Redskins Blog: Crooked Number on the Left

It was an ugly game, but a win is a win.

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

October 17, 2004

A Crooked Number on the Left

There was a Clinton Portis sighting today.

Finally, we can stop hearing that "if you take away the 64-yard run in the opener, he'd average more per carry if he'd take each handoff and fall forward flat on his face" nonsense. With 171 yards rushing, there should be less of the "system back" talk we've been hearing about his success in Denver (although the Broncos' Reuben Droughns did run for 176 today).

This clearly was his best performance as a Redskin. It wasn't just him; the offensive line opened some nice holes. But Portis ran smart today. Six of his carries went for ten or more yards. On several of those, he ran up into he hole and then looked for and found a crack to cut into and break into the open. His pattern up until now has been to try to cut or bounce out before hitting the hole. Today, the linemen held their blocks and Portis followed them to daylight.

There was also a Sean Taylor sighting. It appears to me that he had been struggling with what a lot of rookies struggle with—the speed of the game in the NFL. Taylor was always arriving just a half step too late to make a play time after time. That was the case for most of three quarters today. Then, with the Redskins clinging to a 10-7 lead, Jonathan Quinn went back to pass on third and two from the Redskins 43. As Quinn rolled out of the pocket to the right, Taylor got a diving sack. I'm not quite sure how Quinn held on to the ball as Taylor went for the strip from the blind side, but he did. Chicago punted and the Redskins drove for a field goal that proved to be the winning margin.

I don't want to give him too much credit for his interception since he should have just knocked the ball down on the fourth-down play or, at the very least, he should not have been carrying the ball in such a risky position during the return. Still, it was his first in the NFL and one can hope that it's a sign that he's starting to "get it" and many more big plays are to come.

Taylor was just a part of a defense that dominated the game. Thomas Jones did pick up 97 yards on the ground, but he was their only threat. Defending the Bears passing game was like shooting fish in a barrel. Quinn was as inept as advertised.

Mark Brunell, to be sure, wasn't a whole lot better. He had to put the ball up 22 times to gain just 95 yards. No doubt, he was playing it safe and throwing the ball away to avoid a sack or a turnover on many occasions. Still, he just flat out missed Coles on a deep sideline that would have been a touchdown, missed Taylor Jacobs on a bomb when the receiver had a step and had several passes batted down at the line, including the one that the Bears returned for their only touchdown.

The batted balls seemed to me to be a result of it taking too long for Brunell to get rid of the ball when he sees his receiver on occasion. On the one that Azumah returned for the touchdown, it looked like Brunell saw his receiver and then made a very slight pump before winding up into his throwing motion. That gave Brown a fraction of a second of added time to react to jump and tip the ball.

Joe Gibbs essentially shut Brunell down in the second half with just five attempts.

Back to the Quinn vs. Brunell comparison, they both attempted 22 passes. Brunell had the better QB rating 46.6 to 33.5, but that's like reviewing movies and giving Ishtar more stars than Gigli.

There are two weeks to address the question of whether or not Brunell will keep his starting job. I haven't listened to Gibbs' postgame yet, but he seemed to leave to door open for Patrick Ramsey just a crack. Stay tuned for further developments.

It was an ugly game. But it put a crooked number into the left-hand column of the standings and that's all that matters for now.

Tomorrow I rate my bold predictions for this game and will have some further observations and analysis.

October 16, 2004

Bold Predictions
There's someone on ev'ryone's toes
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here,
Ev'rybody's gonna wanna doze.
Come all without, come all within,
You'll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn.
--Bob Dylan
It's difficult to believe that the Redskins would lose to a team quarterbacked by a guy named Jonathan Quinn. They haven't exactly been setting the world on fire, that's for sure. But to lose to a guy who had appeared in just over a dozen NFL games in seven seasons, well, that would be too much to take.

It's not as if the Redskins have lost to quarterbacks destined for enshrinement in Canton, mind you. Other than Kyle Boller, who is a struggling second-year player, the teams the Skins have lost to have been quarterbacked by guys who could be characterized as has-beens—Kurt Warner, Vinny Testaverde, and Jeff Garcia.

In my book it's always better to be a has-been than a never-was, which is what Quinn is.

It is possible for the Redskins to lose to the Chicago Bears, quarterbacked by Jonathan Quinn? It absolutely is possible. In fact if they continue to turn the ball over the opposition in key situations and give the opposition easy scores Chicago could well win this one big.

Of course, if Quinn the Eskimo consistently gives the Redskins a short field to work with their offense could break out of its frozen state and bust through that 20-point mark.

So, which is it going to be? Here goes:

--Neither Mark Brunell nor Clinton Portis will have breakout-type days, but they both should be more effective than they've been in recent weeks. Chicago's defense is just OK (not as bad as its #27 ranking, especially since Brian Urlacher will be returning the the lineup) and Brunell should be able to exploit their secondary. That will open up things for Portis to gain, say, a buck and a quarter on the ground. Maybe this will be the week that Portis gets some screen and swing passes and can add another 50 or so yards that way, too.

--Thomas Jones has faded after a good start, probably due to the quarterback situation. Why not put nine, ten in the box? For sure, they aren't going to let Jones beat them. Fifty yards or less from Jones.

--No doubt, Quinn will be under orders to play not to lose. Will he be successful in doing so? Probably, as long as it stays close. If I'm the Bears I look at the fact that the Redskins have shown a propensity to give the ball up and will have to rely on Ola Kimrin making field goals for Washington to pull out a close one. Look for Chicago to play it very, very close to the vest even if they get down by ten points or so.

--Ultimately, the Redskins will be able to generate enough offense to pull this one out. If the point production relies strictly on the offense, it will be close. If Quinn and the Bears turn the ball over, it will be a fairly comfortable win.

I'm going to go with a close one: Redskins 17, Bears 13

October 15, 2004

Points at a Premium
Run or pass and score
we want a lot more!
Beat ‘em swamp ‘em touchdown
Let the points soar!

Of all the numbers you can toss around about the Redskins' lack of offense this year, here's the worst one—through five games, they have yet to score as many as 20 points in a game. The 18 they racked up against Dallas represents "let the points soar" for this group thus far.

The drought is not exactly historical, but it is unusual. You only have to go back three years to find a worse scoring skid to start the season out. Marty's 2001 team went its first six games before hanging up a fifth of a hundred in a game.

Before that, you have to go back to 1965 to find a season when it took so long for a Redskins team to score 20 points. If anything, that drought was worse than the current one as the Skins managed to score just a single touchdown in three of those games.

And you think that this team is underachieving? That '65 team featured three Hall of Famers at the skill positions in quarterback Sonny Jurgensen and receivers Charley Taylor and Bobby Mitchell plus all-time Redskin great Jerry Smith at tight end. No wonder head coach Bill McPeak was shown the door despite winning six of his final nine games. (Of course, they brought in Otto "Mr. Excitement" Graham, who immediately said that the rather lose and score a lot of points than win a defensive struggle, but that's a story for another time.)

Off the Scrap Heap and Into the Fire

Nunyo Demasio has a nice story about Ryan Clark, who may start at safety this week, The Redskins called after Dennard Walker went down for the year with a broken leg. After seeing a news report that he had been dropped in the first cutdown, he reported to Redskins Park with his playbook and gear in hand, ready to head home. The coaches assured him, however, that reports of his demise from the team had been great exaggerated. Clark went back to work and made the team.

Now, due to
Matt Bowen's season-ending knee injury and Andre Lott's lingering hamstring problems, Clark could well wind up starting in a game that the Redskins desperately need to win if they are to make anything out of the season. NFL teams routinely call upon the likes of Clark and in order to be successful, the Ryan Clarks of the world have to come through for them. They have to plug a hole, fill in for a few weeks until either the starter comes back or, as in this case, the primary backup gets healthy enough to play.

In Gibbs Era I, there were many times that players plucked off of the scrap heap or picked in the later rounds came in and got the job done when called upon, particularly in the defensive backfield. I'm not talking about guys like Curtis Jordan or Todd Bowles, unwanted free agent pickups who became longtime starters. I'm talking about A. J. Johnson, a sixth-round pick pushed into the lineup at the end of his rookie 1989 season after Darrell Green broke his wrist. Johnson led the team in interceptions with four that year but went back to part-time and special teams duty after that. And Sydney Johnson, Alvoid Mays, Clarence Vaughn were undrafted free agents who were spot starters in the defensive backfield during the late ‘80's and early 90's

And on Sunday, possibly, it's Ryan Clark's turn. Stay tuned.

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