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On Brunell: The Last One to the Party

Oct 24, 2006, 2:47 PM EDT

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You can reach Rich Tandler by email at

I have to park a long ways away since all of the spaces nearby are taken. I come inside and nobody says hello because they are all involved in intense conversations. There are empty Newcastle bottles all around but all the beer that is left is domestic light. The Grey Goose bottle is drained, too. There was once a nice spread but the crab bites are long gone; only a few cold pigs in a blanket, celery sticks and ranch dip and some broken chips are left.

Yep. Once again, I’m the last one at the party.

It’s time to sit Mark Brunell.

The body of evidence that Brunell can’t lead this offense effectively has been growing and has been explored in great depth elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the straws have been piling up on the camel’s back all year long. The last straws that broke the back came in the second half on Sunday.

The Colts had scored rather easily on their first possession of the third quarter, taking just 2:01 to drive to take a 20-14 lead. It was apparent that Indy was about to get on a roll and that the Redskins were going to have to respond if they were going to save their season. After Ladell Betts got one first down on the drive to save the season with a nice 19-yard run, the Redskins faced third and eight at their own 48. Brunell dropped back and fired the ball out to Betts in the left flat. Colts immediately surrounded him and he was tackled after a gain of three yards.

Washington punted and it took the Colts 2:02 to score another touchdown to make the score 27-14. If the previous drive was critical for the Redskins the next one, with the Colts offense on fire, was desperate. With a touchdown, it remains a competitive ballgame. After two plays the drive to maintain hope of saving the season the Redskins again faced a third down, this time with seven yards to go. Instead of going back to the same throw, Brunell really crossed the defense up this time. He threw to Betts in the right flat. The trickeration had no effect, however, as the Colts must have scout this left flat-right flat tendency and they made the tackle just inches short of the first down. Well, it was 180 inches–or five yards–short of the first to be precise.

After the punt, the Colts ground out a time-consuming drive taking every bit of 3:11 to take a 33-14 lead with 2:36 left in the third quarter. The lights were flickering, but the Redskins still could pull off a miracle if they could get a quick six points.

The Redskins converted a third and one with a Betts run and then they faced third and eight at the Colts 49. Brunell really tried to cross them up here, going to Mike Sellers in the right flat for four yards. Three third and long situations, three passes to the flat well short of the first down.

Santana Moss temporarily bailed the Redskins out with a one-handed grab on fourth down, but all that did was give Brunell yet another opportunity to fail to convert yet another third down, this time on a short toss to Clinton Portis. The season was over even before Nick Novak missed a 35-yard field goal attempt.

It’s not always a bad idea to dump the ball off short of the sticks in a third-down situation. Sometimes you can catch the defense back on its heels, the receiver can break a tackle and make the necessary yardage. That only works, however, if there is some threat of throwing deeper downfield like, say, eight or ten or even 15 yards. But there is no such threat with Mark Brunell. One dumpoff is OK to mix things up, sometime there could be a reason to do it twice. But three or more is a trend that opposing defenses can bank on.

And it’s not the offensive play calling. None of the plays was a maximum protection deal where all of the receivers besides the one who caught the ball were back blocking. There were other options, other receivers in patterns. Brunell had time to throw on all four plays. I don’t have to see the game film to know that at some point some other receiver who was positioned past the sticks had a reasonable chance of making the catch.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if Brunell can’t make the deep throws or if he won’t make them. The result is the same; an offense that halfway through the season has no identity and is, for the most part, utterly ineffective.

If you don’t want to bench Brunell based on four plays, the big picture is an indictment as well. One of the reasons you want a veteran at quarterback is to provide leadership and a steady hand for the tough road games. In the Redskins’ three tough road games this year, the ones in Dallas, the Meadowlands, and Indianapolis they have scored exactly one offensive touchdown when the outcome of the game was in any kind of doubt. That is unacceptable.

Would putting in Jason Campbell mean that the Redskins are giving up on the season? Possibly, but not certainly. In 1985, Joe Theismann was a struggling veteran quarterback just like Brunell is now. He was completing 55% of his passes for an anemic 5.6 yards per attempt with 16 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. Through 10 games the Redskins were 5-5. Joe Gibbs, however, steadfastly refused to bench Theismann in favor of the untested backed, Jay Schroeder.

We all know what happened in the second quarter of the 11th game, with Lawrence Taylor breaking Theismann’s leg and Schroeder coming in. His first pass was a bomb to Art Monk and the Redskins went on to beat the Giants. Overall they won five of their last six games to finish at 10-6, although they lost out on a playoff spot due to tiebreakers.

Gibbs had his reasons for sticking with the struggling veteran then and he has them now. One can only speculate as to what they are. That’s because there are very few if any apparent to even those who observe the team very closely from week to week throughout he year.

One wonders if it will take an injury like the one that Theismann suffered to force Gibbs to pull the plug on Brunell. Nobody wishes such a fate on Brunell, certainly, but it’s looking more and more like that’s what it will take.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when they moved to Washington for the 1937 season through 2001. For details and ordering information go to

  1. Anonymous - Oct 24, 2006 at 4:34 PM

    Last year, before Randy Thomas broke his leg (and was replaced by the 43 year old back-up who couldn’t pull), the Redskins had a string of victories based on an impressive power running game, supplemented by Santana Moss and Chris Cooley. All we needed was another receiver or two and to stay (or get) healthy on the O-line in order to pick up where we left off. Our offense, even without a legitimate no. 2 receiver was still ranked 11th overall in the league last year. The offense fell apart last year at the very end because of Thomas’ absence, Brunnell trying to play with a hurt knee, and no viable option at second receiver. These are fixable problems for the off-season. So what did the Skins acctually do this past offseason? Tweak and improve what obviously was working? No, we brought in an entirely new offense that will take at least half a season (if not an entire season) to start working. Has anyone done any research on what Al Saunders’ offenses have achieved in their first year with his system? I believe they are typically mediocre at best. Its not until the second season that they really start racking up the yards and points. Who will be our starting QB next year? A frail, aging Brunnel? Todd Collins? Jason Campbell? None of them will take us deep into the playoffs. This is a sad state of affairs.

  2. Joe - Oct 24, 2006 at 4:48 PM

    Welcome to the party, Rich. Better late than never. Might want to run out to the liquor store, though. Looks like we’re going to be here for a long time.

  3. Allen in Richmond - Oct 24, 2006 at 5:25 PM

    There is a reason why we will not see Campbell. The dirty little secret is he can’t play. As long as he is on the bench, there is some hope for the future. But if the Skins put him in, we will see yet another disappointment – the drafting acumen of our front office. If he plays and fails, we have nothing at all to fall back on. We will officially be dead and looking at a recovery that will take years (or longer) since we have fewer draft choices than most teams – at least we have T.J. Duckett.

  4. mbarnes202 - Oct 24, 2006 at 5:42 PM

    I echo what Joe said– welcome to our club. I have been really trying to figure out what’s wrong with our offense the past several weeks, and I have come to the same conclusion you did-
    It has to be Brunnel.

    If you take a look at any of the last three games, you’ll see easy pass plays our opponents make that we don’t even try. It’s like we’re playing by a different rule book, or something. Our opponent’s QBs are playing QB, Brunnel is doing something else– literally, it’s like a different position or something. Our opponents often make a 10-15 yard catch, usually over the middle, or at the hash-mark. When was the last time you saw a Redskin catch a pass like that? Cooley, maybe twice a game, and usually a little shallower than that.

    I remember thinking after the Tennessee game, that not only could Brunnel not make a “deep out” pass, he couldn’t even make an “out” pass. Defenders were clearly taking away the middle of the field, daring Brunnel to complete outs and deep outs. No chance.
    You can imagine that if a defense faces a strong armed, accurate QB, it must routinely defend 25-30 yards of field position, essentially sideline to sideline. Flys and Posts must also be defended. Our opponents are defending 0-15 yards of field position, maybe 2/3 of the width of the field. Obviously, this makes it much easier to defend both the run and the pass.
    It’s extremely frustrating to watch a defender play press coverage on Moss (!!) to break up those slip screens and not get routinely tested on fly patterns. We should be PUNISHING defenses that try to defend Moss and even Lloyd that way. It should be– you want to press cover both Lloyd and Moss? OK, we’ll throw TD passes to them instead. But Brunnel simply cannot make defenses pay for this kind of coverage. How infuriating!
    I kept thinking, how on earth did Trent Green (!!!!) routinely pass for 4,000 yards a season in this offense throwing to Eddie Kennison and whoever else they had at WR? How? We’ve got Portis and a good line too. The disparity is glaring– instead of 250-300 yards passing, we’re getting 100-200 yards passing.

    What’s worse, my guess is that we’ll perform a bit better in the second half of the season for the simple reason that our defense will give us more opportunities. I think that with Springs and Rogers healthy, and Griffen, Salave’a, Washington, and Marshall overcoming their dings, our defense will be much better, and we’ll get more chances.
    This will only mask the truth– we cannot win big games against tough opponents unless everything goes right. Winning would be because OTHER people made terrific plays (Moss breaking a tackle, Portis, breaking a tackle, etc.).
    What would be even more infuriating would be Gibbs saying, at the end of Campbell’s first contract saying, we just don’t know what we have there, we’re going with a veteran. He would destroy Campbell’s potential career before he even had a chance. Kind of like what happened to Ramsey.

    It’s no criticism of Brunnel’s character or to his career to say it’s time to go with Campbell. Brunnel has had a wonderful career, but it’s time to go with youth, ESPECIALLY now, since we will NOT be making the playoffs.

  5. Joe - Oct 24, 2006 at 7:32 PM

    Please Allen, there is no evidence that Campbell can’t play. Last we saw him he was leading Auburn to an undefeated season. And don’t try to pretend like you can infer something from a few throws in a preseason game.

    You can believe that he hasn’t performed well in practice if you want, but the reality is that the 3rd quarteback doesn’t really get to practice. Brunell gets 90% of the snaps and Collins gets whatever is leftover. If anything, they might let Campbell run the scout team.

    Brunell will not or cannot make the throws that will allow the team to be competitive. If Campbell needs more work, then give Collins a shot. There must be some reason Saunders insisted on the guy. Let him keep the seat warm while the kid gets his act together.

  6. BIG JOE - Oct 24, 2006 at 8:03 PM

    Joe Gibbs needs to go back to NASCAR, only a moron would keep Mark”weak arm” Brunell in for the rest of the season. We need to take a cue from the hated cowgirls and start banking on a future quarterback. Jason Campbell is the real deal, but he will become cold if we fail to play him year after year…We will not win another game this season, if we continue to start Brunell. The other half of our problem, is the old anitquated plays that are sent in by Gibbs and Saunders. Hell, Dan should fire Gibbs and give Jimmy Johnson a king’s ransom to lead us back to football glory.

  7. Joe - Oct 24, 2006 at 8:45 PM

    that’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

  8. Jeff - Oct 24, 2006 at 9:44 PM

    I admire Gibbs’ loyalty to his people, and he’s won too often in too many ways for me to second guess him.

    Brunell can be great. But it’s only in flashes. Most of the time he’s average at best, and sometimes he appears downright tired. He seems too secure in his job, and I think he puts the onus on Portis and Moss, rather than sharing it himself.

    I also ask where is the FIRE on this team? Nobody seems to be awake out there on Sundays. I wonder if Brunell sets that tone, or feeds off of it, or what. But someone needs to get some energy and some burning into these players bellies or they’re going to keep on getting beaten.

  9. Anonymous - Oct 25, 2006 at 1:34 AM

    Did anyone notice that the defense is not stopping anyone? I noticed this pretty early when the Redskins did a great job of punting the ball and getting the Colts pinned deep at their 7 yard line. What happened next? The Colts marched 93 yards down the field and scored. In the 2nd half, the defense again did not stop the Colts. I was only impressed that they held the Colts out on the weird kickoff from the 5 that the Redskins did near the end of the first half. Without a viable defense, the Skins are not going to go anywhere. Even if the Skins could reestablish the power running attack of last year, they would still lose to teams who exploit their defense.

    The offense is not the source of the problems for this team. Sure, they could do better. I agree that Brunell did a bad job in the 2nd half of dumping off to receivers in the flat when down and out, fly, and posts were needed to get first downs. I hate to see them do that when Lloyd, REL, and Moss can stretch the field and Cooley can easily exploit the seams.

    For the record, I favor sitting Brunell and putting Campbell in for evaluation. At least plan to play him even if he doesn’t start. Platooning could be a good way to ease him into the offense. IMO, this season is over for the Skins. No amount of good running by Portis, Betts, Cartright, and Duckett (remember him?) could save this team. Without a defense, they can’t/won’t win. It has to start there.

  10. justin - Oct 25, 2006 at 6:40 AM

    Unfortunately, there is no choice but to fire Gibbs at this point. He has already wasted 2 out of 3 seasons on his irrational devotion to Brunell- that alone would be bad enough to get any other coach fired.

    But what’s even worse is that he is now actively sabotaging the 2007 season, and possibly beyond. This can not be allowed to happen. Every game Campbell doesn’t play at this point puts us farther behind in either evaluating or developing his talent.

    If we start playing him NOW, there is a chance he will be ready to lead a winning team next year. But he might stink, and we might need to acquire a new QB in the offseason. We need these 9 games to get a good enough idea either way.

    Firing Joe Gibbs is not something I take lightly. But it must be realized at this point that he is not a deity, he is not infallible. His past acheivements have no bearing on the current situation. He is not above the team. In fact, he is holding it back and if he is allowed to continue, will plunge them into another season or two of futility. These are the only rational conclusions to be drawn from what is going on. Everything I’m saying is happening and will happen.

    Either Gregg Williams or Al Saunders should be appointed head coach and as much continuity as possible should be retained for next year. Gibbs has done a marvelous job of building this team back up to a point where it should be not only respectable, but extremely competitive, and for that he should be lauded. But it’s time for him to get out of the way before he destroys all the work he’s done.

  11. Kounter Trey - Oct 25, 2006 at 3:50 PM

    In today’s Post, there’s an article that says, in part, that the Skins’ offensive production is similar to what it was at this point last season. I think this is an illusion based on a couple of things, primarily yardage Brunell and Betts are racking up against prevent defenses at the ends of blowouts. Brunell’s also padding his QB rating with 5-yard dumpoffs on 3rd and long. Defenses will give him those every single time, so they’re worthless but they inflate his completion percentage and yards-per-pass-attempt.

    I agree Campbell needs to get a shot. I’m fully aware he could be a total bust. I’m also fully aware the D is a huge problem, but with the skill players the Skins have even a mediocre QB should be able to complete the occasional fly pattern.

  12. Anonymous - Oct 27, 2006 at 1:33 PM

    Ha ha! Your team stinks on ice. You will never have a winner as long as Danny is your owner. Archives

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