Friday, December 30, 2005

The Week That Was: December 18 - 24, 2005

What a gift the Redsking gave their fans! On Sunday, they crushed the Cowboys 35-7 and Saturday they embarrassed the Giants 35-20.

One game away from the playoffs. They just have to get past those pesky Iggles. Although wounded, the Iggles must not be overlooked. This game is their last chance to beat a NFC East rival this season. Pride is a motivating factor. As Iggles ND Kalu said, "Misery loves company. We aren't going to the playoffs. Why should they?"

Santana Moss, Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley can set Redskin single season performance records with a good game Sunday.

What a turnaround!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Redskins - Cowboys, Second Thoughts

The Cowboys and Redskins are near identical in their 2005 performance. Going into week 15, Dallas and Washington ranked sixth and seventh for offense in the NFC, with Dallas averaging 332 yards per game and Washington averaging 330 yards. On defense, they ranked sixth and fifth, with Dallas allowing 331 yards per game and Washington 299 yards. A single game separated their won-loss record with Dallas at 8-5 and Washington 7-5.

The experts picked the Cowboys to win a close game. So, how was it that the Redskins blew them out? Dallas did not take the Redskins seriously! That's human nature when you've won fifteen of the previous sixteen games and perceive the one loss to be a fluke. Before they appreciated how dangerous the Skins were, they were in too deep to recover.

The Giants will not be so complacent. Neither will the Cowboys anytime soon.

Cowboys fans are distraught at the loss judging by the rants and whines on Dallas game blogs. Their comments are almost identical to fan complaints leveled at the Redskins on The Warpath and other blogs.

The season is already a success with a sweep of the Cowboys and eight wins in the bank. Yet, if the Skins do not win ten games and make the playoffs, no one will remember it that way.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The buzz from Dallas

Dallas Morning News Columnist comments

"LANDOVER, Md. – I normally have a pretty good idea what to say to a player after a tough loss or a particularly poor individual performance. Well, nothing appropriate came to mind as I approached left tackle Torrin Tucker's locker moments after the Cowboys' 35-7 loss to the Redskins on Sunday.
"What happened?" is not really my style. "Tough day, Torrin," seemed trite. So I just showed up at his locker and sort of stared at him. This is a good approach to use when you want to make someone feel really awkward.
Tucker appeared to be fighting back tears, although I can't say that for sure. The third-year player had just given up at least four sacks to the Redskins. I use that number because I started to lose count.
'I let everyone down,' Tucker whispered after a long silence. "

"Cowboys wide receiver Terry Glenn has never been a quote machine. He normally leaves that to Keyshawn Johnson.
But after the crowd of reporters around Johnson had dispersed, I stopped by Glenn's locker for a few minutes. The funny thing is that I've always found him more willing to talk after a loss than a win. Other guys won't even look at you, but for some reason, the introverted Glenn sort of comes alive at those times.
A week after making six catches for 138 yards and a touchdown, Glenn only had two catches for 25 yards against the Redskins.
'We didn't really take it to heart,' he said. 'They wanted it more than we did.'"

"A day after his team suffered a devastating loss in Washington, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells wasn't able to provide many answers. "It wasn't good," Parcells said of Sunday's 35-7 loss to the Redskins. "That game just got further and further away." He blamed some of it on the "immaturity" of his young players, noting their performances in recent NFC East road losses to the Giants and Redskins. Asked what personnel changes he might make in response to Sunday's lopsided loss, Parcells said he didn't have many options."



It was the largest margin of victory for the Redskins against their bitter NFC East rivals and marked the first time they completed a sweep of the season series since 1995. The Cowboys had dominated the rivalry, winning 14 of 15 meetings before the Redskins rallied for a stunning 14-13 victory at Dallas on September 19 as Brunell hit Santana Moss with scoring passes of 39 and 70 yards in the final four minutes.

This time, the Redskins clearly proved they were the superior team, dominating both sides of the line of scrimmage. Led by Daniels, the Redskins sacked Drew Bledsoe seven times and forced the veteran quarterback to commit four turnovers.

Meanwhile, the Redskins' offensive line kept the Cowboys' pass rushers away from Brunell, who was not sacked once, and created holes for Clinton Portis, who rushed for 112 yards on 23 carries."


Capital Punishment: Cowboys Whipped In Every Fashion By Revved Up Skins, by Nick Eatman

"'Nobody played good today . . . nobody,' said linebacker Bradie James. 'We were just terrible. There's nothing more you can say. When nobody steps up and makes any plays, you're not going to win any games. And you're probably going to get beat pretty bad.'

"The defense, which had shut down the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander and even Redskins tailback Clinton Portis the first time around, didn't put up much of a fight Sunday.

Not only did the Cowboys surrender 171 rushing yards, including 112 to Portis, but their tackling was slopping and they often looked confused on pass defense. Now the defense wasn't exactly playing at full strength, as cornerbacks Anthony Henry (groin) and Aaron Glenn (ankle in the game) rotated frequently at right corner in the first half. Left cornerback Terence Newman missed several plays after getting dinged, and even linebacker Mike Barrow, who played two straight series on defense, left the game shortly after with a sprained knee. This didn't even account for defensive end Chris Canty, who tried to play through a sprained ankle."

"Healthy or not, the Cowboys were no match for the Redskins, who have now won three straight games and have an outside shot to win the division as they play host to the Giants next week."

Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.

Cowboys ain't easy to love and they're harder to hold.
They'd rather give you a song than diamonds or gold.
Lonestar belt buckles and old faded levis,
And each night begins a new day.
If you don't understand him, an' he don't die young,
He'll prob'ly just ride away.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
Don't let 'em pick guitars or drive them old trucks.
Let 'em be doctors and lawyers and such.
Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
'Cos they'll never stay home and they're always alone.
Even with someone they love.

by Waylon Jennings
album: Waylon & Willie (w. Willie Nelson) [RCA Victor] (1978), Greatest Hits [RCA Victor] (1979), Ultimate Waylon Jennings [RCA] (2004), Super Hits, Vol. 2 [RCA] (1998),

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Take a Giant step

The Giants virtually sealed its grip on the NFC East with a convincing win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City tackling, or the lack of it, had as much to do with the Giants' success as Tiki Barber's rushing. The Giants won this game the way playoff teams should, with stout defense and strong running.

The Redskins are in their fix because they have not matched the Giants and Cowboys in finishing winnable games. The Skins are the only NFC East team to lose the the Chiefs. The season is redeemable. The Cowboys, Eagles and even the Giants can be had. So, have at 'em.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Redskins - Cowboys Game Handicap

It's Cowboys week and this time it means something. The Skins have utterly failed to keep up their end of this historic rivalry. Ironic that the Redskins declined when they were coached by Norv Turner, the Cowboys' former offensive coordinator. The Redskins playoff countdown is now "3 and 0 or we don't go."

If the Redskins sweep their last three games, they end the season 10-6 and will hold conference tiebreaker advantages. They will still need the Viking,Buccaneers or Giants to lose one more game for the playoffs to be a certainty. At 8-5, the Cowboys could lose this one and still be in the hunt for the wild card. If the Redskins lose another game, they will drop too far behind the other contenders. A 9-7 or 8-8 record will be a vast improvement over last year's 6-10; significant but insufficient.

There are plenty of game previews at football web sites. The numbers show the Cowboys and Redskins to be near equal in stats, with the Boys passing a bit better and the Skins having a slight advantage running.

Injuries on each team create weaknesses the other will test. Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers and Walt Harris are nicked. All will play but could be vulnerable. Dallas will pass early to find out if they are, and we know Dallas can move the ball. If Ade Jimoh starts at cornerback, Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson will spank him early and often.

Washington will have a two pronged counterpunch. First, disrupt the pass. Dallas' questionable offensive line is manned by rookies. They will be challenged. A heavy pass rush and blitzes could force Drew Bledsoe to throw early or erratically. Second, run the ball. Then, run it some more. The Redskins win when Clinton Portis rushes for 100 yards or more. After the Raiders game, the Skins offensive linemen implored the coaches to emphasis the ground game so that they could dominate the defense. The coaches listened.

I have to admit the Cowboys performed better over the season. They won the close games that the Redskins lost; last weeks thriller against the Chiefs is a good example. Normally, I would assert game plan supremacy by Joe Gibbs and Gregg Williams. Bill Parcells negates that.

Joe Gibbs teams feature slobber-knocking defense and ball control resulting in low scoring games. The Skins let close, low scoring games get away from them too many times this season. But that only happened once at FedEx, the mystifying loss to the Raiders. The gods were giving Norv Turner his due in that one. The Redskins must be ten points ahead by the middle for the fourth quarter as a safeguard. Anything less and Dan Snyder could sell antacid at triple the price at the concession stands. (and we know Snyder knows how to make a buck!).

The Skins showed an urgency in the Cardinal game. On third and short when Portis had the ball. The O-linemen swarmed around him and the group surged ahead for a critical first down. Urgency and focus born of desperation.

The Cowboys look like a 2-1/2 point favorite. The wild cards in this game are the return of James Thrash, the break out of Antonio Brown as receiver and punt returner, and the defense's recent ability to force turnovers. Excellence in any of those areas, along with avoidance of penalties, and the Skins could steal this one.

Fight for Ol' DC!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Smoot, What A Hoot Part II

As a follow up to my earlier story, The Minneapolis StarTribune reported that four Vikings players, including Fred Smoot, were charged with misdemeanors for indecent conduct. Daunte Culpepper was charges with receiving a lap dance from a stripper and touching her butt. My boy Fred was charged with using a sex toy on two other strippers. Apparently, the women involved are not the ones pressing charges.

Not to make light of this (wait, of course I'm making light of this), but I have this "friend" who says he's seen worse behavior in the local gentlemen's club. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what happens at Al & Almas makes the news.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Not so fast there, cowboy.

No, not those cowboys! The 1-11 Houston Texans are a terrible team; so bad that the press now refers to their remaining games as the "Reggie Bush Bowl", implying that they will get the first pick in the 2006 draft and will take the standout back from Southern Cal. Not so fast there. If you are Houston, taking a quarterback may be the better choice. In Southern Cal's Matt Leinart you get a classic pocket quarterback in the Joe Montana mold. In Texas' Vince Young, you get a clone of Michael Vick, athletic, mobile, double threat.

Charlie Casserly, fired by Danny Snyder in '99, is Houston's general manager. It will be interesting to see which way he goes -- if he isn't fired by Houston first. What a disappointing season.

Redskinettes v. Cowgirls

As part of my research on the Redskins - Cowboys game, I've completed a thorough analysis of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. The Redskins cheerleaders win.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Happy Birthday Dad!

To commemorate the birthday of my late father who bought season tickets in 1962 and launched me on my career as a Redskin and football fan. Without either of us knowing it at the time, those games were the bonding experience of my lifetime. Some dads took their sons fishing or hunting. We went to Redskins games.

I resided elsewhere in the intervening decades; but whenever I saw a Redskins game on TV, it was never just a game. It was home.

Another Snyder Chicken Home to Roost

The headline reads Brad Johnson Still Haunts The Redskins. The story that first appears in the Newport News Daily Press describes how well Johnson has done since the Redskins declined to to keep him under contract after the 1999 season. The Skins, that is, Danny Snyder, preferred strong armed gunslingers like Jeff George or Patrick Ramsey to savvy, accurate, winning pocket passers like Johnson.

Devaluing Johnson was among Snyder's many sins in his Little Danny days. Those were the days when the the little Snyde thought building a team meant assembling famous players rather than matching talent to your style of play. Those were the days when game planning meant "go long," and that it would work as effortlessly as in Madden NFL. They were the days when he thought, because he was rich, he had the experience and moxie to evaluate talent, develop a game plan, run a team; or at least berate Norv Turner after every loss. A triumph of style over substance.

His sins were many.

  • He released GM Charlie Casserly and kept Norv Turner, for which he later apologized to Casserly for "firing the wrong man." Now that's showing support for your coaching staff during the season!
  • He fired Turner with three games to go in the 2000 season, when the Skins were 7-6 and still contending for a playoff spot, albeit with slim chance to make it. No one was sorry to see Turner go, but dismissing him at that point was surrendering the rest of the season.
  • With no experience, he directed talent evaluation and the draft, accumulating an odd mix of aging stars happy to make withdrawals from the Snyder ATM machine, but whose play was nowhere near their former glory.
  • He released NFL-experienced Marty Schottenheimer after one season and replaced him with NFL-inexperienced Steve Spurrier at twice the money. Schottenheimer was consistent in building near-great teams. He likely would have led the Skins to a 10-6 record in his second season with the same talent. Spurrier led them down the toilet with talent no one else wanted. He walked away from his lucrative contract with Snyder.
  • His flawed concepts of football systems lead him to release players like Johnson and Stephen Davis for the likes of George or Trung Canidate. He partially atoned for that when he refused to sign quarterback Danny Weurffel at Steve Spurrier's urging.
  • He offended many when he signed ex-Cowboy Deion Sanders to be a nickel back and benched the Redskins own Darrell Green from that role. Sanders never did anything that Green couldn't have done had he played. (I think that misstep could hurt Green's chance to be voted on the Hall of Fame.)

Snyder fancied that, because he owned the NFL franchise, he owned the right to do as he pleased. Professional football teams are a public trust, not a private sand box. Fans are invested in the team. Ownership is a privilege and sound management a responsibility. I've been a fan and keen observer of football for longer than Snyder is old. I've played fantasy football since 1990. I had more qualifications to run the Redskins than Little Danny. Neither of us had nearly enough for the job. I knew that, he didn't. But, Little Dan atoned for everything the day he hired Joe Gibbs. On that day Little Danny became "Mr. Snyder."

The Redskins are still doing penance for ill considered moves by Snyder and, lets be fair, by John Kent Cooke. The Skins haven't been a good team since the first Joe Gibbs era ended in 1993. It may take another two years to put things aright. And the team will get there, as long as real football people, not Mr. Snyder, call the shots.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Cowboys - Giants Game Handicap

The 7-4 Dallas Cowboys visit the 7-4 New York Giants in the Meadowlands. Both of these team are playing playoff caliber - not to say perfect - ball. The winner get a big leg up on the NFC East title.

The teams are even at quarterback and tight end, although Jerry Shockey is a bigger feature in the Giants's offense. New York has the edge at running back, but the Cowboys are well ahead at wide receivers. I've heard coach John Thompson say "pick the jockey, not the horse" when it comes to picking these things. That gives a clear edge to Dallas coach Bill Parcells.

If this were a fantasy game, I would call it Cowboys by three.

Redskins - Rams: Game Handicap

The 5-6 Redskins visit the 5-6 Rams in St. Louis. Two struggling teams trying to keep their wild card hopes alive. Redskins fans were thrilled when the Skins took Denver to the limit in week five. Washington lost a close one, 21 - 19, on the very last play. The Redskin faithful were not embarrassed. It was a moral victory.

Well, five "moral victories" later, players, coaches and fans have had enough. Enough of dominating statistically, but not on the scoreboard. Enough of holding the lead for three and a-half quarters only to lose it in the last four minutes. Enough of suffering drive-killing, point stealing, mind-numbing turnovers. Go ahead, lose the numbers game. Play from behind. Forget all that. Just focus on getting the win. "Refuse to lose" as George Allen put it. Get back to east coast football. Smash them in the mouth. Pound them in the dirt. Run it down their throats.

The Rams face some turmoil of their own that I don't understand. Front office conflict seems to affect play on the field. Mike Martz is out. But Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Stephen Jackson are in and they are dangerous. The Rams defense can be had. That doesn't mean the Redskins can have them.

The Skins haven't won a single game on the road this year. They've lost six of their last nine. They are contending with the Rams for a playoff spot and the Rams want that spot as much as the Redskins. The Rams are at home. To win, the Skins best shot is to disrupt the quarterback before he can deliver the ball to those excellent receivers. Ryan Fitzpatrick is not going to run from scrimmage, but Stephen Jackson will! The Rams returned to the running game when Martz took his medical leave and Jackson has been a weapon ever since. The Skins have been burned by running backs. They stifle them most of the game, then BOOM, off to the races. Spy Stephen Jackson.

If this were a fantasy game, I would give a plus to the Redskins at quarterback, a slight edge at running back and tight end. The Skins are undermanned at wide receiver. The Rams have a clear edge at receiver and are the near equal to Washington's running game.

Redskins: go back to your roots. Be a defense first, run-oriented team. Dominate possession and field position. Execute!

Redskins by 5.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Redskins Drop Game to Raiders

"And hopes that were high in the heat of September,
wither and die in the cold of November."
-- NFL Films

This was the game where illusion died; where the Redskins went from post-season contenders to pretenders. The team mastered the 3-6 Oakland Raiders in the first half. They were up 13-3; made both Kerry Collins and Randy Moss seem irrelevant; stuffed Lamont Jordan. The defense even forced a rare turnover when Lamar Marshall, an MSU grad, intercepted a pass and ran for a touchdown.

That was the first half. Oakland scored on their opening series of the second half. They shut down the Redskins offense and won the game on a late fourth quarter field goal.

Two games back of the division race with six games to go is not the thing. The team can recover from that. What's distressing is the manner of their play. Opposing defenses seen to have figured them out. The Redskins have no effective response.

Inconsistency is the bane of this team. They score 35 points on the number one defense (Tampa Bay), but can't score in the second half against Oakland's 24th ranked defense. By comparison, the Giants and the Cowboys are getting the job done. That's why they are both 7-3 and we are not. The Skins are not playing high caliber ball consistently enough to make a playoff run, or go far if they got there.

Injuries hurt. There are news reports that Gregg Williams acknowledged the defense is making too many adjustments to cover for injured starters. Cornelius Griffin is missed on the defensive line. When Sean Taylor is out, the middle of the Redskins defense is vulnerable. Without pressure in the middle, the cornerbacks are exposed. Walt Harris is not a strong single cover guy. Receiver Taylor Jacobs is a journeyman, like the other recent Florida players on the roster.

That's part of the test. The season challenges your system's talent, character and bench strength. You can lose a game, but win the season. That means two-three-four game win streaks. Players overcome adversity and injury. Your gameplay system exploits the other team's gameplay system more often than not. Guys come off the bench and take it up a notch. That's how teams make the playoffs. Now the Skins have to go on a four or five game streak. As a team and as individuals, characters are being tested. Bench warmers have to max their opportunities. Do that and the Skins have a shot.

I'm thinking 9-7 is still possible. But, 8-8 looks the more likely finish.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Penn State at Michigan State Football

The Penn State Nittany Lions visit the Spartans Saturday. Penn State can win a share of the Big Ten title for the first time and be factored in the bogus BCS championship series. The Nittany Lions look strong and are an overwhelming favorite to win this one based on their record, only one loss this season, and because no one really believes the Spartans will defend the house.

Michigan State has not been a consistent winner since Nick Saban was lured to Louisiana State University in 2000. Saban was hard nosed, that is to say a real "hard ass." His teams were tough minded winners reflecting their coach. In 1999, Saban led his final Spartan team to a No. 7 ranking in the country as they finished in a tie for second in the Big Ten. They defeated Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State all in the same year for the first time since 1965 and recorded six wins at home for the first time since the 1912 season. The Spartans’ performance that year landed them a spot in the Citrus Bowl. (Excerpted from The Spartan's recent decline began when Saban jumped to LSU.

Bobby Williams followed Saban as head Coach for the Spartans, but did not enjoy the same success. Michigan State was one of the first and few Division 1-A schools to name a Black American as head football coach. Williams developed a reputation for recruiting and developing wide receivers; Plaxico Burress and Charles Rogers are examples. Dean Stanton, the Spartans stand out quarterback, joined the Spartans during Williams' tenure. I applauded Williams appointment, both as a matter of pride and of fundamental fairness. Williams had been on the coaching staff since 1990 and was named associate head coach in 1999. The roster was as much a reflection of Williams as it was of Saban.

Alas, things did not go well for Coach Williams. He was 13-11 after his first two seasons, but his last campaign was disastrous. Jeff Smoker was caught doing drugs and was suspended by Williams. (Smoker publicly acknowledged the mistake and entered rehabilitation. He was reinstated to the team and regained his starting position. He was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. A happy ending under the circumstances. Smoker's response is a text book example of how sports and public figures should respond when caught flagrante delecti.) The Spartans lost games to inferior teams, beginning a distressing tendency to lose games following big wins. Williams could be seen on the sideline showing expressions of shock and pain. Other coaches at least look like they are calculating their next move. Michigan State lost confidence in Williams and he was dismissed before the end of the 2002 season.

Amazingly, to me at least, Michigan State went after another Black coach**, the highly regarded Marvin Lewis, who turned them down in the hope of landing an NFL head coaching slot. Lewis is another tough minded perfectionist in the Saban mold who certainly would have benefited the Spartans, as he is now doing with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Michigan State turned to John L. Smith, who had a reputation for rebuilding struggling programs. The Spartans showed promise and got off to a fast start in 2005, highlighted by a 44-41 overtime win over hated Notre Dame. Smith's a wide-open offense put up gaudy numbers. The Spartans ranked as one the top five offenses in Division 1-A football. Unfortunately, the defense and special teams were not their match. After crushing Illinois 61-14, the Spartans allowed the Michigan Wolverines to get off to a fast start and played from behind most of the game. They lost a 34-31 thriller at home in overtime.

They might have redeemed themselves the following week with a win over THE Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus. The Spartans gained over 400 yards on offense. They forced six Ohio State fumbles and recovered four of them, three in OSU territory. But, they converted a measly seven points from that. Spartan quarterback Drew Stanton was sacked twelve times during the game. Near half time with a 17-7 lead, confusion on the sideline led to a turnover on a botched field goal attempt that OSU converted into a touchdown. That was the season! From that point to the Minnesota game, the Spartans have been out scored 185-75.

It's hard to conceive that happening under Saban or Lewis. There is no indication that Smith can turn this team around for Penn State. The Spartans developed a reputation for upsetting ranked teams. The last game at home against fifth ranked Penn State may be just that occasion. But, I don't know where this team's head is right now. Odds are, neither do they.

** The NCAA is justifiably criticized for the lack of African-American head coaches at the Division 1-A and 1-AA level. A number of potential candidates mentioned as not receiving fair consideration have MSU roots. They include Jimmy Raye, Sherman Lewis, Charlie Baggett, Williams and Tyrone Willingham, now coaching the University of Washington Huskies football team. The list is not exhaustive.

B.A., Michigan State University, 19-noneyabusiness.

Redskins: The Bucs Stop Here.

After ten games, we know a few things about the 2005 Redskins.

  • The defense is solid and disciplined, but are not "great." The Skins played highly entertaining away games at Denver, Kansas City and Tampa Bay that kept us on the edge of our seats until the last play. But they lost. Great defenses would take two of those three games. This defense does not get enough STOPS!!! They've given up a big play or two, or a key drive in every game since week two.
  • Defensive starters are solid, but depth is suspect. Would Tampa have completed a 30 yard touchdown pass if the receiver were covered by Fred Smoot or Shaun Springs? Would Mike Alstott have scored through the middle for the two point conversion if Sean Taylor played? I think not. (Gawd, I hope he is found "not guilty")
  • The offense is now better than the defense. They came from behind and scored 28 points on Tampa's number one defense. That should have been good enough to win.
  • The Skins are not good enough on either side of the ball to overcome mistakes. It seems the 1980s Redskins could overcome their mistakes, not that they made that many. This team is getting close, but are not there yet!

There is a lot of controversy on whether or not Mike Alstott actually crossed the goal line on the two point conversion. The refs did not blow the call! To overturn a touchdown on the last play, the referee needed to see the ball on the video tape. We could see Alstott's body and could assume that Alstott had not cross the line. NO WAY were the refs going to overturn a score on an assumption/presumption/guess/probability. The tape was not conclusive enough.

The Skins lost because the defense allowed the Buccaneers to drive 60+ yards down field to score a TD in the last two minutes, even when they had no time outs. That should never have happened. Ideally, you want to have a touchdown lead in the last two minutes, then put the game in the defense's hands for the win. It was an ideal situation. The defense is the heart and soul of the Redskins. In week ten, they did not come through.

I haven't given up on this team, but 9-7 or 10-6 might not get a wild card. 2006 is the year. I still hope for the best for the team and will just enjoy the progress.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Tony McGee on the Redskins

These comments were posted by Tony McGee on The Warpath, Redskins fan blog. McGee played for the Skins and other teams in the '80s. He discusses what the Redskins must do next to make the playoffs.

"At this point of the season close losses like this (Tampa Bay) are harder to take than a blowout. But you have to put it behind you and move forward. They'll need to sweep the rest of their home games and probably take two of three on the road. Don't be fooled by Oakland's record. This is a dangerous team. FirstandTen, this is how you stop the Oakland passing attack. You lock Shawn Springs on Moss the entire game. Wherever Moss goes, Springs goes. And you let him go one on one with him. Use the linebackers and safeties to help provide pressure on the QB. You can stop Collins if you rush him into making decisions.The season is far from over, but it's time to go on a long winning streak."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Question for the Michigan State Football Team

How soon before basketball season?

Eagle Fan Comment on Terrell Owens Mess

The fanblog at EaglesLink has the best write-up on the TO mess. I can't improve on it, so I'll just point you there.

This is my last post on TO.

For a summary of the arbitrator's ruling on Owen's appeal of his suspension, go here.

Career Advice for Terrell Owens

Dear Mr. Owens:

I do not know you and cannot know your mindset these days; so, I want to address you with a respectful "Mister Owens." I've watched your recent career with bemused interest. As a fan of a rival team, I delight in your turmoil. But, as a football fan, both real and fantasy, it disturbes me to watch someone with your considerable talent commit career suicide. You brought this situation upon yourself. I'm not sure that you know that. So let me presume to offer some career advice and in a (mostly) respectful manner.

When someone pays you to do something, you are the employee. You do what the boss tells you to do. And when the boss "asks," he's really "telling." No one is ever one hundred percent happy with their situation. Even when you are one hundred percent unhappy, publicly bashing your employer and maligning an important co-worker is not a smart move. In an employment situation, that gets you fired. In a marriage that gets you divorced. When you are both fired and divorced, you are ..., well you get the idea. What's more, your career opportunities are greatly hampered.

I'm old school. I grew up with the saying "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." At least not publicly. Ever notice how quarterbacks always seem to say nice things. Always. Your ex-quarterback is the best example. In the fan's view, Donovan McNabb is on higher ground, simply by keeping his mouth mostly shut -- publicly.

Venting your feelings has seriously hampered your negotiating leverage in Philadelphia or where ever you go next. Here's how the negotiation will go, even with a team that really wants you:

Rosenhaus: "I'm giving you the opportunity to sign the best wide receiver in the game. This guy will put up Hall Of Fame numbers. If you are a playoff team, Terrell Owens will get you into the Super Bowl!"

GM: "Go away. I'm not interested. How much will you give up to make me interested?"

When you cut your deal, the GM might just tell your agent "By the way, my stud quarterback has to be comfortable with Owens, or the deal is off."

After ripping Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb, just what self-respecting stud QB will want you? Tom Brady? Peyton Manning? Marc Bulger? Brett Favre even? I don't think so. A less experienced quarterback, say Michael Vick, might. But let me give you a tip. Michael Vick is not a stud quarterback; gifted athlete yes. But he is more like a running back who can throw.

Publicly venting your feelings only burns your bridges. As to that public apology, the Eagles never asked for a public apology. A private apology to the team, coach and quarterback over the weekend would have been more effective and credible. The team and its fans can't be sure what you are sorry about: your role in making a bad situation worse, or that you are going to lose a pot of money. Nobody sees you as the victim. Only OJ Simpson is less welcome on a team than you.

I'm sorry to be preachy, I just assumed you knew this stuff. So, it's hard to understand why you say what you say and do what you do. You are where you are today because of steps you took along the way. Blaming the press doesn't help; not when the issue is you.

But you are not in a bad place. As competitive as the NFC East has become, it's not a certainty the Eagles could take the division after this season, let alone get to the Super Bowl. That's true whether you stay in Philadelphia or not. So you will get a third, and last, chance to start over with a condender. Here's my advice:

  1. What you do best is play. What you do worst is talk. Stop talking and play! Let your oily mouthpiece agent do your talking for you.
  2. Lose the attitude! Antonio Gates got a new contract without the theatrics. Yes, he was suspended, but he got what he wanted without bashing his team and quarterback and his team values him. He had a better case than you. He was not paid like a top five tight end. You got big money to play for the Eagles. Even if it was less than you deserved, why trash Donovan McNabb? He doesn't control your contract. (Black man to black man, can you explain that to me?)
  3. You are now tainted. You are not going to see another $48 million contract ever. But a team might take a chance on a $8 million one year deal. (I'm disregarding salary cap implications.) Go for a short contract! You will have to swallow a lot of good behavior clauses. But then you can do as you please at the end of each season.
  4. Check yourself! You are "all that and a bag of chips," as the kids say. Get a bucket of water, stick your head in it and pull it out. The hole that's left is how much you will be missed. You make teams better, but you are not the team.
  5. Stop listening to Michael Irvin. I don't know if he influenced your "negotiation" tactics with the Eagles, but he baited you with that Brett Favre question, and you swallowed it whole. Just couldn't resist, could you! Be picky who you listen to. Be careful what you wish for. Be wary what you say. Even your friends don't always have your best interest at heart! There are a few of us who do -- as long as it's not in the NFC East.

Best wishes in your career.

For a examples of Terrell's sportsmanship, look here.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Owens does a Rush Limbaugh

Some kids never learn. Last season, Rush Limbaugh stepped in deep doo-doo by belittling Donovan McNabb's value to Philadelphia. It made all the papers. It was all the talk on sports shows early in the 2004 season. How could anyone miss it?

Perhaps Terrell Owens was too preoccupied disparaging Jeff Garcia in San Francisco to perceive or understand the object lesson. Dissatisfied with his contract with the Iggles, Owens has freely acted out, feeling slighted and abused when the team failed to recognize a career milestone. Never mind that most of his touchdown receptions came while he was in a 49er uniform. But then, he committed a bigger blunder by readily agreeing with an assessment by ESPN analyst and former Cowboy Michael Irvin that the Iggles would be undefeated if Brett Favre were the quarterback rather than Iron Don McNabb.

Owens really walked into that one. Like Limbaugh, Owens is separated from his organization; whether for a few games or the rest of the season remains to be seen. Donovan McNabb is unquestionably one of the top five quarterbacks in the league. This season, he is outperforming Brett Favre. Why anyone would challenge that is beyond explanation.

Overall good news for the Redskins, but there are risks. Owens out is a steep drop in talent. That will force the Iggles to a new gameplan, something the Redskins haven't seen on tape. Gibbs & company have to be savvy and adjust during the game. This contest is as much a tactical coaching duel as a contest of athletic ability. The Iggles could rally from this, or fold.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Hurricane Terrell Strikes Home

Terrell Owens shows every sign of growing up with exquisite kid glove treatment; the boy given exceptions because of exceptional talent, until talent is highly developed, but the person stunted.

The drama queen's latest outburst comes when the Iggles failed to acknowledge Owens' one hundredth touchdown reception in the San Diego game. (Owens' 101st TD catch was a 91 yard doozie against the Broncos.) About the perceived slight, Owens said "They claim to be first class and the best organization. It's an embarrassment. It just shows a lack of class they have. My publicist talked to the head PR guy, and they made an excuse they didn't recognize that was coming up. But that was a blatant lie. Had it been somebody else, they probably would have popped fireworks around the stadium."

He later apologized for the remark.

In the same ESPN interview, he agreed with an assessment by Michael Irvin that the Eagles would be undefeated if Brett Favre were the Eagles quarterback instead of injured Donovan McNabb. No doubt true. Who wouldn't want Favre as your back-up? But when you are in the middle of a campaign, why cast doubt on your general with a hypothetical that won't happen? When that general is Iron Don McNabb, why even take the bait and make the comparison? And why not take a few moments to run the math before giving your answer. McNabb, hurt, has thrown 15 TD passes to 7 interceptions for 2,034 yards. Favre, with a hurt team, has thrown 15 TD passes to 13 interceptions for 1,850 yards. The Iggles are 4-3. The Packers are 1-6. So Owens thinks that Favre, who couldn't lift his team over six losses, could lead Philadelphia to football Nirvana?

There are people who think it's an asset to speak one's mind, oblivious of the carnage and destruction caused by their wind. Tactless, Self-absorbed. Insensitive. "Why is everyone upset with me?" A case of terminal immaturity.

The Iggles will tolerate the off field fireworks in exchange for the on field kind. When Owens acted out with these same antics in his last season at San Francisco, the team actually played better for awhile, but the franchise imploded. The coach was fired. The 49ers' trade of Owens to Baltimore fell through. They released Jeff Garcia. The object lesson being that Owens' undeniable talent is accompanied by disruptive forces. The Iggles will pay a price for having Owens on the roster. Philadelphia strives for the team concept. There is no "I" in TEAM. There is no "TO" either.

Before any foolish Philly fan suggests dumping Owens, study carefully how the Vikings are faring without Randy Moss. As a Redskins fan, I say dump him, preferably before Sunday.

What a contrast to Lavar Arrington who acknowledged that he could have handled his benching better. Arrington will likely start in the Redskins defense against the Iggles. TO was upgraded from Doubtful to Questionable. Iron Don McNabb was downgraded to Questionable.

Yeah, right. Look for all of them to start Sunday night.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Day of the Coaches

The shock of the loss to the Giants wears off, but the seriousness of this defeat sinks in. It is rare to see a total team melt down. In the losses to the Broncos and Chiefs, aspects of the offense and defense looked strong. Although they lost, there was something to show how they might have won and every reason to be optimistic about this team. Nothing, absolutely nothing worked against the Giants.

This is when the coaches really earn their keep. Gibbs and company probably had tapes of the game broken down by Monday. They would have seen how the Giants exposed their weaknesses. Today's Washington Post reports how the Giants rushed through the defensive right, as have other teams since the Chicago game. Santana Moss' big plays surprised everyone. Brunell to Moss is the big gun that makes the Redskins offense work. Because of it, other players were open. Moss made the running game work better. But it was Portis and the ground game that was to make the passing game better. The Giants pressured Brunell with four rushers and dropped every one else into coverage, taking away the Moss option. When the Giants stopped Moss, they stopped everything on the offense.

It is insufficient to point to one or two flaws when the whole team failed to execute, but lets start with the O-line. On offense, the line failed to protect. The Giants covered receivers well. That meant Mark Brunell had to wait for someone to get open before throwing. The line had to hold off the Giant rushers long enough for that to happen. They didn't. Chris Samuels, a stalwart, struggled. I think he is hurt to the point that his play is impaired. Brunell wisely ate the ball a lot.

The receivers did not get open against the Giant zone defense. It didn't help that the receivers dropped nine passes, four by Robert Royal, who dropped a Patrick Ramsay touchdown pass. Failing to get open and dropping the ball looks a lot like the 2004 receivers.

When the Skins dropped behind early, they stopped running. Clinton Portis made only four rushing attempts. That's a coaching blunder. For this team, if you are within ten points, RUN THE BALL. Ok, ok, they were behind early by more than ten. Run the ball anyway. Portis should get at least twelve hand-offs every game.

Cornelius Griffin was injured on the first play and left the game. Without him the defensive line was ineffective against the run. They were likewise ineffective against the pass. The Giants planned to exploit the right side of the defense. Griffin's absence made it easier.

The Giants did the Redskins a favor by slapping them (and their fans) back to reality. In one game they exposed all their foibles. The Iggle's game plan is apparent. It will be something like:

  • Brian Westbrook runs and short passes against to the weakside, against the Skin's defensive right.
  • Take Santana Moss out of the game. Make David Patton beat you.
  • Don't be afraid of the run. The Skins won't beat you running. Drop to cover and let Jeremiah Trotter run down Clinton Portis.
  • When the time is right, go for the big play. The Skins give up two per game. Where are you TO?

I can see this. The coaches must know this. So, what are the Skins going to do about it?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Redskins - Giants: Trick or Treat

The Giants were inspired by the ghost of Wellington Mara.
The Redskins were haunted by the ghost of Steve Spurrier.

I don't know. The Skins looked unprepared for this game. Perhaps the too easy win over the 49ers fooled them, and us, into thinking they were better than they are. Time to exorcise that ghost too.

Redskins - Giants: Q2

The Redskins are not doing any of the things needed to win this one.

They are not controlling the ball.
They are not avoiding turnovers.
They are not pressuring Eli Manning.
They are not taking Tiki Barber out of the game. That one's a killer.

The O-line is not protecting, perhaps because the Giant secondary is covering well. Can't see that on TV, but it is clear that Mark Brunell has no one to throw to. That means the line must block longer.

You have to hope Gibbs comes up with one of his half-time adjustments to fix this. That's a hope and a stretch, because I didn't see anything on the offense or defense that suggests the Skins pull this out.

Who are those guys and what did they do with my Redskins?

After one quarter, the Redskins don't look anything like the team that competed so well in the last four games. They are not dominating the clock, to say nothing of the Giants, and no big plays so far. They are being dominated by the Giants's defense.

Get it together team!

Redskins - Giants Shootout at the Meadowlands Corral

If the Redskins play their game, they win this one. If the Redskins avoid turnovers, they win this one. If the Redskins force turnovers on the Giants side of the field, they win this one. But, if they fail to do these things, they lose this one. If the game is close, they lose this one.

The coaching upgrade in the NFC East is paying off. The three have-nots are legitimate contenders to the Iggles crown. The Iggles remain supremely confident, as they deserve to be. That said, they are looking over their shoulders. They lost their first contest against Dallas in Dallas. For the first time in five seasons, an NFC East game not involving the Iggles is significant. The Redskins - Giants game is a contest for first place.

The Skins are contending because of players Joe Gibbs picked: Mark Brunell, Santana Moss and Clinton Portis. I'm not disregarding the defense, but they've been good for several seasons under several excellent coordinators. Except for Portis, the typical fan (that would be me) just didn't see what Gibbs saw in the other players. In Mark Brunell version 2005 we see a savvy, mobile, accurate quarterback who finds the open player and releases the ball quickly to him. In Santana Moss, we see a speedy receiver with tacky hands who turns little catches into the big gains rare in Redskinland since Gary Clark and Art Monk. It's Moss who forces defenses to alter their strategy, thereby opening opportunity for the other receivers and for the ground game. Every week they get better executing Gibb's East Coast smashmouth offense: power running; ball control; field position; two big plays per game.

The Giants have the mirror offense. Tiki Barber may be the finest back in the East; rugged, goes inside or outside; can catch. Plaxico Burress makes big plays. Always be aware of where he is. If he plays today (looks like he will be OUT), the defense could get burned. Eli Manning improves with every game. He can get it done.

I don't buy the weak Giant defense argument. They get turnovers. They know how big this game is. The Giants, and all the NFL, know how important Wellington Mara was. The Giants have a special incentive to play well today.

So the Skins must play Gibbs ball today and keep the New York offense off the field. If the Skins give up a turnover on their side of the field. Manning and company are good enough to beat you with it. The Redskins defense has given up one big play or long drive each game since week two. You have to factor that. The Skins need a ten point lead or better going into the last two minutes to be safe.

Redskins by five.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Air Force Football Team Too Euro?

This is my Casablanca moment. I’m shocked, SHOCKED, to find out that Euro-American football players run slower than the Afro-American variety. This from no less an authority than Fisher DeBerry, Head Football Coach of the Air Force Academy who said “It's very obvious to me the other day that the other team had a lot more Afro-American players than we did, and they ran a lot faster than we did. It just seems to be that way, that Afro-American kids can run very, very well. That doesn't mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can't run, but it's very obvious to me they run extremely well.” DeBerry was explaining a blowout loss to Texas Christian University.

Shock Number One: Afro-American? I haven’t heard that term since, what, the SIXTIES? The Kennedys were alive then; the smart ones. Personally, I haven’t been an Afro-American since I was a teenager. (Don’t try to do the math.). In the 1970s I became “Black.” The generation behind me became African-American. Twenty-somethings now claim to be members of the Hip-Hop culture. Hip-Hop transcends racial categories, so it doesn’t really count. When government surveys ask you to identify your group, the choices are Black or African-American. Who outside Colorado Springs says Afro?

Shock Number Two: DeBerry implies he is having a bad year, and he is, because he has too many Euro-Americans on his roster. While he says Euros can run, or rather says he “doesn’t mean they can’t run,” Afros just run faster. What if the NFL felt that way? Then there would be no Euro-American backs on offense or defense. Oh, wait.

No, that’s not right. Drew Bennett is a fine back, the finest Euro-American back since Frank Gifford. But, Gifford played in the days before Afro-Americans called themselves Afro-Americans, before Rosa Parks (Bless her soul) got on the bus. That's when they really did have to run faster than Euro-Americans.

I don’t know many Americans, Afro or Euro, who would disagree with DeBerry’s basic premise, based on NFL rosters. Protest from African-Americans has been muted. DeBerry apologized for the comment and was reprimanded by the Air Force Academy.

Shock Number Three: DeBerry is the coach. Who was it that recruited all those slow players. Why doesn’t he recruit more "team speed," if you get my drift? He’ll have to drop that archaic Afro-American term to recruit Hip-Hopers. Better yet, drop that factor altogether. Instead, focus on talent. I suspect there are lots of speedy prep school athletes of Euro, Afro, Samoan, Asian or Spanish descent who could be interested in the Air Force Academy. I haven’t bothered to count, but there might be more "team speed" at Navy and Army. The Military academy does not show photographs of its players, so their descent cannot be easily determined. I guess they want to evaluate players based on play on the field. You know, one team, band of brothers, hang together, and other values we all want to see in United States Military leadership. The Air Force Academy is noted for its divisions: male versus female; Saved versus Pagan; who can run faster. Is there enough "team speed" in the whole Air Force? Run faster, coach, to recruit some players.

I’ve had fun with this one. DeBerry’s comment was so inviting. He’s probably an alright guy for someone of Euro-American in a time warp who slipped into the wild blue yonder with an ill considered comment.

Air Force lost to Navy on October 8. Army visits the Air Force Academy on November 5. That will be a game worth watching.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Another Redskins Coach Alumni Game

The game with the San Francisco 49ers is the second time this season the 'Skins face a former coach. The Skins faced Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals in an exhibition game. San Francisco's Dick Nolan was defensive coordinator here for the1997 - 1999 seasons under Norv Turner. Nolan is the son of Dick Nolan who once coached the 49ers, I believe. Turner was appointed head coach when Richie Pettibone was fired after one season, the first losing season since the first pre-Gibbs era. I always thought Pettibone deserved another shot, but by then the talent was aging and results would not have been much different.

Turner was a nice guy and highly regarded as the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator during their Super Bowl runs in the 1990s. He coached the Redskins during a period off field turmoil. Estate issues after the death of Jack Kent Cooke (now there was a sportsman) led eventually to the loss of control of the Redskins by his family. Daniel Snyder acquired the franchise in 1999. Snyder had no sports management experience, but deeply involved himself in the details of game planning and personnel. He was dazzled by famous football stars. It seemed he just couldn't add enough of them on his roster, or pay too much for them.

Snyder dismissed general manager Charlie Casserly in favor of Coach Turner, a move Snyder and maybe Turner came to regret. It was reported that Snyder phoned Casserly in 2000 to acknowledge he fired the wrong guy.

The Redskins went from an East Coast power team to a finesse team under Turner. They developed a reputation as "fragile;" punch them in the nose early and they will fold. To be fair, the talent did not pan out. Casserly landed highly regarded collegians Heath Shuler, Desmond Howard and Michael Westbrook through the draft. They were to be the nucleus of a potent passing game. None of them performed at their collegiate level. But Turner liked power runners and made better use of Stephen Davis than the coaches who followed him.

The Redskins face Turner and the Oakland Raiders at FedEX Field on November 20. Jimmy Raye, who was the Redskins Offensive Coordinator in 2001, holds the same role with the Raiders. Raye was also the quarterback of the 1966 Michigan State Spartans during the infamous 10-10 tie game with Notre Dame, considered by many as one of the finest college football games ever.

Marty Schottenheimer pays a call with his San Diego Chargers on November 27. Schottenheimer coached the Redskins in 2001. He got off to a terrible start, then finished the season with an 8-8 record, the same as Joe Gibbs in 1981. I believe Schottenheimer would have coached the Redskins to a 10-6 record in 2002, but Daniel Snyder released him over contract issues. Schottenheimer's contract specified that he, not Mr. Snyder, would have full on-field control of the team and Snyder (in his Little Danny years) wanted that control back. Star struck Danny had a grandiose, if naive, notion that Steve Spurrier would save the Redskins and revolutionize football. He paid Spurrier, who never coached a lick in the NFL, double what he paid Schottenheimer, who was successful at Cleveland and Kansas City.

Spurrier had a 12-27 record as coach and stepped down after two seasons. Schottenheimer led the Chargers to the playoffs last season and has them at 3-3 at this time. Maybe the Chargers will do some damage at the Iggles tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Getting Defensive

Let’s make this real clear. Defense is the heart and soul of the Washington Redskins. That has been true since Norv Turner left. Sure, the offense, especially the passing game, has agitated fans; but defense has, is and will keep the ‘Skins in games. The D will get them in the playoffs.

The Redskins play east coast football, in contrast to the west coast variety. East coast ball is smash mouth ball. This defense forces the pass, by stifling the run. Then, precise coverage, along with a blitz from anywhere approach, disrupts the play. This is the win-by-keeping-the-other-guys-from-scoring model. The Redskins would have been more successful over the past four years if the offense could have scored 13 points or more in each game. They couldn’t. Thus, fan agitation.

Gregg Williams is good at assessing talent. He and the defensive staff found these no-name players - Cornelius Griffen, Antonio Pierce - and made them stars. Marcus Washington was a salary cap casualty at Indianapolis who never made a Pro Bowl until he found his niche in the Redskins defense. "Everyone's a starter" is Williams' mantra, so everyone is interchangeable at their position.

That’s become more prominent in the NFL. Winning programs develop a system, then find players that fit that system. Players become snap-in parts and no player is larger than the system. Mike Shanahan’s rushing game at Denver is an example. The Broncos always feature high performing running backs. When the Broncos became a running team with Terrell Davis, they won the Super Bowl. When Davis went down, they found Clinton Portis. When Portis wanted to get paid, they went to Mike Anderson to Tatum Bell to Rueben Droughns and back to Anderson. Snap in parts. The system is supreme. You see the same approach with the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles and with similar results.

Teams have always had systems and philosophies, however, the dominance of the system over the player is emerging. It's the age of free agency, when players are more loyal to the NFL at large than to their teams (or the team’s fans). Teams cope by by being more loyal to their system than to their players. They invest in premier coaches who can implement a winning system. Players come and go or get injured; the system provides continuity. It’s the coaches who are the stars. Players are snap-in parts. The New England Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years without a legitimate super star. But they had Bill Belichick and his system. Ty Law wanted a larger contract after he helped the Patriots win a title. He was replaced and the Pats kept winning. Terrell Owens wanted a new deal after he helped the Eagles get to the Super Bowl. He was sent home for a week.

In this scenario, stars emerge from the system, but they are not essential to it. The system doesn’t need super stars. It requires disciplined role players who will cover their assignment. A system like that can survive player injury or contract negotiations. Players can be replaced. Coaches get consistency in their schemes no matter who is playing. Owners get negotiating leverage over prima donna stars. "We need you, but not as much as you think we do!"

This brings us back to the Redskins' defense. Lavar Arrington is the most visible face of the team. He is an outstanding athletic talent, yet he cannot get into games. Apparently the coaches feel that he is not the snap-in part they need to work the system. The 'Skins play great defense with Arrington. They play great defense without him. He is expendable in the coaches’ view. Antonio Pierce was a real find last season. When he wanted more money, the Skins did not keep him. They turned to Lamar Marshall who is doing as well. Fred Smoot wanted more money. Bye, Fred. The Skins bring in Walt Harris who has been very effective. (Maybe Fred wishes he stayed!) This is the profile of a team that values its defensive schemes, its system, more than the players that execute it. This repudiation of the star system is the single greatest change in the Gibbs era. Mr. Snyder’s stars are slowly being weaned from this system. Good bye Champ Bailey, Laveranues Coles, Fred Smoot, Antonio Pierce, Patrick Ramsey perhaps and Lavar Arrington maybe. You were good, but the system is supreme. There are no stars but the coaches. Steve Spurrier was not a star. He did not have a good system. (and I hope Mr. Snyder fired whoever it was that advised him to hire Spurrier)

Not that the approach is infallible. Good as they are, this defense gives up big plays. Seattle drove sixty yards down field to get in position to miss the winning field goal. With Sean Taylor and Shawn Springs out with injuries, the defense couldn’t stop the Seahawks’ march. The Redskins stifled the Denver Broncos – except for two long scoring runs by Tatum Bell. The Defense was victimized by a long pass play by Priest Holmes in Kansas City. Much is made of the inability of the defense to get turnovers. It's not enough to get turnovers. The defense and special teams have to score. That's got to be fixed, because the defense is the heart and soul of the Redskins.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The NFC Beast is Back

In the 1980s, the National Football Conference champion was either the San Francisco 49ers or whomever won the NFC East. The lone exception was the Chicago Bears, NFC Central champion and winner of Super Bowl XX. The Bears distinguished themselves with the 46 defense and the infamous "We Are The Bears" video. I blame them for rap music.

Those NFC East teams won with slobber knocking defenses and powerful ground games. Remember Wilbert Montgomery, Joe Morris, Joe Washington, Ernest Byner, Emmet Smith and John Riggins? With the hiring of astute coaches, NFC East teams set the stage for the reemergence of the Beasts of the East. Andy Reid arrived for the 1999 season. He coached the Iggles to 71 wins and counting. Bill Parcells was named Cowboys head coach in 2003. Tom Coughlin and Joe Gibbs arrived in 2004.

Coaches seem to hit their stride in their third season, so you expect the Cowboys to be a stiff challenge to the Iggles this year and the Redskins and Giants to contend in 2006. But everything appears to be ahead of schedule. The Cowboys knocked off the Iggles convincingly and face the Giants today. The Redskins already knocked off the Cowboys. The Giants are much improved. Along with Philadelphia's injuries, the division race is the most wide open it has been since Reid's arrival. Once, the Iggles were a certainty to take the East, with odds of maybe 9 chances out of 10. Now, those odds dropped to 7.

The NFC East teams are doing it the old fashion way, effective defense and power running. Washington and Dallas rank third and fifth in defense in the NFC. Philadelphia is tenth. Julius Jones, Clinton Portis and Tiki Barber rank fifth, sixth and eighth respectively in NFC rushing. Philadelphia is the NFC's top passing team. Dallas ranks fifth, Giants seventh and Washington eighth.

It's too soon to say the NFC East champion will win the Superbowl. The NFC South looks like the toughest in the conference, but beastly competition is back in the East. Any of these teams could take the Division.

NFC Super Bowl Participants:
1981 Super Bowl XV Philadelphia Lost to Oakland 27-10
1982 Super Bowl XVI San Francisco Beat Cincinnati 26-21
1983 Super Bowl XVII Washington Beat Miami, 27-17
1984 Super Bowl XVIII Washington Lost to Oakland 38-9
1985 Super Bowl XIX San Francisco Beat Miami 38-16
1986 Super Bowl XX Chicago Beat New England 46-10
1987 Super Bowl XXI Giants Beat Denver 39-20
1988 Super Bowl XXII Washington Beat Denver 42-10
1989 Super Bowl XXIII San Francisco Beat Denver 20-16
1990 Super Bowl XXIV San Francisco Beat Denver 55-10
1991 Super Bowl XXV Giants Beat Buffalo 20-19
1992 Super Bowl XXVI Washington Beat Buffalo 37-24
1993 Super Bowl XXVII Dallas Beat Buffalo 52-17
1994 Super Bowl XXVIII Dallas Beat Buffalo 30-13
1995 Super Bowl XXIX San Francisco Beat San Diego 49-26
1996 Super Bowl XXX Dallas Beat Pittsburgh 27-17

Friday, October 14, 2005

Smoot, What A Hoot!

That's quite a little story coming out of Minnesota about an over-the-top cruise allegedly organized by Fred Smoot. Ninety-odd people, including 17 Vikings, went on two Lake Minnetonka excursion boats where "Animal House" behavior became so outrageous that the tour operators cut the trip short. From there, things get murky. Smoot insists he did not organize the trip. Other Vikings say they saw nothing of the shenanigans. The crew reports some of them were propositioned by guests. After the shortened cruise, the crew worked until 2:30 AM cleaning up the mess in the boats, removing little nasties like used condoms and tubes of KY Jelly. That explains in part, they say, why the incident wasn't reported until three days later. Unlike Monica, the crew did not keep the offending DNA evidence in their closet. They tossed it, giving the authorities little to grab, so to speak. The crew says guests took snapshots, that the authorities are trying to recover, as they cheered the playful acts.

The Vikings players have been told not to comment while the incident is under investigation. A few made earlier comments to the Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune. "Yeah, I was on the boat," said running back Mewelde Moore. "But I don't know exactly what the problem is because nothing happened." Moore said he "didn't see anything," including sex acts. The same article points out that not all members of the Vikings are accused of participating. Some acted in a protective manner when crew members were propositioned.

That the crew was traumatized is unfortunate. That Viking fans are traumatized by their on field play is nearly as unfortunate. This wasn't supposed to happen with Randy you-know-who traded to Oakland. And what would Randy say? Perhaps what Noel Coward said of the American army in World War II; "Over paid, over sexed and over here."

But nothing about this story sounds like Fred Smoot, who was always a stand up guy while with the Redskins, publicly at least. You'll have to prove his involvement to me. I have been on Al & Alma's boats, they are not that big. It is impossible to miss such incidents if they were of the scale alleged in the stories. That's not to deny that something happened. Until we know more, it's best to take this story with a few grains of salt.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Redskins - Chiefs ... Cheerleaders

Not that I waste my day doing this (although I'm wasting it now), I noticed that the Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader uniforms are near identical to the Washington Redskins cheerleader uniforms.

This research is all part of my prep for the Redskins-Chiefs game. Really, it is. Really.

I notice that only one of the Washington cheerleaders was born in the District of Columbia. That's no surprise for a Washington team that's actually located in Prince Georges County, Maryland. So Maryland has two NFL teams, just like Missouri and New Jersey!

A Little Respect Here.

Charles Robinson at Yahoo! Sports ranks the Redskins twelfth among all the teams in the NFL. He ranked the Denver Broncos third after their win over the 'Skins. As he puts it "What's more impressive is that all four of the Broncos' wins have come against teams that should be in playoff races down the stretch."


Robinson ranks the Iggles fifth and the Giants and Cowboys tenth and eleventh best. So NFC Beast teams take four of his top twelve positions, but the Redskins still the least of East.

What does he know?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Memo to Laveranues Coles

How's your season going, so far?

Redskins - Broncos: That one hurt!

I've already apologized to Santana Moss for my lack of faith, now let me do the same for Joe Gibbs. Late last season, the coach said Mark Brunell "was not done." Like everyone else, I thought "sure coach," while thinking about another lost cause -- Steve Spurrier's defense of Danny Wuerffel. Brunell was so rusty during the 2004 campaign that he creaked like the Tin Man.

Going into last year, Brunell competed in one of those ESPN manufactured quarterback competitions against the NFL's young guns. Two seasons of inactivity was apparent as he was slower and more inaccurate than the others. He didn't show any better in the regular season. Fans lost faith in him by the second game. The coach stuck by him until game nine.

Brunell must have been on a steady diet of Levitra in the off season for he is more studly now. That was apparent from the first preseason game. This edition looks like the Jaguar Mark whom Gibbs touted when he signed him. Accurate, mobile, quick, finds the right target and zips the ball to him. This year, Brunell's play elevates the whole offense. Joe knows! I'll never doubt you again, coach.

The loss to Denver was agony to players, coach and fans. With a minute to go, with me and everybody in Washington and Denver on the edge of their seats with every bodily orifice clenched, Denver blocked Brunell's pass attempt to tie the game that might have led to a Redskins win. I had already formed the "whoop" in my throat and was tensed for the celebratory jump. Instead, I felt like I just ran off a cliff. Sooooo close.

The Skins weren't favored to win. The game wasn't expected to be close. There was (and is) no shame in losing to Denver in Denver. But you really felt for this group of 'Skins. They fought back. They came back. They pitched and caught with precision -- in the driving rain. They marched 94 yards -- ninety-four yards -- downfield in the closing minutes to put themselves in a position to win, only to lose because some guy's arm was in the right place at the wrong time. Or was that the wrong place at the right time? That hurt however it's said.

The Redskins beat the Redskins. The defense failed in the first order of business, stopping the run. The Broncs rushed for 165 yards. Sure, two of them came on Tatum Bell's big scoring runs of 34 and 55 yards. Take those two runs away and Bell still averages a respectable 3.8 yards per rush.

Jake Plummer was contained to 92 passing yards, completing just 40 percent of his passes. One of his passes was a scoring strike to Ashley Lelie (what kind of name is that?).

Clinton Portis' fumble in Redskins territory positioned Bell's first TD run. If the Broncos were twenty yards farther downfield, maybe they would have been held to a field goal. If the special teams avoided a block of Nick Novac's field goal attempt, or a penalty that negated another, maybe they win this one. If the 'Skins exploited all their scoring chances, maybe the close offensive interference call on David Patton in the end zone wouldn't have been so impactful. If the 'Skins rushers did once what Tatum Bell did twice, maybe the dynamics of the game changes in our favor. If wishes were dishes, I'd have a closet full of china.

For all that, the offense out performed the Broncos by 190 yards. They controlled the ball seven and a-half minutes longer than the Broncos. Brunell completed 30 of 53 passes to eight different receivers for 322 yards and two touchdowns. They rushed for 125 yards. That's the classic profile of a Joe Gibbs team. The offense did everything needed to win, but the whole team shot themselves in the foot. Still, it's a rare day when the Redskins offense outperforms the defense. Maybe it won't be so rare anymore.

An apparent safety by the 'Skins was reversed under the tuck rule. Most fans dispute that costly call, but there is no assurance it cost Washington the game. Had the play stood and events transpired as they subsequently did, the Redskins would have gone for the tie with a PAT kick rather than a low-odds two point play. Then they would have had a shot to win in overtime, but so would Denver. Who knows how that would have turned out?

It would have been fun to watch.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Redskins - Broncos Draft Bowl

Hmmm, the Broncos get a first round draft choice next year as part of the deal that enabled the Redskins to draft Jason Campbell. The value of that pick goes down as the Skins' record go up. Beating Washington is the one chance for Denver to preserve the worth of their pick! You could call this the Draft Bowl.

The pun would be that the Redskins have a real "uphill battle" playing in Mile High/Invesco Field. The Broncs are tough at home and this is one of the games I figured Washington would lose. I would not be surprised to see them win. This team is dramatically better than last year and not just because of Mark Brunell. They do make fewer mistakes with him and are less likely to beat themselves. That's big. They get the ball downfield successfully and more often. Defenses will begin to respect that sooner or later. I don't think they they do just yet.

To win today, the Redskins defense must stop that running game; keep Anderson and company under 100 yards and no touchdowns. That puts the game in Jake Plummer's hands. Keep Plummer in the pocket -- no scrambles. They pass less effectively than they run and you want to make them win with their weakest weapon. That means more coverage and less blitzing. A 3 - 4 defensive set could be a nice surprise. This brings LaVar Arrington in the defense and they could cover better, relieving pressure on rookie CB Carlos Rogers. Actually, I'm not sure about Arrington. He's supposed to be the fifth linebacker on the depth chart. Wha?

I think Denver's defense will continue to stack the line. Teams are still more afraid of Clinton Portis than Santana Moss. You just know Portis want to burn it up today. Teams are still in a "prove it to me" mode when it comes to the Redskins passing game. Champ Bailey, if he plays, will be trouble for Santana Moss. So the middle and short passing routes could be critical. The Skins showed more of it last week against Seattle. That was a pleasant surprise, but the Broncos were watching, too. If the Redskins can be effective with Chris Cooley, David Patten or James Thrash early, maybe Portis or Moss can bust a big one.

"The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet." Daymon Runyon. Today, Daymon would put his money on the Broncos. And yet, . . . .

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Snyder Makes Six Flags Pitch

Mr. Snyder and partners made a pitch to investors in amusement park chain Six Flags in New York on his plan to turn operations around. Snyder's mistakes in running the Redskins are numerous and well documented, but he has few peers as a businessman and marketeer. He was the first to recognize the 21st century value of a NFL franchise. His bid for the Redskins topped $800 million and he wrested ownership from John Kent Cooke to join a league reluctant to accept him. He has maximized every opportunity to uncover new revenue sources. FORBES magazine estimates the value of the team and stadium at $1.3 Billion.

You would think Six Flag's owners and executives would welcome his input, but they resist. I suspect Snyder suffers fools poorly and that executive heads would roll if he ever gains control. The investors might feel otherwise. Snyder is the largest shareholder and has a lot to gain or lose.

Six Flags in Prince George's County is locked in a 1970's time warp. There is no comparison to Paramount King's Dominion or Universal Studios that blend amusement rides with a multimedia presentation. Yet Six Flags charges about the same admission -- Not a good value. They could use the help and Mr. Snyder could just be the man for the job.

I hope Snyder gets control and leaves operations of the Skins to team president and head coach Joe Gibbs. Mr. Snyder is a very good business man; just not so good a football man.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Redskins Progress

Redskins 20 - Seahawks 17
I owe Santana Moss a huge apology. When the Skins traded for him, I believed they took a step down in talent to get rid of a headache. Laveraneus Coles came to Washington from the Jets with the reputation as a speed burner, the guy who would stretch defenses and occasionally bust a big one. He did have some success under Spurrier, but one season under Joe Gibbs and he wanted out.

Were I the general manager, I would not have traded or released him, no matter how unhappy he was. The cap hit was too high and the Redskins had enough of that. I read somewhere that Washington's payroll included $16 million for players no longer with the team, highest in the NFL and a legacy from Little Danny's free spending ways. Coles made a lot of money to play, so play. But Joe Gibbs made some commitment to him, so Coles goes back to the New York Jets and Santana Moss comes to Washington.

"Oh wow," was my underwhelmed expression. The Moss who excited fantasy footballers was Randy, not Santana. Randy was the Moss who gathered no stones. Santana was usually way down on the list of desired fantasy players to draft or start. Without distinctive accomplishments that would get fantasy points, Santana was seen as a number two or three back. The Jets seemed altogether too anxious to part with Santana to get Laveraneus back.

Joe Gibbs and his staff held that Moss was his kind of player for his kind of offense. He averaged 18 yards per catch. OK Joe, if you say so. The coaching staff made a number of puzzling changes. Antonio Pierce was a real find and he wanted to stay here, so he said. It seems he also wanted to be paid and his price was out of line. Pierce was the perfect example of my proposition that stars emerge from the system. When you get 'em, you keep 'em. Pierce escaped to the Giants.

Fred Smoot was a fan favorite. With Champ Bailey and Smoot, Washington had the best corner back tandem. They could cover any receiver one-on-one and allow a lot of flexibility in the defense. Bailey made it clear that he had no taste for the instability in Little Danny's organization and wanted out. Smoot said he wanted to stay, but wanted to get paid. Now he's in Minnesota. Bad news, bad news. What are these guys doing?

It seems that Coles, Pierce and Smoot have been replaced most adequately Moss, Marshall and Harris. The Patriots, Eagles and Broncos (maybe) manage their teams with the system supreme and the players as interchangeable parts more or less. They eschew the star system. It appears the Joe Gibbs-led Redskin organization is moving in that direction.

The Skins showed something fans wanted to see, not perfection, but progress in the passing game. Mark Brunell threw the ball accurately. The receivers, especially Santana Moss, caught the ball consistently. The ground game was effective, 'though not spectacular. The offense gained over 300 yards and controlled the clock for 39 minutes. Brunell's intercption came when a pass deflected off of Clinton Portis' outstretched hands and right into a Seahawk player. Freak play. Brunell moved in the pocket enough that the receivers could get open. He once kept a drive alive by scrambling for 18 yards. The passing game brought Chris Cooley and Robert Royal into the mix. Brunell connected to seven different receivers. His touchdown pass went to the fullback. Mark Brunell performed as he did in preseason and that presents new issues for opposing defenses. Progress.

The defense played well until the third quarter. Sean Taylor did not play thereafter. According the the Washington Post, Shawn Springs did not play during the Seahawks last drive, when they woulda/coulda/shoulda won. The Hawks offense could do nothing for most of the game until those two were out of the lineup. Then, they moved the ball. The defense is not as effective when those two, especially Taylor, are out. Depth may be a concern. If Josh Brown, a good kicker, makes that last kick with one second to go, the Redskins lose this one.

When I worked at Montgomery Ward, one of the vice presidents was fond of saying "sales cure everything." In sports, winning does the same.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Are the Redskins Teasing Me?

We are going into the third game of the 2005 season. The Redskins and their fans have had two weeks to bask in the glory of their dramatic victory over the hated Cowboys. Fifty-three minutes of ineptitude followed by thunderbolts from the blue for an enjoyable, if unexpected 14-13 win -- the second in sixteen tries. The upset adds spark to a fabled rivalry gone dormant when, ironically, the 'Skins hired Norv Turner, the Cowboys' offensive coordinator, as the head coach. Norv was cleaver, creative, with a fine offensive mind. What's more, from everything I hear about him, he is a top drawer, first class, genuinely nice guy.

The Redskins lost their mental toughness during Norv's tenure. And they lost a lot of games to Dallas. Which wasn't all Norv's fault. Ownership turmoil caused management to lose focus. The Cook family lost control and the Redskins fell into Little Danny Snyder's incompetent hands. What a joke. I've played fantasy football for fourteen years, so I recognized Snyder's early moves to "build a champion" as the fantasy moves they truly were. He tried everything. No star was too expensive to be a Redskin. Only, he never gave enough time for the stars to form a constellation, you know, become a team. You can assemble stars on paper for a fantasy team. In real life, you form the team first. Then the stars emerge from the system. If there was a mistake to make, Little Danny made it. He totally redeemed himself when he lured Joe Gibbs back into coaching. However that turns out, Little Danny became Mr. Snyder in my eyes.

Everybody expected immediate improvement with Gibb's return in 2004. But it was not to be. The Redskins improved by one game over '03 to finish 6-11. Gibbs did not have the smashmouth talent needed for his game. To be honest, Gibbs coaching was rusty. Game management was poor, strategy was unimaginative, calls seemed intended not to lose rather than to win. And execution was poor.

This year, Gibbs and staff took all off season to refine offensive schemes. There's nothing wrong with that defense, except they don't turn the ball over and score, a real downer if you're into fantasy football. Gibbs makes much of the players off season work effort, but preseason showed there was still work to do. The Redskins beat Chicago in a defensive duel. Gibbs pulled Patrick Ramsey after the first quarter. FIRST QUARTER! I was surprised only by the timing. Mark Brunell showed himself the better quarterback during the preseason, but I expected Gibbs to give Ramsey three or four games. He gave Brunell nine games last season.

Ramsey is a fan favorite. During the Spurrier debacle, Ramsey took hit after hit and kept getting up. WE admired his toughness, even if he was too slow to getting of the ball. Spurrier was probably not the best coach to prepare Ramsey for an NFL career. It was new to Spurrier too and Spurrier didn't want to get "NFLized." Spurrier was one of Little Danny's bright ideas. Then, I gather, Little Danny, wouldn't leave Spurrier alone to create his offense. Spurrier wanted Danny Weurffel as a quarterback. Little Danny put his foot down in the only on field decision I agree with. So Spurrier bugs out. Then Mr. Snyder gets Gibbs.

The Redskins last year were, lets say, "not good." They couldn't run well or score a touchdown. Against Dallas, they looked inept until Brunell's quick strikes to beat Cowboy zones. The 'Skins were unable to do that when the 'boys brought their pressure defense. When the boys went to prevent, it prevented them from winning. The Redskin comeback will go down in team lore. One of those films you'll see ten years from now.

I pegged the Skins for an 8-8 record this year -- two games better than last year. I didn't think they helped themselves enough on offense by picking up Santana Moss and David Patten. Plus, they lost Fred Smoot and Antonio Pierce from the defense. It seemed to me they should have kept one of the two. But the Dallas win was one I did not expect Washington to get. That means 9-7 is within reach. Actually, if the Redskins can score 17 points each game, they will have ten wins. The defense will hold most teams to two touchdowns or less this year.

Going into the Seattle game, I can't tell what to expect: the ineffective team of the first 53 minutes of the Dallas game, or the deep strike machine of the last seven minutes. Are these guys teasing me?