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Why Not the Redskins?

Oct 26, 2005, 9:31 PM EST

You can reach me by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net

There’s a new eBay commercial asking, “What is ‘it’”?  In this ad campaign, “it” is anything and everything. In the NFL when the calendars are about to turn to November, “it” takes on a different meaning. “It” isn’t something that put your finger on, but you know “it” when you see “it”.

What is “it”? “It” is the talent, the swagger, the moxie, the smart, the guts and whatever else it takes to successfully navigate the road to the Super Bowl.

Do the Redskins have “it”? Before the season started, even those with the burgundy and gold glasses permanently perched on their noses would have been hard pressed to make a case for the Redskins, 6-10 in 2004, going to the Super Bowl XL. In September, they were a year or two away at best, primarily because the offense was a mess and the Eagles were the dominant force in the division. Saying that they had an outside shot at a wild-card playoff spot was considered to be a bold statement, anything beyond that was a mix of wishful thinking, fantasy, and lunacy.

Of course, similar things were said of the Carolina Panthers in early 2003. And the 2001 Patriots, the 2000 Ravens and the 1999 Rams and Titans had the same slim to none chance of making it to the title game as the Redskins were given in August. Somewhere along the line, however, they all got “it”. At some point during the season, the players started to seriously think, why not us? The teams’ home cities went nuts, the fans gripped onto the team with a fevered frenzy. Team apparel both flew off the store shelves and emerged from years of sitting in the closet. The national media started to talk and write as if they knew it all along, that they told everyone (off the air, of course) that this was their sleeper pick.

It’s too early in the 2005 season to say that the Redskins have what the Panthers, Rams, and the others had in their magical seasons. But it’s not so early that we can’t take a look at some of the elements of “it” that the Redskins have going for themselves this year.

Coaching: Joe Gibbs has “it” or, rather, them–three Lombardi Trophies. Any questions?

Quarterback play: Mark Brunell isn’t playing as well as he did when he twice took a team to the doorstep of the Super Bowl. He’s playing better. For the first time in his career he has thrown for three touchdowns in back to back seasons. His QB rating and TD to interception ratio are both much better than it was in 1996 and in 1999, the two seasons he took the Jaguars to the AFC title game. He’s a savvy veteran with a very hot hand, a priceless asset.

Playmakers: Santana Moss can take it to the house any time he gets his hands on the ball and he has. We just discussed Mark Brunell, who makes most of his big plays with his arm, but has made a few with his feet as well. Sean Taylor makes crunching hits to separate offensive players from the ball with great frequency and he nearly scored on his first interception of the season. Marcus Washington’s season started to turn the corner from solid to spectacular when he got the sack and strip of Alex Smith on Sunday. They’re the players that the others can turn to when the team needs a spark. And those are just the ones who have demonstrated playmaking ability this season, leaving out players who have turned the big play in the past like LaVar Arrington, Clinton Portis, and David Patten. If they start to add a big spark here and there, watch out.

No glaring weakness: The Redskins don’t excel in all phases of the game, but there is no one area that the other team can point to and say, that’s where we’re going to go to beat them. The presence of Moss and Patten precludes overplaying the run and Portis makes it a bad idea to play too soft in the box. Even Mike Sellers can make a team pay for turning its head the other way. The offensive line is gelling to the point where they might actually earn a nickname. The defense can get burned for the long play on occasion but it’s solid against both the run and against the pass. The kicking game is not spectacular but solid and you’d be hard-pressed to find a hole in any phase of the game planning.

Battle all the way: The teams that have “it” don’t win every game, but they’re in almost every one until the end. This desire and ability to battle to the end results in some close losses and, as we saw in Dallas, some magical wins.

Again, it’s early; we’re not even halfway through the season. But in a just few weeks, we’re going to look up and Thanksgiving will be approaching and the pack will be starting to separate. Some of those pulling out in front will be the usual suspects and others will be surprises.

Why not the Redskins?

  1. mbarnes202 - Oct 27, 2005 at 4:24 PM

    Rich,
    I agree, although we’ll know much more after the next three games. Also, we *do* have one glaring weakness– which manifests itself as a lack of any consistent ability to force turnovers. The root problem of this weakness is a lack of pass-rush from the front four, or even from whomever it is we rush the passer. We did get pressure on Chicago and San Francisco, but we got ZERO on Dallas, and very little on Denver or Kansas City. If you look at the stats from our games so far, you can see statistical domination by the ‘Skins, all for naught in the games we lost due to one fact– we lost the turnover battle in those contests. We cannot expect to dominate statistically against the contending teams in the NFC, so, we’d better start to cause turnovers against them, or we will lose those games, plain and simple.
    Can we do it? I hope that Williams et al. have been saving us something (perhaps it’s not a what but a who– perhaps LaVar is our secret weapon going forward). If not, our current scheme does not appear to be generating enough pressure on good teams.

  2. Rich Tandler - Oct 27, 2005 at 5:02 PM

    Two things. First, pass rush or not, the Redskins have one of the best pass defenses in the league. Perhaps their #5 ranking is skewed by having faced two raw rookie QB’s, but the fact is that they’ve gotten the job done. Don’t get me wrong, sacks are great, but it’s also acceptable if the opposing QB has all day to throw and has to toss the ball into the bench because nobody is open.

    As far as the turnovers, they will come. Yes, more pass pressure would lead to more INT’s, no doubt. But fumbles are nearly 100% luck and the Redskins have been horribly unlucky. Over the course of the year in the NFL about half of the fumbles are recovered by the fumbling team, half become turnovers. The ball has hit the ground 21 times so far this year and the other team has recovered 17 times. Those odds won’t keep up, trust me.

  3. Kounter Trey - Oct 27, 2005 at 6:00 PM

    I believe the record shows that Williams’ recent defenses have all been ranked near the top of the league in yards & points allowed while being in the bottom in forced turnovers.

    Could be luck, or it could be that his gap-maintaining approach (as opposed to swarming) just never puts enough bodies near a loose ball to make turnovers a regular occurrence.

    Anyway, there were some great quotes in the Post this week from some of the players. They’re getting that swagger, that confidence. They talk about seeing confusion in opposing defense’s eyes. Whereas last year our O was utterly predictable, this year the strike could come from anywhere at any time.

    I really like where this season is heading. Agree that the next few weeks are a huge test.

  4. Joe - Oct 28, 2005 at 10:13 AM

    The Redskins are the most balanced team in the NFC. We run the ball well, pass the ball well, play good defense, and have sound special teams play. That will allow us to be in every game this season. If we continue to improve, I say we have a legitimate shot at a post-season run.

    As far as the defense and the lack of turnovers. I disagree with Rich that fumbles are luck-based. There are definitely some players who are better at separating the ball from the ballcarrier. And there are some teams that are in a better position to jump on the ball when it’s loose.

    My bigger concern is the rush defense — we’re currently ranked 16 in rush yards. It seemed like we started out the season strong by bottling up the Jones bros in successive weeks. Then Alexander, Bell, and Holmes (on screen passes) killed us. That said, they only gave up one big run to the Niners and it was against our 3rd string. So hopefully that unit will improve. But it still bears watching given that we’ll be facing Cadillac, Lamont Jordan, LT, and Steven Jackson real soon.

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