Tandler's Redskins Blog 10/6

An investigation--were the Redskins tipping the plays?

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October 6, 2004

Did the Browns know what was coming?

After his sub par game against the Browns on Sunday, Clinton Portis (20 carries for 58 yards and a key fumble) claimed that the Browns knew exactly where the play was going a disturbing number of times. After looking at the films, Gibbs took issue with Portis on the subject:
"We went through the film all together, and there were two plays where it looked like the Browns were pointing to something like we were going to run the football," Gibbs said. "We ran those plays and gained 4 yards and 8 yards.
Not that I'm not one to take Gibbs' word for this, but I decided that the issue of tipping plays, or being so predictable that the defense knew what was coming, was serious enough that it needed full investigation before being put to bed. I decided to take a look at each one of Portis' 20 carries for myself and see for myself if there was any pointing or other activity by the defense prior to the snap.

This would have been a chore so tedious that I would not have undertaken it before this summer when I took the plunge and bought a Tivo. This enables me to skip forward and back instantly at the punch of a button and gave me the ability to do this analysis in a fraction of the time that reviewing on video tape would have. Best investment I've made in a while.

Anyway, listed below is each carry as taken from the NFL's play by play of the game, followed by what I observed the Cleveland defense doing, particularly the linebackers.
1-15-WAS 40(13:42) 26-C.Portis left guard to WAS 46 for 6 yards (24-R.Griffith)
No pointing visible, cut back against flow

1-10-WAS 22(9:45) 26-C.Portis right end to WAS 32 for 10 yards (25-C.Crocker).
Browns' right OLB appears to be pointing at Portis before the snap; their MLB appears to cheat over a bit to the right after that, but Portis sweeps around the left end.

2-2-CLV 45(7:18) 26-C.Portis left guard to CLV 42 for 3 yards (57-W.Holdman).
Shot too tight on Brunell to see what defense was doing

2-4-CLV 36(6:04) 26-C.Portis right guard to CLV 28 for 8 yards (20-E.Little, 98-E.Ekuban).
Cleveland linebacker pointing right at hole where Portis runs; he gains 8, this may have been one of the plays Gibbs was talking about.

2-3-CLV 21(4:55) 26-C.Portis right tackle to CLV 18 for 3 yards (97 A.McKinley).
Shot tight on Brunell until right before snap, no pointing seen at that point.

1-10-CLV 18(4:11) 26-C.Portis right guard to CLV 18 for no gain (51-C.Thompson, 54-Andra Davis).
Left LB appears make a gesture to the MLB to follow him right into the area where Portis ran. He did and they made the stop for no gain.

2-20-WAS 23(14:56) 26-C.Portis left end to WAS 18 for -5 yards (96-K.Lang).
Came back from showing highlight from other game right before snap; no apparent pointing

1-10-WAS 22(11:21) 26-C.Portis left guard to WAS 30 for 8 yards (78-T.Rogers).
No pointing by LB's

2-2-WAS 30(10:42) 26-C.Portis right guard to WAS 33 for 3 yards (78-T.Rogers).
No pointing by LB's

1-10-WAS 46(9:28) 26-C.Portis left tackle to WAS 45 for -1 yards (99-O.Roye, 24-R.Griffith).
Couldn't see, replay run until after snap

2-11-WAS 45(8:44) 26-C.Portis left tackle to WAS 47 for 2 yards (37-A.Henry).
Couldn't see; tight shot of Rasby until right before snap

1-7-CLV 7(5:29) 26-C.Portis left tackle to CLV 1 for 6 yards (57-W.Holdman, 20-E.Little).
Two LB's cheated up to the area where the play ran just before the snap, but were blocked.

2-1-CLV 1(4:52) 26-C.Portis left tackle for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.
No pointing.

1-10-WAS 25(14:52) 26-C.Portis right guard to WAS 29 for 4 yards (93-M.Myers). FUMBLES (93-M.Myers), RECOVERED by CLV-54-Andra Davis at WAS 32. Play Challenged by WAS and Upheld. (Timeout #1 by WAS at 14:45.)
MLB made a gesture to the right, but seemed to be directing coverage. The play went to the left.

3-1-WAS 23(11:09) 26-C.Portis left end to WAS 23 for no gain (54-Andra Davis, 59-K.Bentley).
Low end zone shot, then tight shot of Brunell until the snap.

1-10-WAS 12(4:22) 26-C.Portis left guard to WAS 14 for 2 yards (54-Andra Davis).
Andra Davis, lined up at right LB (there are only two in at this point) steps towards the line and appears to be looking at something in the Redskins backfield. He then claps his hands, yells something, and points right to the hole where Portis ran.

1-10-CLV 41(3:00) 26-C.Portis right tackle to CLV 39 for 2 yards (54-Andra Davis).
Davis, again at right OLB points to the left side a couple of seconds before the snap and works his way over from right to left to make the stop.

1-10-CLV 12(:47) 26-C.Portis right guard to CLV 8 for 4 yards (93-M.Myers).
No pointing or gestures.

1-10-WAS 32(13:13) 26-C.Portis left guard to WAS 38 for 6 yards (78-T.Rogers).
No pointing

2-4-WAS 38(12:35) 26-C.Portis right tackle to WAS 34 for -4 yards (78-T.Rogers).
No pointing
So, here's the breakdown on the 20 carries:
Clear pointing to or movement towards where the play went: 5
No pointing or movement seen: 6
Some pointing or movement but the play went elsewhere: 2
Could not determine: 7

The time where it seemed most apparent that the Browns knew what was coming was the series late in the third quarter when Andra Davis twice seemed to pick up something that was going on and was in on the stops on plays that went for two yards each. Since the plays that Gibbs mentioned went for eight and four yards, he apparently didn't think that these were among the plays that the Browns seemed to have smoked out before the snap. To me, the visual evidence is pretty clear.

I don't normally watch where the linebackers are pointing or gesturing during the course of a game, so I don't know if correctly pointing out at least five of 20 holes that a back is going to hit is about average or if it indicates that something unusual is going on. All that I can honestly conclude here is that it appears that Gibbs understated how often the Browns clearly indicated where Portis was going to run by at least three.

All of you out there may speculate from there.

October 4, 2004

The Enemy

Paul Woody said it best in this morning's Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Joe Gibbs has seen the enemy and it is wearing burgundy and gold and leaving the football on the ground in inopportune places and at inopportune times.
Just before Portis' fumble the Skins had a 10-3 lead and seemed primed to drive to take control of the game. Instead, it's Cleveland ball on the Washington 31. Bad time, bad place.

And then the Redskins' chance for a last-gasp drive with a reasonable amount of time left died when Coles fumbled that chance away. Worse time, it didn't really matter where it happened.

Throw in the roughing the passer penalties, two of the seven flags thrown against the Skins, the miscommunications between Gibbs and Brunell and Gibbs and Larry Hill, his replay guru in the booth, and you have, well, the Fun and Gun.

Last year, the Redskins survived such performance issues during the first quarter of the season and started 3-1. Ultimately, they collapsed under the weight of all of the mistakes and won just twice the rest of the way.

Call it a losing attitude, call it what you will, but the culture of sloppy football continues even with the exchange of Gibbs for Spurrier. The key word there is culture.

It takes a lot to change a corporate culture, even in a relative small company such as the Washington Redskins. Simply banning cell phones in meetings doesn't get it done, nor does having seven zebras at each practice to flag infractions. Such things are a start, mind you, but changing a culture requires more.

For one thing, it requires a strong leader backed by a strong management team. The Redskins have that in Gibbs in concert with Bugel, Williams, and the rest. It requires persistence on the part of that leadership team. I think it would be foolish to question Gibbs' persistence or that of the assistant coaches.

There are factors beyond the control of the coaches. The individuals involved have to want to change. Or, more precisely, they have to want to do what it takes to change. You'd expect that highly motivated players making seven-figure incomes would certainly want to change and stop coughing up the ball and twitching before the snap and there's no doubt that every Redskin would tell you that he desperately wants to stop playing sloppy football.

That's talking the talk, what about walking that walk? Is that player willing to do what it takes to stop the mistakes? Will he go though the dull, rigorous drills with 100% focus, will he develop the mental toughness necessary to concentrate on execution even when he's dead tired? That's a decision each player will make for himself. It's a choice. It seems that not every player has chosen to do so at this point in time.

And that's the key, the other thing that's beyond the control of the coaches is the most fundamental one—time. It's not like removing a weed from your yard where you can just dig down and get the sucker roots and all. You have to convince that weed that it's a beautiful flower. You can't do that on demand.

Bold Predictions

Normally in this space I rate any bold predictions I made during the previous week and see if they held water. This week, however, my prognostications regarding the Cleveland game were so off base I'll simply recap them below and say that they didn't hold enough water to drown a housefly, except that I did capture the scenario under which the Redskins could lost to a tee.
Rarely has a game between two 1-2 teams seemed to be such a mismatch.

The Cleveland Browns are beaten up, in disarray, and they weren't very good when they were healthy and had their act together. The Redskins are relatively healthy, it seems they are improving week to week and have better players man for man than the Browns do.

The Redskins should win this game by three touchdowns.

Of course, it's the NFL and anything can happen. Washington has been prone to making mistakes in the form of turnovers (vs. New York) and penalties (vs. Dallas) and if both of those bugs bite on Sunday the Browns might be able to hang in there and keep it close and anything can happen in the fourth quarter.
The more likely scenario in my mind, though, is the Redskins gradually building a lead with Clinton Portis having a big day against a particularly lame Cleveland rush defense. It should still be a game at halftime, but Washington will pull away in the final 30 minutes with Jeff Garcia throwing a couple of picks in the fourth quarter to seal it.

Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins

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