Saturday, November 21, 2009

Taking stock of a big win

You can read the detailed breakdown of the Broncos game here:

1st quarter
2nd quarter
3rd quarter

This is, obviously, a huge win. A month from now, this game will be seen as either a brief glimmer of false hope, or of a turning point that led to a half season of respectable football. We won't really know which it is until we see if the Redskins can put on a second solid performance against Dallas tomorrow. But for now, I want to share my thoughts on what we witnessed last week.

First, I'm going to bring us down a little (you know the title of the blog, right?):

- Jason Campbell, in my opinion, played very poorly. He missed wide open receivers, he tended to panic at the first sign of pressure (even when there was none), and lost his pocket presence on a regular basis. The sacks that were allowed in the second half were on Jason, not the line. He really seems to be regressing to me – he used to be a reliable enough guy, just without the ability to win a game by himself.

I’m worried the experience of constantly running for his life this whole season has broken him. I used to argue (much like reader Bobisimo did in a recent comment) that Campbell was good enough to never hold your team back if everyone else did their jobs. But now that there is reason to believe the Redskins might finally be putting it together, I find myself worrying that it might go for naught due to inadequate QB play.

- The defensive line, while admittedly playing against a very good O-line, got very little pressure when the Broncos had a competent QB on the field. They looked better in the second half, but a lot of that was a result of Chris Simms’ indecisiveness. If Kyle Orton had played the full game, I give the Redskins at best a 50-50 chance of winning.

- The secondary gave up two huge pass plays and there should have been a third but for an overthrow. Carlos Rogers was benched after the first one, but the fact that two more occurred indicates he wasn’t the only one at fault. If the entire secondary was consistently out of position, this seems to point to scheme/coaching problems.

- Taking away a trick special teams play after a drive was stopped, the offense still only scored 21 points. This is, at best, average. The fact that it feels like an offensive explosion just shows you how bad the Redskins have been lately.

- Aesthetically, I am a big fan of the power running game, and if sustainable it will give us the best chance of remaining competitive in the future. But its not the 1970s, and the reality is that you cannot have an effective NFL offense without a good passing game. As mentioned above, Campbell was unable to properly take advantage of the running attack. Even if we keep running well, if the passing game doesn’t improve then 21 points and some ball control just may be the offense’s ceiling. That is a pleasant upgrade over what we’ve witnessed so far, but still not enough to get you a lot of wins in the modern NFL.

And now some things that I think we can legitimately feel pretty good about:

- The performance of the offensive line was legitimate. They were going up against a very good front seven and physically dominated them. Moving back to RT, Stephon Heyer at least appeared acceptable. Rinehart had some bad plays, but he was clearly a vast upgrade over Will Montgomery. Even Rabach, who I have regularly blasted, held his own much better and made some very nice blocks. Dockery, who for much of this year has just made me miss Pete Kendall, turned out to still be a powerful blocker when not having to compensate for the weak tackle play next to him. And Levi Jones… I can’t understand how it took so long to sign this guy and get him on the field. The tackle play the Redskins have committed this year has been not just bad but simply unacceptable at this level of competition. The addition of Jones, and the consequent shuffling of positions, instantly made this offensive line legitimate. Mike Williams demonstrated instantly that he’s ineffective – so it’s a mystery why Levi wasn’t signed the moment Chris Samuels went down (or even earlier).

- The run game success was also helped by good blocking from non-linemen, notably Fred Davis and Antwaan Randle-El. And when Mike Sellers was lined up at TE next to Dockery and Jones, the Broncos simply couldn’t stop us.

- With all the talk of improved blocking, I don’t want to take anything away from Ladell Betts. He ran hard and with excellent vision, working his way through some very slim holes.

- And no one can say the offense did this against a weak opponent. Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings had the Denver defense as 3rd best in the league coming into this game. The Redskins knocked them all the way down to 8th.

- We’ve always heard that Devin Thomas has enormous physical talent, but we just had to take people’s word on it. But in this game he showed that he really is an amazing athlete. Also, he has demonstrated a talent to notice when Jason is in distress and scrambling and to break off his route and get to where he needs to be for Jason to salvage the play. And we saw him block a little bit today (occasionally) – if he could get consistent about that we might have a real player on our hands.

- Outside of the three big screw-ups that led to wide open Broncos receivers in the 1st quarter, the secondary smothered almost everything. This was critical, since the pass rush was generally lacking.


  1. More and more, I find myself agreeing about Campbell and his value to this team.

    To this point, I felt that if the team was poor he was poor, and if the team was good he could be fine. But the team sure seems hampered by his low ceiling.

    Besides, do we really want to build around a "serviceable" QB? I love that Gibbs quote about how "At some point you're going to have to take the team down the field in a driving hailstorm to win the game." Being honest, I just don't seem that from Campbell. :\ He'll never lift the team up on his shoulders when everything is going wrong and give us a shot.

    But at the same time, we can't just dump the guy. We have to find someone better to take the job from him (which shouldn't be hard if we find a good one). Hopefully the team can do that.

  2. Great post, by the way. As always, very good observations and reflections. I appreciate the effort you take to provide this.

  3. I think the Skins need to keep J Cam for another year if possible. I don't think you can overstate the condition of the o-line and it's impact on this season and his progress. I believe he's hung there decently. after all, he's still standing. I think this speaks to his resiliency. Secondly, who would you replace him with? Look around the league. If someone has a good QB they're not giving him up. Of the draftable QBs in college do you actually think they're better than what we have now?

  4. Anonymous - I agree completely. Last I checked, the best QB scheduled for free agency next offseason is Kyle Orton, and even he is likely to be locked up if the Broncos recover from their current slump. Otherwise if we try to bring in someone new we're probably going to have to make do with someone who has already washed out somewhere else - like Brady Quinn or someone of that ilk. And I share your skepticism of finding a short-term upgrade at QB in the draft - especially since I think most Redskins fans want to spend the first round pick on an offensive tackle.

    The major determinant of Campbell's status will probably be the status of the CBA - if one isn't reached and we go to a capless season then Jason will only be a restricted free agent, and since I doubt another team would give up a draft pick to get him that means he would likely be brought back to at least compete for the starting job.