Tandler's Redskins Blog 10/13

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October 13, 2004

Repeating More History

A mention was made in today's Post to the New York Jets of 2002. That team also won its opener and then lost its next four. A key difference between that team and these Redskins is that those Jets were getting blown out. After beating Buffalo 37-31 in their opener they lost the next three by a combined score of 102-13. Rookie coach Herman Edwards' team lost by a more respectable 29-25 in their fifth game.

Still, they were 1-4 and looking up at a 4-1 Miami Dolphins team and the defending Super Bowl champ Patriots were 3-2. Their prospects were indeed dim.

Then a 20-7 win over Minnesota sparked a rally of eight wins in their last 11 games. Their 9-7 record earned them the AFC East title and they pounded the Colts 41-0 in the first round of the playoffs before losing to Oakland in the divisional round.

Four current Redskins were members of that team—John Hall, Chad Morton, Laveranues Coles, and Randy Thomas. The Redskins took those four key players. Can they duplicate that team's turnaround?

To be sure, just because one 1-4 team gets into the playoffs and wins a game doesn't meant that this Redskins team will. The vast majority of 1-4 teams wind up having seasons that are mediocre at best. Certainly, catching the 5-0 Eagles will be a nearly impossible task.

Still, as badly as this season has gone for the Redskins so far, it means that there is no reason to give up on the season. It's amazing what one win can do for a team's outlook. That win should come in Chicago.

Of course, it also should have come in Cleveland game before last, so we will see.

Quick Hits

--What, exactly, is a "system" back? Is it a back who puts up big numbers behind a solid, well-coached offensive line and an imaginative offensive scheme? If Clinton Portis is a "system" back, why not just give him what he had in Denver?

--This "biggest payroll in history" statistic is absolute nonsense. Yes, the Redskins laid out a lot in signing bonuses this year. Due to the salary cap, though, that means that there will be that much less than they can spend in coming seasons. If they have a good run on '05 or '06, I'm sure we won't hear about how well the team is doing on a shoestring budget.

--It often takes a while to get to a line in a Tony Kornheiser column that makes any sense, and you had to get to the last few lines in his column today for that. But he had some sound advice for Dan Snyder: Now what the Redskins need most of all is continuity in their coaching staff, continuity in their key personnel and the time to get better by inches. Stop trying to turn it around quickly. It's a big boat. Just try to turn it around at all.

--Does anyone out there still wish the Redskins had Stephen Davis? He started out like gangbusters last year and, while he tailed off towards the end of the year, he was still pretty effective in the Panthers' playoff run. This year he got in nine carries for 26 yards before going out with a knee injury. A 30-year-old running back with over 1,700 carries on the odometer is not one you want to be relying on.

--Times columnist Tom Knott is a joke. His column today compares Mark Brunell to Danny Wuerffel. That's just moronic. I'm trying to remember how many conference championship games that Wuerffel had led teams to prior to coming to the Redskins. Oh, yeah, that would be none. Brunell may or may not prove to be the answer at quarterback, but he's a safer bet to do so than Wuerffel ever was.

October 12, 2004

Will History Repeat in the Windy City?

Those who say that history repeats itself have Exhibit A to prove that assertion this week. Joe Gibbs and his struggling Washington Redskins are going to Soldier Field this Sunday with a 1-4 record. Many are wondering if the game has passed Gibbs by. They will take on a Bears team that is also struggling at 1-3.

Take the time machine back to October 11, 1981. Gibbs was a rookie head coach and his Redskins had an 0-5 record. Some were wondering if Gibbs would last much longer as coach if things didn't get turned around in a hurry. They were in Chicago to play a 1-4 Bears team at Soldier Field.

Joe Theismann was a veteran quarterback who was coming under fire for turnovers and a lack of accuracy, just as Mark Brunell is today. In '81 a highly-regarded running back named John Riggins was treading water with an offense unable to figure out how best to take advantage of his skills. Ditto for Clinton Portis today.

Another common thread in the poor starts is turnovers. Today's Redskins have a minus five ratio with seven takeaways and 12 giveaways. These guys are positively glue fingered, however, compared to that 1981 group who through five games had given the ball up 21 times and had six takeaways. For the math challenged out there, that's minus 15. The turnovers wasted good efforts by both of those defenses; both of them were ranked first in the NFC after five games.

In some respects, however, the road to Chicago has been quite different compared to '81. Washington's four losses this year have been by six, three, four, and seven points. Back then, the losses were by an average of over two touchdowns (14.4 points). That '81 offense was among the league leaders in yardage, this year's group is near the bottom of the heap.

There is a certain mythology surrounding the 1981 game that says that Gibbs decided to change the offense from the high-flying Air Coryell style to the smash-mouth style we came to know and love through the rest of the ‘80's. It's true that the Redskins rushed for 227 yards and held the ball for over 35 minutes during the 24-7 win.

However, the running game was not the reason the Redskins won. Here is the account of that game from my book Gut Check:
Soldier Field—Finally, after an 0-5, mistake-filled start to Joe Gibbs' head coaching tenure, the Redskins found an opponent that would hand a game to them. After having been killed by its own turnovers during the first five games, the Redskins gladly accepted three Bears gifts to build a 17-0 halftime lead.

Joe Lavender's interception of a Vince Evans pass led to a Mark Moseley field goal late in the first quarter. Twenty four seconds later, Evans was intercepted again, this time by Neil Olkewicz, who ran it into the end zone from 10 yards out and it was 10-0. Late in the first half, it was Dave Butz' turn to pick off Evans, and he rumbled to the Bears' one. John Riggins scored from there, and the lead grew to 17-0.

The Redskins expanded it to 24-0 with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter by putting together their only scoring drive of the game that was unaided by a Chicago turnover. Riggins capped it off with another short TD run. The Bears averted the shutout when Mike Phipps hit Marcus Anderson for a 43-yard touchdown with 1:43 left.

Perhaps more important than any strategic shift on Gibbs' part was the group that was forced to start on the offensive line due to injuries. Four rookies—tackles Joe Jacoby and Mark May and guards Russ Grimm and Darryl Grant—and second-year center Jeff Bostic started that game and paved to road for Riggins (126 yards, 2 TD's) and Joe Washington (88 yards). Once veteran George Starke got healthy, May was moved to guard and Grant to the other side of the ball. The rest is Hog history.

After the game, Gibbs said that he had gone to a more conservative game plan due in part to the fact that he was starting such an inexperienced offensive line. Things were falling into place, but the game was just the start of the process of the Redskins turning into a championship team, not a light bulb all of a sudden going off in Gibbs' head. He gradually started using the one back, two tight end formation more and more as the weeks went on. The run was used to set up the pass rather than vice versa. Instead of trying to transform Joe Theismann into Dan Fouts, Gibbs let Theismann play to his strengths. The turnovers were reduced drastically, and the Redskins finished at 8-8.

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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