Friday, September 9, 2011

Michael Lombardi is wrong about the Redskins

The DC internet buzz today has been about's Michael Lombardi explaining his reasoning behind picking the Redskins as NFC East champions. I am as tired of anyone of members of the national media dismissing the Redskins as a matter of course without bothering to learn about the team in any depth. But unfortunately this little bit of positive attention also seems pretty baseless (by the way, I can't find a link but in 2008 this writer mentioned in passing that Clinton Portis was weak as a pass protector - so I don't trust him to know this team in detail).  The reasoning is at various times overstated, flatly false, or simply specious.

Let's go point by point:

» The Redskins play the 29th easiest schedule in the league, facing only five playoff teams from 2010. Washington plays the entire NFC West, as well as Buffalo and Carolina.

This is the strongest point, because strength of schedule really does matter. However don't you think fans of NFC West teams, Buffalo, and Carolina are looking at their schedules and thinking they are helped by getting to play the Redskins? All bad teams expect to improve the next year. The Redskins very well might.  But at this point it is far too early to simply assume that the Redskins are at a higher level than the other teams that struggled in 2010.

» Washington actually played better on the road last year, winning four games versus just two at home. They will play better at home this year. They won in Philadelphia and Chicago last year and beat the Packers at home.

With only eight homes games and eight away games, it should go without saying that the tiny sample sizes make it pretty pointless to draw out home or away trends in a single season. But suppose for the sake of argument that their home and road records do mean something. "They will play better at home..." Okay... why? Going to need some reasoning there. Are they equally likely to play worse on the road?

As for the list of notable wins last year - the Redskins beat the Eagles by breaking their best player's ribs in the first quarter, they beat the Bears in one of the ugliest games ever played (it's a cliche to say this, but the Bears lost the game more than the Redskins won it), and Green Bay bounced an overtime field goal off the upright.

» The 'Skins lost six games by four points or less last year, and were horrendous on defense, finishing 31st in yards allowed. This year they have talent that suits their 3-4 scheme and are not trying to shoe-horn 4-3 personnel into a 3-4.

See the previous point - yes they lost some close games, but they also won some games they could well have lost. Those things probably evened out. And unfortunately the argument that the Redskins "are not trying to shoe-horn 4-3 personnel into a 3-4" is demonstrably false:

Let's look at the new additions:

- Ryan Kerrigan - 4-3 DE

- Barry Cofield - 4-3 DT

- Stephen Bowen - not a 3-4 DE, no matter what anyone may tell you. I know I've repeated this a lot but that's because it's true - Wade Phillips' defense is a one-gap 4-3 scheme in which one of the ends just happens to pick his hand up and call himself a linebacker. Bowen is as new to this system as anyone else.

And obviously it goes for the holdovers as well. If retaining Rocky McIntosh as a starter isn't an example of "shoe-horning" a poor scheme fit then I don't know what is.

This year's defense could well be greatly improved, but it won't be because it's suddenly staffed with natural 3-4 players - it would be because the "shoe-horning" was done more successfully this time around.

» Running back Tim Hightower and an improved offensive line will make the run game much better. Tight end Fred Davis is blocking well and Anthony Armstrong is emerging as a big-play receiver.

Tim Hightower might be for real; I enjoyed his preseason performance as much as anyone but - and I know this isn't really an original thought - it was preseason. I'm excited to see if it carries over into real games, but that has yet to happen. 

" improved offensive line..." - Maybe. I expect that the line will improve, but only incrementally. That's better than staying the same or getting worse, but that doesn't mean the line is suddenly a strength. If we get a few games into the regular season and they have manhandled multiple opposing defenses who have actually bothered to gameplan against them, then we can talk.

As for Anthony Armstrong, it's great that he's a decent deep threat but he has some consistency issues. Given his background becoming a pretty decent receiver is impressive, but he's the kind of guy that teams that have done a better job roster-building already have on their depth chart.

» Mike Shanahan wants to prove he is still a big-time coach and knows another 6-10 season won't make many happy in D.C. Shanahan was hired to restore the 'Skins to their glory days, the sooner the better. I think Shanny will have a better year this year as well.

So Mike Shanahan doesn't want to win just six games again. Well that sure comes as a relief. We could have had a lot fewer bad seasons in this town if previous head coaches had realized that winning games is preferable to losing.

 The Redskins could well exceed expectations this year. That is the nature of the NFL. If everything goes right for the Redskins and a lot goes wrong for other NFC East teams, I suppose it's even possible they could end up in first place in the division. It's very unlikely, but stranger things have happened. But if they pull it off, it won't be for the reasons Michael Lombardi is giving us.

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