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?