Debugging the Redskins - Cards

The opener was perfect, even if the Redskins weren't. They proved the Fun 'n' Gun could work in the NFL, even if only for a game. Maybe the Cardinals' defense is bad, but, then again, no one ever suggested Shane Matthews was the next Joe Montana and Rod Gardner the next Jerry Rice. Washington also proved in this 31-23 victory it will be fun to watch. The Redskins didn't throw downfield every play-even the passing game must be balanced. And they don't have the talent to strike deep all the time.

And, like any game, there's a lot to be said about the Redskins.

What we learned:

. . . The Redskins will run the ball, at least when the opportunity is presented. But we never worried about that (check the chat transcripts, Warpath and other places; I always thought Steve Spurrier was too smart not to do what's best to win and that included using Davis). Granted, Arizona's defense stinks and its line could be the worst in the NFL. But the Cardinals tried to walk up an extra defender to help the run and got burned. That's when Washington started to hit some deep passes.

Whether or not Stephen Davis will get 26 carries every game remains to be seen. And much of that depends on the score and the situations (remember, even in the past three seasons he had games where he didn't run much). But Spurrier knows how to use all of his weapons. He's not a blinded coach, he's a smart one.

. . . The Redskins can pass the ball against a bad defense. Let's not take anything away from Washington's offense--it did the job. And we're not going to overreact and say Philadelphia is the real test. Hey, the Eagles have one of the best secondaries in the league and if they stop the Redskins, we won't be surprised. But we say that it could work, and that these receivers could make plays. In essence, they did what they should have done. Imagine the stink had Washington not thrown as well as it did. So passing well against a weak defense sure beats the alternative. Besides, the point is to win and the Redskins did.

. . . Steve Spurrier likes to call the same play twice in a row. He did it with Champ Bailey, running fake reverses to him twice in a row. Each time Davis carried the ball for eight yards. Spurrier also ran a 13-yard reverse to Derrius Thompson followed on the next play by a fake reverse to Thompson. That play would have worked, too, but fullback Bryan Johnson dropped the ball--he had lots of room to run.

. . . Johnson is a decent fullback and his athleticism makes him dangerous after the catch. On one catch, he sidestepped a would-be tackler, showing a nimbleness few fullbacks have. Johnson threw a couple nice blocks, even pancaking a safety on one. But we're not yet sold on him as a blocker because we saw him whiff on a few, too.

. . . The defense can play better and will. But they also were challenged by field position. Consider this: Washington started seven drives inside its own 30-yard line; Arizona didn't start a drive inside its own 30 until midway through the fourth quarter. Thanks to punter Bryan Barker, Arizona started its last three drives inside its own 25.

. . . Tackle Daryl Gardener still commands attention. Bad back and all, Gardener constantly drew double teams. He didn't make a lot of plays, but he did show some mobility, pursuing down the line.

. . . Linebacker LaVar Arrington can help at times as a rush end. Washington wisely used him sparingly in this role and he batted one for three. On his first two chances Arrington applied no pressure. On his third, he shot inside tackle Leonard Davis and pressured Jake Plummer into an ugly incompletion.

Offensive player of the game: Quarterback Shane Matthews. He threw for 327 yards in his Redskins debut, dinking it downfield at times and stinging Arizona with downfield throws at other times. In other words, he took what the defense gave him. When Arizona showed a one-safety-deep alignment, Matthews attacked, burning the Cardinals with two long throws to Rod Gardner, one for 29 yards and the other for 43 and a touchdown. Matthews also beat this alignment on his touchdown throw to Derrius Thompson.

Matthews also dropped a few passes into tight coverage, which showed excellent accuracy. He also trusted his receivers to make plays, especially Gardner. On one third down, he threw a high pass to Gardner, who outmuscled the DB's around him for the catch and first down.

Defensive player of the game: Linebacker Jessie Armstead. New York doesn't want him? Fine with the Redskins because he looks good here. Armstead clearly is still quick and has excellent instincts, which he showed with a team-high eight tackles. When Armstead sees the ball, he gets there in a hurry.

Special teams player of the game: Bryan Barker. Have to say we're not big fans of Barker, but he came through in a huge way Sunday. Not only did he kick the ball far, but he also kept it out of the middle of the field, helping the coverage units. From his own 26 in the fourth quarter, with Arizona trailing by eight, he kicked one 57 yards. Next punt, from his 37: 63 yards.

Good signs: Gardner's big game. He didn't get much separation, but he didn't need to. He knows his edge comes in size and strength so he used that to his advantage, which is smart. The plays he made were big-time and he hung onto the ball. Gardner had looked good the past couple of weeks in practice and it showed in the game. Arizona might have a bad pass defense, but he did this against a solid corner in Duane Starks. It wasn't a fluke. It could be lots of fun watching Gardner grow his season.

Bad signs: No pass rush. The Redskins need to figure out a way to apply some pressure. They blitzed, stunted and rushed straight up. Little worked. (Here's one idea: if you're going to safety blitz, use Ifeanyi Ohalete. The one time we watched David Terrell do it, he came too tentatively). The fumbled kickoff by Kenny Watson. Also, Watson needs to be more authoritative receiving kicks. Eventually it will lead to problems if he constantly lets others catch the ball.

Good riddance?: Looks like Brett Conway is done in Washington, at least for this season. The injury-prone kicker hurt his hip again and Washington will work out kickers this week, seeking his replacement. Conway will either be released or placed on injured reserve.

Steady: Left guard David Loverne didn't appear to make many mistakes and played the entire game, after the coaches said all week he would rotate with Ross Tucker. But they also said if one guy is doing well they'd stick with him. Loverne handled the job.

Watch out for: A pass back to the quarterback. It's just a hunch, but there were two plays in which the ball was pitched to Davis running one way and quarterback Shane Matthews started trotting the other way, after the toss. Once, the safety held his ground, but only because receiver Rod Gardner was still on that side. The other time, no one went with Matthews. Hmmmm. Something to pay attention to, but only inside the 30-yard line.

Next up: Nothing like getting the Eagles after a bad loss. But if Washington can beat them on Monday night, the season could turn into a major success.

Negative Dallas note of the week: Hey, Jerry, that Quincy Carter sure looks good! We thought the Cowboys could be a big surprise this season, but only if Carter played well. We also knew that was a king-sized IF. And what felt better: Washington winning or Dallas losing to an expansion team playing its first game? Actually, guess that's like having a huge piece of chocolate cake and a dish of ice cream.


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