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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 15, 2004
So what's wrong with the Redskins?
Continuity or, more specifically, the lack thereof.
I'm sure that most of you reading this are well aware of the revolving door of head coaches, coordinators, and players that have gone into and out of Redskins Park since 1999. There's no need to recount the four head coaches (I don't count Robiskie, he was an interim), the six defensive coordinators, the six starting quarterbacks, and so on.
To be sure, some changing was needed. The Turner era was one of remarkable stability that got the team a total of one playoff appearance in seven seasons. Stable mediocrity is not what Redskins fans expect.
At the time, it was not hard to justify—or rationalize, at least--throwing Marty overboard when Spurrier became available. He was the next great NFL coach in the eyes of many, not all of them named Daniel Snyder.
Of course, the change to Gibbs was a gift from the gods. But, still, it was a change. And it meant adjustments and relearning. The addition of Clinton Portis appears to have been a good one, but he has to get used to his blockers, they have to get used to him, the coaches have to figure out how to use him. The members of that line, with a new center and the need to replace Jon Jansen at right tackle, have to get used to each other. Tight ends and H-backs are learning new roles.
To be sure, the defense is playing at a high level of effectiveness and they have a whole new coaching staff, new faces, and injuries as well. But at the risk of oversimplifying, playing defense is much more instinctive than playing offense. Even after a subpar half yesterday, the unit should still be ranked first or second in the NFL and that is much to Gregg Williams credit, especially since he hasn't had all three of his starting linebackers on the field at all this year.
And now, there's a new starting quarterback. Fortunately, most of the receiving corps has played with Ramsey and should be able to adjust to the harder-thrown, right-handed passes he'll be dealing out (this is pending Gibbs' formal announcement of Ramsey as the new starter at his 6:00 presser, but it appears to be just that, a formality). Still, it's another change in the system and another setback.
The old rule of thumb is that an offense needs to run 1,000 snaps—real, live, game action snaps, not practice or even preseason--together before it's going to reach its maximum effectiveness. Without going back and adding them up, I'd say that the Redskins have run about 600 snaps this year. Each change in the offense doesn't necessarily reset the count to zero—you have to deal with injuries and benchings—but a major change like one at quarterback certainly needs at least two or three game's worth of snaps to recoup.
Bengals Predictions Analysis
I was going to just put up an empty bucket as I was way off on this game and not spend much time on it, but I promised a couple of Bengals fans who wrote that I would eat my full serving of crow.
None of my predictions won any buckets, so I won't post the ratings.
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 Washington defense ranked first in the NFL.I wasn't all that far off on Palmer, just 65 yards. It was Johnson's performance that I was way off on. I'm sure that you Bengals fans will be happy to learn that I lost the fantasy matchup I would have won if I'd played Johnson.
Cincinnati 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.Brunell's interception was key, giving the Bengals a short field to work with, although it wasn't exactly a "cheap" score. On second thought, I'll go ahead and give myself a couple of buckets here.
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.Portis didn't get enough carries to make even 100 yards, although he did have a nice average of over four per carry. Brunell, of course, was awful before being yanked and most of Ramsey's pass production came in desperation in the third and fourth quarters when it was 17-0.
All of this adds up to a 24-13 Redskins win.It wasn't so surprising that the Bengals were able to put up 17 points. The killer for the Redskins was it was 17-0 by the middle of the second quarter and they were taken out of their game. Perhaps they didn't need to be, maybe Portis should have had more than 17 carries as there was still plenty of time to catch up. Regardless, it seemed that Cincinnati had an answer for whatever the Redskins dished up.
As for the Redskins, they're still searching for answers.
It's possible that I'm being overly critical here, but the Redskins' huddles are awfully sloppy. Some guys have their hands on their knees, some are kind of standing sideways leaning into the huddle. There's no sharp break and they just kind of individually wander up to the line.
Maybe it's high school stuff, but a huddle should be sharp and organized and the line should break out and stride purposefully to the line and get into their stances as one. The way it's being done now conveys no confidence and, in fact, indicates doubts.
From Thomas Boswell's column today:
Seldom have astronomical expectations, which were certainly too high, been replaced so suddenly with the possibility of stunning failure. . .Still, (Gibbs) and his staff, as well as Redskins ownership, to say nothing of the team's famously fanatical fans, have to be stunned to the point of shock by what they are seeing.Astronomical expectations? Stunned and shocked at a 3-6 record? The most optimistic projections had them at 10-6 and in the wild card hunt. That's hardly rarified air. Most figured Gibbs would need a year to get things into place and that something in the 7-9 to 9-7 range would be reasonable.
Boswell is a guy who, a couple of months ago, wrote what I thought was an excellent article pointing out how events get so hyped to the high and to the low in Redskins Land. Now here he is participating in the "sky is falling" today.
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 Washington defense ranked first in the NFL.
Cincinnati 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.
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.
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