All posts in blog

26Nov

temporary remedy

(AP photo)

Yes, the Washington Wizards were able to snap a five-game losing streak and earn their second win of the season last night by beating the Golden State Warriors 124-100. But if you think that things are automatically “all good” in Wiz land simply because the team fired coach Eddie Jordan and replaced him with Ed Tapscott for the remainder of the season, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

The first game after a coach is fired is usually good for a win – if for no other reason than because the players are still in that “oh crap, management noticed we’re all getting free paychecks” mindset. It’s true, you can’t fire your players in the NBA – not with their guaranteed contracts. So if you need to really shake things up, then you hope to send the proper message by firing the coach. If that doesn’t work, then you’re probably cheering for the New York Knicks.

And it’s understandable to fire “the other” Jordan, who had guided the team to an NBA-worst 1-10 record to start the season. But the problems run much deeper than a coach who seemed to have been tuned out by some of his players. Whether by design from “Big” Ernie Grunfeld or directive from owner Abe Pollin, this is a severely flawed team that is typically suited to qualify for the playoffs, and then get sent home almost immediately.

The Wizards, for as long as they’re led by forward Antawn Jamison, forward Caron Butler and oft-injured guard Gilbert Arenas, are a shoot first, defense is optional squad. They are a team content to jack up 20 footers and (who thought you’d ever hear this) without Brendan Haywood, they’re not even remotely interested in doing the dirty work in the paint on either side of the court.

Shooters go cold. Defense doesn’t.

So when teams tighten up and go into lockdown mode when the playoffs roll around, the Wiz look great one night and then struggle to score 80 points the next. But because the Wes Unseld Era Bullets/Wiz were so pitiful for so long, no one cared. As long as this team made the playoffs, there would be confetti falling from above and banners celebrating simply qualifying. Gold stars for everyone!

And even if management suddenly realized that this team has problems, there’s no easy answer in sight. The truth is, the Arenas signing this past offseason is ultimately going to take folks back to the Chris Webber days. Giving $100 million to a supposed franchise player who simply can’t stay healthy, is a sure-fire way to ensure your team goes nowhere fast. While every other team is clearing cap room to take a run at LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh when they become free agents, the Wiz are helping Gilbert pick out his suit to wear on the bench each night and hoping that a 32-year-old Jamison suddenly learns how to play defense. Not good times for the home team.

So feel free to let optimism run through your mind that maybe, just maybe Tapscott is the next Bruce Boudreau and will be able to instantly right the ship the way Bruce did last season with the Capitals. But chances are, regardless of what Tapscott brings to the table, the Wizards will be cellar dwellars for the forseeable future not because of the coach, but because of the team management sends out on the floor each night.

24Nov

a lasting first impression

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Let’s flash back to a kinder, gentler time. Back when the economy wasn’t such a four-letter word and fans of teams like the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks still had reason for optimism. Let’s take a trip back to Feb. 10, 2008.

That’s the day owner Dan Snyder and right-hand man Vinny Cerrato officially introduced Jim Zorn as the newest head coach of the Washington Redskins. While the bulk of the media was only interested in covering the news of the day (i.e. – the immediate impact of the hiring), we promptly locked in on a slightly longer term vision. We had only one simple, but important, question to ask Zorn on his first day:

You were on the coaching staff in Seattle that eliminated the Redskins from the playoffs two out of the last three seasons, so you know everything the ‘Skins need to work on to be a better team, right?

“I don’t know about that,” Zorn said with a laugh. “I know that defensively … Matt Hasselbeck is a good quarterback and we had a good plan. There are great football coaches on that staff in Seattle and we put a good plan together. That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to put out your best stuff and then you plan the game and you see if what you did as a coaching staff and as a group of players was good enough to win the football game. All we need to do here – this is a winning program and a playoff team – we don’t need to revamp everything. What we need to do is just tweak all the things that are already in place to get over that hump. If there were no changes made on this coaching staff, they would be talking about the exact thing.”

We thanked him for his time and suggested that if all else fails, if Zorn can use his insider’s knowledge to help the ‘Skins finally earn a win in Seattle, the locals would be pleased with the new regime.

Fast forward to this week and well, the natives are indeed pleased because the Redskins won. Jason la Canfora of the Washington Post reports that one of the biggest reasons the ‘Skins were finally able to win out west was because the former Seahawk decided to share that insider’s info. Here’s an excerpt:

Zorn told his staff how the Seahawks had evaluated Washington’s defense before the teams’ playoff meeting in January and shared his perspective on how Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck reads the game.

On Sunday, after a 20-17 victory at Qwest Field, he gave credit to a pass rush that has been much maligned in recent years. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache used more seven- and eight-man blitzes than he had all season, and where in the past the Redskins often kept two safeties back on third-and-long situations, Sunday they attacked Hasselbeck in droves.

“Coach Zorn told us how Seattle looked at us, especially on third down,” safeties coach Steve Jackson said. “So we figured we’d vary the looks this time, and see if they could adjust to it. It worked, and we got the win.”

Later on in the story, Hasselbeck is quoted as saying, “They gave us some looks early on that we had never seen them do. It gave us some problems. It gave me some indecision.”

No one outside of the organization knows for sure if that was just a one week treat or if the defense will indeed become more aggressive. But whatever happens from here on out, just know that Zorn has more than lived up to any reasonable expectations we dreamed up (after all, how many talking heads uttered the phrase “and he’s never even been an offensive coordinator before” that day?) and this team has a very real shot at the playoffs because he’s been able to help out on both sides of the ball.

24Nov

not ready for primetime

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Pro Football Talk is reporting that the Washington Redskins game against the Ravens in Baltimore Dec. 7 has been moved from a 1 p.m. start time to NBC’s primetime slot for Football Night in America. Thanks to flex scheduling, the New England-Seattle snorefest will be removed and replaced by the “Battle of the Beltway.” But is that a good move for the Redskins? Not if this season’s results are any indication.

The ‘Skins are currently 7-4, but three of their losses have come during primetime games. The Redskins began the 2008 season with a 16-7 Thursday night loss at the New York Giants. The ‘Skins then were blown out 23-6 by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Monday night “Election game” and lost to the Dallas Cowboys 14-10 the following week during the same Sunday night timeslot. So Redskins fans, I ask again – should we be happy that the team’s game has been moved from Sunday afternoon (where the team is 7-1) to primetime (with the maroon and black 0-3 in front of a national audience)?

24Nov

seahawks playlist

(photo by John Pappas)

1. “Go” by Pearl Jam

After back-to-back losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Redskins needed to get back on track and return to the formula that brought them success earlier in the season. With that in mind, head coach Jim Zorn turned to running back Clinton Portis, who responded 143 yards on 29 carries (after rushing for just 119 yards in the last two games combined) and carried his team to their first win in nearly a month.

As he’s done for most of the season, Portis did the heavy lifting for the ‘Skins erratic offense. Although he’s still nursing a sprained knee and several other nagging injuries, the league’s leading rusher with 1,206 yards through 11 games, got better as the game went on and wore down a feisty Seahawks defense with his punishing running style. Out of his 143 yards on the day, 67 of them came during the fourth quarter (when Portis averaged a whopping 6.7 yards per carry).

Take, for example, the Redskins second-to-last drive of the game, a drive that started on their own four-yard line with just over seven minutes remaining. Clinging to a 20-17 lead, the ‘Skins turned to Portis on first down and he responded with a nine-yard run. On the next play Portis rushed for 11 yards. The third play of the drive brought more of the same, with Portis busting out a 20-yard gain. The Redskins looked to have the game all but wrapped up as they continued to move the ball with ease while simultaneously killing the clock until backup running back Ladell Betts, giving Portis a breather, fumbled the ball at the Seattle 22-yard line.

Fortunately the Redskins were able to intercept a Matt Hasselbeck pass on the next play to effectively end the game, but the truth is the Redskins could not have beaten this 2-9 Seahawks team without Portis.

2. “Outshined” by Soundgarden

Overshadowed by Portis effort was that of Seattle running back Maurice Morris, who rushed for 103 yards on just 14 carries. Morris, who primarily backs up running back Julius Jones, came into the game with 39 carries for 175 rushing yards in seven games this season, and yet, managed to gash the ‘Skins defense seemingly at will in the early stages of this game. His first carry of the day was a 44-yard explosion that would have ended in the endzone, if not for a great individual effort by safety LaRon Landry to save what could have been a back-breaking touchdown in the first quarter.

Speaking of Landry, he also made his presence known in the third quarter with an acrobatic game-changing interception of an errant Hasselback pass. Landry now has three career interceptions against the Seahawks quarterback (counting the two picks he had in the playoff loss to Seattle last season) and zero against the rest of the NFL.

3. “Grind” by Alice in Chains

Another vital cog in the Redskins offense is fullback Mike Sellers, who bulldozed Seattle defenders while blocking for the running game and also contributed to the passing game with four catches for 30 yards. Sure, he dropped a “gimme” touchdown, but Sellers made up for it the rest of the afternoon by paving the way for Portis to run all over Seattle’s Qwest Field.

It’s funny that a game featuring two supposed West Coast offenses came down to a battle of running games, but that’s exactly the case. Thanks to Portis and Sellers, the Redskins ran 30 more plays than the Seahawks (76 to 46), had nearly twice as many first downs (24 to 13) and controlled the ball for nearly 17 minutes longer than Seattle (38:27 to 21:33). It’s hard to win the game when you can’t get your defense off the field, and in the rare moments Seattle offense was in the game, Hasselbeck split his passes evenly between Seahawk receivers and Redskins defenders (two touchdown and two interceptions).

4. “Down” by Stone Temple Pilots

Portis (knee and hip), Defensive end Andre Carter (foot), defensive tackle Kedric Golston (ankle), and defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin needed medical attention at various points during the game. Wide out Malcolm Kelly and cornerback Shawn Springs were back in action after extended absences due to injury. Injuries are a part of the game and every team is battling this issue this deep into the season, but if the ‘Skins are going to continue to win, they need to catch a break or two in the injury department. It goes without saying that if Portis or wide out Santana Moss aggravate an injury and are sidelined for long, then the offense is in serious trouble. And the fourth-ranked defense needs guys like Griffin and Carter healthy as they head into the last month of the season – especially against physical opponents like the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens.

5. “Come as You Are” by Nirvana

It wasn’t pretty, but in the end Jim Zorn was able to get a victory over head coach Mike Holmgren because he went back to basics. Recent history shows that the Redskins are at their best when they’re able to run and stop the run. Portis did more than his fair share to help the ‘Skins improve to 7-4, but the Redskins run defense should be an area of concern.

If the Redskins are realistically going to be a playoff contender this year, then they need to tighten up against the run. Morris’ 103-yard effort follows Cowboys running back Marion Barber’s 24-carry, 114-yard night one week ago. While Barber is among the league’s elite, Morris hadn’t rushed for 100 yards since 2006. Watching the game, one couldn’t help but noticed the Redskins undersized front seven getting pushed around and beaten by the Seahawks offensive line at the point of attack. Yes, the Redskins secondary is among the deepest in the NFL, but teams are going to see the film of the Seahawks and Cowboys running all over the ‘Skins front seven and continue to try and exploit the problem until adjustments are made.

On offense, the Redskins just need to continue to try and mix things up. Portis is the work horse, but a dependable passing game will prevent defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage in an all-out effort to shut Portis down. The touchdown quarterback Jason Campbell threw to wide out Antwaan Randle El was a perfect example of what this offense can do. In a five-receiver set, Campbell found Randle El, who had cut behind tight end Chris Cooley in a crossing pattern, for an eight-yard score. Plays like that are going to be vital down the stretch if the ‘Skins have any hope of keeping defenses honest and, more importantly, keeping Portis healthy.

21Nov

redskins rock the red

(photo by Brian Murphy)

The Washington Capitals are good. And chances are, they’re going to be really good for a while. Their top four players – left wing Alex Ovechkin (23-years-old), left wing Alexander Semin (24), defenseman Mike Green (23) and center Nicklas Backstrom (20) – are young and seem poised to lead this team to heights D.C. has never seen.

After scoring an NHL-best 65 goals last season, Ovechkin won every conceivable award possible. He took home the Lester B. Pearson Award as the league’s most outstanding player (voted by the players), the Hart Memorial Trophy as the Most Valuable Player, the Art Ross Trophy and the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. Additionally, coach Bruce Boudreau took home the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach.

This season, Semin has managed to take his game to the next level – even managing to outplay fellow-Russian Ovechkin many nights early in the year. In just 16 games, Semin has scored 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points. His wristshot is so nasty that it ranks among the best in all of professional hockey. Oh, and he became even more popular with locals when he decided to basically call Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney “Cindy” Crosby overrated.

Pairing a motivated Semin with Oveckin, last season’s league MVP, as well as Green, the NHL’s top goal scoring defenseman and Backstrom, runner-up for rookie of the year, easily gives the Caps the most exciting offense in D.C. sports. And folks seem to be taking notice.

Maybe its due to the addition of the Red Rockers, but the Caps’ average attendance at the Verizon Center is over 17,700 (97 percent capacity) this season. (Quick sidenote on the Red Rockers link: can you say one of these things is not like the other?) And the team has rewarded those in attendance with the Caps undefeated (7-0-1) at home in regulation thus far this season. What’s more, even the other sports stars in town are “rocking the red” with the Caps this year.

Earlier this month, Redskins tight end Chris Cooley officially became a Caps fan after attending his first hockey game, a 3-1 Capitals victory over the New York Rangers. While Cooley is new to the hockey bandwagon, quarterback Jason Campbell is not.

The face of the franchise has been spotted at the Verizon Center enjoying Caps games for a couple seasons now, so we caught up with Campbell earlier this week to ask him how someone from Laurel, Mississippi becomes a hockey fan.

What is it about the Capitals and the game of hockey in general that appeals to you?

“I just like the intensity of it,” Campbell said. “It’s kind of like football, except its on skates. Guys are hitting each other and they’re playing hard and getting physical. It’s a tough game. You definitely respect the guys who play that game because it is so physical.”

Had you ever been to a hockey game before you came to D.C.?

(Laughs) “No, I’d never been to one,” he said. “This was my first time going to one and its fun.”

What’s kind of cool for local fans is we’ve got guys like you going to Caps games and now we’ve got Ovechkin and some of his teammates showing up at FedEx Field. Have you had a chance to meet some of those guys and get to know them?

“Yeah, I know Ovechkin real well,” Campbell said. “I also know Ryan Zimmerman [of the Nationals] and a couple of the other guys in the area. I always know when they’re coming to our games and if I go to their games, I always see them before or after the game. We all try to get out and support each other. It’s definitely nice because we’re all in this city together. If we can all get on a winning track this city can really be live.”

What kind of hockey player would Jason Campbell be?

“I’d probably be a bad hockey player,” Campbell said with a laugh. “I’d probably have to be a goalie or something.”

Can you skate?

“I’ve never skated in my life,” Campbell admitted.

Goalie is probably a bad place for you to start then. If someone like Ovie fires a 100 mile an hour shot at you, its probably not going to end well.

“I know, right,” he said. “I’ll probably just have to stick with football.”

Dear Ted Leonsis, if you’re as smart as we think you are, you’ll immediately invite Campbell out to Kettler IcePlex or the Verizon Center to skate with Ovechkin and friends. You don’t have to put him in net, but this is an opportunity too good to pass up.

[Update: Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has taken our advice and extended an offer to Campbell to come out to skate with his team. Here’s hoping Jason won’t be available to do so until after a deep playoff run.]

20Nov

batch of links

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Believe it or not, but some high-quality reading actually comes from outside of Homer McFanboy. Just in case you missed it, here’s some of what caught our attention this week:

  • Redskins blogger Matt Terl thinks it’s a good idea to give Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot some additional exposure (apparently he’s not familiar with Smoot’s time in Minnesota). Either way, Terl is pushing for fans to vote for Fred in the NFL’s Super Ad campaign. If Smoot wins, his commercial will play during the Super Bowl. We recommend you check it out, if for no other reason than to learn about Smoot being duct taped to the goalpost by former teammate Champ Bailey and friends and left there for two hours back when he was a rookie.
  • Elsewhere, ESPN the Magazine has a feature on how Sean Taylor’s death has affected the NFL. While they went to great lengths to interview numerous players throughout the league, the part with ‘Skins running back Clinton Portis is a must read. And if you take nothing else away from it, please – do not walk up to him, throw your arm around him and tell Portis you pay his salary. Trust me on this. Also, ESPN blogger Matt Mosley covers how Taylor’s loss has affected the ‘Skins locker room.
  • A website called Fast Company has an article listing the six best sports bloggers, which naturally shows some love to the D.C. sports scene. Both Redskins tight end Chris Cooley and the formerly relevant Gilbert Arenas are listed, as well as pitcher/blowhard Curt Schilling, L.A. Dodgers manager Joe Torre and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (whose just glad to be making headlines for other reasons). Now, if only someone could explain how they forgot to include the blog of Caps owner Ted Leonsis
  • Finally, we point you to one of our favorite blogs, Mister Irrelevant, who stumbled upon proof that the Redskins apparently at one time had a mascot. No, not Chief Zee. Not the Hogettes. An actual mascot. Go see for yourself.
20Nov

veterans versus the predator

(photo by Brian Murphy)

With the Washington Redskins losing 14-10 to their hated rival, the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday night, we know ‘Skins fans haven’t been doing well this week. If the team only wins two games each season, fans always want them to be the two matchups against the Cowboys. We can’t change history and have the Redskins win the game, but we can cheers folks up with our weekly conversation with Redskins rookie safety Chris “The Predator” Horton.

We saw you on the NFL Network last week talking about your new website. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about it?

“I’ve got a new website, Predator48.com, and it’s just a way for people to find out who Chris Horton really is,” said Horton. “He’s not just a football player. I do a lot of other things outside of football.”

We know the site just launched, but what content do you plan on having on the site?

“I’m going to have a lot of stuff,” he said. “Sell some gear that I wear in games, we’ll auction it off. We’ll have a little thing to the best fan, I think, gets a prize at the end of the year and stuff like that. We’ll have a lot of different things on there.”

And this is all you? This isn’t some marketing guy pretending to be you online or something?

“It’s me,” Horton said. “It’s all me. When I find some time … I don’t really get back to people right away, I just kind of find time here and there. Usually on Tuesdays I’m on it a lot.”

You’re a seventh-round draft pick and you’ve already got your own website halfway though your rookie season. Things are coming along pretty nicely for you, right?

“Definitely,” he said. “I’m just trying to find ways to continue my success on the field.”

And the whole “fans giving you the nickname” thing, it looks like you’ve embraced it.

“Yeah, I took it and ran with it,” Horton said.

From there, we headed over to defensive end Andre Carter, one of the most respected players in the Redskins locker room. After dissecting what went wrong against Dallas, the conversation turned to Horton and his brand-new website.

One of your rookies, Chris Horton, just launched a new website this week. Have you heard of Predator48.com?

“Are you serious,” asked Carter. “I’ve never heard of it, man.”

We’d like you to tell us, as a veteran whose been in the league for a while, what you think of a rookie launching his own website halfway through his first season.

(Laughs). I gotta get on him, man,” Carter said.

Did he run it by the veterans first?

“No he didn’t run it by us, but we’re gonna get on him now that you told us,” Carter said. “I think me and the committee of older guys – Griff [Cornelius Griffin] and Phil [Daniels] – are gonna have to sit down and discuss that. Kind of sit down and see what we’re gonna do about that.”

What’s your opinion on the whole “Predator” nickname?

“You know what, that’s a new one on me,” he said. “I don’t know how he got that one …”

It came from the fans.

“The fans gave it to him,” asked Carter.

Yup, they gave it to him.

“Wow, that’s love then,” he said. “It’s okay then. I thought he gave it to himself. I got to give it to Chris. He’s a smart guy and he knows how to network. Especially in this business, if you can network then you can do good for yourself. You got to think of life after football.”

So are you announcing with us that you’ll be launching Dre99.com?

(Laughs). “Nah, no Dre99, for me man,” Carter said. “What I do, you see me out there getting crunk on the field, and then after that, I’m a family man.”

Well said.

HomerMcFanboy background image