.

Then I wish like hell I could do something about it. Which of course I also can't. I'm a fan.

Tired of losing though. Like, alot.

I think it's time for a futile gesture.

Until the losing stops this dumb blog will wear black.

Hail dammit.

September 27, 2010

Wide Receiver: The Missing Link



When you think about certain NFL teams, you tend to think about individuals. At mention of the Indianapolis Colts, one pictures Peyton Manning. His brother Eli is the New York Giants. If the subject is Green Bay, even three years after his departure it remains Brett Favre.

With the myriad changes surrounding them this year, who is it that people first think of when the conversation turns to the Washington Redskins?

Those old enough to remember the glory years of Joe Gibbs 1.0 may still think of the bespectacled one himself. Or if not him, at least some aspect of his teams—the Hogs, The Diesel, maybe Art Monk. For those too young to have known those championship teams, however, what name springs to mind?

The easy answer is new quarterback Donovan McNabb. Not since Joe Theismann in the early 1980’s have the Redskins been led by name worthy of a storied quarterback legacy dating back to the first great NFL quarterback, Sammy Baugh, and sustained over the years by such as Sonny Jurgensen and Theismann.

But that almost feels like a disservice. Can McNabb, with unopened moving boxes still stacked in his living room, truly be the face and soul of a franchise? Do serious Redskins fans—those who know the roster and history—so quickly give away their hearts?

Certainly there are other candidates. Players at positions across the board that a proud fan can point to with conviction and say, “That guy could play for anybody.”

With the addition of McNabb, the Redskins arguably now have “that guy” at almost any position one cares to think about; a player good enough to anchor the unit he plays on, and also carry on the legacy of Redskins greats at their positions going back to the days of grainy black and white...

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September 26, 2010

Synaptic Shotgun 9.26.10 - Rams Game Day

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

Yeah, I know. Sorry—long week.

No way I let a gameday go without posting though.

Boiled it down to just a couple of things.

EXPECTATIONS

You know it's true. Today's game against the 0-2 St. Louis Rams and wet-behind-the-ears rookie quarterback Sam Bradford feels like a "must" win. Why? Because for the past nine months Redskins fans have slowly, inexorably built up hope and expectation that the Allen, Shanahan, McNabb Redskins are not just any other 4-12 team launching a new regime.

Against our better judgment, in the privacy of our hearts and minds many of us believe this team is at least a wild card hopeful; a team that could well find its stride down the stretch in time to qualify for the playoffs.

And everyone knows what can happen then. You get in, you get hot...

But all that knock-on-wood thinking ends today if the Redskins lay an egg and lose to the Rams. No disrespect to the good people of St. Louis, but losing to your team today would send Redskins fans hearts plunging into acidic stomachs and minds to places so dark M. Night Shyamalan might come calling.

It's not about the St. Louis Rams today. It's about find out whether or not the 2010 Redskins are legit.

CLOSING IT OUT

Through the first two weeks, I have been impressed with the Redskins game-planning and playcalling. The Shanahans and Jim Haslett have shown me preparation, professionalism and even cutting edge.

Where I'm a little nervous is what happens late in games. Dallas drove the field easily as time wound down and was one play from stealing a heartbreaker. Houston got the best of the Redskins down the stretch in a big way, and to me at least part of that seemed to be a result of better in-game adjustments...

September 21, 2010

The Five O'Clock Club


There are any number of ways to contrast the NFL of a generation ago from today’s game—the size of the players, the money they make and the media’s breathless year-round saturation coverage...

But there may be no more revealing a data point, particularly to those who follow the Washington Redskins, than the legendary 5 O’Clock Club.

During the early 1980’s, members of the Redskins’ famous “hogs” offensive line and select others, including Hall of Fame members Russ Grimm and John Riggins, would gather after practice in an old equipment shed at Redskins Park to unwind, share camaraderie and throw back a few cold beers.

Thirty years later there is a certain warm innocence that resonates around that story, an endearing (if somewhat na├»ve) swashbuckling quality and “we’re good enough to get away with it” roguishness.

That is largely because they were good enough. The strong foundation provided by the hogs played a central role in helping head coach Joe Gibbs lead the Redskins on a magical 12-year run, winning three Super Bowls, losing another and laying claim to be mentioned among the NFL’s Mt. Rushmore of dynastic teams.

But there had to be more…didn’t there? Even on a winning team, could having a handful of key players hanging out in a shed after practice drinking beer be considered a good thing..?

CLICK HERE  for your Free Subscription to read the rest. You won't be sorry.

September 19, 2010

Synaptic Shotgun 9.19.10 - Texans Gameday

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

Can't let this go unsaid. If I came to you after today's game against Houston and told you why I'd seen the Redskins' win coming, you'd think I was catching a wave.

That wouldn't do.

I'm not going to break it down into X's and O's...by gameday morning you will have read plenty of those if that's your thing. What I will do is tell you is what I was thinking as I watched the highlights of the Texans' 34-24 win over Indianapolis that has everyone buzzing.

Their heretofore anonymous young running back, Arian Foster, ran wild to the tune of 231 yards and three touchdowns. That's pretty good. From the looks of it (acknowledging we're talking highlights here) he repeatedly gashed the left side of the Colts defense. There was a matchup problem there the Colts did not or could not fix on the fly.

I think Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett may have noticed.

The Colts best defensive player, safety Bob Sanders, left the game injured on the Texans's first offensive series. Based on recent history, Sanders is the one guy who seems to determine if the Colts defense is solid or awful. Oversimplified? Sure, a little. But not totally. The Redskins defense is not the Colts defense sans Sanders.

The Texans prepared for Indy all off season. Division rivalry. Raging inferiority complex. An underdog with limited expectations and a huge chip on its shoulder, sneaking up behind the neighborhood bully and whacking him upside the head with a shovel.

None of those factors apply against the Redskins today.

September 17, 2010

Redskins Media Edict: Things That Make You Go "Hmm."

The sounds of silence.

It's quiet. Too quiet.

Nature (and the media) abhors a vacuum.

Cliches become cliches for a reason...they generally bespeak an underlying truth.

Based on nothing more than having lived for a while in and around the periphery of today's 24/7/365 hypermedia scrum surrounding the Washington Redskins and the NFL, I'm thinking a game may be afoot.

Nothing—and I mean nothing—having to do with the Redskins goes unreported, unnoticed, un-parsed-to-death.

And yet...

Two days ago local sports radio ESPN 980 announced on the air that the Redskins had issued what I believe they termed a "media edict," handed down by team officials at Redskins Park.

In it, reportedly, were new groundrules by which the media would be allowed to cover the team. Among the specifics mentioned were:

● no more Tweeting from pracice,
● no more reporting rumors as fact.
● a somewhat pedantic (and truth be told condescending) definition of what a rumor is.

I thought it was a joke at first. Really? An edict saying the press could no longer traffic in rumors?

Somewhere I was pretty sure W. Mark Felt rolled over.

Turns out it wasn't a joke. The station devoted several segments of the show on air at that time to discussing it, and the reaction of local Redskins reporter, columnist and commentator Thom Loverro, who was on at the time—voice rising another octave and unapologetic outrage creeping in— made me think "this is going to be quite the conundrum."

Since then? Bascially nada. Zip. Nicths.

No leaks of said edict—at least not that I have seen. Think a quick-scanned PDF of that piece of paper wouldn't have gone viral in a nanosecond?

No tongue-in-cheek Steinbergisms.

Not even a McKenna sighting.

I'm no reporter—I'm an independent observer who shares opinion, not a salaried finder of fact. I think what those guys do, for the money they get paid, is a pretty thankless task. I also think some of them get jaded to the point their objectivity gets compromised and it shows in their work.

But this isn't about the people doing—or in this case perhaps not doing—the reporting. This is about the fact that this could and probably should have been, given recent history, an absolute media (excuse the language) shitstorm about Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins yet again trying to Manage the Message, Muzzle the Press and Rule The World.

Instead, it has become...


Listen—do you smell something?

*
Addendum:

Provided by a helpful (and fast) reader, here is a copy of the "edict" in question and link to the piece about it on TBD:


September 16, 2010

Synaptic Shotgun 9.16.10 - Wrapping up the Cowboys

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

Begging your indulgence, here are a few final thoughts on the Dallas opener before officially turning the page in order to focus, with proper deference and solemnity, on the mighty Houston Texans juggernaut set to invade FedEx Field on Sunday bent on putting the upstart Redskins and their delusional fans in their place.

Oh yeah. We've been listening.

● About the dropped balls. It's a different game if Mike Sellers can jog and catch at the same time, if Anthony Armstrong can hang on to the sweetest second down fade you'll ever see, maybe even if Santana Moss can catch a simple ball that hits him in both hands to convert near midfield on the penultimate drive.

It's a finished game if Carlos Rogers could catch a cold (warning: watch at your own risk).

If the teflon hands thing happens again, it's not my fault. I shot a $250 gift certificate from Dick's Sporting Goods to Redskins Park Monday morning. They have these.

● If the Redskins never throw another pass to Mike Sellers, it will be too soon. You don't invite Conan to tea and crumpets.

● I won't lie...I don't think I would have pulled the trigger on the 49-yard field goal attempt from the Dallas 31 with two minutes left in a three-point game. No way I could risk giving Tony Romo and Miles Austin the ball at their own 39, where just 30 yards gives them a good shot at the tying field goal. I would have punted, hoping to pin them back inside the 20, and asked my defense for one last stop.

A sincere nod of respect to Mike "Cojones de Acero" Shanahan.

● Another nod for Graham Gano. That was a big-time money kick. It's been a very long time since a kicker has earned the trust and confidence of Redskins fans. Yeah, it's too soon to unreservedly take that plunge at this point, but this wasn't a bad downpayment. Not bad at all.

The Hold. I watched the final play of the game several times, anticipating the Cowboy fan perspective that the Barron holding penalty didn't affect the play. Happily, if for no other reason than my own peace of mind and sense of justice, that wasn't the case...

September 14, 2010

Redskins Key Stats Tracker - Game 1 (Cowboys)

Welcome to the first regular season installment of the 2010 Washington Redskins' Key Stats Tracker.

This is a weekly feature that will run all season focusing on three specific statistical categories—turnover differential, third-down-efficiency and red-zone-efficiency—plus any specific observations/anomalies that stand out from any given game. 

This week we look at the Redskins' season-opening 13-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Not a bad way to start.


Key Stats Tracker

Quick Notes:

● Few games will better support the theory that turnovers are the single most important statistic in football. The Redskins got owned in areas commonly pointed to, like yardage (380-250), time of possession (34:03-25:57) and third down efficiency (38-23%). They scored just six total offensive points on two field goals. But they won the turnover battle.*

Season record of team forcing more turnovers: 1-0

● One of the lingering mental images I had of this game prior to visiting the stats page was of Dallas seemingly having their way with the Redskins in the running game. On both sides of the ball. It felt like Dallas ran at will and the Redskins barely crawed. So the final rushing numbers came as a bit of a surprise...

Is Jim Haslett Tough Enough?


Among the seemingly endless storylines surrounding the 2010 Washington Redskins, one that has been largely overlooked is the potential career crossroads faced by defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

By accepting the job that two-time Super Bowl winning new head coach Mike Shanahan offered, Haslett accepted both great opportunity and potential for a fall.

Succeed, and doors will reopen, including a possible return to the head coaching ranks. Fail, however, and the plateau Haslett found himself walking before Shanahan hired him could represent the highest level he will achieve again.

When Shanahan accepted the Redskins head coaching job in January, one of his first orders of business was hand-picking Haslett to craft the Redskins a championship defense.

If that wasn’t challenge enough, Shanahan made it even more challenging with his decision to scrap the 10th-ranked unit Haslett inherited, dismantle the 4-3 style defense the Redskins have traditionally played and install an aggressive, ball-hawking 3-4 style defense bent on wreaking havoc.

Since his arrival, Haslett has preached an attacking style and implored his defense to “make plays.” The onus will be on creating turnovers, and he has made it clear that unlike previous regimes, his players need not fear being summarily benched for making mistakes or giving up the occasional big play.

Haslett, with 25 years of experience in football, brings a brooding swagger to the job that at first blush makes his hiring look like a natural fit. After seven months of OTA’s, minicamps and training camp, Haslett’s players know by now that their new coach can talk the talk.

Asked what he wanted to see from his charges prior to the first preseason game, he said, “I want to see us go out just play hard and create panic and let it go.”

One suspects they also know by now that back in the day he could walk the walk...

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

September 13, 2010

Gift Horse My Ass: Redskins Beat Cowboys, 13-7

Yeah, I went there.

I'm hearing more than a few "yeah but's" today. Can't say I'm surprised to hear them from Cowboy backers--it's what fans of the losing team do. I am a little surprised to hear it from Redskins fans.

I'm talking about the line of thinking that, yeah, technically the Redskins won, but it was more a matter of the Cowboys losing.

As if only Dallas made mistakes.

As if Tashard Choice voluntarily surrended the ball.

As if the Redskins didn't drop three or four routine catches, every one crucial to the flow of play, at least two which would have ended it outright.

As if the Redskins didn't gift the Cowboys three points with a muffed snap/hold on a routine chip-shot field goal after taking the three they had already earned off the board.

As if the Redskins didn't generously commit a motion penalty on a third-and-two with two minutes left that, if converted, would effectively have ended the game. This after clicking off runs of eight, ten, eighteen and seven leading up to it against a clearly finished Dallas defense.

Don't get me wrong. The Cowboys screwed up plenty last night. But they had plenty of help doing it. And the upstart (4-12 last year, if memory serves?) Redskins were pretty generous in helping keeping the Cowboys in the game to the bitter end.

No sir. Dallas didn't lose this one. Washington won it.

Argue otherwise if you must, but in your heart of hearts you know you're wrong.

So there.

Washington Redskins 13
Dallas Cowboys 7




More later...synaptic shogtun-style.

September 11, 2010

Redskins vs Cowboys - Recipe for Victory

I wondered all week how to distill this game down to a single manageable piece. There are so many angles and layers, so many keys and so much intrigue, I could have easily written a trilogy.

As much time as one spends trying to predict, anticipate and best guess, however, it is often an offhand comment by a player that resonates most and points the way.

Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers doesn't strike me as the head-game, counter-intelligence type (no disrespect intended), and I am quite comfortable thinking what he said yesterday is worth noting. As it happens, it was also a perfect jumping off point for a discussion about what the Redskins need to bring to the table against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

Talking about the injury-plagued Dallas offensive line, and how it could affect the Redskins' defensive approach, this is what Rogers had to say:

"Their back-ups pretty good; they all right. Like Coach said, they plan to us we got to play our defense, what we do. Whoever is in there, we still gonna run our blitz [and] make their line move. They got a lot of big guys so we do a lot of stunting, a lot of different things on the line where they have to move their feet. We think that's an advantage to us no matter who is in there."

Based on what we have heard all offseason, we had reason to expect defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to be  aggressive right out of the box. But there was also reason to think he might try to protect his still-raw unit and maybe cross up Dallas up by not brining the heat, instead sitting back and making Dallas try to sustain long, multi-play drives.

Well, it doesn't sound like that's going to happen. Look for the Redskins to make good on all the tough talk out of Ashburn since January about attacking the football and looking to create turnovers.

The good news there, of course, is that the Redskins are going to lay some hits on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and wreak some havoc. The bad news is that by going full blast after Romo and forcing him to scramble, they are going to force him to do the one thing he does best...slide in the pocket, roll out, buy time for his receivers to break off routes and find open spaces.

The Redskins haven't been an attacking, aggressive defense for a long time, and it is definitely a breath of fresh air to think of them turning up the heat and getting after people. Richie Petitbon seems like a very long time ago.  The flip side of that, of course, is the high risk that accompanies high reward ventures.

We know nothing about Haslett's defense at this point. We don't know if they can contain the run, consistently pressure the passer, if Haslett can call a good game and make in-game adjustments...nothing. And it will take far more than just one first game to see how those things will evolve or devolve over time.

One thing seems certain, though. If they go down, they're going down swinging.

"Regardless of whether they were starting the whole five or not I think the most important thing is this is the season opener, we have to set the tempo for the defense and just set the tempo in general just as an organization," linebacker Andre Carter said. "Regardless of who is playing it's just important we go out there and play four quarters of our game."

Thinking about the defense got me going on what else the Redskins will need to do to come away with a win Sunday. It's not an exclusive list, of course, but if the Redskins can check more of these boxes than not it would be a hell of a start...

September 10, 2010

Redskins Key Stats Tracker (Preseason Final)

Welcome to the fourth and final preseason installment of the 2010 Washington Redskins' Key Stats Tracker.

This is a weekly feature we will run all season focusing on three specific statistical categories—turnover differential, third-down-efficiency and red-zone-efficiency—plus any specific observations/anomalies that stand out from any given game.

This week we look at the Redskins 20-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and tie a bow on the 2010 preseason.

Thank god.


Key Stats Tracker

Quick Notes:

● The Cardinals game was hard for even the most passionate fan to watch. The Redskins played zero starters, used zero schematic/strategic planning, cared zero about anything more than looking at the last few guys on the roster and getting out of the desert healthy. Add the fact that the Cardinals played starters while the Redskins played footsie, and the stats in this one were as meaningful as the proverbial politician's touch.

That established...

September 3, 2010

Virginia Tech Football

It's that time.

Turn it up.

Remember to breathe.

September 2, 2010

Synaptic Shotgun 9.2.10 - Cardinals "Gameday"

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

Okay so it's more bazooka this time.

Tonight's loosely football-related event involving the Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals is the reason there is a "hate" component to my relationship with preseason.

Backups' backups will line up opposite backups' backups.

There will be no gameplanning.

There will be no setup, sequencing or flow to playcalling.

There will be no schematic adjustments.

After the first couple of possessions there will be few names, faces or numbers on the field anyone will recognize. Which matters little because by Saturday evening after final roster cuts we won't need to.

There will be even less reason than the last three weeks for any rational person on the sidelines, booths or playing field to give a genus rattus' empennage about the scoreboard at any point during the course of the evening. 

Most of the players on the field tonight will have one thought in mind--lane discipline my ass, I'm making a play

It's the Arizona Cardinals...without Kurt "Is My Wife Watching?" Warner.

It starts at ten o'clock pm.

My alarm goes off at five thirty tomorrow morning.

I'm turning fifty in six weeks.

Wish list for tonight?

2) Don't forget to thank someone I didn't have to fly to Phoenix.

1) Don't let anyone even remotely likely to make the final roster get anything worse than a scraped elbow, sore pinkey or bruised ego.

Yes, the NFL league scheduled it. Yes, it's going to be on television. Which means at least one sap (me) is going to not only be watching but actually trying to pay attention, from start to finish, because he has committed to doing another stream-of-consciousness recap.

But I gotta tell ya, if I wasn't, tonight would be a sapling falling in the proverbial woods with no one around to verify its auditory footprint.

I mean, it's not like you are going to be watching.

Are you?