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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 http://GutCheckBook.com
The Blog will not be taking the bye week off. I have no bumps and bruises that need to heal up and I can't afford to go out of town. Check back for some fun features, a look at some of greatest games in Redskins history that you don't hear much about, and some other good stuff as well.
October 18, 2004
You know, I'm really dense sometimes. And shallow, too.
I tend to get offense-centric when evaluating and talking about the Redskins. Too often, it's all about Portis, who's starting at quarterback, how is the current incarnation of the Hogs playing. How does the Skins O match up with the other team's D?
The defense tends to be incidental. Previewing the Chicago game, I looked at the Washington offense and at how bad the Chicago offense was. The Washington defense, and, for that matter, the Bears D, got scant mention. Those were the units that dominated yesterday's game.
I have an excuse for this. It was provided to me by Chicago native Mike Wilbon in today's Post.
It's not what Washington has grown accustomed to, the Redskins being a defense-first team. From Otto Graham to Sonny to Joe Gibbs riding Riggo, Theismann and Art Monk, it's almost always been about offense. The Hogs, counter trey, Fun Bunch, Riggo Drill, 40-gut, 50-gut, H-backs, max protect, Doug Williams in the Super Bowl, Timmy Smith in the Super Bowl. Defense was something folks in Washington have tolerated, maybe even appreciated, but offense has been the franchise's trademark.So, you see, it's not my fault. I'm the victim of my football upbringing. While I did mention Sean Taylor's play yesterday, it was still an offensive review of the game. As Wilbon points out, however, if you're talking about the 2004 Redskins' and you're not talking about their defense, you don't have much to talk about. I hereby pledge that The Blog will start paying more attention to the Washington defense. The team will go a far as that unit takes it.
Every week in this space, I analyze my predictions for the game and see if they held any water, rated by a number of buckets I award myself. A one-bucket prediction didn't hold enough water to drown a housefly; a five-bucketer is Hurricane Charlie.
Prediction: 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.Rating: 2.5 buckets
This was kind of a mixed bag. I was right that the Chicago secondary could be exploited; the Washington receivers did so, particularly Taylor Jacobs and Laveranues Coles, who both got open deep. Brunell, however, did not exploit the secondary, missing Coles and Jacobs on those plays and throwing for just 95 yards on the day. I was right about Portis being more effective, but he was a lot more effective, gaining almost fifty cents more than I thought. If he continues on a roll, this will be considered his breakout game.
Prediction: 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.Rating: 2 buckets
Jones was the Bears offense yesterday, such as it was. He gained 95 yards on the ground and another 22 pass receiving. As a team Chicago gained 160 yards yesterday and my handy calculator tells me that means that Jones was just over 73% of his team's offense. I'll give myself a pair of buckets because, while I was off on the yardage total, Jones didn't dominate the game and because the Washington defense indeed did not let Thomas Jones beat them.
Prediction: 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.Rating: 4 buckets
If a Redskin defender was anywhere in the same ZIP Code as a Bear receiver, Quinn threw the ball away. Of course, we're not certain whether or not he was throwing it away or simply misfiring, but the fact is that he didn't throw anything close to an interception until his final pass of the game. Clearly, he was playing not to lose.
Prediction: 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.Rating: 5 buckets
I'm going to go with a close one: Redskins 17, Bears 13
The game unfolded just as I thought it was, four points off on the Skins' score, three off on the Bears—if that's not going to get five buckets for a game prediction I don't know what ever will.
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
There's someone on ev'ryone's toesIt'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.
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.
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
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