Tandler's Redskins Blog 10/7

The Balto-Wash "rivalry" and loose lips.

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October 7, 2004

Battle of the Beltway?

Before the last time the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens shared the same football field, Raven receiver Travis Taylor had this to say
"We know how much our fans hate Washington. The fans are ready for this one. I think we are, too. If our fans feel that strongly about the D.C. area, we definitely want to try to put some points on the board and get out of there with a victory."
Did I mention that the game that Taylor was talking about was a 2003 preseason game?

That didn't matter to another Raven. "It's more than just a preseason game because of the little extra stuff," Ravens defensive end Adalius Thomas said. "Especially to the fans, this is for bragging rights. There's a little more riding on this game. We would like to win it for them."

Even Brian Billick—who seems to be a pretty sharp, level headed guy to me—got into the act. "The players, believe me, it means a lot to them", the head coach said. "They're in the community now and they know this means a lot to the fans. You would have to be deaf and dumb not to get caught up in the excitement the fans have for it."

Oddly, for such a "big" rivalry, there was little being said on the Redskins side of the fence. Make that absolutely nothing being said. By the way, Washington "won" the glorified practice session 24-3.

Thankfully, both sides seem to be taking the Redskins' approach this time around. A scanning of the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post and Washington Times sports sections reveals no quotes about any players or coaches wanting to win one for the hometown fans.

Please correct me if I'm wrong (and I'm sure the audience for this journal will), but there just isn't any reason for there to be any kind of rivalry between the Redskins and Ravens.

They've played each other twice in games that count. In 1997, the Ravens beat Washington 20-17 and in that 2000 game the Skins prevailed over the eventual Super Bowl champs 10-3. Nothing happened on the field that would spark any ill feelings on the part of either side and, besides, both rosters have undergone considerable turnover since then.

There have been a couple of off-field incidents that have rankled the Ravens organization. Before a regular season game in 2000, the FedEx Field PA announcer said that "Ravens fans suck." Before that game, stadium staffers charged $40 to allow busses carrying Ravens personnel to drop off their passengers near the stadium. The vehicle carrying Art Modell was forced to park so far away from the stadium that Modell needed a golf cart to get to the stadium.

Then a couple of summers ago, Redskins owner Dan Snyder was asked if he modeled himself after owners like Modell. "What model is Art Modell?" said Snyder. "He owned the team 42 years and won one Super Bowl."

Still, owner-to-owner slights are not the types of things that make players' blood boil and whips the fan base into a frenzy. It's just another game, albeit one that both teams desperately need to win.

Wars of Words

Just because there's no rivalry talk going on doesn't mean that the members of the two teams are staying silent. On Comcast Sports Net's postgame show following the Ravens' Monday night loss to Kansas City, Ray Lewis said that Clinton Portis "was no Priest Holmes". That remark may spur Portis on, but it's not as though he doesn't have to step up his game anyway just to start earning his hefty salary.

Some Redskins had some unflattering comments about Lewis. "He isn't God," said guard Randy Thomas. OK, we can buy that one. But here's what H-back Mike Sellers had to say:
"I don't think he's as good as a lot of people say he is," Sellers said. "He's a great sideline-to-sideline player but filling the holes? I don't think so. That's just one opinion, though. . .He's human, everyone has their flaw. You've just got to find his. Some people have found it. Some people haven't. Some people are intimidated by the 'Ray Lewis' thing."
On the one hand, it's hard to imagine Ray Lewis being any more fired up and emotional for a game than he is from week to week. He'd probably explode. And it's great for Sellers to think that way, that Lewis is human and when the occasion comes that he has to block him he won't be intimidated.

Why, though, take a chance? Just shut up, Mike Sellers. Let your game do your talking for you.

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 eventually 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.

Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins. Get details and order at http://GutCheckBook.com

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