September 7, 2012

Redskins New Era Faces Stern First Test

With the 2012 NFL season and dawn of a new era in Redskins football (make no mistake, boom or bust, history will record 2012 as the beginning of the Robert Griffin III Era) just two days away, let us take a last  lingering look at the Big Picture.

Because come Sunday, and then over the five months to follow, we will spend our time burrowing deep into into the delicious minutia of the games themselves.

* deep breath *

The preseason (3-1) was certainly satisfying. There were plenty of positives:
  • flashes of RG3 potential
  • surprisingly crisp rookie backup QB Kirk Cousins
  • powerful rookie RB Afred Morris
  • as deep and athletic a WR corps as we have seen since The Posse
  • something only veteran Redskins observers can recall--apparent depth. This is something the Redskins have NOT boasted in recent memory. The thorough dismantling and domination of Tampa Bay's backups by Washington's offered, at the very least, a comforting sense that the tide may indeed be rising.   
Did the preseason provide reason for optimism, even with the first-half egg the team laid up in Chicago? Absolutely. There were unmistakeable signs of emerging talent and a team coming together. If one squinted his/her eyes just a bit, one could even see the realistic possiblity that the first year of the new era could feature meaningful games in December.

Coins, of couse, have two sides. There were also reminders that this Redskins team is still very much a work in progress. One need only cue up the aforementioned first half in the Windy City as Exhibit A.

The preseason saw:
  • clear "rookie moments" from the young franchise quarterback
  • hold-your-breath, cover-your-eyes moments courtesy of the offensive line's pass protection
  • perhaps most saliently (heading into a week one matchup against New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees and his high-flying passing circus), a defensive secondary that may test the metro area's Pepto and Advil reserves this fall.
Cause for concern? Of course there is. The team is not a finished product (assuming there is such a thing in today's NFL). In addition to starting a raw rookie at quarterback, the offensive line remains transitionary at best and the defensive secondary could wear question marks instead of numerals. Which would be better than targets, but still.

So just as it is possible to imagine meaningful games in December, it is also possible to imagine playing out the string by November. Damn coins.

The 2012 preseason in a nutshell? More good than bad.

* flush *

On to Game One...

The 2012 Washington Redskins take the field Sunday carrying a new banner, one that represents the single biggest positive change in the franchise's fortunes in a generation. By all accounts, the team has, finally, acquired a legitimate NFL starting quarterback. It is not hard to to lose sight of just how important that is, particularly in the early days, before The Change becomes apparent to all.

But no one has beaten the QB Theory drum longer or louder than your humble scribe, so let us not revisit that today. Suffice to say, if RG3 is indeed the real deal he is almost universally accepted to be, things are about to change around here.

When that change begins to manifest in the won-lost column is another matter. I am a firm believer that it's going to happen--perhaps even by the end of this season--but I don't believe it's going to happen this Sunday.

* balloon, meet pin *

Can the Redskins beat New Orleans? Sure they can. No one saw last season's opening day win over the NY Giants coming, either. Will they? The brain says no. 

Griffin III could pass for 375 yards and 2 TD's, plus run for a third, but unless his team upsets the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome, the general sense will be of disappointment. Natural enough. As fans we may know intellectually that 2012 is The Franchise's rookie campaign--his requisite get-up-to-speed year--but the emotions of the game itself will make it hard to focus on much beyond "0-1, here we go again" come Monday morning.

I expect the Redskins offense will have an inconsistent afternoon featuring a few dazzling Sportscenter highs, but also just enoughg gut-wrenching lows to tip the scale. Such is life with a Rookie QB Phenom. I can see the offense putting up 20-24 points. To win, however, I think the Redskins are going to need 30-35. 

Why? Drew Brees. Because the Saints have what the Redskins as yet do not--a franchise QB and surrounding cast already ramped up and established. What sets New Orleans apart is the polished package Brees brings: savviness, experience, mobility and a lightning-quick release. Unfortunately for the Redskins, those assets are precisely the tools you want to use to attack the burgundy and gold defense.

The Washington front seven looks to be upgraded from 2011. At times this season it may even even prove powerful, dominating against both the run and rushing the passer. But power and athletic quickness are different animals, and the latter would serve them better this week.

Drew Brees is masterful at getting the ball out quickly. He won't stand long and tall in a collapsing pocket, willing to take hits to deliver at the last second. Brees with will either snap off the ball before the rush gets there, or slide, move, create space and throw accurately on the run.  Look for TE Jimmy Graham in the deep middle, and RB Darrin Sproles anywhere on the field, on enough third down conversions to be the difference.

And on the subject of the defense...I remain tepid on defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and his ability to take a defense to the highest level--to craft schemes capable of overcoming personnel shortcomings against specific opponents, and make the right calls at the right times in crucial spots late in games. The statistical improvement last season was undeniable, but I have yet to see evidence his unit will create turnovers, his blitzes will be any better disguised or less predictable, that he will not continue to get outguessed on the game's most critical calls, or that his unit won't continue to shine on first and second downs and then, all too often, going maddeningly soft on third. 

* ouch *

Sorry about the downer. Just calling it like I've been seeing this game play out in my mind. Yes, anything can happen.  Come Monday we could be savoring an improbable, inspiring victory and trying our best not to get too high as to the possibilities. More likely, however, is a scenario that sees the Redskins hang tough, make a game of it into the second half, but in the end succumb to another franchise quarterback--this one a future first-ballot Hall of Famer rolling at the top of his game.

There will be jump-out-of-your-seat moments. As Redskins fans we will see signs of good things to come, and Sunday night Sportscenter will be running sweet RG3 highlights over and over again. But in the end, the defense, and its not-ready-for-prime-time secondary, will fall prey to Brees magic.

Saints 31, Redskins 23.

I will say it again though.  Sunday's result will not mean that RG3 is a bust, that these are "the same old Redskins" or that the Mayans were right and none of this matters anyway. It will simply mean we have to suffer the slings and arrows of the lemmings in sporrts media and on the web for a little longer.

Game One, Season One. Remember to enjoy the journey.


Geff Olufemi, Ph.D. said...

Hey, Bro. OM:

Don't you "tire" of being "insightful, rational, logical, knowledgeable, and... er, uh, (dare I say) brilliant"?!? :-)

Can't "rationally" argue against your synopsis; however, the "salmon" in me says:

REDSKINS - 37, SAINTS - 27 (in the "NFL UPSET of the Week")! HAIL!

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Yeah, being wonderful in every way can definitely be exhausting. ;)

Thanks for the read and comment, brother, and may your upstream swimmer be sage indeed!