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?