Redskins Blog: Predictions--A Trap?

Is this 4-9 team in danger of overconfidence against San Francisco?

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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

December 17, 2004

Bold Predictions: A Trap?

Just five years ago, an 8-5 Redskins team went to San Francisco to face a 49ers team that would finish 4-12. Those 1999 Redskins needed a break or two to win that game in overtime to clinch their only playoff berth since Joe Gibbs left in 1992.

On most teams, there would be some institutional memory, some players and coaches still around from that who would be able to warn the team of a pending trap. However, Team Turmoil has just one person who played on that night still on the payroll and Jon Jansen is on injured reserve.

No. It can't possibly be. Or could it?

Is this game in San Francisco against the one team in the NFC looking up at the Redskins in the standings a trap, possible letdown game? Could the Redskins take them too lightly? Is that possible? It's hard to shake the feeling that it's possible even though on the face of it it's ridiculous to think that a 4-9 team, one that has won just one of its last five games, would take any opponent for granted.

Even though Washington is 1-3 in its last four games, the Redskins certainly have been playing their best football of the season in that stretch. Unfortunately, the team starting to gel has coincided in time with playing three games in four weeks against two teams with a combined total of two losses. Had this upturn in the level of play come during a stretch in the schedule occurred during a stretch of the schedule when the team was playing against mediocre teams, which compose at least 75% of the league, a 3-1 or perhaps even a 4-0 record in those games.

So, while the Redskins haven't been winning much lately, they have been putting forth a winning effort for each of the last four weeks. And that is what's creating the feeling that a letdown might be coming.

It's extremely difficult for a team that's in the NFL's mass of mediocrity—the Redskins right now are firmly ensconced in the lower end of that group—to put forth a winning effort for an extended period of time. Five weeks is getting towards the definition of "an extended period of time."

Earlier in the week, I wasn't going to predict a score for this game. I was going to say that if you wanted to know the score of this game you would have to ask Joe Gibbs because he was going to be able to name the score. That confidence has dissipated considerably over the course of the week.

Taking all of that into consideration, however, the Redskins could play at a considerably lower level than they have recently and still pull this game out. So, there are three possibilities for this game:
  1. A loss like in the Cleveland game where the Redskins sleepwalk through it and lose through a combination of mistakes and an inability to make the key plays at the important moments.
  2. A win like in the Chicago game where the Redskins make just enough mistakes to keep the other team in it but manage to stagger to an unimpressive win.
  3. A win like in the Giants game where everything comes together and the Redskins dominate the proceedings from the get-go and roll to a comfortable win.
All three outcomes are possible, but I think that something in between the latter two is the most likely. The Redskins will start out slowly but will avoid the killer mistake and pull away and get some breathing room in the second half. Let's say something like:

Redskins 24, 49ers 10

Redskins Luck on Injuries Good or Bad?

The Redskins announced that kicker John Hall will be placed on injured reserve with a torn quadricep, ending the kickers season. From a Washington Times article:
"'You can't imagine [a kicker] having three different injuries,' (Joe) Gibbs lamented. Hall, who missed just one game in his previous seven seasons with the New York Jets and the Redskins, actually suffered four injuries this year: a strained right hamstring in the opener against Tampa Bay, a strained left hamstring the next week, a pulled groin in practice Oct. 14 and the quadricep last Sunday against Philadelphia. "
Injuries have been cited as a big reason for the team's 4-9 record, but it's my impression that the Redskins haven't suffered substantially more injuries than the average NFL team. Let's look at the projected starters who have lost significant time this season:
  • Jon Jansen--Lost for the season before the first snap was taken. Certainly the biggest loss in terms of time and talent. His replacement Ray Brown has been a great story--the oldest player ever to hold down a regular offensive line position--but his level is play isn't nearly up to Jansen's.
  • Michael Barrow--He finally was placed on injured reserve a few weeks ago after being inactive the whole year. Obviously we don't know what he might have done on the field for the defense, but it's hard to imagine that he would have played significantly better than his replacement, Antonio Pierce.
  • Lavar Arrington--Arrington has missed 10 games with a knee injury. Like Barrow, his injury wasn't supposed to keep him out for this long. Unlike Barrow, he is not on IR and might be active this Sunday, although he will not start; Lemar Marshall will keep his starting job. Like Brown, Marshall has been adequate but there is a considerable dropoff from the level of play from the player he's filling in for.
  • Matt Bowen--He went on IR with a knee injury suffered against Baltimore in the fifth game of the season. Bowen was starting to thrive in Gregg Williams' blitzing, gambling defense. Again, his replacement, Ryan Clark, has been adequate.
  • Phillip Daniels--After coming back from missing several games with a groin injury, Daniels broke his hand against the Giants and is gone for the year. Daniels replacements have been many, including Ryan Boschett and Demetric Evans. All of them, including Daniels, have been adequate, no more, no less.
You can put Hall and kick returner Chad Morton, who went on injured reserve with a knee injury after the Oct. 31 game against Green Bay, onto the list of starters who missed significant time. And then Randy Thomas for a game here, Cornelius Griffin for one there, Shawn Springs for the upcoming game. But that's it.

You'll notice that of the major injuries all but Jansen's happened on the defensive side of the ball. That defense has been the strength of the team all year. It's hard to imagine that the unit would have played significantly better with the missing parts in place. It's been the offense that has struggled.

If you look around the league I don't see how you can call that a rash of injuries. The Giants have 14 players, including all but one of their starting defensive linemen and their number three and four wide receiver, on IR. Carolina lost Steve Smith and Stephen Davis, their top wideout and running back, in the early going. The Eagles lost Correll Buckhalter and others during the preseason and played most of their game against Washington without three of their four starting defensive linemen. New England is so ravaged at defensive back that one of its wide receivers, Troy Brown, is tied for the team lead in interceptions.

There have been some looking-towards-next-year articles written by beat writers over the last few weeks that have said that one reason to expect improvement in 2005 is because the horrible luck the Redskins have had in the injury department is bound to get better. To be sure, there are many reasons for optimism for the future, but the Redskins should expect to deal with the same level of injury issues that they did this year since it was about average in terms of number and impact.


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