Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Redskins vs. Lions - Second Quarter Review

I ordinarily would do a full half at a time, but it's been one of those weeks so I've had to do the 1st half in two chunks. Remember I ended the 1st quarter review with 1:30 left, but there was only one play worth describing that occured before the quarter break.

I'll try to get the 2nd half review up before the weekend, and intend to do it all in one post.

Redskins second possession

1-10-W25 – Draw to Portis out of the shotgun. Rabach is carried backwards 4 yards and pushed into Portis, who manages to fight enough to make it only a 2 yard loss. Rinehart did a good job of getting to the second level and blocking the LB, so there would have been a decent gain if Portis had been allowed to make it to the hole.

[Second Quarter]

1-10-W36 – Play action. Rinehart pulls to the left, allowing Samuels to block a tackle. Unfortunately Rinehart can’t quite get his feet set once he gets to his new position and the rusher he is responsible for is able to push through him and hit Campbell’s arm as he throws, leading to a loft into the middle of three defenders that easily could have been intercepted. Not sure what the idea was with the protection call here – Heyer found himself with no one to block.

2-10-W36 – Quick pass to Sellers in the flat, which is jumped by the LB and should have been intercepted and returned for the touchdown. This is the point where I started worrying about Campbell’s nerves – if there’s one thing he usually does well it’s avoid interceptions.

3-10-W36 – Nice pass rush design by the Lions. A DT gets good push against Rinehart. The LDE stunts inside to get through the hole that creates. What was supposed to happen was for Heyer to turn in on the tackle and Rinehart to pick up the stunting end, but Heyer was momentarily frozen by a LB who blitzed passed him and was picked up rather poorly by Betts (I think – I’m working with standard def here). The stunting DE and the LB force Campbell to scramble, and he ends up hitting Santana short of the first down marker.

Lions third possession

1-10-D6 – Center Dominic Railoa kills us again. He slips through the line perfectly and squares up Fletcher, allowing Smith to shoot up the middle for 18 yards. I’ve already checked – Raiola is not a free agent after the year.

[skipped a bunch of plays here]

3-7-W43 – Stafford hits Bryant Johnson in stride. Johnson is able to outrun Tryon and Horton and puts a move on DeAngelo Hall; eventually London Fletcher pulls him down from behind after a long pursuit.

3-5-W14 – Orakpo stunts inside, which leaves Haynesworth working 1-on-1 on a tackle who can’t handle him. He easily overpowers the LT to get the sack. Unfortunately, this is the play where he hurt his him and was lying face down for a very long time after the play.
Lions kick a field goal to make it 10-0.

Redskins third possession

1-10-W23 – Campbell gets good protection but tries to force a deep out to Devin Thomas, who is double covered. It bounces off a DB for another near-pick. By this point Jason was clearly pressing.

3-13-W20 – Jason gets good protection and hits Cooley in the seam. Cooley immediate looks to the first down marker and slams the turf in disgust when he sees he’s a yard short of the sticks.
Hunter’s punt: 59 yards, 4.75 hang time. And that’s 59 yards in the air, it wasn’t one of those punts that racks up cheap yards through lucky bounces. Lions get a good return off of it but it is cancelled by a penalty.

Lions fourth possession

2-1-D27 – Reed Doughty sniffs out the run and shoots the gap to take down the RB in the backfield. Do the Redskins have two fantastic strong safeties or are the safeties just really well coached? Or both?

2-6-D43 – Doughty again! Reads the run perfectly and gets the ballcarrier in the backfield. I’ve always judged Doughty unfairly because I can’t erase Terrell Owens’ huge day in 2007 from my memory, but they guy really is a pretty good player. It’s too bad he’s somewhat redundant with Horton – their strengths and weakness kind of match up so it’s not like they playing time can be divvied up by situation.

2-10-W20 – Smoot breaks up a perfect pass to Bryant Johnson in the end zone. Smoot is the only corner who had a good day.

3-10-W20 – Big TE Pettigrew is blanketed by Hall but uses his size to block him out and make a first down catch over the middle. A recurring theme here – the Redskins corners (other than Smoot, for this week anyway) have a terrible time with big receivers.

(Lions are eventually stopped in the 7 and settle for a field goal with 2 second left)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

1-2: Lions 19, Redskins 14 - First Quarter Review

Ok, this week it seems that almost every play had import or provided useful information about why things happened the way they happened, so it's taking a long time to get through the TiVo. I've only done one quarter, but since things seem so dire these days I wanted to post something quickly to aid in digesting what we went through on Sunday. Below is almost the entire first quarter, although I left a little more than a minute because the conclusion of the Lions 99 yard drives seemed like a reasonable spot to take a break. And drink heavily.

A few plays are still omitted, so don't worry if down and distance doesn't add up every time. I'll get up the rest of the game, as well as concluding thoughts, as soon as I can given the exigencies of job, life, etc.

Lions first possession

1-1-D15 – The first of the mysteriously successful up the middle runs. Haynesworth initially beats the center, but the center is able to carry him a bit to the offensive left and he basically lets Haynesworth’s own momentum carry him out of his gap responsibility. London is picked up by the leadblocking fullback, and the LG, who initially is helping double Haynesworth but quickly sheds him, is able to square up Rocky. That’s what made it a 9 yard gain.

3-1-D24 – Fullback give. The Lions line is able to get just enough push so they sneak over the line. I can’t tell if they cut Haynesworth or if he just fell down on his own (I need Hi-Def in a bad way) but he almost immediately went to the ground. The Lions also subtly faked a handoff to the tailback after the FB already had the ball, and both Horton and Rogers pursued him to the outside. I’m not sure either of them would have made it to the hole in time to make a difference, but it was an effective fake.

1-10-D25 – Run out of shotgun. The line crashes to the left, taking Haynesworth with it, and manages to seal Haynesworth and Griffin to that side. The LG pulls to the right and leads Kevin Smith through the hole where the tackles used to be.

2-7-D29 – On two earlier plays they got Haynesworth moving one direction and then ran it the other. This time Smith follows the blocking to the left and Haynesworth is able to shed the center’s block and take down Smith after 2 yards.

3-5-D31 – Stafford passes out of shotgun. Carter is able to carry the RT into Stafford’s face, but he makes a nice throw to Bryant Johnson in the flat. Fortunately Smoot is tracking him all the way lays Johnson out before he can even get his feet down.

Redskins first possession

1-10-W24 – Shotgun with empty backfield. High snap and Campbell bounces it into the air while trying to catch it. The LDE blew by Heyer with a speed rush so he was already on top of Campbell once he came down with the ball. Fortunately he twists around Campbell’s facemask while throwing him to the turf.

1-10-W32- The DBs are playing deep zones. Portis runs a short hook freezing the MLB, and Sellers goes to the flat sucking up the OLB. With the linebackers out of the picture, Santana is able to sit down in the gaping hole between the shallow and deep zones. Nicely designed.

1-10-W47 – Cooley lines up on the right TE spot, then Sellers motions from FB to join him. Sellers goes down field to pick off LBs while it is clearly Cooley’s job to seal the corner so that Portis can take advantage of Sellers' downfield blocking. Instead the DE gets past Cooley and forces Portis to take the play even wider, and turn upfield later. It is a 3 yard gain, but would have been more had Portis been allowed to get to the corner as designed.

1-10-D43 – Quick hook to Moss, who then does his Moss thing and makes 4 guys miss to get all the way down to the 22. Portis perfectly squared up a blitzing safety to give Jason a chance to get the ball out. God, I love watching Portis block.

1-10-D22 – Heyer forgot the snapcount. He wasn’t even out of his snap as the LDE streaked past him. Fortunately Portis was able to pick him up to save Campbell’s life. With Portis’ block Campbell was able to step up into a restored pocket, but still rushed his throw and sailed it about a foot too high for Santana who was open at the 3 yard line. I don’t think Campbell realized how much time stepping up had gained him. Campbell can be seen saying something to Heyer after the play. He didn’t look happy.

2-10-D22 – False start on Heyer. That guy had a really, really rough first drive.

2-15-D27 – Play action. Campbell immediately zeroes in on Kelly and gets it to him on the deep out. Very confident and decisive throw, and perfect timing as Kelly was coming out of his cut.

1-G-D9 – A nearly perfect endzone fade to Kelly. Maybe Campbell could have lofted it just a bit more, but really I think it was just well covered by the DB.

2-G-D9 – Handoff from shotgun to Betts up the middle for 1 yard. I’m not sure, but I think Dockery screwed up on this one. The RDE was intentionally unblocked; the play was designed for Betts to already be to the hole before he could get into the backfield. Dockery immediately engages the left-side DT, which leaves Samuels with nobody in front of him. Samuels starts to turn towards the DT, then watches helplessly as he is boxed out by Dockery as a LB fills Betts’ gap. I think Samuels was supposed to take the DT, and Dockery was supposed to slip to the second level and block the LB. It’s not clear whether this was a physical or mental failure on Dockery’s part.

3-G-D7 – (after a timeout) – A semi-screen, with Dockery the only blocker in front of Portis. Dockery makes a rather weak diving block at the legs of a DB, for some reason, which forces Portis to the outside. Portis does a great job of maintaining balance and slicing through multiple unblocked defenders to dive to the 1.

4-G-D1 – Jumbo package with Davis and Yoder on the right and Cooley on the left. We run left. Guess who gets beat to allow the defense to penetrate and stuff Portis. Cooley has always been known as a mediocre blocker, but I don’t remember him being quite this awful last year. Has he gotten worse? And why the hell would we run behind him in a power situation? Sellers was lead blocking, but Cooley’s failure neutralized Sellers by not giving him a gap to lead through.

Lions second possession (the 99 yard drive)

1-10-D1 – The rookie QB somehow gets us with an Elway-ish hard count, and Golston is drawn offside. A killer, as backed up on the one even a little pressure could lead to a holding call in the end zone and an automatic safety.

1-10-D12 – Shotgun draw. The RG seals Griffin to the right, the center and LG seal Golston to the left, and then the center sheds off and squares up on Fletcher 4 yards downfield. The Lions center – Dominic Raiola – is really, really impressive.

3-10-D24 – Zone blitz with Golston dropping into coverage and Rocky blitzing from the outside. Lions were in shotgun with a two RBs, so obviously the blitz was going to get picked up in the backfield. Stafford has plenty of time and waits for a receiver to come open at the 33. I don’t get the defensive call.

2-5-D49 – Screen. Complimentary routes suck Fletcher and Chris Wilson into the other side of the field, so HB Blades is left alone as the only LB in front of 3 blockers. Well designed and well executed – 12 yard gain. I think Blache is getting thoroughly out-schemed.

3-3-D33 – Redskins get pressure and force an incomplete pass, but there is also an offensive pass interference call. Zorn forgoes the 4th and 3 and instead elects to push the Lions back 10 yards and let them repeat 3rd down. Because it didn’t go on to work out Zorn’s been ripped on this; I’m on the fence. At 4th and 3 the Lions would either kick –with a high probability of success – or go for it, and given their success running up the middle I don’t think Zorn was confident we could stop them. I think Zorn thought the best odds of stopping them was to force them to pass. Not entirely unreasonable… but I’m also not fully convinced.

3-13-D42 – Stafford out of shotgun. Nobody gets open downfield, and the pressure eventually flushes Stafford from the pocket. Stafford has to duck under Haynesworth’s swiping arm, but is able to escape and make a hell of a run down to the 21. We were just beat by Stafford’s athleticism here.

1-10-D21 - The touchdown. Railoa, the center, immediately cut Haynesworth’s legs, which didn’t bring him to the ground but neutralized him as a pass rusher. That freed the LG to swing to the the right side and help out with Orakpo. That left Lorenzo Alexander rushing on the left side – he was able to get some decent pressure but Stafford once again showed good pocket presence and got the ball out just in time. A simple fade – big receiver (Bryant Johnson) beats a small corner (Rogers).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Initial reactions to a very tough loss

A very,very tough day. I honestly can’t remember a game that was quite as much of an emotional rollercoaster as this one. There were times in the 3rd quarter where I really thought the Redskins were going to pull it out. Obviously I haven’t had time to go through the game yet, but here’s some quick thoughts, in no particular order, now that I’ve had a few hours to process things (and calm down a little). All of these are subject to revision once I go through play by play, but I’m just showing you where my head's at tonight.

- The defensive line has a lot of explaining to do. I am at a loss as to how the Lions were able to run up the middle on us so effectively.

- Jason Campbell was extremely unimpressive. Outside of the first drive he was just extremely erratic. The passing game was clicking so well on that first drive, and then everything just went to pieces.

- Much of the heat Zorn is taking today is due to the decision to go for it on 4th down, but he made the right call. It was reasonable of him to expect that a defense that is supposed to be very good would not allow the Lions a 99 yard touchdown drive. I am just baffled by what happened to the defense today…

- I don’t care what Michael Strahan thinks. The execution was terrible today, but I saw no evidence that the Redskins quit. In fact, they fought their butts off throughout the game. They did so ineffectively, but that’s an entirely different matter than calling them quitters.

- So it turns out getting Santana into the game isn’t the only key to the offense.

- To all those who said Albert Haynesworth would give no effort once he got paid, I hope they saw him limp back out on the field to try to play through a painful hip injury in a game that was critical for his team.

- There’s no way to claim that this isn’t a terribly disappointing loss, but all along the odds were we would lose at least one of these allegedly easy games in this part of the schedule, because that’s the nature of the NFL. But this happened to come at the worst possible time, and to an opponent who, by virtue of coming off the first winless season since the late 70s, manages to make this into a national news story. There are some dark days ahead.

- All that said, there are 13 games left. The season is going poorly, but is far from over.

- If things don’t improve dramatically through the course of the season, Zorn and Campbell are both certainly gone - and probably should be. But there is absolutely nothing to be gained by firing Zorn midseason. What would really change – Stump Mitchell would call plays? There are relatively few individual play calls that I can find objectionable. If the problem is the offensive system itself, that can’t change midseason because one of his subordinates, probably Stump Mitchell, would take over. And we have to get much deeper into the season before we talk about benching Campbell. Obviously Todd Collins isn’t the future… So again – what do we gain by not allowing this pair a full season to show they can produce?

An attempt at an upbeat gameday post

It's been a rough week, featuring a rift between Redskins fans and players like I've never seen. Even during the dark years of the early 90s, when we were sitting through 3-13s, I never saw the fans turn on their team like quite like this. Now with the boos after a win, the (unproven) allegations of spitting, and Robert Henson's less than brilliant decision to splatter his frustrations all over the internet, we seem to be in danger of rupturing what has always been a solid relationship through good times and bad.

Let's not turn into Eagles fans, who loudly profess their undying loyalty and then are the first to turn on their team as soon as things go wrong. I would be very upset if we forfeited the right to look down on Philadelphia sports fans. We're better than them, and I take a lot pride in that.

But the big question is, if the Redskins players feel like they're under assault from their own fans, how can we expect them to make a cheesy 1980s-style music video thanking us for our support? Somehow I'd never seen this before, but a commenter posted the link on Cooley's blog and it immediately cheered me up. What we desperately need right now is a remake of this classic with the current players, but I think it's critical to keep the 1980s style. This sounds like a job for Cooley. Chris, if you can make this happen I promise never to mention your blocking again.

And that comment happened to be attached to a post on The Redskins Rap. Trust me, its better than you think and will get you in a more positive mindset for the game today. It also reminded me that I really need to write a post breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of the Redskins tertiary.

So now that we're in a better mood, check out this video of Zorn and Campbell in action. Opinions vary widely on whether this tandem will take the next step, and personally I'm on the fence. But remember - they are carrying out team at least through this season, and only then will it make sense to look for other options if they haven't performed. Until then, they are our guys, and booing them after wins, or advocating blowing up the whole team after week 2, does nothing to help. Remember, whenever you get frustrated by the Redskins, just think of what an Eagles fan would do and do the opposite.

Enjoy the game everyone.

Friday, September 25, 2009

1-1: Redskins 9, Rams 7 - Second Half Review

At long last, here are the second half highlights. I went over the first half back on Wednesady. Again, many plays are omitted - only plays that are interesting or significant (including all red zone plays) are included.

Read 2-10-S35 as 2nd down and 10 at the St. Louis 35 yard line.

Wrap up thoughts follow.

Rams First Possession

2-10-S37 – Redskins rush three with Griffin dropping into zone coverage. Donnie Avery runs a shallow cross with Orakpo somehow responsible for him. Orakpo is unsurprisingly two steps behind. But Haynesworth, who is hung up at the line on a double team, makes an impressive leap and nearly deflects it (he may have even gotten a small piece) and Griffin is waiting right when the pass arrives and drops what would be an easy interception for anyone but a defensive tackle. Bulger never saw him, so we can chalk this up to good play design and give Blache a point.

Rams go three and out and Lorenzo Alexander comes very, very close to blocking the punt.

Redskins First Possession

1-10-W21 – Sellers (who motions from his FB spot to TE) and Samuels clear a path downfield to let Portis gains 7. Shades of early 2008.

2-10-W47 – Will Montgomery gave up leverage to the defender and was soundly beaten, allowing Campbell to take a hit and forcing a throw high over Cooley’s head and out of bounds. We got a close-up as Jason was getting up off the turf and he was pissed. Heyer tried to help him up but Jason brushed him off and was clearly cussing loudly, which wouldn’t be remarkable unless our QB wasn’t usually so mild-mannered.

1-10-S35 – Portis run up the middle for 4 yards, but I think he was lucky to get that much. Stephon Heyer got carried all the way from his RT position nearly to the left-side numbers, and clogged up the lane Portis was supposed to run through (based on the fact that Heyer ran into a lead-blocking Sellers). Fortunately Portis was able to cut to the backside and took advantage of a hesitating LB to gain a few.

1-G-S7 – Portis runs to left end for no gain. Just no push at all by the line.

2-G-S7 – Portis inside for 2 yards. He was supposed to run behind Montgomery, but Montgomery lost his battle and allowed Portis to get hit in the backfield. But this is Portis, so he fought his way for a 2 yard gain anyway. This is the play where the booing started.

3-G-S5 – The notorious Portis pass. Cooley was the one and only read on this play and he was well covered. This play could only really work by making the DBs bite on the run (it was run out of a power formation). But at 3rd and goal at the 5 obviously Cooley was going to be a pass target. Of course it would have been called back anyway because Montgomery was called for holding on the play… it wasn’t the smoothest transition.

Rams Second Possession

2-6-S29 – This ended up being a Rams first down but I liked the defensive play. Orakpo was lined up at RDE and stunted inside, which forced the interior linemen to pick him up so that Albert Haynesworth was one-on-one against mediocre LT Alex Barron, who was promptly overwhelmed. It was to Bulger’s credit that he managed to get out a 13 yard pass for the first down, but Haynesworth pummeled him.

[Fourth Quarter]

2-4-W9 – Jackson tries to run up the gut from an I formation, but the Redskins win the physical battle at the line, led by Griffin. Griffin played a monster game.

3-4-W9 – The play that may have saved the game, and was mostly a lucky one. Bulger had a little pressure coming at him but was able to get the ball out cleanly. He hit Avery at the first down marker and the ball was knocked loose on Horton’s tackle and the Redskins recovered. For all the jarring hits Horton makes, this one was pretty routine and this break was mostly the result of Avery failing to secure the ball.

Redskins Second Possession

1-10-W7 – Rabach is pushed straight into the backfield, leading to a 1 yard loss by Portis. Centers are routinely the weakest blockers on most lines, but Rabach is getting man-handled way too regularly.

2-11-W6 – At this point the Redskins were so dangerously close to losing the game. Samuels showed his age here as he was thoroughly beat by a DE, and on the other side Heyer and Cooley together couldn’t stop Chris Long. Campbell gets a point for having the presence to lunge forward out of the endzone to avoid a safety by about 8 inches. According to the TV announcers this was the first sack of the season by the Rams.

Fortunately Hunter gets away a 52 yard punt from the back of the end zone.

Rams Third Possession

4-2-W41- Rams line up in punt formation, then the punter shifts out wide and the personal punt protector slides over into position to take the snap. But it was all just a ploy to draw the Redskins offside and gain a first down, and the Redskins seemed to sense this immediately and nobody was fooled.

Redskins Third Possession

3-1-W29 – Critical play. Rabach is once again shoved into the backfield and almost ends the drive. But Portis has just enough speed to beat that penetration and follows Sellers into the hole for a first down. At the end of the season I will probably post an offseason shopping list based on positional needs. Remind me to include center.

2-10-W35 – A screen to Betts with Rabach and Montgomery as the blockers out front. In 2008, even the second half of the year, the Redskins set up screens better than anyone in the league (in my opinion). Here was a little taste of that – the 25 yard gain to sustain a long 4th quarter drive just may have saved the game.

1-10-S40 – Redskins attempt an inside run, but as Campbell is turning to hand off to Portis he runs into Sellers, who I think was in the wrong place. Portis has the presence to fall on the resulting fumble. If the Rams had recovered this fumble late in the fourth quarter, 25 yards from field goal range, and only 2 points down, things could have turned out much worse than the Redskins supposedly not winning by enough to be satisfying.

4-1-S20 – The first of the 4th down calls. I’m conflicted on this. On the one hand, the defense is playing well and if we open the lead to 12-7 the Rams would need a touchdown to win. But a first down could allow us to maintain possession and either score ourselves or kill the clock. It’s an aggressive call, and I respect it even though I probably would have kicked. This is one of the plays that earned Zorn the admiration of Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats – over the weekend I intend to discuss his recent articles on 4th down decisions. After this play the announcers said Zorn went for it 16 times last season.

1-10-S11 – Betts picks up 4 on a power run to the left.

2-6-S7 – Betts around left end for 3. He was barely able to make the corner because Cooley was once again manhandled while trying to run block.

3-3-S4 – Portis up the middle for 2. The defenders converged on Portis pretty quickly – play action may have worked here.

{Two Minute Warning]

4-1-S2 – Portis stuffed trying to run off left tackle. On Sunday I was screaming at Zorn to kick, but now I’m conflicted. Other than one long drive the defense had dominated the Rams all day. So from the 2 yard line with 2 minutes left and no timeouts, what were the odds of them driving into field goal range? Of course a TD would have iced it, but if we got the first down and didn’t score the game would be over anyway as we could just kneel to kill the clock. It was a ballsy call, and with hindsight it looks like a good one, although it’s certainly debatable.

Rams Fourth Possession

The defense earns its money:

1-10-S4 – Orakpo rushes Bulger in the end zone, Rams TE McMichael drops the pass with Tryon closing in on him.

2-10-S4 – Bulger hits Avery at the 10, Carlos Rogers brings the lumber and pops the ball loose.

3-10-S4 – Orakpo gets pressure off the edge – again – and Haynesworth leaps up to deflect the pass in the end zone. Orakpo lays out Bulger for good measure.

4-10-S4 – Redskins generate some pressure, mostly from Kedric Golston, but Bulger is able to launch it deep to Avery. But Horton has him perfectly covered and defenses the pass – probably should have picked it, in fact, not that it would have mattered since after this the Redskins just went to Victory formation for three plays. If you were at the stadium and booing at this point, don't come back.
Final thoughts:
Will Montgomery struggled significantly. No surprise that Reinhart gets the start against Detroit.
Other than one long drive, the defense was dominant. There was only one sack, but Bulger was harassed all day.
The offense actually looked very good outside the red zone. As I mentioned in the first half review, the problems inside the 20 do not seem to be about play calling, with the exception fo the Portis half back pass.
Next season we need a new center.
The Redskins have one ridiculous tackle (Haynesworth) and two very good ones (Griffin and Goslton). Nobody knows who Kedric Golston is, but I can't understand why. The guy can play.
Malcolm Kelly appears to be an adequate, though as yet unspectacular, second receiver. I expext him to improve.
We know what Cooley can do as a receiver. If he could block even minimally he would be incredible.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

1-1: Redskins 9, Rams 7 - First Half Review

Had to work late tonight so wasn't able to go over the complete game, but wanted to at least get in the first half. Below I've jotted down many of the plays that were in some way in some way notable or said something about the Redskins performance. Note that this is not every play - you will find numerous gaps so don't consider it a full narrative or try to figure out why the yardlines don't always match up from play to play. I did, however, include every red zone play as they have been the source of most of the drama and consternation this week. A few "wrap-up" observations are at the end of the post.

A quick note on the shorthand I used - read 1-10-W40 as first and ten on the Washington 40 yardline. S40 would indicate St. Louis 40 yard line (I started out noting them as R40 for Redskins and R40 for Rams and somehow got about 10 plays in before it dawned on me that this was a rather unhelpful notation system).

Opening Kickoff – The banning of the wedge is one of the most phony rule changes of all time. In the first preseason game two pairs of lead blockers were careful to stay many yards apart. Throughout the preseason they inched closer and closer together, presumably to see what could be gotten away with. On this kick return the Redskins had four blockers who made a very deliberate effort to converge at a point and form a wall moving forward. If that’s not a wedge I don’t know what is.

Redskins First Possession

1-10-W25 – Skins go deep first play. Kelly initially has a step on the DB but ball is thrown just a little short. Kelly has to slow up and DB is able to defense it.

2-10-W25 – Thomas and Dockery both pull to the right but Thomas is unable to seal the corner so Portis gets stuffed after 1 yard. I feel like this is a play Thomas would have made a couple years ago.

3-9-W26 – An odd play for 3rd and 9. Kelly caught the ball only one yard past the line of scrimmage on a slow-developing drag route. Initially I assumed that was because the downfield reads weren’t getting open, but watching the replay it’s clear that Jason was locked onto Kelly from the beginning. There were absolutely no defenders near Kelly when he caught it, so maybe the other routes (not visible on the telecast) were designed to get Kelly the running room necessary to gain the first down. This is one of the many occasions on which I curse the 1950s TV executive who decided to broadcast football from an angle that only lets you see the quarterback.

Hunter’s punt goes 44 yards, but it’s a line drive with only 3.72 hangtime, so not prototypical Hunter the Punter material. [On a side note, I am as appalled as you are that I spend my free time watching 3 day old football games and timing the punts. I really need a hobby.]

Rams First Possession

1-10-S40 – Rams try a run up the middle. Daniels gains leverage on the RT and basically slides under him, meanwhile Haynesworth pushes the LG-LT double team straight into the backfield. They converge on Steven Jackson for a 1 yard loss. Haynesworth was worth every penny.

3-8-S42 – Redskins bring the house – two LBs blitzing up the middle – but Orakpo, who is initially line up at RDE, drops into pass coverage. Zone blitzes are nice and all, but pass rushing is something we know Orakpo can do; in coverage he is very raw. Incomplete anyway, but I often get the feeling Greg Blache doesn’t use his players in such a way to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

On the ensuing punt Randle-El took a fair catch at the 14 with at least 6-8 yards of field position open ahead of him.

Redskins Second Possession

1-10-W28 – Play action incomplete to Moss downfield – a borderline throw away after nobody got open. One of the Redskins’ most noticeable characteristics when they offense was clicking in the first half of 2008 was how hard they sold play action. Not only did Campbell give the ball full extension, but the line blocked hard to one side or the other and Portis barreled into the line. I just haven’t seen quite the same commitment lately. They still sell it harder than most other teams, but I wonder what has led to this visible regression.

1-10-W43 – Portis off right tackle for 12 behind a classic Sellers lead block. The kind of power running attack I was hoping would dominate the Rams.

2-8-S43 – Cooley motions behind the line of scrimmage and then runs into the flat, which has been emptied by the WRs complementary routes. It’s clear that the offense was running through Cooley in the first quarter – Zorn was finding ways to get him the ball.

1-10-S32 – Another play fake. The line seems to go straight into pass pro, unlike the hard crashes into the line of the past, and apparently it fools no one as Campbell can’t find a receiver downfield. Fortunately Campbell’s most consistent skill is knowing when to run and exactly where he needs to get to, so he scrambles for a first down.

1-G-S8 – Portis runs straight into the teeth of an 8 man blitz. He was hit 4 yards in the backfield; not many backs other than Portis would have fought as tenaciously to manage a 1 yard gain.

2-G-S7 – Shovel pass to Portis, who mystifyingly runs into Rabach’s back when there were holes available.

3-G-S3 – Campbell steps up under pressure and fires a bullet to Devin Thomas at the goal line and it goes straight through his hands. The play call worked – Thomas just didn’t execute.

Rams Second Possession

1-10-S15 – Steven Jackson stuffed for no gain. Griffin got the penetration and deserves credit for a nice play, but it wouldn’t have happened without another double team hanging onto Haynesworth for dear life.

2-10-S15 – Orakpo rushes from RDE and uses his speed to blow past the tackle. He is part of the overall pressure (Carter and Golston were in there too while Haynesworth was doubled again) that forces Bulger to throw a 2 yard dumpoff to the TE – who is immediately hit by Rocky McIntosh knocking ball lose. Redskins recover. But wait… Orakpo slung Bulger to the ground after the ball was out and Rams maintain possession and get a first down. There’s a lot of chickenshit roughing the passer calls these days, but this one looked legit. Rookies…

2-4-S36 – Pressure – Orakpo from SLB (but on the line), Daniels from RE, and Griffin from DT all get into the backfield and force a low incomplete pass right before Daniels plants Bulger into the dirt.

2-11-S40 – More pressure. Nothing fancy, just all four linemen winning their individual matchups. Only a borderline miraculous escape allows Bulger to scramble for 6 yards.

[Second Quarter]

2-10-W46 – Bulger sacked for 6 yards. Griffin played like a monster on Sunday. He simply crashed through the RG, who couldn’t slow him down even while getting flagged for holding.

3-16-S48 – Carter races past the RT, Rocky comes in from the other side untouched. The meet at Bulger, who is able to get out a backwards, underhand flip to Jackson at the line of scrimmage, then Horton shoots in like a missile and takes him out in classic Horton fashion.

Redskins Third Possession

1-10-W49 – Campbell is forced to throw it into the dirt at Sellers’ feet. One of the few times the Rams got pressure was due to some sort of missed assignment. Samuels blocked in on the tackle before spinning around in a panic as the RDE ran past him untouched – there was no TE or any other help on that side. Did Rabach and/or Campbell fail do adjust the blocking against the Rams defensive alignment?

3-10-S29 – Three man rush gives Campbell plenty of time. Campbell pump fakes, then gets the ball to Santana, who totally sold his DB on a go route before slamming on the breaks and running a hook. 21 yard gain.

1-G-S8 – Portis hit in the backfield for a loss due solely to the fact that Chris Cooley is an appallingly bad run blocker and lets Leonard Little blow past him into the backfield.

2-G-S10 – Easy touchdown bounces off Sellers’ hands. A perfect throw.

3-G-S10 – Rabach is pushed 8 yards into the backfield by the DT, which flushed Campbell out of the backfield and forces him to throw it away.

Rams Third Possession

2-10-S16 – The 58 yard Steven Jackson run, and pretty much the one blemish in a very impressive defensive performance. Horton fills the gap at the line of scrimmage and simply misses the tackle; after that break Jackson uses his speed to rack up a big gain.

1-G-W5 – OK, the defense looked very good as a whole but got lucky on this one. Bulger had a very quick release so pressure wasn’t a factor, and he rifled it into McMichael who had found a very small hole between four Redskins defenders. Dropped. Tryon dove at the ball a few yards in front of McMichael and may have broken his concentration.

3-G-W2 – Rams touchdown on a perfectly executed endzone fade to Laurent Robinson, who easily gets over DeAngelo Hall.

Redskins Fourth Possession

2-7-W43 – Like on many other occasions, Campbell at first has trouble finding an open receiver despite very nice protection. Is this because the receivers can’t get open or because Campbell hesitates to pull the trigger? Thanks to the absurd default camera angle of football broadcasts, we’ll never know. It ends happily though – thanks to the inordinate amount of time Jason has in the pocket he is eventually able to find Randle-El curling back for a first down after what seems like about 8 ½ minutes.

1-10-S48 – Something went wrong here. Jason is in shotgun and appears to not be anticipating the snap as it bounces off his chest. Fortunately he catches it, but given the way that most of the O-line weren’t even out of theirs stances before the defenders blew past them, I think the snapcount screw up was on Rabach. Jason runs for his life and then while on the run tries to force it to Randle-El in the flat, but the defender jumps it and knocks it down.

A couple quick wrap-up thoughts on the first half:

- On the whole Jason Campbell looked comfortable and confident. However, it looked like a lot of plays were designed to get him easy completions, as if Zorn though Jason needed a confidence-builder after the offense performed so poorly against the Giants.

- It is generally an overused football cliche that you have to establish the run, but the power running game was working and we got from it to go with repeated short passes. This is what we should have done against the Giants, but here I would have been happy to continue watching Sellers and Portis run over Rams all day.

- Of the six first half red zone plays, there were five failures of execution by the players: Portis running into Rabach's back on the shovel pass, the Devin Thomas drop, the Mike Sellers drop, Chris Cooley's inability to hold a block on Leonard Little for the half a second that would have allowed Portis to get to the line of scrimmage, and Rabach being driven into the backfield to wreck a run. In none of these cases did Zorn put them into a position to fail - the basic duties of a football player were not executed. Why is everyone convinced that Zorn's playcalling was the entire problem?

UPDATE - On the above point, I want to clarify that Portis ran into Rabach's back as soon as he spun around, and while it was rotten luck it wasn't really a failure on Portis' part. The point is that there were holes available so the play call was not the problem.

Hope to get the second half up tomorrow night - we'll see if that changes any of my perceptions.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pre-review of the week 2 win

As some of you know, I take part in the Football Outsiders game-charting project. I have been assigned the Redskins game this week, which means once FO gets me the play by play template I will be re-watching the game on my TiVo and tracking details. I have found that re-watching the game in slow motion leads you to notice alot of details that would otherwise be missed, so I won't be doing a full, in-depth game review until I've charted the game, which realisitically won't be until late Wednesday or Thursday. This will probably be a rather standard timeline throughout the season. After all, the point of this particular blog is not immediate reactions, which you can find plenty of on the internet, but relatively measured evaluation.

However, reaction to this win seems to be so violently negative that I want to lay down some quick thoughts now, with the caveat that these are all subject to revision when I see the game again in slow motion (and I was at the game Sunday, and truthfully the stadium is great for getting into the atmoshpere and intensity of gameday but pretty lousy for having a detailed grasp of what is happening).

- The Redskins won the game. Just thought I'd mention that part.

- The redzone failures are worrisome, to be sure. But redzone performance also, but nature, involves a very limited sample of plays. I wasn't thrilled with the gimick play giving Portis a chance at a touchdown pass, but one point I want to make before I totally blame the play-calling: Within those very few plays were two dropped passes (one by Devin Thomas and one by Mike Sellers) that would have been sure touchdowns. Zorn called the plays that got the ball into those guys' hands with a chance to score. If they had made those catches I don't think Zorn would be under such heavy fire right now.

- Of course even if those two touchdowns had happened, we would still be looking at a 17 point performance against a weak defense. That would be less than we should probably get, and we'd be still be talking about how the offense should be more conistent, but it wouldn't be nearly the atmosphere of disgust and despair that seems to be permeating the Redskins fanbase today.

- The Rams may be a bad NFL team, but they're still in the NFL. Seriously, they get paid and everything, and it's quite possible the Rams players may not have wanted the Redskins to beat them by 40 points and actually put some planning and effort into preventing that.

One of the Hogs Haven writers summed it up better than I probably could:

"So, frustrating? Yes. Time to panic and boo your own team? Hell no. There is no such thing as a must-embarass game in the NFL. We aren't playing to impress for the coaches poll. This was a must-win game. And we won."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Thomas is done for the year, and maybe as a Redskin

Looks like Randy Thomas is probably done for the year, so the depth issues on the offensive line are no longer hypothetical. With Chad Rinehart inactive Will Montgomery was the backup interior lineman. I got the impression in preseason that Rinehart was meant to be Thomas's successor, so we'll have to see who get the start next week with a week to prepare. Obviously my upper deck vantage point wasn't ideal for watching the details of line play, but my impression was that Montgomery held up pretty well. While this loss hurts, Thomas was quite frankly the man on the line we could most afford to lose. He's not nearly the powerful and agile blocker he was when younger and healthier, and I have infinitely more confidence in our guard depth compared to tackle. Thomas was already in the process of getting squeezed out, so now we get a head start on determining who the 2010 starter will be.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Week 2 Preview: Redskins vs. St. Louis Rams

A very quick overview of the Rams by position:

Quarterback – It has been a quick and hard fall for Marc Bulger. Just a couple years ago he was considered an up and coming star in the league, but now the term that is almost universally applied to him by the media is “shell-shocked.” After too much time playing behind shoddy protection, he has developed a reputation as a QB who is jumpy and lacks confidence. A little pressure can go a long with this guy.

Running Back – One of the few bright spots. Steven Jackson is the real deal, and deserves to be on a better team. The Redskins will probably play eight men in the box most of the time, as Jackson is talented enough to cause damage even with a mediocre line. He’s got speed, power, agility everything. And this offseason the Rams added a big lead-blocking fullback in Mike Karney. Jackson is also a very good receiver, and pass coverage may be one of the weaknesses of our linebacker crew. Presumably the Redskins will neutralize the passing game sufficiently to be able to focus on keeping Jackson under control, but if the game remains close longer than it should Steven Jackson could possibly hurt us.

Wide Receivers – Donnie Avery is fast as hell, and looks established as a quality NFL receiver, but he’s not particularly well rounded and he’s about all the Rams have got. The #2 is Laurent Robinson who could have potential, but there’s no question the defense will be focused on controlling Avery and Jackson and betting that the rest of the offense isn’t talented enough to threaten us.

Offensive Line – Probably better than last year, but that’s not saying much. They have a highly drafted rookie (Jason Smith) at RT and a solid free agent at center (Jason Brown) but Bulger got hit a lot last week as the Rams got shut out by the Seahawks. The remaining three are holdovers from 2008’s notoriously weak line, and if Haynesworth does his job and keeps the interior occupied Andre Carter should win some matchups against LT Alex Barron. If the Rams pull off an upset, it will be because the D-line failed to generate enough pressure against weak blockers and a highly jumpy QB.

Front Seven – Not much to worry about here. Their line is a mix of old-and-declining (DE Leonard Little and LB Will Witherspoon) and raw-and-undeveloped (DE Chris Long and LB James Laurinaitis). Unless we get fooled by complex blitzes there will be no excuse if the O-line is unable to protect Jason Campbell and get a good push in the running game.

Defensive Backs – The safeties are pretty decent: A.J. Otugwe has a lot of talent and playmaking ability, and they brought in James Butler because he’s familiar with Steve Spagnuolo’s system from New York so he should at least be steady. Cornerback, however, is a pretty big hole.

What this all means:
Last week the offense was based on a stubborn power running game to set up the deep pass off play action. But this is the Rams, and the gameplan that was awful against the Giants could be very effective this week. I thought dinking and dunking was necessary against the Giants’ superior defense, but here it may be a waste of time. Hopefully the offensive line will be able to physically dominate the Ram’s weak front seven. After ramming Portis down their throat long enough, we should be perfectly set up to hit Santana Moss deep. The seven step drops infuriated me against the Giants’ pass rush, but against the Rams the line to be able to give Jason Campbell plenty of time.
On defense, I see no reason not to be as aggressive as possible. Bulger is not the kind of QB who is inclined to make you pay for blitzing, and I hope we throw Landry or Horton at him enough times to keep him on his ever so jittery toes. And no more of the soft coverage we ran against the Giants. Bulger still has that talent he displayed in the past, and with adequate time he can still pick apart a defense. Remember the deep pass to Avery that got the Rams into position for the game winning field goal last year? That happened not because Avery beat the coverage – Leigh Torrence had him well blanketed. But then-rookie Kareem Moore was supposed to blitz and blew his assignment. With time to stand back there comfortably, Bulger remembered that he once was a confident, accurate quarterback and threw a beautiful pass that was placed perfectly to float just over Torrence and fall into Donnie Avery’s hands.
I want the Redskins to come out aggressive and get an early lead. The Rams offense should not be able to get consistent production, but they have enough big play ability with Avery and Jackson that it’s just not safe to go deep into the second half with only a narrow lead. You never know; Campbell could get blindsided, causing the ball to pop straight up into the air, falling by chance into the hands of an offensive lineman who instinctively catches it, then fumbles as soon as he is hit, and the fumble could be picked up by a DB with an open 75 yard path to the end zone. Don’t scoff – it could happen. It’s on the offense to take sufficient advantage of their weak opponent that a fluke like that won’t matter.

Some other previews, most of which can't help but see the Rams as a perfect confidence-builder after a deflating opening week:
Real Redskins predicts a dominant win, and a chance to finally get Malcolm Kelly into the game.
Hogs Haven also sees the Rams as the perfect opportunity for all the Redskins underachievers to live up to potential, and invites a Seahawks blogger who last week got to see his team treat the Rams as a tasty snack.
Curly R has a two-part series on Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo and his long and, to put it mildly, eventful relationship with the Redskins.
Football Outsider Doug Farrar goes on the Post to to preview the game and outlines how nearly all the matchups favor the Redskins.
There seems to be unanimity out there that last year loss was a fluke, and there is absolutely not excuse not to dominate this team. Last weeks loss was nothing to panic over. If the Redskins somehow manage to lose to the Rams for the second year in a row, we are going to have an awful lot to talk about next week.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

0-1: Giants 23, Redskins 17

First, a rant on the offensive gameplan:

Zorn’s play-calling was baffling. Remember that in my game preview I suggested that the quick passing game was the key to attacking the Giants defense. If that was successful we could pull the linebackers out of the running lanes so Portis could gain some yards. Then, and only then, might we be able to set up some deep passes.
Instead, the gameplan couldn’t have been scripted any better to play directly to the Giants’ strengths. Zorn reverted to 1980s NFC East football. Just like last years’ opener, Portis was constantly hurled against a brick wall. The line and linebackers had no short passing threat to work with so they aggressively shot the gaps with impunity. For some reason it was insisted upon that the passing game would be based upon deep balls, and Zorn acted surprised when the best defensive line in football was able to generate consistent pressure while Campbell was doing almost entirely seven-step drops. They’re the Giants, Coach, that’s what they do.
It wasn’t until the 3rd quarter that I even saw Fred Davis on the field, and I don’t believe he was even targeted with a single pass. Where were the quick slants, flat routes, and other short passes to our playmaking tight ends to make those linebackers pay for their aggressiveness? This is supposedly a West Coast offense – it should be built around the short pass, especially when the opposing defense is perfectly designed to counter the other options. I am generally prone to defend Zorn, and the general ethos of this blog indicates this should be dismissed as a bad day’s work and we should withhold radical judgment until we’re a bit deeper into the season, but he earned a bit of a beating for this one.

Some other observations:

Chris Samuels may have been blocking Osi Umenyiora on that fumble that was returned for a touchdown, but it was not in any way his fault. Samuels did his job and carried Umenyiora way upfield, but Campbell somehow lacked the presence to step up into what was still a very nice pocket. He also broke one of Zorn’s cardinal rules and dropped the ball back down, which allowed it to be easily swiped out. However, ultimate responsibility lies with Zorn for calling nothing but deep passes and seven step drops against the most dominant pass rush in the NFC.
Not just Samuels - on the whole I think the offensive line held their own against the league's best D-line. That's pretty satisfactory for a unit that's supposed to be the Redskins' biggest weakness.

Clinton Portis’ 34 yard run on the Redskins’ first offensive play was sprung by the downfield blocking of Chris Cooley and Malcolm Kelly.

The punt on that opening possession was perfectly placed. It bounced up from the 2 yard line, and if Byron Westbrook had simply stood and waited for it to fall in his hands, rather than make an ill-timed leap for it, we would have had the Giants up against their own goal line. No telling how that shift in field position would have changed the character of the first half.

D’Anthony Batiste was inactive, so Mike Williams really is the next man up at tackle. I’m going to lose sleep over this.

One of the few encouraging things on offense was that Randle-El showed that he is, in fact, still quite a dangerous receiver when running out of the slot. With the defense occupied with Santana Moss, Randle-El was able to exploit the slower players in zone defense over the middle. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to work.

Santana Moss and Malcolm Kelly were both invisible all game. Moss was obviously the focus of the Giants offense. I’m not sure if Kelly’s lack of production was his fault or a result of the fact that the outside receivers spent all day running slow-developing routes on seven stop drops (have I mentioned that?), so I’m withholding judgment on him for now.

Greg Blache wasn’t innocent in the game planning department either. If given a comfortable pocket, Eli Manning is good enough to pick apart a defense. We spent most of the game giving a four man rush against a very good offensive line, and unsurprisingly were rarely able to quite get there. Eli picked apart our soft coverage while rarely having to worry about evading a blitzer.

Renaldo Wynn was also inactive. A younger man could be deactivated on game days and still provide something to develop for the future.

Brandon Jacobs averaged 2.9 yards per carry. That wasn’t all Haynesworth, but he was a big part of it despite his lack of splashy plays.

On the whole, I think the Giants O-line and the Redskins D-line played eachother to a draw. Given that this was a very good offensive line, I find no shame in that. But Eli Manning was playing efficiently, and the lack of blitzes allowed him to keep drives alive.

So where does this leave us? The Redskins were the underdog in this game, so taking a loss here is not altogether unexpected. But obviously, the way we lost is somewhat distressing. Predicably, half of Washington is already calling to bench Campbell, fire Zorn, and all the rest, but let’s remember that at the end of the day the Redskins lost to a legitimate Super Bowl contender by seven points. On the road.

I would like to revisit a couple of points from my earlier post in which I broke down the schedule and predicted a record (9-7, by the way):

First, I picked 2-4 as a reasonable division record given the strength of the NFC East. So losing a game to the best team in that division is not only not devastating, but really should be taken in stride (Believe me, I know that’s easier said than done).

Second, I also pointed out that after week 1 the Redskins have an extraordinarily easy schedule for the rest of the first half of the season. The next five opponents are the Rams, Lions, Buccaneers, Panthers, and Chiefs. All but the Panthers were in the “Winnable Games” section from the schedule post, and based on Jake Delhomme’s week 1 performance it looks like they might be joining the club. Unless the Redskins are truly awful (they aren’t), we will be racking up some wins in the weeks ahead. Hopefully this stretch will give us time to iron out the wrinkles before facing the sheer brutality that is the second half of the schedule.

In all seriousness, week 1 performance can almost never be taken as a certain indicator of the true quality of a team. If the Redskins struggle mightily against the Rams and Lions we should be worried. But for now, despite the fact that there are many very legitimate criticisms of Sunday’s performance, it is far too early write off what I believe will be a pretty decent, though not great, team.
Below are some game wrap-ups from other Redskins blogs:
Redskins Confidential names Week 1 Studs and Duds. Guess which list Jim Zorn's playcalling made.
The Curly R is somewhat less than thrilled with Campbell, the receivers, and the DBs.
Hog Heaven does a pretty good job of keeping it medium, and uses the game to point out the noticeable contrast in the way the Redskins' and Giants' front offices conduct their business.
Kevin E at Hogs Haven is flirting with joining the pitchfork crowd, but at least he has rational reasons for it. His blogmate Sugar is a bit more optimistic, but is clearly aware of the deficiencies that were on display.
Warpath Confidential has a good collection of quotes from some despondent Redskins.
Mr. Irrelevant has the Redskins' winners and losers.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Week 1 Preview: Redskins @ New York Giants

Four factors that I think will be the most important if the Redskins are to pull out an upset in the opener:

Redskins offensive line vs. Giants defensive line

The Redskins offensive line must be able to slow down the Giants’ front four. The Giants won this battle last year, and their D-line has improved with the return of Osi Umenyiora and the addition of Chris Canty. This time around they will be not only talented but also even deeper, and will be able to rotate their guys heavily to keep fresh pass rushers on the field. If the Redskins can’t match up physically this game will be over before it starts. Not only that, but it is important that the line neutralizes the Giants’ front four without much help. In order for the short passing game (the importance of which is expounded upon below) to work, we simply cannot be keeping our tight ends to block the whole game.

The Short Passing Game

In the 2008 opener Jim Zorn showed absolutely no confidence in the short passing game (which the West Coast offense is supposed to be all about) and Portis suffered for it. The Giants linebackers continually shot the gaps, leaving no running lanes available, and the offense was incapable of taking advantage of their aggressiveness. Portis was simply hurled time and again into the teeth of the defense. This time around, Zorn and Campbell have to make those aggressive linebackers pay. This is the perfect opportunity to utilize Fred Davis and Chris Cooley in two tight end sets. If Campbell has his timing and confidence the Redskins should be equipped to victimize the linebackers if they don’t show more caution. If the LBs do hold back, then major running lanes will be opened for Portis. If we establish a power running game it will be the result, not the cause, of an effective passing attack.

Additionally, if the linebackers are prevented from blitzing then Campbell should have time to hit the wideouts deep. The Giants secondary wasn’t great to begin with, and starter Aaron Ross is out. If the protection and the quick passes are effective, these corners are ripe to be picked on. If this cascade of offensive successes occurs, the Redskins will be right in this game.

Hunter vs. Feagles

This will in all likelihood be a brutal slugfest of a game, and may very well come down to field goals as both offenses get smothered. As such field position will be even more critical than usual. If the offense doesn’t make headway, it will be up to Hunter Smith to put the Giants deep in their own territory and give the defense a chance to keep them there. But the Giants have a weapon of their own in Jeff Feagles, who is one of the best directional kickers in the game. If the Giants are punting from midfield a lot, the Redskins may be starting a lot of drives from inside the 10. Hunter Smith represents the best chance to keep them from getting even that far.

Albert Haynesworth vs. the Giants offensive line

Eli Manning is a decent enough quarterback to pick you apart if given too much time, but is nothing special when forced to move. The Giants offensive line may not be overwhelmingly physically talented, but they are cohesive and professional enough to perform very solidly. Haynesworth’s job is to wreck that cohesion. The tackles are not spectacular on their own, and if Haynesworth occupies the attention of the interior lineman Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo may be able to win some one-on-one matchups and get to Manning.

Bottling up the running attack will be critical in this field-position oriented game. The Giants blockers don’t need to blow our linemen away, they just need to execute the plays well enough to get Brandon Jacobs to the hole and let him provide the power. Haynesworth needs to get sufficient penetration to force Jacobs to be changing direction in the backfield so he can’t build up a head of steam by the time he gets to the line. The Giants can beat us if they establish an effective ball control game, and that is exactly what Haynesworth was paid 41 million guaranteed dollars to prevent.

Bottom line, the Redskins will have little margin for error in this game. This will be a good, old-fashioned NFC East game that comes down to field position and who can dominate the lines.
Here's some other game previews from around the web:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Obligatory league-wide predictions

This is a Redskins blog so I won’t go into too much detail on the rest of the league, but it seems obligatory to give my predictions for the season. I’ll rank the divisions here with very brief rationales given for each team. I expect this to turn out to be spectacularly wrong, but I’m not worried about it because the magazines written by the guys who get paid for this crap are usually wildly inaccurate themselves. (Note – I will go into much more detail for the NFC East teams, and any other teams we play this season, shortly before the respective games.)

AFC West

First Place: San Diego - The Chargers have possibly the most talented starting lineup in the NFL, and I’m expecting the defense to rebound dramatically over last year partly, but not exclusively, due to the return of Shawne Merriman (I’m assuming the criminal charges over assaulting Tila Tequila blow over in a relatively quick manner - I’m not totally clear on who Tila Tequila is, but I think she has something to do with reality TV, so I’m probably uninterested in learning more).

Second Place: Denver - The Denver offense should still be decent even without Cutler. They still have very dangerous skill position players, but more importantly they have an excellent offensive line. The defense should still be terrible.

Third Place: Oakland - I appreciate the Raiders because they make the Redskins look well-managed. They will have very strong running game, but JaMarcus Russell’s development as a passer and everything about the defense are in question. Oh, and the head coach just broke the offensive line coach's jaw.

Fourth Place: Kansas City - The Chiefs are rebuilding, which is bad enough, but the fact that they fired their offensive coordinator during preseason means thing aren’t even heading in the right direction.

AFC North

First Place: Baltimore – The usual outstanding defense. Flacco succeeded last year with some serious training wheels (played about the whole game behind max protect with only two reads) but I have a feeling he can handle it if they open up the offense up a little. If I’m right about that, I expect the Ravens to be a Super Bowl contender.

Second Place (Wildcard): Pittsburgh – Historically great defense, but they made the playoffs last year despite their offense rather than because of it. They have a terrible offensive line and running game, although that may improve is Rashard Mendenhall is healthy for the season. I consider Ben Roethlisberger to be rather overrated, and unless the offense gets hot and just the right time again I don’t see them making a run for the Super Bowl.

Third Place: Cincinnati – No offensive line whatsoever. A quarterback who would be pretty good… if he had an offensive line. Defense isn’t that great either.

Fourth Place: Cleveland – Full-blown rebuilding mode. I honestly can’t think of a single strength on this team, other than the fact that both of the back-ups to the ancient RB Jamal Lewis (Jerome Harrison and rookie James Davis) have shown potential.

AFC South

First Place: Indianapolis – I don’t need to tell you about the offense. They have significantly beefed up their defensive tackle position. The idea of the Colts with a strong run defense is pretty scary.

Second Place (Wildcard): Tennessee – Chris Johnson and a strong offensive line will keep the offense interesting. Albert Haynesworth was obviously a huge loss to the defense, but they have some good young talent at tackle. The defense will slide a bit, but will not collapse.

Third Place: Houston – Schaub’s for real, and he has one of the best WRs in the league (Andre Johnson) and a very dangerous RB (Steve Slaton). Offensive line isn’t great, but isn’t nearly as bad as it was in the David Carr days. Don’t know what to make of the defense – if the line beyond Mario Williams solidifies they could be fairly solid but I’m not convinced that will happen.

Fourth Place: Jacksonville – I really like David Garrard as a quarterback. All of his offensive line and all of his receivers were hurt last year, so I don’t read too much into his apparent regression. Defense, however, is a problem.

AFC East

First Place: New England – Brady will be fine. Next.

Second Place: Miami – They’re improvement last year was impressive, but came against an easy schedule. If the Jets didn’t have a rookie quarterback I might have the Dolphins in third.

Third Place: New York – See above. Sanchez might be great, but this isn’t a team that sets him up to succeed immediately like Atlanta or Baltimore last year.

Fourth Place: Buffalo – Another team that fired their offensive coordinator in the preseason. Terrell Owens isn’t enough to make up for a totally shattered offensive line. This could be an ugly, ugly year.
UPDATE: They also cut their starting left tackle today. Disaster is coming.

NFC West

First Place: Arizona – They have the best receivers in football, and a quarterback who despite his age is more than capable of exploiting them. Even if Kurt Warners doesn’t hold up, Matt Leinart should be perfectly capable if he steps in. I’m not at all sold on the defense, and I’m still disgusted that a team that flat out quit for half of 2008 managed to make the Super Bowl. This is a very reluctant first place pick.

Second Place: Seattle – I had them first until left tackle Walter Jones got hurt (again). Their collapse last year was based on a ridiculous number of injuries. They should at least rebound a bit, but not enough to catch Arizona (unfortunately).

Third Place: St. Louis – An injury-prone quarterback and a weak offensive line isn’t exactly a winning formula, but I don’t think they were quite as bad as they looked last year.

Fourth Place: San Francisco – A total mess, especially since Michael Crabtree shows no sign of coming in anytime soon. Very little upside here. Frank Gore is wasted on this team.

NFC North

First Place: Green Bay – The offense should be outstanding this year – I think Aaron Rodgers is for real. I was worried about the defense before, but reportedly the new 3-4 scheme is taking. If the defense is decent, this is a very dangerous team.

Second Place (Wildcard): Minnesota – Sage Rosenfels is a talented quarterback who can liven up your offense, but plays in an undisciplined fashion that creates a lot of turnovers. So they brought in Brett Favre instead. I honest to God don’t see how Favre at this age is better than, or even significantly different from, Rosenfels. By the way - remember when the Redskins had that great Rosenfels vs. Todd Husak quarterback derby?

Third Place: Chicago – They’re not this low because of the offense, I really do think Jay Cutler is an excellent quarterback. But the defense isn’t what it once was.

Fourth Place: Detroit – As bad as they were last year, the 0-16 was at least partly due to bad luck. I like Jim Schwartz, and I don’t think a 6-10 is out of the question. But they’re clearly not even close to anyone else in the division.

NFC South

First Place: New Orleans – Scary, scary offense. If the defense progresses to half-way decent the Saints could really do something.

Second Place: Atlanta – I expect a little regression from Matt Ryan, and the defense is singularly unimpressive. But the Falcons will still be decent.

Third Place: Carolina – Strong running game. Erratic and perpetually overrated quarterback. Shaky defense.

Fourth place: Tampa Bay – Rebuilding. Completely rebuilding.

NFC East

First Place: New York – Dominant defensive line, that now has more depth than last year to keep everyone fresh. Brandon Jacobs and a couple of good change of pace guys behind him at RB. An offensive line that isn’t the most talented but plays together well. Eli Manning isn’t half what is brother is, but he’s certainly good enough to take advantage of the strong team around him. Of course if you get pressure on him...

Second Place (Wildcard): Philadelphia – Let’s face it, they’re never that bad, and they’ve invested significantly in getting younger on the offensive line. Westbrook has been the centerpiece of their offense for year, but they also have enough good young skill position guys that he won’t have to be the only guy you game plan around anymore. I’ll talk about Michael Vick’s potential role in a future post.

Third Place: Dallas – DeMarcus Ware is one of the most dangerous pass-rushers in the league and Jay Ratliff is a great nose tackle, but outside of them the front seven is unimpressive, so they come out to slightly above average. The running backs are very frightening. It’s hard to know what to make of Tony Romo – if you underestimate him he will tear you up but he can also be forced into mistakes. I think Dallas is the most beatable team in the division, but they could also go and make a Super Bowl run just to piss me off.

Fourth Place: Washington – You can read more about these guys here. Yes, this last part was hard to right. It would be far from shocking if the Redskins win this division, but it would take a lot going right. As I believe I mentioned before, the NFC East is home to the three best pass rushes in the conference, and that just happens to match up against our (potentially) biggest weakness: the offensive line. The offense might, just might, take a major step forward, but I’m not comfortable assuming that. The defensive could be absolutely dominant, but if it turns out to be just good it may not be enough. You’ll recall that I predicted a 9-7 record for the Redskins. This still stands, but in this division we might still miss the playoffs with that. This is irritating, as we would win the NFC West and at would least make a good run for it in the South or North.

Super Bowl

Baltimore vs. Green Bay

Yes, I really do believe in the Packers. For the AFC I really want to pick the Colts or Patriots, but that would seem too easy. I’m going with the Ravens because I really do think they could be formidable and unlike New England or Indianapolis I could actually feel good about it on the off chance I guessed right.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Redskins manage to make practice squad dramatic

After significant delay, the Redskins practice squad is finally complete, with Chase Daniel notably absent. He ended up signing with the Saints practice squad rather than ours, and it's hard to figure out who jilted whom. We signed QB Andre Woodson, who was cut by the Giants, but it's not clear if that was the cause or the effect of Chase not being brought back.
Woodson was a star at the University of Kentucky who was spoken of as a possible first round pick during his senior year, but concerns about his decision-making skills and mechanics caused him to drop all the way to the sixth round in 2008. He is a big guy - 6'4", 227 lbs - and is your classic strong-armed quarterback with very raw skills but just maybe significant upside.
There is already speculation that Woodson was brought in primarily as a spy - he is probably already being quizzed by the coaching staff on the offensive game plan of our week 1 opponent and his former employer, the New York Giants. Sneaky folks, these NFL guys. Was Chase let go ONLY for Woodson's intel value? Or is Woodson really considered a better long-term development project? Are we just reading way, way too much into bottom-of-the-roster moves? Probably the last one. But I still hope Woodson gives up the goods.
Any way, here is the practice squad:
Guys who were in camp with the Redskins:
LB Darrell Young
S Lendy Holmes
DE J.D. Skolnitsky
WR Trent Shelton
DE Rob Jackson (who was on the active roster all last year)
FB/TE/H-back type guy Eddie Williams
Guys signed from other teams:
WR Onrea Jones (Cardinals)
QB Andre Woodson (Giants)
Also, a couple of guys the Redskins may (or may not) have wanted to sign to the practice squad were claimed off waivers: DT Anthony Dixon was picked up by the Eagles and LB Cody Glenn was claimed by the Colts.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Redskins 53-man roster is set

It’s official. Your 2009 Washington Redskins:

Quarterbacks: Jason Campbell, Todd Collins

Nobody really saw this one coming. Turns out Colt Brennan hurt his hip in the first preseason game. Add that to the knee and hamstring injuries he sustained against Jacksonville and he’s gone for the year. The WaPo report that Chase Daniel wasn’t even going to be offered a practice squad spot appears to have been wrong, but he still has to pass through waivers first before the team can even make such an offer. So if disaster strikes and both Campbell and Collins go down in the same game, I guess we’re looking at Randle-El under center.

Running Backs: Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright, Marcus Mason, Mike Sellers

That will make some local preseason fans happy. I am still unconvinced of Mason’s ability to protect the quarterback effectively, but I can’t deny his potential as a ball carrier. Anthony Alridge and Dominique Dorsey just couldn’t hold on to the ball consistently enough to stick on the roster. So without either of those two, is Randle-El still entrenched as punt returner?

Wide Receivers: Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle-El, Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas, Marko Mitchell

No sixth receiver, so hope Kelly’s knee holds up. Mitchell’s roster spot has been virtually assured for a couple of weeks now based on his impressive preseason performances. Unfortunately, the fifth WR usually makes a team based on special teams ability, and that is a noted weakness of Mitchell. In fact, the exact same goes for Mason with the 4th RB spot – Danny Smith got kinda screwed this preseason. Malcolm Kelly is set as the starter over Devin Thomas for now, so ARE is now in the slot where he belongs.

Tight Ends: Chris Cooley, Fred Davis, Todd Yoder

Yoder makes it, probably due to Fred Davis’ continued inconsistency. In a roundabout way, Fred Davis may have cost Chase Daniel his job.

Offensive Line: Chris Samuels, Derrick Dockery, Casey Rabach, Randy Thomas, Stephon Heyer, Mike Williams (T), D’Anthony Batiste(T), Chad Rinehart(G), Will Montgomery(C/G), Edwin Williams(C/G)

Jeremy Bridges is gone. He was nothing great, but he was the only experienced backup tackle that had actually played in the last two seasons. I simply don’t understand what’s going on with Mike Williams. As much as I respect the dedication it took to take his comeback effort this far, he has looked utterly ineffective on the field. Now he appears to be the next man up if Samuels goes down. That is terrifying.

Defensive Tackles: Albert Haynesworth, Cornelius Griffin, Kedric Golston, Anthony Montgomery

No surprises here.

Defensive Ends: Andre Carter, Philip Daniels, Lorenzo Alexander, Jeremy Jarmon, Renaldo Wynn, and occasionally Brian Orakpo

Puzzled by Wynn. Rob Jackson and Alex Buzbee must have showed pretty much nothing in order for him to make it.

Linebackers: London Fletcher, Rocky McIntosh, Brian Orakpo, H.B. Blades, Chris Wilson, Robert Henson, and sometimes Orakpo

The surprise here came last week when Alfred Fincher was sent packing in the first round of cuts. Still not sure who will be getting most of the playing time at Sam when Orakpo is lined up at DE. A platoon of Wilson and Blades, I guess?

Cornerbacks: DeAngelo Hall, Carlos Rogers, Fred Smoot, Justin Tryon, Kevin Barnes, Byron Westbrook

Two factors probably contributed to Westbrook being kept as a sixth CB: Carlos Rogers’ increasingly alarming calf injury and the fact that neither Tryon nor Barnes has instilled much confidence.

Safeties: LaRon Landry, Chris Horton, Reed Doughty, Kareem Moore

No surprises.

Specialists: Shaun Suisham, Hunter Smith, Ethan Albright

Neither Suisham nor Dave Rayner got a chance to kick many field goals in the preseason games, so this contest must have mostly been decided in practice. Rayner appeared to have a better kickoff leg though, so I’m a little disappointed in the outcome.

So much for that QB battle

Colt Brennan is going on IR. So Daniel wins the #3 spot, right?

Nope, according to Redskins Insider Chase Daniel is getting cut and is not even being offered a practice squad spot.

I am mystified. I don't recall anyone guessing that neither Brennan nor Daniel would make the squad.

As soon as the final 53 man roster is posted I will put up an evaluation.

UPDATE: Multiple outlets are reporting that Chase Daniel is Twittering, or whatever, that the team said they would like to bring him back on the practice squad, this backing off from the early assertion that he wouldn't even be offered a spot.

This may mean that the Redskins will be adding a running back (still anyone's guess as to who) and that Yoder may survive as a third tight end. We'll find out in a few hours.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The big cuts are coming

There's going to be blood in the streets of Redskins Park pretty soon, and there's still some guesswork involved in who will survive the final cuts. I made my guess at the final 53-man roster as training camp opened, and to no one's surprise even the first 5 cuts handed me some misses. Today Jason Reid of Redskins Insider gave his prediction. Read it here, and below I will lay out some of his interesting or controversial predictions in bold and follow them with my thoughts.

Quarterbacks: Brennan beats Daniel for #3

If I had to put money on it I would agree with Reid, but I sense a bit of exasperation on Zorn's part with Colt Brennan's insistence on freelancing. On the other hand, at the beginning of camp Zorn seemed insistent on giving Colt a chance to develop, so he may not have played himself out of a job just yet.

Running Backs: None of the new guys make it

I have trouble with this one. Dominique Dorsey and Marcus Mason have both been given a lot of preseason playing time, and so was Anthony Alridge once he was finally healthy. And all three wouldn't have been brought it in the first place unless the coaches (or front office) really wanted to add something to the backfield. Dorsey weighs about 87 pounds, Alridge has been hurt most of the time, and Marcus Mason still doesn't contribute much on special teams or pass-block well (though it appears he is a little better than last year in that regard) , so all have at least one strike against them. But the new running backs have been too much of a theme this offseason to think it will all lead to nothing. Now the real question is who would get cut to make room for the one of these guys who would make it...

Todd Yoder sticks another year

Hey, I just found an extra spot for a running back! Of course Fred Davis has looked less than polished, so maybe Zorn will want to keep an experienced second tight end.

Renaldo Wynn makes the team

Why? I don't see how he contributes anything more than a younger guy like Rob Jackson or Alex Buzbee.

Darrel Young comes out of nowhere

Reid has 8 linebackers making the team. I'm not sure we need eight, and this would be an ideal spot to make room for Mason or Dorsey.

Suisham is the kicker

As I mentioned in the special-teams overview, I think the kicker should be chosen based on kickoff distance. In the very limited sample provded by preseason Dave Rayner has appeared superior in that regard, so without knowing what Danny Smith has been watching in practices I wouldn't be shocked if a change is made here.