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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 14, 2004
Redskins vs. Bengals Bold Predictions
These two teams aren't exactly familiar foes. The last time they played, in 1991, Joe Gibbs was the coach of the Super Bowl-bound Redskins and Washington won 34-27 at Riverfront Stadium. Since then, the stars haven't quite lined up in the NFL's scheduling formula for the two teams to meet in the rotation through the other-conference divisions.
Since then, both teams have fallen on hard times. In fact, the Bengals were well on their way to permanent residence in the NFL's basement. That 1991 loss to the Redskins was one of 13 they suffered that year. That was one of nine seasons since then that Cincinnati has posted double-digit loss totals. Needless to say, they have watched the playoffs on TV each year.
The Redskins haven't bee quite as moribund, but the five seasons of ten losses or more posted isn't exactly a record in the proud tradition of a team that has won five world titles.
Both teams are now 3-5 and the loser of this game faces the prospect of another big number in the right-hand column of the standings. The winner, for that matter, is not guaranteed much of anything besides remaining on the cusp of the fringes of playoff contention.
I'll admit to not having seen much of the Bengals. Besides perusing their stats, the sum total of my scouting of them consists of the ten-minute highlight package that the NFL Network puts together for on-demand distribution to digital cable services.
Cincinnati beat Dallas 26-3 and, from what I saw, they looked pretty impressive. Of course since the Bengals won handily and the package is of just highlights that is to be expected. For example, you don't see what happened to cause four Cincinnati drives to stall to force four Shayne Graham field goal attempts. Still, there are a couple of things that the Redskins had better not do if they want to win this game.
First, Mark Brunell had better not throw the ball anywhere near a Bengal defender. They made a couple of athletic interceptions of Testaverde. To be sure, based on what we've seen so far this year, this would seem to be the least of the Redskins' worries. Brunell hasn't thrown the ball near much of anybody.
Second, it would be a mistake to misunderestimate (as George W would say) Carson Palmer. The virtual rookie's numbers are down there in Brunell land with a 66 quarterback rating. He has taken much of the blame for the step back his team has taken this year. Still, he has a very live arm, and he's big and can hang in the pocket. While his performance against Dallas may not have been a breakout game, most of us would like to see a line of 21-31 for 212, one TD, zero picks for the Redskins' QB.
The key to avoiding these dangers, it would seem, would be to keep the ball on the ground and keep Palmer on the sidelines. And here, for the Redskins, is a fortunate confluence of matchups. Clinton Portis is en fuego with performances of well over 100 yards in two of his last three games. It's been a combination of Portis learning how to follow his blocking better and blocking schemes being tweaked to better cater to Portis' strengths.
Attempting to stop Portis will be the league's worst rushing defense. Cincinnati yields nearly 150 yards a game on the ground and that's after the weak-rushing Cowboys ran for just a buck nine last week. This isn't one of those statistical flukes, either, where a team's run defense looks bad because nobody can pass against them. Athletic interceptions notwithstanding, the Cincy pass defense has been thoroughly mediocre and its total defense is 27th in the NFL.
Here's what to look for on Sunday:
- Palmer will have some success, but not much. Look for about 150 yards, a touchdown, and maybe a pair of interceptions. Fred Smoot will lock Chad Johnson down. Running back Rudi Johnson won't find much room either (note to self—bench Johnson on fantasy team). He runs best up the middle and Cornelius Griffin will be in the way there. Johnson will be doing well to get to 60 yards. If the Redskins don't turn the ball over as the Cowboys did last week, the Bengals will have a tough time scoring against the
defense ranked first in the NFL. Washington won't get those turnovers. Brunell's best play is the toss into the bench area to avoid the interception. Knock wood, but it seems that Portis has solved the problems that caused some uncharacteristic and untimely fumbles earlier this year. No cheap scores for the visitors. Cincinnati
- The Redskins will get their offense moving. Now that's a relative term; I certainly don't expect an offensive explosion, a match of the 34 points they put up in the last meeting with the Bengals or anything. At some point, however, opposing defenses have to get concerned enough about Portis to open up the passing game a bit more. Brunell shatters the 100-yard barrier, maybe even touches the rarified air of 150. Portis will run wild. If he is to have a near 200-yard game this season, and most backs of his caliber do, this is the week.
November 13, 2004
Just Shut Up
There was a time, not too long ago, when a comment such as this one made by Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline in his mid-season evaluations would have really made me mad:
Worst coaching job: Joe Gibbs. It pains me to have to do this because Gibbs is a legend and a great coach, but has he done a good job with a team many predicted would be in the playoffs?Allow the old me to rant so that you can see what I'm talking about:
Prisco, you pinhead! Why don't you pull your head out of your rear long enough to watch this team play a few times before you go shooting off your stupid mouth about our coach? This team is better in almost every way than it has been since Gibbs packed it up in '92. It's an actual professional organization unlike the burgundy and gold circus it's been. There is pride, there is discipline. The Skins are a couple of screwed-up officials' calls away from being 5-3 and in the playoff driver's seat.OK, that's a cleaned-up version, but you get the idea.
And the worst gosh-darned coaching job? Puhleeeeze! Vermiel's Chiefs were Super Bowl favorites and they're the same 3-5. And, yeah, John Fox's Panthers are pretty banged up but Gibbs' Skins haven't exactly been injury free and last year's NFC champs are sitting at 1-7. Weren't Ray Lewis' Bengals and Bill Parcells' Cowboys supposed to take the next step? Don't forget, Pete, the most consistently underachieving team in the NFL, perhaps in all of sports, Jim Haslett's New Orleans Saints.
Certainly the new me believes all of the arguments made above. It's the attitude that's different. I have empathy for the Pete Priscos of the world.
These "national" reporters, guys like Prisco, Clayton, Pasquarelli, and Mortensen have gotten to be sources of information that are a mile wide and an inch deep. There is so much going on with the 32 NFL teams that it's simply unrealistic to expect them to be as intimately familiar with what's going on with all of them. They can't possibly watch more than a few games a week even if they have multiple Tivos and multiple NFL Sunday Ticket subscriptions at home. Even if they work 12 hours a day seven days a week, and they don't, they can only spend about a couple of hours a week on each team. Most of us do that before lunch on Tuesday.
In short, it's not realistic to expect Prisco to have as good a handle on how the Redskins' season has gone and how it compares to past seasons as I do, or as most of you reading this blog do. He may get a little more "inside" scoop here and there, but we observe this team closely, watch and replay each game, and discuss and analyze every aspect of the team on a daily basis.
His editors at Sportsline, however, do not care. He's expected to write a midseason report, shallowness of knowledge be damned. On top of that, if what he has to say makes some people mad and draws a flood of irate emails and raging discussions on message boards, so much the better. Busting on an icon like Gibbs is a sure-fire way to get a reaction.
Don't get me wrong, I often find the national guys' material to be informative. I always try to have ESPN Radio tuned in for a Mort Report. But I don't listen for information on the Redskins. I've already gotten that from Demasio or Foldesy or from my own observations. It's to get the scoop, however shallow, on what's going on with other teams.
So, quite simply, comments like Prisco's are what they are—only vaguely informed and designed not to add knowledge but to fill Web pages in need of content and, to some extent, to generate some heat. Nobody should get angry when such comments are negative nor should anyone find any particular pleasure in positive remarks from this group of writers either.
A Six-Tool Team
If you break it down on a broad, somewhat superficial level, there are seven areas in which a football team must perform. They are:
- Cover kicks
- Return kicks
- Convert Field goals
- Defend the run
- Defend the pass
Of course, it's the passing game that is the drag on this team. As John McEnroe would say, it's "the pits of the universe". Way too often, Mark Brunell's passes miss their target. All too often, when his passes are on the mark, the target drops the ball. Iither result assumes that Brunell has adequate time to throw and/or a receiver could get open.
It's a mess that's led to four sub-100-yard outputs this year. The bad news is that it's not likely to get significantly better any time soon. Gibbs isn't likely to bench Brunell and, even if that happens, there's no guarantee that Patrick Ramsey will play any better. The offense will be tweaked and retooled, perhaps giving some more playing time to Darnerien McCants (you could say he's been glued to the bench, but he hasn't even been on the bench, having been inactive for six of the eight games), but such moves won't improve the output dramatically.
It looks like something we're going to have to get used to. If the Redskins are to win games, they will do so on the basis of their hard-charging defense, the legs of Clinton Portis, and the solid performance and occasional big play from the special teams. It's not an impossible formula to win with; the Baltimore Ravens won a Super Bowl with it in 2000.
This isn't to say that the Redskins are Jacksonville bound. The point is that there are ways of winning football games that don't necessarily involve going out there and pitchin' it around, as an old ballcoach used to say.
Had a flag been thrown in the end zone against Dallas and had one not been thrown on the sideline against the Packers, the Skins would have very marginally better offensive passing numbers and they would be 5-3. We'd all celebrating "winning ugly".
What happened happened, however, and the results are what they are. So instead of being the last piece of the puzzle, the passing game is the big drag on the team, Brunell is not being celebrated for his "control" in not making killer turnovers but being ravaged for lack of output.
You could go on with the "ifs" but the main one is that "if" the Redskins' passing game was even as good as mediocre they wouldn't have had to worry about flags and they'd be cruising. It's about results.
Ooops, Forgot One
In listing the Redskins that I cast my Pro Bowl votes for, I negleted to talk about Marcus Washington. The trademark of this defense so far has been flying to the football and number 53 is usually among the first jersies you'll see meeting at the ball carrier. His chances of getting to Hawaii would probably improve if he had more sacks but those of us who watch him every game appreciate the fact that he excels in everything he's asked to do.
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