Saturday, January 05, 2013

Seahawks at Redskins: An "Outsider's" View

(It has been two years since I posted here--too little time to devote to blogging with work and family beckoning. It feels good to be back.)
 
Most pundits and many NFL pros—"insiders" on sports television networks, sports writers, etc.—have been hyping or picking Seattle to win in this matchup. Perhaps that is part of the reason that the Seahawks come into this game as a three-point favorite—Vegas gamblers are listening. But, in my professional experience, Michael Mauboussin is correct: when outcomes are largely probabilistic, it is important to have an "outsider’s" perspective.

In his book Think Twice, Mauboussin told the story of the handicapping that favored Big Brown (BB) to win the Belmont and the Triple Crown in 2008. The gamblers made BB a prohibitive favorite. Many insiders—professionals close to horse racing—had proclaimed it a forgone conclusion largely because of the way BB won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and BB's imposing physical stature. Insider confidence was extremely high.

But outsiders knew that since 1950, of the twenty horses who were in position to win the Belmont and the Triple Crown, only three had succeeded—a mere 15%. In addition, of the last seven horses who attempted it, BB was the slowest. The result: BB not only failed to win, he failed to finish the race. Contrarian gamblers who had an outsider’s view profited because the overwhelming odds in favor of BB created big payouts for horses other than Big Brown.

So what can Triple Crown betting tell us about this week's NFC playoff game? Insiders point to the Hawks’ number one defense in the NFL (in points allowed) as the one item that separates these two very similar teams—they both run and pass the ball well with great running backs and outstanding rookie QBs. The Seahawks’ defense is at the top of the NFL in points allowed while the Redskins’ defense is near the bottom in yards allowed, especially against the pass. It probably does not hurt the Seahawks’ Vegas line that they also own the underdog story. Wilson was the underappreciated QB in the draft—the David who was not drafted until the third round—and is going against Goliath, the Heisman Trophy winner and endorsement king Robert Griffin III, who was the second overall pick in the draft. Many who bet with their hearts love the underdog.

But an outsider takes the following into consideration: The Seahawks have been a juggernaut when they play at home. Indeed, they are a perfect 8 - 0 at home this year. But when they play on the road, they are pedestrian at best. On the road, the Hawks are 3 - 5. Yes, they only won three games on the road this year and they are playing Sunday’s game on the road.

At home the Seahawks average game score is Seahawks 30 - Opponents 12. Their average game score on the road is Seahawks 21 - Opponents 19. But the latter included a ridiculous game in which the Seahawks ran up the score against a pitiful Buffalo team. Remove that one and their average score on the road is Seahawks 17 - Opponents 19. Not quite the juggernaut the insiders project for this game.

Is Seattle’s poor road record this year the result of having to play all of their tough games on the road; did they face a lot of powerhouses on the road? Not quite. When not playing the Seahawks, the combined record of the eight teams that Seattle played on the road is 52 wins, 63 losses, and 2 ties for a 0.444 winning percentage. Only one of the eight is a playoff team—the 49ers—to which Seattle lost on the road. Six of Seattle’s eight road opponents finished under 0.500 and Seattle’s record in those six games is 2 – 4.

So, was Seattle’s poor road record merely a statistical anomaly? Maybe, but it is an anomaly that has been true for at least six years. The Seahawks are 14 – 34 on the road going back to the 2007 season and they have never played worse at home than they did on the road. The last two times that they won their division (2007 and 2010), they finished 3 -5 on the road just as they did this year. In those division-winning years they won their first playoff game at home and followed that with a blowout loss on the road (to Green Bay in 2007 and Chicago in 2010).

Yes, but all road teams have little chance in the playoffs, right? Well, not quite. Five of the last seven Super Bowl winners were teams that played during Wild Card weekend; i.e. they had to play at least one playoff game on the road. So, Seattle seems to be uniquely bad on the road.

There are two theories for Seattle’s poor play on the road relative to at home: First, their home stadium is built to reverberate sound down to the field and is deafening. Some say it is illegally so as Seattle pipes crowd noise through loudspeakers. It makes it extremely difficult for opposing offenses to call plays and hear snap counts. Second, many of Seattle’s road games involve long travel from the west coast. It will not get any shorter for them this weekend.

Insiders are also touting Seattle’s five-game winning streak and talking about how important it is to get hot immediately before the playoffs. If we ignore the statisticians who have debunked the “hot hand” theory, those who have made the statement that Seattle should win this game because they are hot must be willfully blind. No team in the NFC is hotter than the Redskins who have won seven straight games, each a veritable elimination game and they knew it was an elimination game when they played it. In many respects, Sunday’s game will be RG3, Alfred Morris and the other Redskins’ eighth playoff game.

Finally, since defense is the only item that insiders believe separates these two teams, we should look at both defenses. Few would argue against the notion that the Redskins defense has turned it around in the last seven games. Perhaps that is because it took them some time to adjust to the early losses for the season of four starters: their two safeties just before the season and their defensive end and outside linebacker, a Pro Bowler, in their second game. Regardless, the Redskins’ defense has been a statistically different defense in its last seven games; it has given up fewer than 20 points per game and only 17 points per game at home. That vaunted Seattle defense gives up 19 points per game on the road.

The outside view tells a completely different story from the one professional insiders are telling. Perhaps Seattle’s remarkably good defensive statistics are mostly due to their remarkably good speaker system. Does Paul Allen have an investment in Bose?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

McNabb Must Go; Defensive Schemes Must Change

If it wasn’t clear before that Andy Reid knew exactly what he was doing when he traded Donovan McNabb to a division rival, it should be perfectly clear now. If it wasn’t clear that the 3-4 defensive scheme does not fit the Redskins personnel before, it should be perfectly clear now.

Even with a 3-4 defense, if the Redskins had an average quarterback who made good decisions they would be 7-4 at worst (Swap losses to the Vikings and Lions for wins). If they had an above average QB who made good decisions, they would be 9-2 now at worst (swap additional losses to the Texans and Colts for wins).

How many times will we have to see McNabb under- and over-throw wide open receivers who inexplicably have gotten five yards behind the defense before the coaching staff realizes he is not the answer? Today the difference between winning and losing was the underthrow of a wide-open, seven-yards-behind-the-defense Anthony Armstrong.

But, it is not the poor throws that have been the most frustrating thing about watching McNabb this year; it is his poor decisions. I expect an aging quarterback who is obviously three or more years past his prime to make poor throws, but not poor decisions.

Today, while deep in Redskins territory he threw a seven-yard pass to Santana Moss at about the fastest speed he could throw it. Moss had no time to get his hands up to catch it. It ricocheted off of his face mask and bounced way up in the air and was intercepted at the Redskins nine-yard line. The Redskins prevented the Vikings from scoring a touchdown, and the field goal they scored was less than the margin of victory, but is was a backbreaker to say the least. Throwing the ball that hard was not a physical shortfall of an aging quarterback, it was a poor decision. McNabb could have decided to dial it down. His decision to let it fly cost the Redskins a win.

That wasn’t the only poor decision to cost the Redskins a win. His decision to throw into triple coverage against the Lions when he had a four-point lead with four minutes left in the game was what got him benched the first time. The interception turned a win into a loss. The Redskins are now 3 – 1 against the best teams in the NFC (Eagles, Packers, and Bears) and 0-2 against two of the worst teams (Lions and Vikings).

His decision to run out of bounds to stop the clock with a lead against the Eagles with about 3:53 in the first game should have cost the Redskins a win. The Eagles had enough time to make a reasonable 32-yard throw (not a Hail Mary throw) into the end zone because McNabb had killed the clock by running out of bounds earlier in the quarter. The pass hit an open Celek, Philadelphia's tight end, in both hands in the endzone, but he did not hold on. The Redskins were lucky to win that one. It would have been the first of three losses that McNabb’s poor decisions had cost them.

As for their defensive scheme, I wrote earlier about it and pointed to Washington Post articles that wrote the same thing: The Redskins have an inordinate amount of talent on defense. They should be near the top of the league in defensive statistics. Instead, they are dead last. They were a top-ten defense since Gregg Williams took over in 2004. The only reason they are not a top-ten defense this year is that the coaching staff has changed the scheme and that change keeps the best defensive player in the NFL (Haynesworth) on the sideline. Today, when Haynesworth was in the game, he blew up practically everything that the Vikings wanted to do. When he was on the sideline, the Vikings did just about everything they wanted to do.

In addition to keeping the best player off the field, the new scheme has several players playing out of position, as they alluded to on today’s broadcast. Andre Carter was an excellent defensive end who had eleven sacks last year. This year he is an ineffectual outside linebacker.

It is so frustrating being a Redskins fan.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sean Taylor (April 1, 1983 – November 27, 2007), RIP

Current Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has said of Redskins safety, LaRon Landry, that he is the best athlete he has ever coached, and Shanahan coaches linebacker Brian Orakpo, one of the most athletic players in the game. And, don’t forget, Shanahan coached John Elway and traded one great athlete—Clinton Portis—for another—Champ Bailey. Both players will likely end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, so that is saying something special about Landry.

It is true that Landry is freakishly athletic, but Mike Shanahan never coached Sean Taylor.

Tomorrow, November 27, will mark the three-year anniversary of the murder of Taylor. He had injured his knee in the Philadelphia game in November of 2007. He was leading the NFL in interceptions at the time. The Redskins were travelling that Thanksgiving weekend and the injured Taylor was allowed to stay home with his family. He was shot in his bedroom when he stood between intuders and his wife and daughter.

Taylor, who was Joe Gibbs’ first draft pick in his second coaching tenure, would be twenty-seven years old today and would have spent the last three years and the next five in the prime of his football career. We Redskins fans can only dream of the championships Taylor and Landry would have helped bring to Washington. That tandem would have been known as the best that the NFL has ever seen.

Taylor, a first-round draft pick (fifth overall) in 2004 and Landry who was a first-round draft pick (sixth overall) in 2007, only played nine games together. Yet, NFL fans had already given a nickname to the space in the defensive backfield occupied by Taylor and Landry. It was known as Area 51, which referenced the sum of their two uniform numbers and someplace in Roswell, New Mexico believed to be occupied by people with alien talents.

YouTube is filled with tribute videos for Sean Taylor and many are very good. I picked the middle two below for their music more than anything. In them you will find the whiplash-inducing hits, but more impressive is Taylor’s unbelievable ability to play the receiver or runner and deliver punishing hits at the same time that he is playing the ball. The jump ball to Randy Moss (#84) of the Vikings is a prime example.

(For new fans, Taylor wore number 36 as a rookie with the Redskins and number 21 thereafter. He wore number 26 while at the University of Miami. And, he wore number one while in High School (blue uniforms).

In mid-air Taylor knocked the ball away from Moss with one hand and began to pull him down with the other (at 2:25 in the first video). However, the ball seemed to hang in the air for seconds, which would have given the gifted Moss the chance to grab it. It was the type of catch that Moss has made many times in his career. Taylor saw that and pushed the ball away with his fingertips like he was setting a volleyball, all while in the air, and then took that same arm and slammed Moss to the ground. Taylor was a freak. I truly believe he would have been known as the greatest defensive player in the history of the game if he had been able to play ten years.




And, while there were some players to which Taylor took exception, especially Terrell Owens, Taylor was not dirty. His hits were punishing, but except for the elbow that he threw to Owens’ head when Taylor was a relatively unknown rookie and Owens was on top of the world, his hits were clean and below the neck. One piece of evidence to support that claim can be found at about 57 seconds of the second video, when a hated Cowboys receiver (#83) was in Taylor’s neighborhood. And, yes, Taylor quickly learned to hate the Cowboys. The receiver’s arms suddenly got short while reaching for a pass in front of him. Taylor could have leveled him without penalty, and I think lesser safetys would have if only because they did not have his athleticism to enable them to pull up. Taylor pulled up and stared down the receiver at the same time. The message was sent.

In these compilations you will find four plays that I will always remember and that make me sad even as I write this, thinking what the Redskins have missed. The first play is the fumble return for a TD against Philadelphia in 2005. That return clinched a playoff spot for the Redskins, the first since Joe Gibbs returned, and it came in Taylor’s second year in the league. His dive into the endzone was the iconic picture that the Redskins used to close their tribute video to Sean Taylor. The second memorable play came in the week after that playoff-clinching game. It was in the playoffs in Tampa Bay. Taylor scooped up a fumble by his ankles almost in full stride, scored a touchdown, and sealed the first playoff win since Gibbs came back. Two weeks in a row; two playoff-caliber winning plays. That is what we came to expect from Taylor.



There is a photo, briefly flashed at 5:45 in the third video, of LaRon Landry alone on the bench with his head down in Seattle. It was during a playoff game in 2007. The Redskins buried Taylor and went on a four-game winning streak at the end of the season to make it there. The entire team had dedicated the season to Taylor. Landry, a rookie, had just done everything he could to help win the game with two picks of Hasselbeck, and the Skins had a late lead, but they could not hold it. I often wondered what Landry was thinking.



The final two memorable plays that I will highlight came in two games against Bill Parcells’ Cowboys. Both can be found in the last video. The first came in a game in 2005 in which the Redskins scored two touchdowns on bombs to Santana Moss in the last four minutes in Dallas to beat the Cowboys 14-13. The Taylor play in that game was the next-to-last play of Dallas's last possession. The Cowboys were on the Redskins 43 yard line and threatening to score the game winning field goal with 1:57 left in the game. On third down, Cowboys receiver Crayton was about to catch a pass to give the Cowboys a first down at the 40. Taylor hit him so hard the ball flew backwards for about ten yards; game over.

The final memorable play that I will write about here (there were so many) came in a tie game in 2006 in Washington after Cowboys tight end Jason Witten caught a pass over the middle with about ten seconds left in the game to put the Cowboys in field goal range. Witten was talking smack as he and his teammates were lining up for the game winning kick. Troy Vincent blocked the field goal try and Taylor scooped it up, reversed course, looped around, was grabbed by the facemask, dislodged himself and returned the ball to the cowboys’ forty-five yard line with no time on the clock. But, the facemask penalty pushed the ball to within field goal range and the game was allowed to continue for one untimed down. Redskins win.

So many of the Redskins’ wins from 2004 through 2007 could be traced directly to Taylor’s play. I still think his death in 2007 hit Joe Gibbs pretty hard and influenced Gibbs' decision to step down after that year.




A compilation of highlights by Matt McFarland can be found at the Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/community/groups/announcement.html?wpBlogId=Blog:1e84bf02-7a2a-4444-8787-063cf51b5fa9&plckController=Blog&plckBlogPage=BlogViewPost&newspaperUserId=1e84bf02-7a2a-4444-8787-063cf51b5fa9&plckPostId=Blog%3a1e84bf02-7a2a-4444-8787-063cf51b5fa9Post%3a5fa7f72d-76be-4b32-8c64-570717ea8104&plckScript=blogScript&plckElementId=blogDest

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It's Not the Defensive Talent, It's the Coaching

Tom Boswell’s column in yesterday’s Washington Post is spot on. I have been saying all year to anyone who will listen that the problem with the Redskins defense is the coaching.

This defense is TALENTED. But when the coaches come in and take a perennial top-ten defense and turn it upside down by going from a four-three to a three-four and when its most important defensive player (Haynesworth) flat out said the three-four does not fit his style of play, which leads to his benching and limits his playing time, then that is poor coaching.

The Redskins went from the top of the league in defense to dead last despite having more talent than before; it is ridiculous. This team could win the division this year just on its defensive talent alone. This defense can overcome McNabb's poor decisions such as the Detroit game when McNabb made a really poor decision to throw into triple coverage deep in Redskins territory when he had a lead and there was only four minutes left in the game, or the Philadelphia game when he ran out of bounds to kill the clock after he picked up a first down, which left the Eagles enough time to throw into the end zone at the end of the game.

With two games left against the Giants, it is not too late. They need to make the adjustment NOW.

…The Redskins have one of the NFL's most physically gifted group of defenders, including a ridiculous eight players who were taken in the top 17 picks in their drafts: LaRon Landry (No. 6 overall), Andre Carter (No. 7), DeAngelo Hall(No. 8), Carlos Rogers (No. 9), Brian Orakpo (No. 13), Adam Carriker (No. 13), Albert Haynesworth (No. 15) and Phillip Buchanon (No. 17).

Few teams have so much raw speed, strength and skill. That doesn't include undrafted London Fletcher, the team's best player.

The Redskins' defense has enough talent, as it has shown the last three years. It's just not being used properly, starting with Haynesworth. You can cut him, you can trade him or you can play him. What you can't do is keep him, and his huge personality, on your team, then deliberately thwart and embarrass him every week...

...Who besides Landry, whom Shanahan now praises as one of the greatest athletes he's ever seen, is clearly better in the 3-4?

Fletcher is going to make his impact in either defense. Nobody's yet blocked Orakpo, whether he's standing up or has his hand in the dirt. Out on his island, Hall, who leads NFL cornerbacks in interceptions and tackles, is only marginally affected by the change.

But Haynesworth is erased and Carter, who had 11 sacks last year, has no true position.

The Eagles' eruption was part of an ugly trend. That was the fourth time in nine games the Redskins have allowed 30 or more points. In their previous 48 regular season games, that only happened five times.

No team switches its basic scheme quickly in midseason. But you can play more 4-3. You can evolve.




Wednesday, October 20, 2010

McNabb = Campbell + 7 Years of Wear and Tear

Dan Steinberg writes for the Washington Post and writes a blog. He has a blog post today that highlights almost everything that I have been saying about the Campbell/McNabb "swap" since day one. What Stienberg does not say is that the Redskins basically swapped a young quarterback for an old quarterback who has historically performed as well as the young one at the same points in their careers.

We can talk all day about the leadership that McNabb brings to the table if you would like. The only leadership skills that are important in the NFL are the ones that put games in the win column, not taking responsibility for the team's shortcomings in front of the press.

Steinberg:

Donovan McNabb got the ball at his own 38 yard-line on Sunday, with more than two minutes on the clock and three timeouts in his pocket, needing perhaps 30 yards to be in field-goal range. That didn't happen. Instead, the Redskins went 5-yard completion, sack, incompletion, incompletion. Not to go down this road for the millionth time, but I think we all know what the reaction would have been had No. 17 been responsible for that particular drive.

Now, as a card-carrying member of the Jason Campbell Haters Club, I was happy enough to meticulously run through Campbell's performance in clutch situations last season. (And I love Jason Campbell the guy, I just sided with many of his football critics.)

Looking at situations where Campbell got the ball back in tied games or down by one score with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter or in overtime, I found that Campbell was 44-for-86 for 584 yards and two touchdowns in 17 applicable games, not counting spikes and times he got the ball back with virtually no time left. He also had four interceptions, was sacked five times, and fumbled three times. That was good for a 61.4 rating. The Redskins were 4-13 in those games.

McNabb has already had seven chances at such drives with the Redskins, spread out over three games. The seven drives have produced two field goals, one missed field goal, one interception, two punts, and one turnover on downs.

McNabb's numbers in those drives have been, I dare say, Campbellian: 14-22 for 135 yards, with an interception and three sacks. The QB rating? Try a nearly identical 61.7. The Redskins are 1-2 in these games, rallying to beat the Packers while failing to come up in the clutch against the Texans or the Colts.

Krem's Sports also compared McNabb through six games this season to Campbell through six games last season. Might as well add Campbell through six games in 2008, too.

McNabb '10: 78.8 QB rating, 58.1 completion percentage, 1,561 yards, 5 TD, 5 INT, 0 fumbles lost, 3-3 record

Campbell '09: 82.9 QB rating, 65.6 completion percentage, 1,197 yards, 6 TD, 6 INT, 2 fumbles lost, 2-4 record

Campbell '08: 96.2 QB rating, 64.2 completion percentage, 1,262 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT, 0 fumbles lost, 4-2 record

Now I'll go ahead and quote Matt Kremnitzer, who exactly nailed my (Steinberg's) feelings:

I am in no way trying to say that I'd rather have Campbell as the quarterback of the Redskins than McNabb. McNabb simply brings things to the table that Campbell never will: better pocket presence, a quicker release, the ability to create plays, and being better at throwing deep passes. Simply put, McNabb's career numbers dwarf Campbell's, and McNabb is unquestionably the better quarterback -- not exactly a stunning statement. Still, the Redskins need McNabb to play much better than he has, meaning that he needs to do a better job of hitting open receivers and completing a higher percentage of his passes.

That seems like an accurate paragraph.

(And yes, this headline was just a cheap ploy to get angry comments.)

By Dan Steinberg October 19, 2010; 2:24 PM ET


The only argument I have with Kremnitzer is that it is unfair to compare the career numbers of two quarterbacks with a difference of seven years of experience. Compare them at similar points in their careers and you will find that Campbell actually has better numbers and he played for a team with less offensive talent than the Eagles had.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Texans 30 - Skins 27 OT

I do not expect to post much this year. I am just writing to say that with a 17-point lead today late in the third quarter, the Redskins had about ten chances to make a single play that would have iced the game...victory Redskins. But, they went oh-for-ten.

Briefly:

• The False start on third and short from the Texans five-yard line late in the fourth quarter that almost certainly would have been a first and goal...which led to...

• ...the chip shot field goal that would have put the Redskins up by ten late in the fourth....BLOCKED

• A Texan third-and-long stopped short but the drive kept alive by an offsides penalty...which led to...

• ...The Texans had a fourth-and-ten on what would have been their last drive but Schaub was able to deliver a pass about 1/1000 of a second before he got leveled. That pass was a jump ball that went thirty-four yards to Andre Johnson. Reed Doughty was in because Laron Landry was hitting people so hard that he hurt himself and had to come out for that one. Doughty had good coverage and reached up on the jump ball and had his had between Johnson's two hands just as Johnson caught the ball. Doughty attempted to rip it out but Johnson moved the ball to the opposite hand while in midair...tying touchdown late in the fourth (See photo).




• In OT the Redskins kicked the game-winning 52-yard FG, but the snap of the ball was 1/1000 of a second after Kubiak called a time out. The second try missed.

But, the main reason I am writing is this: I know McNabb had a great day as far as quarterback statistics go; a great day. He deserves all of the accolades that I have been reading and hearing about after the game. But, four of the plays that I am referring to--plays that if made would have ended the game--had to do with wide-open Redskins receivers deep down the field. Receivers who had inexplicably gotten three-to-six yards behind the defensive backs late in the game...And McNabb overthrew every one of them. Very Frustrating. If he only hit one of those, the Skins would now be 2-0.

The Redskins have had great defenses since the first year that Joe Gibbs came back. If they have done one thing correctly these past six years it is that they have added outstanding defensive talent: Orakpo, Landry, Fletcher, McIntosh, Hall, Rogers (who held on to a pick today!! Okay, so it hit him in the hands chest high and it still took three attempts for him to finally catch it, but he caught it!), Carter, and yes, even Haynesworth, and of course Sean Taylor (RIP). These are/were outstanding players, and most of them were brought in by Gibbs. They have had top-ten defenses ever since.

The one thing they lacked was an offense that could score more than 20-points per game. Last year they scored an average 16.6 points per game. Their defense gave up fewer points than the Super Bowl Champion Saints last year and that is despite suffering blowouts in the last three games after they had given up. If they find a way to score 27-points per game this year, they will make the playoffs.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Compare and Contrast






Zorn is a good guy, but he was a horrible coach. He was not ready for the job, but that is not his fault. It is Synder's fault. Snyder thought he could run an NFL franchise as GM, but when no one wanted the head coaching position last year because Snyder made the ridiculous decision to hire the assistant coaches before he hired a head coach, and the ridiculous decision to abandon the continuity plan that Gibbs handed to him, Zorn's fate was sealed.

There is only one good thing that came out of the last two years: It puts an end to the Synder era (error). Snyder finally woke up and realized he does not know a thing about running a professional sports franchise.

Sure, it took a significant decline in concession and Redskins-media advertising sales this year and probably not a significant decline in ego, but the reason is not important. Snyder will have to let Bruce Allen run the show or risk losing fans permanently (by the way, what history! I first became a fan when his dad was head coach).

Allen will hire a top-notch coach and talent evaluator and together they will quickly rebuild this team. They have the quarterback (MMW: With real blockers, watch Campbell blossom into one of the best in the NFL). They have several outstanding young players. They only need to add some depth and youth to both lines, and they can do that relatively quickly. They can compete for the playoffs next year.


About Last Night
There is only one explanation for last night's result: The coach quit on the organization and the players quit on their coach. During the week, Allen was named GM and then all of the talk turned to who would be the next head coach. There is no doubt that Zorn is gone, and little doubt that most of the position coaches are gone, so why risk injury? The Redskins did not even practice on Saturday, a typical pratice day in preparation for a Monday night game for teams that have a sense of urgency.

As they said on the Comcast Postgame show, The U-Hauls backed into the practice facility parking lot this week. The analysts on that show have been brutally critical of the Redskins and the organization for quite a while, and rightfully so. But, I think they also got this right: Player-for-player, the Redskins defense is better than the Giants offense. They faced far better offenses this year and shut them down. The only explanation for last night is that they quit.

Summary of the Zorn Years
What I wrote elsewhere after the Saints loss:

...three times in the last two years the Redskins were down by between 8 and 11 points with less than five minutes to play, were in easy field goal range, and faced fourth down. The first time Zorn faced this decision was his very first game against the Giants. You ALWAYS kick a field goal in that situation. But, Zorn has NEVER trotted out the field goal team and has not only failed to win each of those games, but his offense has ALWAYS failed to convert. Game over every time. I thought it was a rookie coach mistake and gave him a pass after that first failure, but he has done it two more times since then. You must play the odds and kick a field goal. Over two seasons of football it may get an extra win or two.

How many times has he kept the challenge flag in his pocket on key plays in close games? How many times has he walked into the losing locker room with all of his challenges intact? Yet, occasionally he will challenge the most inconsequential calls like the challenge of the spot of the ball at mid-field against the Ravens last year. It wasn't a question of whether the Ravens got a first down; even if Zorn's challenge stood up, the player easily had the first down. No, Zorn was arguing for two yards at mid-field in a close game. The reason why this one was especially asinine was that it was his last challenge of the game and there was still enough game left to win. Against the Saints, he did not challenge a thing, yet there was a key play on a Saints scoring drive in which a receiver clearly let the ball hit the ground.

Finally, I still do not believe he understands that when the other team controls the ball in a close game in which they are winning, you need to use your time outs before the two-minute warning or else the other team is going to run the clock down. He rarely uses his time outs in that spot and he has been faced with that situation at least a dozen times.

He makes the same mistakes over and over again. He does not know what he is doing out there.

Now, the mistake in the Saints game that I think has been emblematic of his tenure, but which few have talked about, is the play call on third down just before Suisham missed the field goal. Third and goal from the five and you do not take a shot at the end zone? Are you serious? I get it that in many similar situations you want to run the ball to make the other team burn a timeout, or you want to run another 40 seconds off the clock. But the Saints were out of time outs (because they correctly used their time outs BEFORE the two minute warning while the Redskins controlled the ball with a lead) and there were six seconds to go before the two minute warning. A pass would have burned up as much time as a run in that spot.

There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that a pass had a much higher likelihood of success than a run. Campbell was completing 70+% of his passes that day, like many days, and had averaged much more than five yards per attempt. I also get that you want to protect the ball, which is why if the play was not there Campbell could have thrown the ball into the 300s from that spot.

Zorn must go. These past two years were the biggest disappointment in my 38-years as a Redskins fan because Gibbs handed Snyder and Cerrato a playoff team that had gotten much healthier in 2008, but Snyder and Cerrato blew any chance of success when they dismantled the program that Gibbs built and could not get a simple thing right like the order of selecting coaches.....First head coach THEN assistants. Forcing a head coach to take the assistants that the owner (or athletic director) picked wouldn't even fly in high school football. Amateurs.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Zornies 17 - Elis 23, Very Frustrating

The Giants have already been crowned NFC champs this morning if you read a New York area tabloid, listened to WFAN sports radio, or read any other media based in New York such as SportsIllustrated.com. The Giants offense was outstanding. Eli is worth every penny. The Giants defense dominated. They are perfect.

Conversely, the Redskins “should have tried harder to land Sanchez or Cutler” (I’m not kidding. That is what some clown on SI.com wrote. He must have written it before yesterday’s games. Campbell’s QB rating is in the 90s, Sanchez, who looked good, is in the 80s and Cutler, OMG, is in the 40s). The Redskins did not improve one iota from last year. The Redskins did nothing on defense.

To the victor goes the spoils...

Cold Water
Okay, time for a little cold water on the face. Every statement I make in this regard will be backed by a fact or statistic.

The Redskins offense actually outplayed the Giants offense yesterday. When the Skins offense was on the field, they scored 17 points. When the Giants offense was on the field they scored 16 points.

Once again, Jason Campbell actually outplayed Eli Manning, albeit by a statistically insignificant amount—Campbell’s QB rating for the game was 93.6 and Eli’s was 93.5. (See the QB comparison below to understand the "once again" reference). No real difference in QB rating, but notice Sports Illustrated is not calling for the Giants to sign Jeff Garcia this morning or for a Manning refund on the $90+ million. But, based on yesterday’s performances they want to replace Campbell with a guy who threw four picks and lost.

Clinton Portis ran the ball better than Jacobs. Look at the numbers. But, also look at some key points in the game. The Giants had third-and-two (or less) and fourth-and-two (or less) three times in the game, tried to ram Jacobs down the Redskins throats and failed every time including one when Redskins safety Horton tackle Jacobs for a five-yard loss on fourth-and-one.

The Only Difference
The only difference in the game was this: The Giants defense scored on a turnover and the Redskins defense did not. One play. Osi scored and Hall did not. That’s it. One play out of 111 was the difference between a Redskins victory and a loss. It’s hard to imagine waking up this morning and reading in the tabloids that the Giants were done this year, if they had lost yesterday, but the media has buried the Skins already.

More Observations
A. I cannot stress this one enough: Maybe Jim Zorn needs an offensive coordinator; one who knows how to call a game; one who has done it before.

There is an old adage in football: offenses are supposed to take what the defense gives them. By the middle of the second quarter in yesterday’s game it was apparent what the Giants were willing to give up. They stacked eight guys in the box on most plays and double-covered Moss. The Giants weren’t going to let Portis or Moss beat them. They made the Redskins try to beat them by throwing to someone other than Moss.

Now, here is the kicker: The Redskins were throwing to guys other than Moss and it worked! The Giants left the intermediate routes in the middle of the field wide open. By the end of the second quarter Campbell was 5-for-5 for 83 yards on crossing routes and tight end seam routes that were in the middle of the field, ten- to twenty-yards from the line of scrimmage. Still, Zorn inexplicably insisted on calling a balanced run/pass attack.

But, that only works in theory before the fact. Once the game is underway and your opponent shows you all of his cards, it is time to make an adjustment. Zorn needed to keep throwing to that part of the field until the Giants proved they could stop it. The only way the Giants were going to stop it was by making an adjustment themselves such as by dropping a few linebackers and safeties in coverage. But, that would have opened up some running lanes for Portis.

B. The Giants receivers made some surprising and amazing acrobatic catches that kept drives alive on key third downs. I bet they surprised Giants fans. I’ll bet they surprised themselves. Let’s see them do it for a whole season before we hand them that crown. The odds are not with them. Either Eli is going to have to get a lot more accurate or they will see some important drives stall.

C. Several comments in the media implied that the Redskins yards and scores in the last eighteen minutes of the game were of the “garbage time,” stat-padding variety. That is pure nonsense.

It is garbage time when a team has no chance of winning, not when they are kicking an onside kick with two minutes left and a touch wins (not ties) the game. Believe me, the Giants did not want to have to defend against that onside kick.

It is garbage time when a defense allows an offense to go down field in ten-yard chunks to eat up the last four minutes of a game, let the team score and still win by two TDs. The Redskins, on the other hand, drove 72 yards in 1:42 to get that TD to Cooley and make the onside kick meaningful.

D. There is a very good chance that we are all going to wake up on Monday, October 19, to find the Redskins right in the middle of the NFC East race. They may even be all alone in first place on that date. Their next five games are more than very winnable. These next five weeks will give Zorn a chance to fix his errors. It will give Snyder a chance to hire an offensive coordinator. It will give the veteran players a chance to wrest control of the team from Zorn. They will be able to work out the kinks and still win. Perhaps they will be firing on all cylinders by that date, who knows.

Some of Offensive Coordinator Zorn’s wonderful calls:
1. On the second play from scrimmage, after Portis picked up over thirty yards on the first play, he calls a reverse pass. A trick play early in the game after you just showed you can play smash mouth with the Giants? It was like Mike Tyson apologizing after delivering a hard punch.

2. Deep in Giants territory he called a fake rocket screen to the right sideline and had Campbell spin 180 degrees and deliver a real rocket screen to Moss on the left sideline. Minus two yards later, I wondered about that play. Now, I’m no genius offensive coordinator like Zorn, but it seems to me that after you bring up to the line of scrimmage the linebackers and safeties who bit on the fake screen, perhaps the only thing worse than an actual screen would be a draw play. Is it me?

3. Deep in their own territory Zorn failed to call even one pass play. The Giants were ten in the box at that point, so there was no way running was going to be successful. Three and out and the Skins had to punt from their end zone.

4. But, the real killer was that he kept going to the running game until it was too late; loooong after it was clear the Giants would overstack to prevent it and loooong after it was clear that the Giants could not stop the Redskins intermediate passing attack.

Campbell's Performance
Here are Campbell’s numbers when he threw intermediate passes in the middle of the field:

Attempts: 17
Completions: 14
Yards: 163
Y/A: 9.6
TDs: 1
Ints: 0

Rating: 126.23

All but one of those passes went to ARE and Cooley, and that one was incomplete to Moss. Cooley and ARE had seven catches each.

Maybe Zorn needs an offensive coordinator who is not so offensive to Skins fans. Seriously, he is in over his head and has a lot on his plate. Zorn cost the Redskins yet another win yesterday.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Redskins Preview Part I

This will be a brief note to be followed by a more extensive analysis. I just want to address some of the mainstream media predictions for NFC East this year. Absolutely no one thinks that the Redskins can avoid the cellar this year. For example, in response to a question about whether the Cowboys have a shot at the playoffs, Troy Aikman said, “There is only one NFC East team with no shot and that is the Redskins.”

All of this is remarkable considering that they had the talent to be a playoff team last year. They beat the NFC champs, for example, and swept the only other team that could have been NFC champs—the Eagles. That is SWEPT. And, it is remarkable because they are a much better team this year.

They had the fourth best defense in the NFL last year and have improved it immensely with the additions of Haynesworth and Orakpo. In the NFL opener Steelers-Titans game on Thursday, Chris Collingsworth remarked at one point that Ben Roethlisberger had a perfect pocket formed around him in which to throw. He said if this was last year there was no way that pocket would be there because Haynesworth always collapses pockets up in the middle. Several have said that Haynesworth is the best defense lineman in the NFL and Chris Carter said on today’s pregame show that he thinks Haynesworth will be the defensive player of the year.

Orakpo is going to have no pressure because he will not be asked to do a whole lot. He is not joining this defense as a savior, just a role player, albeit a first-round role player. But, he has been a monster defender in college and going against first-team NFL lineman this year. He could get 12- to 15-sacks this year without breaking a sweat.

Considering several of the injuries to the defensive line last year (e.g. Daniels, a leader was sorely missed) led to a non-existent pass rush; considering that they STILL managed to finish fourth on defense in the NFL and second-toughest to score on in the NFC; then you must know that Redskins back seven was outstanding. And, this year they get Deangelo Hall for an entire season.

The one thing this defense lacked was pressure on the quarterback from the front four. They have that in spades now. The Redskins will get many more turnovers this year, they will shorten the field for Campbell and the offense, and they will take pressure off Campbell because he will be managing games with a lead and not running for his life trying to make a comeback.

Speaking of running for his life: The Redskins weakness is a lack of depth on the offensive line. Three of the five starters missed significant playing time last year. All three are back this year. If they stay healthy this year, Campbell will develop into one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

As for the other NFC East teams. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the Giants will win the NFC Championship if the Eagles or Cowboys do not. Let me just ask a few questions here:

Didn’t the Giants just lose their best coach? So, are we to believe that they will not miss Spags? The guy replacing him has already caused controversy because he doesn’t want to be on the sideline with the team. Didn’t the Giants just experience 100% turnover at wide receiver and virtually 100% in the defensive secondary? I heard that all of their wide receivers combined have fewer than 150 catches in their career.

Are we to believe that this team is that much better than last year because they got one defensive lineman back? Remember, this team couldn’t get past the Eagles last year. I’m not even sure that the Giants have the best defensive line in the NFC East anymore, not when you consider depth. Why is Manning a much better quarterback now compared with last year? Is it because he just got a raise? See the post below comparing two quarterbacks. The answer to the riddle is this: Eli Manning is quarterback A and Jason Campbell is quarterback B.

The Eagles are the class of the NFC East? What does that make the Redskins who beat them twice last year? Didn’t the Eagles lose a bunch of players to injury? Didn’t they lose the architect of their defense on the sideline, the great D-Coordinator Johnson? Didn’t they lose their heart and soul on the field in Dawkins?

The Cowboys? Didn’t they lose their best receiver? What have they added to improve their team?

Honestly, I do not get why “last-place Redskins” is an open-and shut case. Often in probabilistic fields like sports and markets, when all of the action lines up one way, when all of the sentiment leans one way without questioning the rationale, as I questioned it above, then usually the opposite happens. How many thought the Arizona Cardinals would be in the Super Bowl last year? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Quarterback A versus Quarterback B

Can you guess who we are?

First year as a starter:

Quarterback A:
Starts: 7
Completions: 95
Attempts: 197
Completion Percentage: 48.2%
Yards: 1,043
TDs: 6
INTs: 9
QB Rating 55.4

Quarterback B:
Starts: 7
Completions: 110
Attempts: 207
Completion Percentage: 53.1%
Yards: 1,297
TDs: 10
INTs: 6
QB Rating: 76.5

Winner: Quarterback B


Second year as a starter:

Quarterback A:
Starts: 16
Completions: 294
Attempts: 557
Completion Percentage: 52.8%
Yards: 3,762
TDs: 24
INTs: 17
QB Rating: 75.9

Quarterback B:
Starts: 13
Completions: 250
Attempts: 417
Completion Percentage: 60.0%
Yards: 2,700
TDs: 12
INTs: 11
QB Rating: 77.6

Winner: Toss up

Third year as a starter:

Quarterback A:
Starts: 16
Completions: 301
Attempts: 522
Completion Percentage: 57.7%
Yards: 3,244
TDs: 24
INTs: 18
QB Rating: 77

Quarterback B:
Starts: 16
Completions: 315
Attempts: 506
Completion Percentage: 62.3%
Yards: 3,245
TDs: 13
INTs: 6
QB Rating: 84.3

Winner: Quarterback B

Career through three years as a starter:

Quarterback A:
Starts: 39
Completions: 690
Attempts: 1,276
Completion Percentage: 54.1%
Yards: 8,049
TDs: 54
INTs: 44
QB Rating: 73.2

Quarterback B
Starts: 36
Completions: 675
Attempts: 1,130
Completion Percentage: 59.7%
Yards: 7,242
TDs: 35
INTs: 23
QB Rating: 80.4

Winner: Quarterback B

Hint: Both had good offensive lines, great defenses, and excellent running games in their first three years.

Hint: Quarterback A gets paid a LOT more than Quarterback B and Quarterback B is in his contract year.

The 2008 Season Post Mortem

First let me begin by taking the heat for making a statement that was wrong. On September 22, 2008 when the Redskins had a record of 2 – 1, I posted the following prediction:

“…the Redskins season is probably going to be determined by what they do over their next two games. Both are division games on the road—at Dallas this week, and at Philly next…If they come out of these next two games with a split, they will be 3 - 2 and sitting pretty for a playoff spot…If they sweep the next two they will win the NFC East—the toughest division in the NFL (8 - 0 against non-NFC East opponents so far).”

You know the outcome. The Redskins did sweep Dallas and Philadelphia on the road, but not only did they fail to win the division, they could not even grab a wildcard spot. Why not? It starts at the top. It always does.

The Redskins organization has serious problems. Dan Snyder is a Redskins fan, which I like, but like many people who are successful in one sphere, he thinks he can be successful in any sphere. To be fair, some people can pull that off. And if all you care about are the Redskins’ cash flow statements, Snyder is pulling it off. I should know because Snyder perennially sucks several thousand dollars out of my accounts despite putting an inferior product on the field in most years. It’s just that Snyder is not one of the people who can pull it off in the one place that matters to Redskins fans: championships. He thinks he needs little help in building a winning football franchise. And he is wrong.

Snyder was smart to bring Joe Gibbs back and give him free reign over the organization. Snyder was such a fan you could almost hear him calling Joe “Mr. Gibbs” in private. Vinny Cerrato, the man putatively in charge of personnel decisions, was wide eyed around Gibbs. Gibbs brought respectability back to the franchise in part because he pushed Snyder and his cronies to the sideline.

Team Snyder swore they learned from Gibbs and wouldn’t repeat their past mistakes such as dismantling the team at the end of each season and disrupting the stability necessary for success. Four years of continuity resulted in two playoff appearances in the past three years and nearly another trip to the Super Bowl in 2005. But, when Gibbs left unexpectedly, team Snyder came back with all of their bad habits and dismantled almost all of Gibbs’s coaching team. The head coaching job should have gone to Gregg Williams, and Al Saunders should have stayed on as offensive coordinator this year. Jason Campbell would have known Saunders’ offense by now.

In the one area where there was some continuity, the Redskins once again excelled. Williams’ defenses were always outstanding and Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache, who was Williams’ assistant for the prior four years, maintained that system and personnel. The Redskins were the second toughest team to score on in the NFC next to the Giants and the Giants were only better by two points. Until the last game, the Skins were the only team in the NFL that did not give up twenty-five points in any game. Teams with defenses this good are almost always in the playoffs and almost always go far in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Skins offense did not score at least twenty-five points in any of its last eight games; not since it beat Detroit 25 - 17. Speaking of the winless Detroit Lions, the Lions scored more points than the Redskins in 2008.

If the Skins could have managed 25 points in each of their last eight games, they would have finished 13 – 3. Ironically, their only loss in that stretch would have been in the last game of the year against the 49ers, but they would have had home field advantage all locked up by then anyway.

Had they managed to score the same 21-points per game that Gibbs was repeatedly criticized for in 2007 on Extremskins.com—the Redskins official message board—they would have finished 10 – 6 and in the playoffs. More than likely they would have won the 49er game too, because the game would have mattered, and they would have finished 11-5. They also would have split the season series with the Giants and finished with the same overall record as the Giants, but with a better division record they would have won the Division title. So, why was there a lack of continuity, especially on offense?

Well, what front office in its right mind would hire its assistant coaches before it hired a head coach? It’s a rhetorical question. No head coach worth a dime is going to want to coach a team when he cannot pick his assistants. The HC is responsible for everything that happens on the field and in the locker room, and responsibility without authority is just stress. What front office does something like that? One that thinks it can do it all, or one that does not care. I do not think team Snyder is one of the latter. I think it wants to win, but it is just incompetent, and incompetent front offices tend to hire incompetent coaches.

Zorn’s clock management, decisions under pressure, and official challenges of bad calls were pathetic. He only threw the red challenge flag about six times this year and lost all but one. The one win: Against the Ravens after he had already lost a challenge, he threw the flag with about six minutes left in the game to argue for two yards at mid field. When a coach wins both challenges, he will get to keep one of them. If he loses at least one challenge, he only gets two for the entire game. That Zorn would give up his last challenge with six-minutes left in a close game for two yards of field position near the 50-yard line—after a first down mind you—is just terrible.

In the opener against the Giants, deep in Giants territory, in field goal range with a few minutes left in the game, he made the decision to go for a first down on fourth and long. They were down by nine points at the time and needed both a field goal and a touchdown to win the game. My kids’ high school coaches would have known that he had to kick the field goal there to preserve any chance for a victory. I would be writing the same thing today even if they scored a touchdown there. You have to play the odds, but I do not believe that Zorn even understood the odds.

How good were the Skins last year? They beat the Cowboys on the road and could have swept them. They swept the Eagles. They held the emotional Giants to sixteen points on opening night in the Meadowlands—the night they celebrated their Super Bowl victory. They beat the NFC champions and representative in last year’s Super Bowl—the Cards. That, my friends, is a playoff-caliber team. Joe Gibbs handed Snyder a perennial playoff contender.

But, they lost to the then-winless Rams (two wins for the year), the 1-11-1 Bengals, and the then-six win and nine loss 49ers. That is coaching. A good coach with as much talent as the Redskins had last year would have found a way to win those three games.

It was particularly frustrating in the Bengals loss to watch Zorn bench a healthy Clinton Portis when the Skins were attempting to score the tying touchdown in the third quarter with a first-and-goal from the one-yard line. The Skins were very much in the playoff hunt at the time. A win would have probably secured a spot in the playoffs. On Mike Sellers’ second attempt to punch it in from the one, he fumbled, and the Skins did not score again after that. I love Mike Sellers...as Clinton Portis's blocker, which is his normal role. He had no business getting the ball there. Zorn benched Portis because Portis was critical of him in the week before that game. Way to punish the team and the fans, Jim.



Again, that is coaching, not lack of talent. But in many ways I am being unfair to Zorn. Snyder thrust Zorn into a role for which he was clearly not ready. I am not sure that he is ready now after he has sixteen games under his belt. If Zorn can be faulted, it is in not being self-aware enough to reject Snyder's offer.

But, cheer up Skins fans. This post mortem was written at the darkest hour last year and never posted on Counter Trey until now. The 2009 season is looking brighter. I liked what I saw in the preseason game against the Patriots, and the Skins defense is going to be beastly this year. That alone may be worth the price of admission. Now, if only coach Zorn can get out of his own way…Stay tuned.

Monday, September 29, 2008

HA!

...a feeling deep inside
Oh yeah, Oh yeah.

I've got a feeling, a feeling I can't hide
Oh no, Oh no, Oh no...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Skins - Cowboys Preview

...I got a feelin'...

This is Campbell's breakout year.

Let's Go Mets

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wile E Belichick, Super Genius

Bill Parcells never won a Super Bowl or Conference championship without Bill Belichick at his side running the defense. Many in the NFL whisper that it was really Belichick who gave Parcells the trophies, not the other way around, especially after Belichick won three on his own with the Patriots. Belichick never disputed the whispers. Perhaps he believes them.

In the NFL they keep records. Let's look at Wile E's head coaching record:

Overall: 144 - 86 - 0

That is genius territory, alright. Brilliant.

But let's break it out:

First HC job:
Cleveland: 36 - 44 (wince)

Humans usually hit their IQ peak before the age of 39 when Belichick took the job. What happened? Well, Cleveland has been bad for years; maybe it wasn't his fault.

Second and current HC job:
New England:
2000: 5 - 11 (Huh?)
2001: First two games: 0 - 2 (What?)
2008: Last game: 0 - 1 (a blowout loss at home to a team that won one game in 2007? How can this be?)

So, in these games the Genius has 41 wins and 58 losses for a 0.414 winning percentage.

Four-fourteen? Genius? Belichick said his most embarrassing moment in the NFL was when the Giants passed him over for the head coaching job and gave it to Ray Handley. Handley, was run out of town after two years, but even he could muster a 14 - 18 record for a 0.438 winning percentage. Rich Kotite had a 41 win and 57 loss record (0.418) as head coach of the Eagles and Jets. Kotite is considered one of the worst coaches in NFL history.

You think I am being unfair to Belichick for selecting certain games out of specific seasons? You must have guessed the significance by now.

Without Tom Brady at QB: 41 - 58 (0.414)
All other games 1991 through 2008: 103 - 28 - 0 ( 0.786)

With Tom Brady at quarterback, Belichick is a genius Hall of Fame coach.

Without Tom Brady at quarterback, Belichick is Lloyd Christmas; he's worse than Ray Handley and Rich Kotite.

That's enough of the Hall of Fame talk; enough of the genius label.

Monday, September 22, 2008

HOLD THE PRESSES!!! Carlos Rogers Caught a Ball that Hit His Hands / Redskins 24 - Cards 17 / What to Make of these Skins

In the second round of the playoffs in 2005, the Redskins had a 3 - 0 lead over Seattle with 8:54 left in the second quarter. The Seahawks were deep in their own territory when Hasselbeck dropped back to pass, looked to his right, saw nothing, quickly spun to his left and let fly a duck. The Redskins' high first-round draft pick at cornerback that year, rookie Carlos Rogers, played it perfectly. Rogers stepped in front of the receiver near the 25-yard line, had all his momentum heading toward the goal line and there was not a soul in his way.

The Redskins defense had already knocked out of the game Seattle's best offensive weapon, running back Shaun Alexander, when an Arrington tackle gave him a concussion. Alexander had rushed for 1,880 yards that season and scored 28 TDs. The Redskins were about to take a commanding, crowd silencing, 10 - 0 lead into halftime in Seattle while their staff was busy making flight arrangements for the NFC Championship game in Carolina.

The Redskins had finished 10 - 2 in the Conference that year, including a regular season win against Seattle, and it would have been 11 - 1 had the referees in the Tampa Bay game overturned a bad call on a last play, two-point conversion attempt by Alstott. With a correct call, the Redskins would have been preparing to host Joe Gibbs's sixth NFC Championship game, and given their dominance of the NFC that year, they likely would have been the NFC representative in Joe Gibbs's fifth Super Bowl.

All Rogers had to do was catch the ball that hit him in the hands, chest-high between the numbers. But Rogers dropped the ball.

Seattle kept the ball and finished that drive with a touchdown and a lead they never gave up.

I had given the rookie a break on that drop. He was new, had shown great cover skills, and had missed part of the year with an injury. It was easy to forgive him when it looked like the Skins secondary was going to dominate passing offenses for years with Rogers, Springs, and Taylor. And, it became clear over the next few years that Gibbs had done a great job in that draft because Rogers's coverage skills were outstanding. He was always around the ball...and he always seemed to drop them.

Take the first game of this season, for example. With the Redskins offense still trying to get a grip on Zorn's west coast offense, the Redskins defense stepped up and held the defending champs to just 16-points. And, Eli Manning was very generous. It's just that Rogers was equally generous when he let two of Manning's gifts hit the turf after they had hit his hands. Two more interceptions of Manning passes were dropped by other players.

Redskins 24 - Cards 17
So forgive Skins fans for dreaming what it would have been like if Rogers could catch. Well, yesterday we got a glimpse of what it could be like. In the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 17 each, Rogers made an incredibly athletic play to make an interception and then got up and ran it 42-yards to the Cards 15-yard line.




Two plays later Campbell passed to Moss for the TD that put them ahead for good.

WTF?
On the Skins next possession with 9:55 left in the game and a seven-point lead, Campbell scrambled to his right, saw rookie wide receiver Devin Thomas all alone, fired a strike on the run and watched as Thomas jogged 68-yards for a game-icing TD. Unfortunately, the play was called back for unnecessary roughness. What happened? Well, with the play still live, with Campbell still scrambling with the ball in his hand, right tackle Stephon Heyer blocked the Cards' defensive end too hard.

I am not kidding. No, he did not hit him high while another player hit him low; that would be a penalty. No, he did not hit him in the face or head; that would be a penalty. No, he did not hit him in the back; that would be a penalty. Heyer hit the DE in the chest and knocked him to the ground. In the old days in the NFL (by which I mean as old as two days ago and probably far into the future) that was called blocking.

What's next? If a ball carrier gets tackled hard, will the tackler be penalized? Will we flag a guy who runs a 4.3-second 40-yard dash for running too fast? Remember the game against Green Bay a few years ago when Cooley got mauled at the line of scrimmage, shook the defender who fell to the ground, ran across the width of the field and then caught a pass only to be called back for offensive pass interference? Huh? The ball was still in the QB's hand long after Cooley shook the defender. Since when is it a penalty to hand check a defender who tries to jam you at the line of scrimmage? That negated a huge play for the Skins and turned a win into a loss.

It seems to me that NFL refereeing has gotten extremely bad in the past four years. I've said it before: Every play should be reviewable whether a flag is thrown or not. Give coaches ten challenges per game. The short season makes every call crucial.

What I Expect this Season?
In my shortened preview I said the success of this season depends on how fast Zorn learns his job because this is a playoff team that had gotten very healthy and deep. Zorn did not make me comfortable, though, with the way he handled the clock at the end of the Giants game. He had not earned my confidence. He was behaving like a QB coach when the Skins needed a Head Coach and there was too much uncertainty for me to make a prediction.

One thing happened to change my opinion about Zorn: Jason Campbell said before the Saints game that he talked with Zorn and told him to trust him. Zorn agreed that he would let go of micro-managing Campbell a little and that they would try to trust each other more. The Redskins offense has looked like a world-beater ever since.


Offense
As Peter King said, they have the best skill players in the division, and they have not even gotten their three second-round-pick rookies into the game plan yet (except for Thomas's called-back TD).

They have tremendous depth on offense. Whether it is Sports Illustrated's best back-up QB in the NFL, or the multiple receivers and running backs, they are extremely talented. When RB Marcus Mason, who led the NFL in rushing yards this preseason, and WR Billy McMullen, who led the team in preseason catches (20), were both looking for work after the Redskins final cuts, you know the Skins have talent.

Add to that the exceptional depth on the O-line and this is a potentially powerful offense. RT Stephon Heyer left the game for a while yesterday with an injury and Jon Jansen came off the bench to replace him. Jansen would be a starting LT, the most important tackle position, for most teams in the NFL, but in DC he is the second-string RT.

Defense
Lost in much of the discussion about the Skins playoff runs over the past few years was the fact it was their defense that led them there each year. Gregg Williams had a top-ten defense for most of his tenure as defensive coordinator, and that was true last year despite multiple injuries. The Redskins offense, especially the passing game, was along for the ride. Only the smash-mouth running game made a serious contribution.

With all of the coaching changes this offseason, Snyder & Co kept the philosophy on defense steady by replacing Williams with Blache as defensive coordinator. Blache and Williams had been together for several years and they shared the same approach. This year Blache gets Rocky McIntosh, Carlos Rogers, Shawn Springs and Marcus Washington back. He gets a talented young safety in Landry with a year of experience under his belt who comes into the season with tremendous confidence after a great playoff game against Seattle in his rookie year. He gets a very good rookie safety in Chris Horton, who was the NFL defensive player of the week last week with two picks and a fumble recovery in his first NFL start. He gets a former NFL defensive player of the year in Jason Taylor, who knocked down three passes at the line of scrimmage yesterday. As good as the Skins D was over the past four years, it should be even better this year.

Prediction
The football season is short. NFL teams can get buried fast. It may sound crazy, but the Redskins season is probably going to be determined by what they do over their next two games. Both are division games on the road—at Dallas this week, and at Philly next. If it seems unfair for the Skins enter the season with a new head coach and have to play three division opponents in their first five games, then it is monumentally unfair for all three to be on the road. The Redskins schedule looks like one that Jerry Jones and the Mara/Tisch families would create.

If they come out of these next two games with a split, they will be 3 - 2 and sitting pretty for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, they will have to play the Dallas game without Jason Taylor, who is only on the team because they lost Philip Daniels for the season. Still the depth is strong and Evans and Wilson should do a decent job there. If they sweep the next two they will win the NFC East—the toughest division in the NFL (8 - 0 against non-NFC East opponents so far). If they lose the next two, then they will have to sweep all three home division games at the end of the year, which will not be easy.

One thing is certain: their offense is going to be much better in the second half than the first, but it is already off to a great start. Coupled with an outstanding defense and led by a coach that looks like he “gets it,” and I have high hopes today.

Prediction: 11 - 5
NFC East champs

I'll have a better idea of a playoff prediction as we get closer.