August 31, 2011

Redskins vs Buccaneers - To Your Health

Just one week of pretend games to go. Gracias al cielo.

The first three weeks of the 2011 preseason have been a bit of a revelation. Ever since that first opening offensive drive against the Steelers three short weeks ago, these young(er) 2011 Washington Redskins have done nothing but surprise, impress, excite and even begin to alter expectations.

I admit it—I've been as surprised as anyone. I hoped that Year Two of the Shanahan/Allen Era would bring the kind of synergistic upswell that we've gotten hints of the past three weeks ... but there's a difference between hoping and seeing.

Forget the stats, the record, all that. To me it's been the un-scientific stuff—about the "look" and "feel" of this team so far in 2011—that stands out. The attitude, the body language, the confidence, the execution, the crispness. Preseason or not, there's a "feel" you get for a football team after a few of these gloriried scrimmage, and through three weeks of preseason, these Redskins feel a whole lot different than anything we've seen from them in quite a while.

Yes, I know, self-described "realist" fan. It's just preseason. I get that, really. But they've looked pretty good. Far better than anyone really dared hope. It's all right, no one's keeping track. You can admit it.

Now on to what I really care about heading into this last preseason "game"...

August 25, 2011

Redskins vs Ravens Spotlight: Beck and the Big Men

Time to get out front on the whole Beck vs Grossman thing. Seems only fair to do it before tonight's meeting with the Baltimore Ravens.

I will not denigrate Rex Grossman. He has more than earned respect in this town—or should have—for both his on- and off- field performance as a Redskin. But the truth is, if I’m coaching against the Redskins offense this season, my preference is to defend Rex Grossman over John Beck.

Why? Because I know where Rex is going to be. Because I feel confident that if I can take away his first option more often than not, and force him to move, re-load, improvise, I stand a pretty good chance of forcing errors. Of creating that one key errant pass, logging that one key sack, and, given his proven penchant for losing control of the ball when hit, creating that game-altering turnover.

Yes, Rex Grossman is going to challenge me down the field. Particularly if his first option comes open. But over the course of a game, I like my chances of keeping him generally under control, and more importantly,  generating that crucial turnover if I can take away his first option and apply consistent pressure.

Beck, meanwhile, is the kind of opposing quarterback that drives me to distraction.

You can have the perfect defense called. You can break a pass rusher clean. You can have the man dead to rights and in the cross-hairs for a crunching sack ... only to see him whip a siderarm dart out of traffic with that quick-trigger release. Or sidestep a pass rusher, drift into open space and go downfield quickly and accurately.

A guy like Beck will throw off his back foot, drifting sideways, at full gallop—from any platform—and find a receiver operating outside the confines of the initial play call and improvising on the run as well.

It's a morale-killer.

If the John Beck we saw against the Indianapolis Colts last week is any indication, he is the kind of quarterback that will turn opposing defensive coordinators (and fans) hair gray, set their teeth to grinding and have their backsides puckering, every time a play breaks down and he starts moving.

It's been 25 years since the Redskins had a guy like that.

August 19, 2011

Tablesettings: Game 2, Redskins vs Colts

Last week's game setup was easy. Football was back. Even an ugly loss would have been borderline okay (it's just preseason, right?). Point was, we were watching live Redskins football again.

But something unexpected happened. Not only didn't the Redskins lose, but they won.  And looked damn good doing it.  Aainst none other than the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The AFC Champions. "Those" Steelers.

Preseason or not, the Redskins went toe-to-toe with one of the NFL's big boys and came out on top. Forget the score; Friday night's pleasant surprise was about the young "rebuilding" Redskins showing  organization, speed, cohesion, efficiency ... things that have been all-too wanting around here for a long time.

There were also noteworthy individual performances:

QB Rex Grossman—maligned and subject of more undeserved scorn from his home town fans than any player I can  recall—was sharp.  Don't take my word for it, see for yourself.

Newcomer RB Tim Hightower flashed big time.  One half of preseason football doesn't automatically project into a Pro Bowl season, no, but few Redskins fans could watch Hightower burst around left end, one-cut and slash decisively, and for good measure truck former Redskins safety (and Steeler lightning-rod du-jour) Ryan Clark, and not get just a little bit juiced.

WR Santana Moss shined.  Sharp routes, sure hands.  7 catches, 64 yards and a TD in a half. 

The new defensive line—Carriker, Cofield & Bowen ("The Firm")—was stout, and even provided something Redskins fans barely recognize ... consistent pass rush from the down linemen.

Oh, there were concerns to be sure ...

August 11, 2011

2011 Redskins: Preseason Eve

And just like that, the endless offseason ... does.

It is never hard to do the traditional "Preseason Game One" scene-setter post.  This year it's even easier than usual. 

● It's hard to imagine ever completely losing the childlike expectation and anticipation that comes with the preseason opener. When the Washington Redskins take to the field tomorrow night to meet the Pittsburgh Steelers, it will have been 223 days since we last saw our team storm the field. That moment alone is worth tuning in for. The emerald gridiron, the thunderous crowd, the thudding flash and smoke of fireworks, the leaping, woofing warriors in full battle gear ...

If none of that gets you amped after nearly eight months of enforced abstinence, I daresay your inner child needs a hug.

● The lockout turned what is usually an interminable offseason player acquisition phase into a breathless, whirlwind two-week game of musical chairs. The music hasn't even stopped echoing yet.  As as result, a large part of tomorrow night will simply be matching jersey numbers and body types to names we've so far only read about for a few short days. 

There is nothing quite like seeing an intriguing new player in burgundy and gold for the first time. It's not unlike a first date--first impressions come 'round but once.

● Oh yeah, we get our actual first look at said new players tomorrow night. This year's preseason opener brings a bonanza like few in recent memory. In no particular order, and not exclusively, we are about to get those all-important first impressions of ...

August 2, 2011

2011 Redskins: Winds of Change or Just More Hot Air?

The most overlooked factor surrounding the 2011 Washington Redskins is the fact it is a new regime's second season.

If that simple statement does not resonate, perhaps it should.

The team that head coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen inherited in 2010 was, in the most generous terms, adrift. Twenty years of regime changes and organizational about-faces take a cumulative toll.

The Redskins brand, on and off the field, had faded from bold light to indistinct shadow. Beyond a wildly successful marketing machine, the franchise lacked competitive direction, identity, philosophy and any other team-oriented facet you might care to name.

Well, that may ... may ... be about to change. What we are going to see in 2011 is whether or not the new regime's unmistakable establishment of a clear guiding philosophy has begun to "take."

More excitingly, we are going to get an indication if that grossly undervalued team-sport commodity, synergy, translates into results on the field.

You remember synergy, right? Redskins fans should. They should remember, appreciate and yearn for its return more than any.

The most wildly successful teams this city has ever seen, those under Joe Gibbs I between 1981 and 1992, were less about talent on the field than they were about team. About the whole being more than the sum of the parts. About that unquantifiable collective spark true teams take on.

We have talked this entire offseason about the current roster. About offensive linemen, inside linebackers, and, naturally, the quarterback roulette wheel we have suffered here for a generation, to the point of exhaustion. It's time to step back and see the big picture.