Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Belichick's Call

Patriots football? Sure seems a little out place here, but with all the buzz surrounding Belichick's 4th down call I had to get into the mix. Here we go:

Bill Belichick’s gutsy call to go for it on 4th and 2 from the Pats’ 29 has become the most talked about coaching decision of the 2009 NFL season, and one of the most controversial calls in recent memory. Up by six points with just over two minutes to go, Belichick kept the punt team on the sideline and sent his future Hall-of-Fame quarterback on the field to try and dethrone the Colts from the ranks of the unbeaten. One turnover-on-downs and a Peyton Manning touchdown later, and the Patriots were facing a 35-34 deficit with 13 seconds to play.

The call-heard-round-the-world has been the buzz of the sports world in the days following the Patriots’ loss, and the question lingers: was it the right call? Despite a rash of criticism thrown Belichick’s way from fans and analysts across the country, a look at the stats supporting the call makes it hard to dispute his decision.

According to, the NFL average for converting on a fourth-and-two from that field position is a 60%. A conversion would have essentially sealed up the victory for the Pats and the odds for completing it based on the NFL average were in their favor.

Given that New England has an above average offense, it’s fair to say that their odds of completing the fourth-and-two would be higher than the NFL average. For argument’s sake, let’s say they get a 10% boost over the league average, which bumps their chance of converting to 70%.

Following a completion, they could have run out the clock and punted the ball with about 20 seconds to go, leaving the Colts with about 70 yards to go and no time outs, needing a touchdown to win. Or, if they got another first down on the ground, they could have held on to the ball until the clock reached zero.

Belichick also knew the risk involved in the call. If the Patriots don’t complete the pass, the Colts get the ball at the 29 yard line with over two minutes to go and a time out remaining. Against a high-powered Colts offense, this seems to spell certain defeat.

But again, the odds were in Belichick’s favor. According to, teams that need a touchdown to tie or take the lead from that field position with two minutes or less to go will score the touchdown 53% if the time. If we give the Colts an offensive boost equal to New England’s, which seems fair and maybe more generous since they needed a touchdown as opposed a short conversion, this number would increase to 63%.

In a case of risk vs. reward, Belichick’s decision was not as off-the-cuff as many critics make it seem. The odds for the Patriots to complete the 4th and 2 and just about seal the victory were greater than the odds for the Colts to score the go-ahead touchdown, even with the short field.
If Belichick had felt that the risk of not converting and giving the Colts a short field wasn’t worth the risk, he would have punted.

But looking at numbers, punting was actually the worst of the two options. estimates that an average punt from the 28 yard line has a net gain of 38 yards. An average punt would have left the Colts at their own 34 yard line. From this field position, the NFL average for scoring with two minutes to go is 30%. When you add the bonus of the Colts offense, this increases to 40%.

When looking at league averages, the odds of the Patriots winning were better if they had punted (70% vs. 60%). And in a matchup of two average NFL teams, you’ll see the punt just about every time. But this wasn’t an average offense that would be getting the ball back. It was the Colts’ methodical two-minute offense, led by the master of the two-minute offense, Peyton Manning. The Colts’ estimated advantage over the league average reduced the Patriots’ chance of winning to 60%, giving the advantage to attempting the fourth down conversion and further supporting Belichick’s call.

Did Belichick know these numbers when he made the decision? Probably not, but not knowing those numbers off hand and still making the right call merits tribute to the raw football sense which has helped win him three Super Bowls and reserve him a seat in Canton. Belichick’s decision to go for it was not a brash decision made out of arrogance, nor was it a stupid gamble. It was a calculated risk in which the odds were in his favor. In his press conference following the game, Belichick said he thought the call to go for it “gave his team the best chance to win.” And he was right. Unfortunately, the cards didn’t fall his way.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What's left to say?

The Redskins are 2-5, and have struggled through the only schedule in NFL history to offer six straight games against winless teams.

The offense is lethargic, led by a quarterback who doesn't appear to have the decision-making skills or accuracy of a starting NFL quarterback. His supporting cast consists of an offensive line decimated by injury, an aging running back and a receiving corps lacking any explosion.

The defense, which got $150 million in upgrades during the offseason, has struggled on third down and fails week in and week out to make a crucial stop in the fourth quarter and give their offense a chance to drive down the field for a win.

Dan Snyder continues to live up to the stigma of a meddling owner with little football knowledge, and Vinny Cerrato's skills as a general manager continue to be called into question.

So, what's left to say?

Many fans would respond by showing their distaste for the team. Maybe going as far as Titans fans did this weekend:

But in the nation's capital, fans aren't allowed to show displeasure for their team. A recent stadium policy change has banned all signs and paper bags from the entering stadium. A Redskins PR rep spoke out before the Monday Night game and claimed that the bans were made for the safety of the fans, and to make sure nobody's gameday view was blocked.

Really? Then why were these signs passed out by the organization at the Monday Night Football matchup against the Eagles? (Courtesy of the DC Sports Bog)

Dan Snyder has been a key player in leading the Redskins through a decade of futility by overpaying for aging free agents and failing to put a competent personnel guy in the front office. But what now stands above all of the poor football decisions is this slap in the face to one of the most loyal fanbases in professional sports.

A posterboard sign with the words "Fire Vinny" on it? The Redskins organization deems it unacceptable, and potentially dangerous. But a plastic sign with plenty of head-bumping and view-blocking potential? Apparently it's OK, as long as it has a big Geico logo (a sponsor of the Redskins) across the top.

In an attempt to salvage any sort of positive image for his cash-cow franchise, and himself, Snyder has created a borderline fascist regime inside of FedEx Field. Beyond the sign and bag ban, fans wearing t-shirts with negative statements about the team have been threatened with ejection, arrest and having to give up their season tickets unless they turned their shirts inside out.

Check out some testimonials here.

Apparently, these security members were acting beyond the call of duty. I have trouble believing it. Would a squad of PG County Police and FedEx Field security really go out of their way to throw out a fan wearing a shirt with "Impeach Dan" written across the front unless they were following orders?

According to FedEx field policy, the only clothing that can't be worn into the stadium is clothing bearing profanity. The last time I checked, a call to fire an incompetent general manager and remove a meddling owner from power wasn't considered profane.

If Redskins fans can't be critical of a team that's floundering through the 2009 season and the horrible mismanagement of their favorite team...

Really, what’s left to say?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rebuilding the Redskins: The Possibilities of an Uncapped 2010 Season

The Redskins offense we see on the field today are the leftovers from a team built to win in 2005 under Joe Gibbs. That team was a dropped interception away from the NFC championship, and arguably a Quarterback away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Their offensive line controlled the pace of the game. Santana Moss was a 1,500 yard receiver and Clinton Portis was a 1,500 yard rusher.

In 2009, this squad is a broken down shell of its former self. Most of the problems arise from an againg and oft injured offensive line. But comparing Clinton Portis of 2005 to Clinton Portis of 2009 is like comparing night to day. He no longer has the burst or agility that the Redskins would ride week in and week out. Since 2005, Santana Moss hasn't come close to another 1,500 yard season. He still shows up occasionally and puts up a 100 yard game, but he is no longer the constant threat that he was four years ago.

As this offense continues to struggle week in and week out against weak competition, it becomes more apparent that an overhaul is in order. And with the potential of an uncapped season in 2010, the Redskins could dump some of their inflated contracts and start rebuilding. If I had a shot at making these decisions, they would go like this...

Cut List (Players still under contract in the offseason):

Santana Moss: Redskins fans will never forget Monday Night miracle in Dallas, where Moss burned the arch-rival Cowboys for two touchdowns in the final four minutes to earn the Skins an improbable 14-13 victory.

Moss has been the Redskins' only legitimate receiving threat outside of Chris Cooley during his tenure in Washington. But aside from his breakout season in 2005, Moss hasn't been a consistent game-changer for the Redskins. Whether it's beacuse opposing defenses are constantly gameplanning Moss out of the game, or he has lost a step, I can't say. But Moss will be turning 31 in the offseason, and it is likely that his best seasons are behind him. I don't see a reason to keep an aging receiver with a big contract around for the rebuilding growing pains.

Antwaan Randle-El: I have trouble thinking that there is a #3 receiver in the league that is paid more than Randle-El. He lost his #2 spot this season to second-year receiver Malcom Kelly, and aside from the week 1 game against the Giants has been very quiet in the passing game.

When Randle-El was first brought to the Redskins, he was expected to make the biggest impact on special teams. He was a dominant punt returner in Pittsburgh, but has been ineffective in the return game in his stay in Washington. Aside from one punt return touchdown, Randle-El has been extremely inconsistent in the return game with an apparent loss of agility and speed.

DeAngelo Hall: Another giant contract that the Skins have a chance to dump in an uncapped year. While Hall has brought a few more turnovers to the defense, his poor tackling and constant lapses in coverage shouldn't give him a pass. I don't think another #2 corner in the league makes close to the $50+ million Hall earned in the offseason.

Todd Collins: Collins had a nice run at the end of 2007, leading the Redskins to four straight wins and a playoff berth. But the Redskins need to find the future of the quarterback position, and the nearly 38-year-old Collins doesn't have much left in the tank.

Phillip Daniels: Another aging veteran the Redskins could drop in a movement to get younger. While he is a decent run-stopper, his presence in pass rushing is nearly non-existent. A rotation of Carter, Orakpo, Jarmon, and Wilson on the line would give the Redskins a good mix of youth and speed.

Randy Thomas: Thomas has been one of the Redskins' best offensive linemen when he is healthy. But over the last few years, he has struggled to stay healthy. He will be turning 34 in the offseason, and is one of the Redskins' highest paid lineman. It's time to cut ties and bring some youth to the line.

Ladell Betts: Betts earned a big contract extension in 2008, and has since become a non-factor in the redskins offense. The modern model for success in the running game seems to be with a young rotation of three backs. Betts is 30, and it is time for the Redskins to get younger at the runningback position.

On the bubble: These are a few players that are borderline cuts, and players I would try and get some trade value from.

Clinton Portis: Portis has been the backbone of the Redskins offense since Gibbs brought him in. The Redskins are 22-5 when Portis rushes for 100 or more yards. However, in the modern NFL, runningbacks do not have a very long shelf life, and Portis is nearing the end of his.

A week ago, he would have been on my cut list. But since the Redskins cut their two young talents at runningback this week, Marcus Mason and Anthony Aldridge, the Redskins would be left with nothing.

Portis is still a terrific pass blocker and a servicable back for the time being. I would lean toward keeping him, as I don't think he would merit any good trade value.

Laron Landry: Landry is a player I would try and get trade value for. He is a tremenous athelete and a former top 10 draft pick. The Redskins have the resources at safety to replace him.Reed Doughty has had a good 2009 campaign and played well in relief of Sean Taylor in 2007, and Chris Horton has proven to be a late-round steal with good ball-hawking skills.

If the Redskins could land a high second rounder or a first rounder for Landry, or a promising offensive lineman, I would take it.

Andre Carter: Carter is having a good 2009 campaign with the addition of Haynesworth. If he could put up something in the ballpark of 13 sacks (currently on pace for 16), he might warrant some good trade value from a team in need of a pass rusher. I would take anything higher that a mid-level second round pick.

Releases (Players with expiring contracts):

Jason Campbell: There may not be a more likeable guy on the team than Campbell. But through five years in the league, he hasn't shown the decision-making skills or accuracy of a top-tier NFL quarterback. I think the Campbell experiment in Washington is done.

Cornelius Griffin: Griffin will be 33 in the offseason, and the Redskins have some solid youth at defensive tackle. He has a decent-sized contract which the Skins can get off the books.

Three year plan - Draft/FA strategy: The most important need the Redskins need to address over the next few seasons is the offensive line. They need do bring in youth and quality depth to develop into a cohesive unit, instead of the stop-gap solutions they have relied on over the last several years.

The needs they should address through the draft and free agency:

1. OL: quality depth and a cohesive starting group.
2. Finding a franchise QB.
3. Building a young runningback rotation
4. Finding an OLB to replace Orakpo, moving him to DE.
5. Contine to build depth on the defensive line.
6. Solidifying the #2 CB spot

2010 Lineup:

QB: Open competition between Brennan, a FA pickup, and a draft pick.
RB: Portis
FB: Sellers
WR: Kelly/Thomas/Mitchell
TE: Cooley
OL: Fierce competition amongst offseason pickups. Hopefully Samuels returns as the cornerstone.

DE: Orakpo/Jarmon/Wilson rotation
DT: Haynesworth/Montgomery/Golston rotation
OLB: McIntosh/Draft or FA pickup
MLB: Fletcher
CB: Rogers/Draft or FA pickup
S: Doughty/Horton

Zorn Demotion Shows More of the Same From Snyder's Skins.

On Sunday evening, Vinny Cerrato "suggested" that Jim Zorn give up his playcalling responsibilities to offensive consultant Sherman Lewis, who has been out of the NFL since 2004 and was volunteering at a retirement home two weeks ago when he was called in by the Redskins.

In the bumbling yet likeable tone that Zorn has carried throughout his tenure in Washington, Zorn reluctantly complied with the wishes of the front office. As if things couldn't get worse for the Redskins, who stand at 2-4 after facing a historically easy schedule, the man who is supposed to come through for the team as a leader and motivator has effectively been emasculated by the Redskins' front office.

The hiring of Lewis and the move to strip Zorn of his playcalling responsibilities are another pair of questionable moves in a long list orchestrated by the Snyder-owned Redskins. Once again, Snyder's regime has shown that their tendency for harsh, drastic change underminds the desire to implement continuity and build a winning franchise.

If the Redskins' front office truly believes that the heart of the Redskins' problems lie in lackluster playcalling, they need to step back and take a look in the mirror. An average football fan pulled off the street could be brought in to call plays, and the results would look the same behind the porous offensive line that the Redskins have put together over the last few years. If you can't block, you can't run and you can't pass.

By some miracle, this may give Zorn a chance to pull the Redskins locker room together and get them on a run. Perhaps the relief of the extra responsibility of playcalling will allow Zorn to focus more on building morale in the locker room and getting this team motivated.

But in reality, this is likely the first step before Zorn is fired after the Monday night matchup with the Eagles.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Failure filters down from the top.

I wonder what Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato were thinking as they watched D'Anthony Batiste struggle mightily in place of perennial pro-bowler Chris Samuels yesterday.

I wonder what they were thinking as their all-pro tight end had to stay in and chip Panthers pass rushers instead of splitting out wide, creating mismatches and making plays in the passing game. For the first time in over 70 games, Chris Cooley was held without a catch.

I wonder what they were thinking as their first-round draft pick at quarterback was repeatedly shoved into the turf behind a makeshift offensive line. Campbell was sacked four times and hurried and hit over a dozen times.

Redskins nation needs to realize that the performance of the 2009 can no longer be put on the players or the coaching staff. As two great Washington Post articles by Thomas Boswell and Sally Jenkins summed up, the problems at the top of the Redskins organization prevent anything resembling a championship contender from taking the field. At this point, they can hardly even put out a competitive team from week to week.

As I stewed over the Redskins ineptitude, which has spanned nearly my entire lifetime as a fan, and more specifically in the Dan Snyder era, I came up with a similie that suits the way this franchise is run.

Essentially, the Redskins Organization is like a failing car manufacturer.

The Redskins team itself, the final product that hits the field on Sundays, is like the car that this manufacturer produces. And the bottom line is the Redskins organization is putting out a product that has not been built on a solid foundation.

Every year they come out with a few attractive new features that attract buyers. A new receiver is like a shiny new paint job, a new playmaker at cornerback is like an attractive new interior, a top-tier quarterback is like a high-powered engine, etc.

However, the guts of this product, the frame, is poorly constructed. The guts of a football team are the offensive and defensive line and overall team depth. While the Redskins improved on the defensive line this offseason, for the most part they are sorely lacking in these areas. Without a strong frame to hold all the other parts in place, it should be no surprise that this car is destined to fall apart on the tough road that is the NFL.

Likewise, the ones who drive this car, the coaching staff, can't be fully blamed for the poor performance of the vehicle. Especially in the case of Zorn, who had little to do with the product we see on the field today, he is merely steering a broken product. We can question the decisions he makes while driving, sure. And a good coach is capable of steering a product to its highest potential. But ultimately there is a ceiling created by an inferior product that prevents success at the highest level.

Does it make any sense to blame a poorly constructed car for breaking down? Or to blame the person driving it when it doesn't perform at a high level? I don't think so. The blame has to go to the top. The ones who put it together.

When we get to the top, the assembly line and the plant that constructs the Redskins vehicle, the real problems shine through. The people in charge of putting the correct parts in place for this car to perform at a high level are failing tremendously. Rather than spending their efforts researching new technology and putting new parts in place, which in the NFL happens through the draft, the Redskins try and plug holes with older parts and and add new asthetic elements to make their product look better than it is.

The duo of Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato have continually ignored the deep-seeded issues with the Redskins by refusing to draft young talent, especially on the lines, and build depth throughout the roster.

Until the problems at the top are fixed, there is no hope for the Redskins. Even if they bring in one of the top coaches on the market next year, no significant improvement can happen until Cerrato is gone and Snyder gets his hands out of the football operations.

Like most of Redskins nation, I will be back next year for the lastest Redskins model. I'm addicted, and hope that one day my Redskins will be the meanest machine on the road. But unless changes are made at the top, I won't expect anything more than a casual Sunday drive in my Redskins clunker.

Monday, September 28, 2009

For the Redskins, the Inches Don't Add Up.

In Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino gives one of the most beautiful football speeches a coach could deliver.

In case you don't remember it, or want to feel the goosebumps of inspiration run up your spine again, you can check it out here:

Coming off a poor offensive performance against St. Louis, doubt swirled around Redskins nation. The media supplied loads of criticism for Zorn and the team as a whole. The fans spewed distaste for the Redskins' play, booing their home team off the field even though they walked off with a notch in the win column.

On Sunday, facing a Detroit Lions team that hadn't won a game since 2007, the Redskins had a chance to fight for that inch. On 4th an Goal from the Lions 1 yard line, they had a chance to prove that they could get into the endzone. They had a chance to prove the media critics wrong and instill some faith back into a loyal fanbase that they have let down through two weeks this season.

When it came down to the fight for that inch, the Redskins proved that they don't have what it takes. They aren't willing to fight and die for that inch.

When the dust settled and the Redskins were marked short of the goal line, I looked the person sitting next to me at the bar and said, "this game is over."

I saw it, as I'm sure many others watching the game did; the air was let out of the Redskins baloon. They had a chance to prove their doubters wrong and came up short, again. The confidence was sucked out of the entire team, and the 99-yard touchdown drive that followed for the Lions was the icing on the cake.

Sure, Zorn may have been predictable in the playcall by going back to the left side, as he has done in the majority of the Redskins goal-line runs this season. But he can not get that inch for his team. When all is said and done, he can't get on the field and make his team claw, push and battle for that yard they needed.

What the Redskins proved on Sunday is that their problems run deeper than playcalling, redzone struggles and 3rd down defense. This Redskins team lacks heart. They lack fire. They lack passion. They don't have the qualities of a team that is willing to fight for every inch and get the job done.

After what will go down as one of the worst losses in recent Redskins history, I have a feeling that FedEx field will be an ugly scene next Sunday as the Redskins host the Bucs. I expect to see paper bags over the faces of quite a few disgusted fans. I expect to see a few "Fire Zorn" and "Impeach Snyder" signs. I expect the booing to come full force with every mistake, and possibly even start as soon as the team hits the field.

With 13 games left on the schedule, the Redskins still have time to find a spark. They have time to get a fire lit under them and prove that they want to fight for that inch. Perhaps an ugly loss like this is what they needed.

A home game against the winless Buccaneers, who will let quarterback Josh Johnson make his first NFL start over Byron Leftwich, may get the Skins back on the right track.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Through Week 2, Blame Spreads Around Offensive Woes

After failing to get into the endzone against a St. Louis Rams team that has won two of their last 19 games and surrendered 28 points in a week 1 shutout loss to the Seattle Seahawks, blame for the Redskins' offensive struggles continues to spread across the unit.

Many say it's Campbell's fault. More are placing the blame on Zorn and his playcalling. Others say it's the redzone personnel packages, which don't take full advantage of the height the Redskins have with their young receivers.

While Zorn made some questionable calls in the redzone, most notably the HB pass on third down (a play which Zorn said if he would call again, he would do it on first down), the Redskins lack of point production comes down to a lack of execution in the Redzone.

The Redskins offense was not as anemic as James Brown described it during a CBS halftime cutscene on Sunday. Out of the Redskins' seven offensive drives on Sunday, five of the were nine plays or more. The Redskins consistently marched down the field with long sustained drives, and dominated the time-of-possesion battle against the Rams.

However, out of four redzone trips, the Redskins offense only managed nine points and a turnover. And the blame can be spread equally:

  • The HB pass was a bad call, which Zorn has admitted to. On a 3rd and Goal from outside the five yard line, you have to give your quarterback a chance to make a play.

  • Mike Sellers had a dropped touchdown pass which he should have caught.

  • Jason Campbell tried to force a throw into Devin Thomas on one trip, missing a wide-open Antwaan Randle-El.

  • After making a nice catch to get the Redskins into the redzone, Santana Moss coughed the ball up on the way to the ground.

It's not just Zorn. It's not just the receivers. It's not just Campbell. The Redskins as a complete offensive unit have yet to click and execute when it matters the most: in the redzone.

Despite the redzone troubles, I saw a lot of promise from the Redskins offense against the Rams. At least, they proved that they can move the football. Not to mention, against a team coached by former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who knows the Redskins very well. Even in week 1, they moved the ball much better against an elite Giants defense than they did in 2008.

If they begin to execute in the redzone, this could turn into a dangerous unit.

The defense has shown that they are going to be a top-tier unit in terms of scoring defense. They held a Giants offense to 16 points in their house, the same Giants offense that put up 30+ on the Cowboys in Dallas. They held the Rams to seven last Sunday. If the Redskins offense can start to capitalize on redzone trips and put up 21+ points per week, they could make a run at the NFC East title.

Against the Lions on Sunday, the Redskins have a chance (and many fans feel a need) to make a statement on offense.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Redskins @ Giants: Week 1 Preview

For the second straight year, the Redskins open their season in New Jersey against the division rival Giants, hoping to avenge a 16-7 loss in the Meadowlands last season.

With the new Giants Stadium opening in 2010, this will be the last time the Redskins and Giants will face off in the old Giants stadium. It has hosted a number of epic games between the two rivals, and has been a place where the Redskins have struggled to win, especially recently.

Since 2002, the Redskins have only won twice in the Meadowlands against the Giants. (Once against the Jets)

In their final game against the rival Cowboys in Texas stadium last season, the Redskins spoiled the party with a 26-24 victory.

Will the Redskins play spoiler again, leave their final footprints in the turf of Giants Stadium and walk off with a win this Sunday?

Going on recent results, it is hard to make a case for the Redskins.

The Giants defense dominated the Redskins offense last season, giving up only seven points in each contest. They have been able to successfully shut down the backbone of the Redskins offense, Clinton Portis, and forced Jason Campbell to try and beat them through the air.

Campbell was unable to do so, under the pressure of a vicious Giants pass rush led by Justin Tuck. And this season, the Giants welcome star defensive end Osi Umenyiora back from a season-ending injury that kept him out for the entire 2008 season.

Given the success of the Giants defense shutting down the Redskins offense by dominating the line of scrimmage and stopping the running game cold, the Skins should expect to see plenty of eight-in-the box sets on Sunday. Once again, Campbell will be forced to prove that he can beat the Giants through the air and keep the Giants honest on defense.

Malcom Kelly, who was named the starting receiver opposite Santana Moss this week, will be a player to watch this weekend. With the high likelyhood that the Redskins will be facing a lot of eight-in-the-box sets, he will have plenty of one-on-one opportunities and should be able to take advantage of the size mismatch he creates. At 6'4, 225, he should be a tough cover for Terrell Thomas, who will likely start in the place of the injured Aaron Ross.

Defensively, the Redskins are facing a Giants offense the has lost its two leading recievers over the last few seasons, Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer.

The Redskins have struggled over the last few seasons with the balanced attack that the Giants bring offensively. In their home matchup against the Giants last season, the Redskins made it clear that they were committed to stopping the Giants ground game, bringing eight and nine players into the box on a regular basis.

However, unlike Jason Campbell, Eli Manning was able to take control of the game through the air and punish the Redskins for committing so heavily to the run.

Against a young and relatively unproven Giants receiving corps, the Redskins defense will likely commit heavily to the line of scrimmage again, and force Eli Manning to beat them.


I don't like the Redskins on the road here. This game will be a defensive battle, and if the Redskins bend-but-don't-break defensive philosophy translates into this season, they will lend the Giants a few extras scores in the kicking game.

Final score: 20-13 Giants

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More on Jason Campbell and the Redskins' Offensive Philosophy

A recent Washington Examiner article by John Keim is one of the most fair and accurate analyses of Campbell that I have read in a while, and sums up my feelings of him very well.

As I briefly touched on in my last post, I believe Campbell has shown the level he is capable of playing at in the NFL, and it all relies on his supporting cast. When Campbell is supported by good line play, a dominant run game, and good defensive play, which the Redskins had through eight games last season, he can play the role of what fans and coaches call a "game manager" very well.

Through the first eight games of 2008, Campbell threw eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. While the Redskins weren't putting up a ton of points through the air, the passing game was consistent and did not turn the ball over.

With the support of a dominant run game, in which Clinton Portis was in the ballpark of 1,000 yards at the midway point, the Redskins were able to make up for the lack of scoring through the air by keeping opposing offenses off the field and winning the time of possession battle.

Football fans across the country will find themselves hard pressed to find an NFL analyst who won't swear by the "run the ball and play good defense" philosophy as a recipe for success in the NFL. It was the Redskins' gameplan through the first half of 2008, and had them at 6-2 and near the top of the NFC.

While I agree with this idea, I have two major concerns with it which apply to the Redskins.

My first concern is that this philosophy isn't one that will lead to very many convincing victories in terms of outscoring the other team. While the game may be won convincingly in terms of physically outplaying a team, or in terms of the time-of-possession or turnover battle, the low offensive output through the air will often have fans biting their nails as the opponent is often still within one score late in the fourth quarter.

Out of the Redskins six wins through the first half of the season, only one was by more than seven points (and it was an eight-point victory against the lowly Lions, who would go on to finish 0-16). Sure they were winning, but there wasn't a game where their opponent wasn't within striking distance late in the fourth quarter.

On the other end of the spectrum, a team like the Colts, Patriots, Chargers or Saints can rely on their passing game to come out and score two, three or four touchdowns on any given Sunday and put less pressure on the defense and the running game. They have the capability of putting 27+ points on the board every week, which the Redskins did only once in 2008. (Saints - 10 times, Chargers - 8 times, Colts - 6 times, Patriots - 6 times, without Brady).

It will be interesting to see how the Redskins do in the passing game this season. Campbell is in his second year as a starter in the same system for the first time since high school, which should improve his decision making. One of the great weaknesses in his game is that he holds on to the ball too long. We should get a better idea this season of whether this is because he is simply a slow decision-maker, or because he did not yet feel comfortable in the system.

Additionally, Malcom Kelly has begun to stand out at the wide receiver position throughout training camp and the preseason. He is a big target with great hands, and rumors around Redskins Park suggest that he is poised to take the #2 receiver spot from Antwaan Randle-El.

This is a move that should work out great for the Redskins, as Randle-El is best suited in the slot where his quickness can cause matchup problems for linebackers and nicklebacks. It also gives the Redskins more size on the outside, which they have needed in the redzone for a long time.

If Kelly performs well, and provides a legitimate threat outside of Cooley and Moss that opposing defenses have to gameplan for, the Redskins should see fewer eight-in-the-box sets, which will allow Portis to flourish and open up the play-action game, giving them a balance on offense which disappeared in the second half of 2008.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Remembering 2008, and Looking Ahead to 2009

After a long hiatus, mostly due to a busy semester during last season, I'm back to talk some Redskins football.

Re-reading my last post brought back all the highs and the lows I felt last season. I truly believed the Redskins were a serious contender in the NFC at the midway point last season. They played mistake free football on offense, solid defense, and were pounding teams to death in the fourth quarter with Clinton Portis. It was a recipe for winning, and at 6-2, they were doing just that.

With MVP and playoff talks swirling around the nation's capital, The Redskins had a chance to prove themselves on the national stage with a Monday night showdown against the Steelers.

After a humiliating 23-6 loss in which the Skins were physically dominated in all facets of the game, it became clear that a different team showed up for the second half of the season.

The offensive line, with a combination of age and injury, could no longer control the pace of the game. Clinton Portis went from a 1,000-yard first half of the season to a 500-yard second half. Protection breakdowns in the passing game halted our offense further and led to a sub-par performance from Jason Campbell in the second half of the season.

The gameplan for beating the Redskins was clear: crowd the line of scrimmage, bring pressure, hit them hard, and they won't be able to keep up. The result was a 2-6 finish, in which the offense averaged fewer than 13 points per game, and another season out of the playoffs.

Following a dissapointing finish to the 2008 season, most offseason talk concerning the Redskins' success in 2009 has centered around Jason Campbell. I feel he is more of an x-factor than a key component to their success. Without good physical line play protecting him well and creating a running game to support him, I don't think that Campbell will have the chance to succeed.

He has shown that when he is protected well, he is capable of being a good "game manager" and even hit a big play or two. That said, I think Campbell still has some accuracy and pocket presence issues which he needs to work out, and entering his third full season as a starter it is time for him to take his game to the next level.

After watching the collapse of the Redskins at the end of the 2008 season, my top concerns with the team heading into 2009 is with their ability to physically control the game on the line of scrimmage and stay healthy at those positions. The additions of Albert Haynesworth and Brian Orakpo should help tremendously on the defensive side of the ball, but doubt still lingers with the offensive line.

After the first preseason game two weekends ago against the Ravens, the Redskins picked up where the left off in 2008. They were physically dominated by the Ravens. Last weekend against the Steelers, aside from a field goal drive that was sparked by a fake punt for a first down, the Redskins offense looked very inept in the passing game once again, although the line provided a good push in the running game.

Heading into the second half of the preseason, we will get to see more action from the first team. I am anxious to see how the offensive line performs, particularly in pass protection, and see if Campbell begins to show any improvement. I would also like to see if one of the second-year recievers, Malcom Kelly and Devin Thomas, begin to stand out and take the #2 receiving spot. So far, Kelly has shown tremendous hands, and at 6'4 225 he is a big taget over the middle of the field and in the redzone.

Aside from those three question marks, I think that the Redskins have a team built to compete at a high level in the NFC. Their #4 overall defense has added some new playmakers, so we can only expect a repeat performance or perhaps improvement. Clinton Portis has proven to be a top back in the NFL when healthy, and Chris Cooley has proven to be a top tight end over the last four years.

There's an old saying that football is won in the trenches, and the Redskins need to show that they can win those battles if they want to compete in the NFC East.