August 24, 2012

Redskins vs Colts, Week 3 - A Tale of Two Realities

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness, it is the epoch of belief, it is the epoch of incredulity, it is the season of Light, it is the season of Darkness, it is the spring of hope, it is the winter of despair, we have everything before us, we have nothing before us ...
Best? Easy. Robert Griffin, III vs Andrew Luck. Third game of the preseason, when teams incorporate game-planning. When starters play up to three quarters. As close to "real" NFL football as we have seen since the Super Bowl ended last February.

Worst? Also easy. RG3 vs Luck, in preseason, being sold as meaning something. When "starters playing three quarters" is interpreted by many as said veteran starters, as a group, taking it even remotely as seriously as they will when the games count. When "game-planning" is being sold as even remotely comparable to the hyper-targeted scheming we will not see until the results matter. The inevitable truth that, even knowing it is but a glorified scrimmage, we will, at some point, find ourselves emotionally caught up in the moment.
Wisdom?  Of course. Our higher intellects do still rule the day. Win or lose, look great or look awful, in our heart of hearts we accept that preason is meaningless. Even Joe Gibbs said so ("nothing matters less than preseason").
Foolishness? You think? Skip Bayless. Chris Berman. Handsomely paid television, radio and interweb experts solemnly attesting to the meaning to be found wihtin the meaninglessness, if one is simply willing to accept their genius. Armchair quarterbacks, coaches, and general managers finding interwebbian soapbox opportunites galore from which to share their told-you-so genius.
Belief? You bet. When RG3 sidesteps an unblocked pass rusher and whips a 25-yard laser in the seam to a streaking Pierre Garçon for a touchdown, we cleave to it as portent of much awesomeness to come. When the defense stones the Colts on fourth-and-1 from our own 38-yard line, to turn away a potential scoring drive, it strikes us as sufficient evidence that defensive coordinator Jim Hazlett is, indeed, the right man for the job. 
Incredulity? Without a doubt. We are two short weeks from the season opener, on the road against the New Orleans Saints, and our projected starting offensive line has yet to play a down together. Heading into week three of the preaseason, we are looking at the very real possibility that our workhourse featured running back in said season opener will be a sixth round rookie out of Florida  Atlantic. And our defense continues to seemingly deal only in extremes—Bills dominance, Bears flatulence—and little in between. 
Season of Light? Please. It's Fall. It's the Redskins. Life is Good.
Season of Darkness? Sigh. Summer is almost over. The mind-numbing incompetence that has been Redskins football for the last twenty years casts a long shadow indeed, even over the apparent Redskins Spring that dawned the brisk March morning we learned they had traded up in the draft for the chance to land their first franchise quarterback in a generation. As we have been reminded so many times over that forlorn time, hope can be a dangerous thing. 
Spring of hope? Damn straight. After 20 years, we actually have what even stone-cold reason tells us is a legtimate NFL quarterback prospect. We know it's going to take time—probably two or three years—before his tide fully raises all Redskins ships, but ware okay with that. The joy is in the journey, not the destination.
Winter of despair? Wait. Two or three more years? I can't take this anymore.
Everything before us? Four o'clock Saturday afternoon, the Washington Redskins take to their home field for the first time since January 1, 2012. Leading the charge through the fireworks and thundering  music will be none other than The Man himself, Robert Griffin, III. He will play up to three quarters of football, with a little systemic support around him finally, perhaps even allowed to run a few plays of the offense we will see in September. We will finally get a glimpse of the magic we believe will be ours to savor for a decade and more. Our house. Our man. Our team.
Nothing before us? Nod. It's preseason. No matter how hard "they" try to sell it otherwise, the truth is that nothing matters less.  
Ah, well. Take heart friends. The regular season is but two short weeks away.
It is a far far better thing...

August 15, 2012

RG3 Unspectacular But On Schedule in Preseason Opener

Week 1 of the preseason is less about analysis than it is celebrating The Return of NFL Football.  It is for reveling in the moment. It's about seeing your favorite team hit the field for the first time in a seeming eternity. As long as no key player goes down with serious injury, the preseason opener is largely ceremonial.

But now that the initial breathless"here we go" moment has passed, and we have seen with our own wondering eyes young QB Robert Griffin III, in a Redskins uniform, in live action, for the first time, it's time to take a deep breath and begin to narrow our focus.

In that spirit, here are some semi-serious (it is still preseason) thoughts after the warm fuzzies have faded from week one:

I thought much of the media reaction to RG3's brief appearance, particularly from the national media, was strangely over the top. To my eye, the man barely broke a sweat. Six pass attempts, one successful audible, zero drama.

To be sure, it was good to see him looking poised, standing tall in the pocket and delivering accurately. But until we begin building a meaningful sample size of kind of “off schedule” plays that head coach Mike Shanahan keeps talking about, and that are what is supposed to make Kid Bob special, we really won’t learn much about where RG3 is in his developmentnot so much in his physical development, but the mental side. The in-game, on-the-fly judgment side.

Until the first time he has to come back on 3rd-and-12, having just been smacked in the mouth and landed upon by an irritated 6'3", 315 lb. defensive tackle on second down, we won’t begin to see beyond all the shiny, seductive potential and into, shall we say, the afterglow reality.

Not to overstate the case, but with two brief nod-of-recognition exceptions, what I took from RG3's  brief debut was much ado about not much. The three completions he made to open WR's Pierre Garτon and Leonard Hankerson were throws I frankly expect any professional quarterback to make. He went through his progressions, yes, and that was noted and appreciated. But there was really nothing unusual to them, good or bad.

His best pass of the night, easily, was the sideline 3rd-down incompletion to Garτon that many feel should have been called complete. Friggin' faux zebras.  The throw showed true NFL accuracy and touch.

But even that one didn't really get my attention. Here's what did:

1) the one RG3 moment of the night that I might call "off schedule"the ad-libedb, off-platform incompletion to TE Niles Paul. On that one, Griffin III spun out of a break to his left to find an unblocked Bills defender in his face. He insitinctively stopped, twisted and snapped off an athletic, accurate throw in a flash that, if nothing else, turned a potentially bad play into a harmless one. I don't mind telling you that made me smile.

2) the WR screen that Garτon took to the house for the game's only TD. Why? Becuase RG3 made it look easy, and that is something that those who have watched Redskins quarterbacks struggle mightily for a generation can attest it was not. The pass may have only covered a few yards, but it was on time, well-paced and on target.

Professional, even.

Both of those plays showed me hints of what I have been looking in vain for in a Redskins QB for too many years to count—the ability to throw quickly and accurately, if necessary from improvised platforms, when the natural rhythm of a play breaks down or a quicker-than-normal release becomes necessary.

Or, put in more in-vogue terms ... off schedule.

All in all, the 2012 preseason opener was a satisfiying appetizer. Tasty, not too filling, whetting the appetite just so. With our palates now awakened, here's to a slightly more zesty second course, and further promise of what is to come, Saturday night against the Chicago Bears.