Redskins Blog: Further Review

The final, definitive word on the costly flag, some questions about Mark Brunell, and a look at my Packer predictions.

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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

November 2, 2004

Let's Beat This Horse Just a Bit More

There seems to be a lot of confusion over what transpired in the wake of that game-changing penalty call on Sunday. After the touchdown, there was a brief conversation between the line judge, Bill Spyksma, the man who made the call and referee Tom White. Here is what White said over the PA in "explaining" the call:
Illegal motion. The man in motion was going forward prior to the snap. It's a five-yard pentalty, fourth down (quickly realizing that the penalty didn't carry a loss of down) third down.
That started the confusion. As I said yesterday, that was not the infraction. Clearly, James Thrash was not moving at the snap of the ball. Thrash had gone in motion from left to right and the he stopped in the slot, apparently looking to pick up a blitz. When he stopped his motion had become a shift and he was required to stop for a full second before the snap. It was clear that he did not.

The TV announcers seemed to think the call was against Chris Cooley, even though the ref had said that it was on the "man in motion" and Thrash was the only one who was moving on the play.

As if the picture needed to be any more muddled, Joe Gibbs asked who the penalty was on:
"That is an absolute mystery to me," Gibbs said. "I asked for an explanation. All he [the referee] said to me was the R-back [running back]. The R-back is Clinton Portis. The R-back didn't move.
Don't know if "R-back" is zebra speak for the running back or if he thinks that's what an end in motion called in Gibbs' system.

A few more points before putting this one to rest:
  • I pointed this out yesterday, but it's worth another mention. The flag came out of Spyksma's pocket very late. It wasn't out by the time that Portis caught Brunell's pass. I've been told that it came out as late as when Portis began his celebratory takeoff from around the five yard line. I don't know about that, but certainly it was a very, very late flag for such a call.
  • On Harris' interception on the next play, he had a pretty good grip on Rod Garnder's jersey at the shoulder pad as the receiver went into his cut. That allowed Harris to get position to step between Gardner and Brunell and make the killer pick.
  • All that being said, if you believe that there was some sort of payoff involved or that the line judge is an operative of the Kerry campaign, as I've heard some complain, I would suggest that you just stop watching the NFL. Why watch a fixed sport?
  • The thing lost in all of the controversy is this basic question: Where has that play been all year? Against a blitz, Portis getting the ball in the open field with a chance to build up some steam is a recipe for success. We should see that one again.
The Brunell Question

Gibbs on Brunell:
"In the second half, he had a courageous performance," Gibbs said of Brunell. "I think he made a bunch of plays. I think we need to get everything else on the offense working together, including myself, and I think we can make plays to win games for us."
I hate to take you to task, coach, but exactly what plays are you talking about? When I hear the term "making plays", I think of someone doing something extraordinary. A diving catch. A devastating tackle. A jaw-dropping open field cut. In the case of a quarterback, a particularly nimble move to avoid the rush or dropping a perfectly placed bomb into the only place where the receiver could catch it. Brunell did nothing like that yesterday, so what's the coach's definition of "making plays"?

A couple of touchdown passes to Rod Gardner? A quick scan of yesterday's game summaries shows that Brunell was one of ten quarterbacks who threw for two or more touchdowns and not all of them were Payton Manning. Billy Volek—his nickname is "Who?"--threw a pair for the Titans. Jake Delhomme, the poster child for "flash in the pan", tossed two for Carolina. I could keep going through Vinny Testaverde and Drew Brees, but you get the picture.

OK, there's wasn't a single other quarterback who completed a pass to convert a fourth and 22. But that wasn't a particularly challenging pass by any stretch.

The point is that Brunell did nothing special, nothing that would make you say, "You know, he will overthrow the open guy a little too often, but, man, he shows those sparks of greatness that show his tremendous upside."

Quite to the contrary, watching him play makes you say, "If he reaches his peak, his absolute maximum potential in this offense, he'll be a mediocre NFL quarterback."

I'm not completely off of the Brunell bandwagon. There are things wrong with this offense that do not involve Brunell. The offensive line has yet to gel, he's been victimized by some dropped balls (although I don't recall any yesterday), the play calling is puzzling a lot of the time, and Portis' performance still is inconsistent.

Still, the quarterback is the guy who gets the big bucks, the one who's supposed to lift the team on his shoulders when things aren't working quite right. And Brunell's just not doing this.

Gibbs is sticking by his guns, however, come hell or high water. It looks like we're just going to have to sit back and watch all of this unfold, to watch and see if Brunell can blossom into mediocrity.

Predictions Analysis

As many of you know, I don't just trumpet my predictions when they are correct; I also razz them publicly when they're off base. And that was the case this week. I'm not going to go through them one by one and award myself buckets. I've gone on long enough tonight. I'm giving myself two buckets out of a possible five for the lot of them.

I did get come close on the performances of the quarterbacks with Favre throwing for 289 yards and Brunell for 218. Brunell did throw for two TD's to one for Favre and Brunell had one fewer interception.

And there's where I made my biggest blunder. I tried to take the easy way out, but it didn't work out that way:
Who will win? I hate to do this and I promise I'll only use this one once or twice more this season, but the team that makes fewer turnovers will prevail. Yeah, that's a cop out since eighty or so percent of NFL games are won by the team winning the turnover battle. Still, these teams are pretty evenly matched and that's the deciding factor.
Of course, the Redskins won the turnover battle, getting those three picks and recovering a fumble while Green Bay got just the pair of interceptions.

The score prediction was in the ballpark; if Portis' late touchdown counts, the final is probably very close. Still wrong winner for the wrong reasons doesn't cut it.

November 1, 2004

The Flag Was Right

Real quick tonight, more tomorrow:

Yeah, it was a ticky-tack call. True, the infraction had absolutely no influence on the outcome of the play. And, to top it all off, the referee called it incorrectly over his microphone.

But the Redskins did commit a penalty on that play that nullified their go-ahead TD late in the game. From the rules digest in the NFL Record and Fact Book:
After a shift or huddle all players on the offensive team must come to an absolute stop for at least one second with no movement of the hands, feet, head, or swaying of the body. Note:The emphasis is not added, it's in NFL's rules summary
On the play, James Thrash went in motion from right to left. Just before the ball was snapped he stopped and lined up to pass block. According to the rules, he either had to remain in motion either parallel to or away from the line of scrimmage or he had to stop for a second. He did neither.

It's an infraction that's rarely called. Honestly, I don't pay enough attention to it to know if it just doesn't happen often or if it happens a lot and it's ignored.

I do know for sure that the flag was late in coming out. The flag came from the line judge at the line of scrimmage on far side of the field from the TV cameras. From the various camera angles they showed the play from there was no yellow flag down on the field until after Portis caught Brunell's pass and started heading downfield. The hankie was on the ground by the time Portis dove over the goal line.

It doesn't look if the zebra is reaching for his flag as Brunell is dropping back but from the moving camera it's hard to tell for certain.

To be sure, there were over two minutes left to play, plenty of time for Favre, who has won dozens of games for the Packers in the late going, to get his team into field goal position. Still, I think that the Redskins and the fans would a thousand times rather than happen than to see it lost on such an odd call.

Tomorrow, Brunell and prediction evaluation.

October 31, 2004

Bold Predictions: Green Bay at Washington--

Sometimes I ramble on and on before getting into it. Today, I don't.

The potential is there for Brett Favre to have a huge day. While Springs and Smoot will be starting and they're pretty good, the situation at safety is not so good in the light of the Sean Taylor "deactivation". Favre is the master of burning teams trying to blitz him—he can throw it with touch and accuracy off of his back foot while going to the ground--and that's the only way the Redskins have of generating pass pressure. If you define a "big day" in the NFL has getting 300 yards passing and a couple of TD's, I do think that Favre will achieve that.

Even against a depleted Packer secondary, Mark Brunell will not have a big day. A "breakout" game that will cease the catcalls from those believing that he should be benched doesn't seem to be in the cards. The best he can hope for is an efficient couple of hundred yards with a TD and no picks. Again, his line should resemble something like this.

Joe Gibbs will try to hold Brunell's pass attempts down to a couple of dozen max. The best way to defend Favre is to keep him off the field and Clinton Portis should get another heavy workload.

Portis and Ahman Green both have slipped a bit this year, going from being considered elite backs to being considered merely very good. Two weeks ago against the Bears, Portis made his bid to return to the cream of the crop with a 171-yard effort. Last week a 90-yard touchdown run highlighted a 163-yard day for Green. Each of them hopes to use his performance in the previous game to propel him back into the upper crust.

Which back will have the better game? While the defensive stats can be somewhat skewed by matchups at this stage of the season, the Redskins defense is allowing a yard and a half less per rush than the Green Bay defense is. That and Portis' superior explosiveness gives the Washington back an edge.

So, Favre will be the better of the two QB's, Portis the better of the two RB's.

Who will win? I hate to do this and I promise I'll only use this one once or twice more this season, but the team that makes fewer turnovers will prevail. Yeah, that's a cop out since eighty or so percent of NFL games are won by the team winning the turnover battle. Still, these teams are pretty evenly matched and that's the deciding factor.

Redskins one turnover, a fumble. Favre gets picked once and Green coughs it up once.

Redskins 24, Packers 21

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