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09Sep

adjusting expectations

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Anyone who has spent time in this town knew as soon as the Washington Redskins opened the season with a less-than-stellar 16-7 loss to the New York Giants that the sky would inevitably begin to fall.

No one cared to remember that the 2007 Redskins needed to win four straight games down the stretch just to finish with a winning record and earn a place in the playoffs. And that was a team with a Hall of Fame head coach calling the shots. This year, everything’s back to square one as a first-time coach tries to install a brand-new offense with a still unproven quarterback.

“This is a veteran team that’s made the playoffs two out of the last three years.”

No one wanted to hear that Jim Zorn hadn’t even called his own plays before, let alone been an offensive coordinator or anything resembling a head coach at any level.

“There’s too much talent on this roster to not win now.”

No one remembers that the starting quarterback, top two receivers and two key offensive linemen all missed significant chunks of time last season due to injury.

“This is the high-powered offense that Zorn and the Seahawks used to beat us twice in the playoffs.”

Well, this ain’t Madden ’09. You can’t just switch your offense from a ridiculously-conservative 700-page playbook to a precise timing-based offense with the click of a button and not expect a hiccup or two along the way. Whether anyone at Redskins Park is willing to admit it or not, they’ve basically torn everything down and are rebuilding from the ground up – especially on the offensive side of the ball.

And who was the first opponent of the Jim Zorn Era? The Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

This was the fifth time that the Super Bowl champion opened up the season with a Thursday night homer opener. In the previous four games, the champs won by an average of two touchdowns. The sellout crowd at the Meadowlands was so loud and so ridiculously passionate when they started playing a highlight package of the Giants’ 2007 post-season run you would have thought New Yorkers were watching those plays for the very first time. Celebrating three Super Bowl victories with such greats as Harry Carson, Mark Bavaro and Michael Strahan made it easy for the Giants franchise and their already-rabid fanbase to be jacked up by the time kickoff rolled around.

It wouldn’t have mattered if Tom Brady and the New England Patriots showed up for a rematch – the Giants were going to fly out of the gates and dominate whoever dared to line up against them. And if you’re a rookie coach with an offense featuring more question marks than answers? Sorry about your luck.

The Giants marched down the field and scored an easy touchdown on their opening drive to take an early 7-0 lead. Things didn’t get any better early on for the Redskins either. Three more drives, and three more scores for New York. Midway through the second quarter, the Giants had 16 points on the board and the ‘Skins had 16 yards of total offense.

“They outplayed us, there’s no way around it,” said running back Ladell Betts. “We decided to play Redskins football, so to speak, a little bit in the second half, but it was almost a little bit too late. They came out and jumped on us. They showed why they were the Super Bowl champs.”

But all was not lost in week one. The defense started slow – failing early to find a way to slow down the one-two punch of running back Brandon Jacobs and wide out Plaxico Burress – but looked better as the game went on, thanks largely to some in-game adjustments made by defensive coordinator Greg Blache.

“We settled down in the second half,” said middle linebacker London Fletcher, who leads the league after week one with 17 tackles. “We were able to really see how they were attacking us. We had great calls to defend the plays they made on us, it was just a matter of settling in and getting rid of all the first-game jitters.”

The Redskins players, to their credit, are confident that their mistake-filled debut is correctable. They believe the defense will return to the top 10 ranking they’ve had three out of the previous four seasons as players like defensive end Jason Taylor, linebacker Marcus Washington, linebacker Rocky McIntosh and defensive back Carlos Rogers all get healthy on defense. They also believe that as the season continues, the offense will show progress learning Zorn’s West Coast philosophy.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Washington said. “I definitely think we’ve got some things we can learn from. I know we’ll get better. I know the type of players we have. We’ll get better.

“This is a resilient team,” said Washington. “We’ve shown that time and time again. We’ve had our backs against the wall a lot of times since I’ve been here and we come out swinging. There’s no quitters on this team.”

06Sep

giants playlist

(photo by Brian Murphy)

As regulars have learned by now, we do our post-game wrap-up a little bit differently. Instead of attempting to break down the X’s and O’s, we simply stick to something we know – music. With that in mind, here are five songs that sum up the Washington Redskins 16-7 season-opening loss to the New York Giants.

1. “Hard Times” by Ray Charles.

“If Eli Manning can put a move on you in the open field, then you know its going to be a long night.”

Moments after the game ended, a buddy and I were looking back over the Redskins’ less-than-stellar performance. We went through a laundry list of reasons why the game ended the way it did – with the Giants undefeated and the ‘Skins anything but. But even after we identified a dozen things that stuck out in our mind, nothing seemed to hit home more than the above quote. If Eli is making linebackers miss and rushing for a touchdown, then you know it’s not your night.

This game will be remembered by both teams for very different reasons. The New York Giants will fondly remember this as the night they began their quest to defend their third Super Bowl championship. The Redskins, on the other hand, will remember this as the night things went so badly that a player got hurt during the coin toss. Seriously, if you can’t make it through the coin toss injury free, then this very well might be a long season.

2. “Time Is One My Side” by The Rolling Stones.

Dear rookie head coach Jim Zorn,

If you’re going to continue to win over the hearts and minds of the faithful Redskins fans, then we’re going to have to ask that you show a little sense of urgency when it comes to clock management and play calling at the end of the game. Hugs,

Homer.

No one would dispute that running back Clinton Portis is the Redskins biggest offensive weapon, but to continually hand it off when time is running out in the fourth quarter and you’re down by two scores is basically a sign that you’re going through the motions and ready to call it a night. Especially when the Giants are stacking eight men in the box all night long because they have no reason to respect the passing game.

Honestly, it’s impossible to know if the coaching staff had a lack of faith in the quarterback, the offensive line or both, but the play calling was uninspired all night long. It looked like those underneath patterns were there all night long, but for one reason or another, the Redskins never really took advantage.

3. “99 Problems” by Jay-Z.

“Run and stop the run.”

That’s what offensive lineman Randy Thomas told me in the locker room after the 16-7 loss, when asked what the ‘Skins’ gameplan was heading into the season opener. If that was the focal point, it’s safe to say things aren’t where they want them to be. Both the offensive and defensive lines looked overmatch, getting pushed around at the point of attack on both sides of the ball. So much so that at one point in the second quarter, the Giants had 16 points while the Redskins had 16 yards of offense. While both lines seemed to improve as the game went on, especially the defensive line, there’s still enough on the game film to hurt feelings during position meetings in the coming days.

4. “A Good Idea At The Time” by OK Go.

LaRon Landry, this one’s for you. I’m sure when you lined up Giants running back Brandon Jacobs you were confident that you’d put him on his backside with minimal effort. You are, after all, a guy who is never short on confidence. As we all know, that’s not exactly how things played out. You got hit with what the Madden generation would call the “truck stick,” as Jacobs rolled over you and the only thing that was missing was Chris Tucker standing over you letting you know you got knocked the … well … you know the rest.

5. “Move Bitch” by Ludacris.

Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka is a bright guy. Like a well-versed politician, he went on the offensive as soon as the game ended – accusing Redskins tackle Chris Samuels of a dirty hit. Why? To avoid talking about getting destroyed by Clinton Portis. He got decleated, as the kids call it these days, and didn’t want anyone to bring it up and ruin an otherwise enjoyable night for him. Sorry Kiwanuka. We’re not forgetting the hit of the night, so this one’s for you.

04Sep

anatomy of a big play

Tonight the nation’s attention will wander away from the new 90210, the latest chapter of political mudslinging or whatever other distractions are out there and return to where it should be – the NFL’s 2008 season opener featuring the Washington Redskins and the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

This time around, names like Joe Gibbs, Michael Strahan, Gregg Williams and Jeremy Shockey are nowhere to be found, but there’s till plenty to talk about. The Giants still have a chip on their shoulder, believing that the general public still views them as a lucky team that got hot at the right time, rather than a true world champion. The strength of the Giants last season was clearly the defensive line, which featured Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. With Strahan retired and Umenyiora out for the year due to injury, people aren’t sure what to expect this time around. Will young talents like Justin Tuck be able to continue to grow and fill in the void created by the missing veterans?

For the Redskins, tonight ushers in the Jim Zorn Era. And one of the biggest names on Zorn’s roster, a guy by the name of Jason Taylor, will see limited action, if any, against the Giants as he tries to bounce back from a knee injury suffered against the Carolina Panthers. If the ‘Skins are going to be able to repeat their convincing 22-10 win over the Giants from the last time these two divisional rivals squared off, then they’re going to need to give New York a taste of it’s own medicine – a healthy pass rush against Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning (who would have thought you’d ever hear those words together?)

If Taylor is ruled out for the game or sees very limited action, then those responsibilities fall on Andre Carter and younger, less established guys like Chris Wilson and Lorenzo Alexander.

After the preseason finale against the Jaguars, I tracked down Alexander. After watching Alexander sack Jags QB Cleo Lemon with two minutes to play in the first half, I specifically wanted to ask him exactly how much work goes into getting that one big play – whether it be a sack, a forced fumble or a tackle in the backfield for a loss.

“I was trying to set him up all night,” Alexander said of the Jacksonville offensive lineman he lined up against. “Eventually, I had a good ‘get off,’ he over-stepped me, so I gave him a bump inside and the center was late to get over and help him.”

Alexander would have continued with his narrative, but Andre Carter decided to chime in.

“Tell him about the play before,” Carter said with a laugh, clearly enjoying selling out Alexander.

“Oh yeah, the play before I was chasing [Lemon] and I think the fullback came back and cleaned my clock pretty good on the sidelines,” Alexander said. “I was running at an angle towards the quarterback and he was coming from the side of me. As soon as I turned, he was right there and blew me up. That’s what happened.

[Editor’s note: the player who bested Alexander was not the fullback, but rather wide receiver D’Juan Woods, who is nearly 100 pounds lighter than Alexander. We didn’t have the heart to tell him].

“So I knew the guys, as soon as I came to the sideline, were going to give me a hard time – especially the DBs like Smoot, Springs and Carlos – so I had to make a play,” Alexander said. “When I got loose, I just exploded through and was able to make the play.”

The question then became, when Alexander did finally get to the sideline, which came first – the congratulations or the harassment?

“They did congratulate me first, but then the said, ‘But you did get smashed on the play before,’” he answered with a hearty laugh.

Who would have thought that one of the best ways to motivate a player is by pure embarrassment? Had Alexander not gotten leveled on the play before, there’s no telling if he’d have stepped up and delivered the big sack on the very next play. If that’s the case, here’s hoping Alexander and a few other defensive regulars somehow end up getting embarrassed during warm-ups and head into the game fully motivated and ready to produce.

(photo by Brian Murphy)

04Sep

note: the tie that bonds

(courtesy photo)

Last week, in what was a surprise to absolutely no one, the National Football League reinstated Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, meaning he’ll be able to suit up for his team’s season opener against the Cleveland Browns this weekend.

And where was Mr. Pacman when commissioner Roger Goodell sent word that he was being granted yet another lifeline? At Hooters, of course. Sadly, this is probably an upgrade for a guy who likes to “make it rain” in the stripclub.

The news of Jones’ fifth or sixth “second chance” got me thinking – if someone who has done next to nothing on the field is warranted this many “do-overs,” then why exactly has all of professional baseball conspired to blackball Barry Bonds? Rhetorically I ask – do we really live in a world where athletes are given a free pass for their off-the-field transgressions as long as they deliver on Sundays? And if so, how can anyone justify slamming the door on Bonds, a guy who doesn’t have a rap sheet twice the size of his stat sheet?

The negatives against Bonds are well known – he’s a diva. He’s moody (okay, he’s an asshole). Oh, and there’s that whole steroids cloud hovering over his head. But the way I look at it, if Pacman Jones warrants multiple chances with a resume nowhere near what Bonds’ has brought to the table (he is, after all, the all-time home run king), then why can’t some team rent Bonds for the stretch run to the playoffs?

Click here for the full article.

Note to self is a weekly sports column written for HoboTrashcan.

03Sep

giant batch of links

(photo by Brian Murphy)

The season is upon us, and just in case you’re not fully prepared for the opener against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants (let’s not make it a habit of calling them that), we’ve got you covered. Here’s a few links to get you ready for some football:

  • Ryan O’Halloran, of the Washington Times, and Channel 4’s Lindsay Czarniak are two of my favorites in the press box. Both know their stuff and, as a bonus, have always been very kind to a hack like this McFanboy. Each week they get together for a point-counterpoint column. This week they focus on the demotion of Jon Jansen, which rookie will make the biggest impact and predict who will be victorious Thursday night.
  • Rich Tandler, who knows way more about football than I ever will, also previews this week’s game by taking an in-depth look at the Giants. Tandler asks the question, are the Giants a better team now than they were last December. I think we all know the answer to that one, don’t we Tiki?
  • One of my favorite sites out there is called Post Game Heroes, who do a great job of actually breaking down film to track tendencies and possible weaknesses or areas of concern heading into each week’s match-up. This week they turn their attention to Giants left tackle David Diehl, who in their estimation is the offensive lineman the ‘Skins should be able to exploit.
  • Finally, the Redskins official blogger Matt Terl, reminds Redskins fans that we are, in fact, smarter and more successful than Giants fans. He could have added better looking too, but why kick a fanbase when they’re down?
03Sep

a frosty world

It didn’t come easy, but the Redskins made their cuts and are now down to the required 53-man roster. And unlike other towns where running backs like Rudi Johnson or quarterbacks like Joey Harrington were sent packing, the story locally was all about the punter “competition” between Derrick Frost and Durrant Brooks. Here’s an excerpt from David Elfin:

“They said the competition was even, but it definitely wasn’t,” said Frost, who averaged 45.5 yards gross and 32.3 net to Brooks’ 42.8 and 34.5. “I started the last game, and I definitely outplayed him after they said it was even going in. It was a sham. There was no competition. I think [special teams coach Danny Smith’s] hands were tied.”

That meant Frost, who is pictured above chatting with Homer McFanboy on the sidelines during last week’s Jaguars game, was suddenly looking for a new employer. It didn’t take him long to find a new home, and some would argue he’s in a much better situation now that he’s signed with the Green Bay Packers (clearly they sensed what kind of impact player Frost is, bringing in #4 as soon as Brett Favre leaves town).

After his first day on the job, Frost had a chance to talk with the Packers media and still couldn’t help but take one more little jab at the ‘Skins.

“Last year, looking back at it, I think I kicked too many balls,” said Frost. “I think I wore myself out. I’m a real hard-nosed guy and I work really hard, and sometimes I don’t work smart. This offseason, I really focused on working smarter.”

Sounds to me like Frost felt if GIbbs offense scored half as often as he had to bail them out, then he’d have been a lot fresher for his “competition” this year. Okay, I’m really reading into nothing and completely making stuff up at this point, but the truth is I’m a Frosty fan (I mean, do you see the photo of us chatting at the top of this post?) and thought he outplayed the rookie.

Do I blame the front office for keeping a punter they used a draft pick on? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean you’ll see Brooks and I being buddy-buddy on the sidelines any time soon.

29Aug

jaguars playlist

(photo by Brian Murphy)

The fifth and final preseason game is in the books, which means it’s time for another installment of Homer McFanboy’s Redskins playlist. As always, here are five songs inspired by the Redskins most recent game.

1. “I’m In Love With A Stripper” by T-Pain.

Let’s start with a little back story. Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache doesn’t talk much, but when he does, you’d be wise to listen. Otherwise you just might miss a highly enjoyable quote like this — “Rookies are fine and dandy, and I’m glad to see them progressing,” said Blache. “But I don’t fall in love with rookies. You’re better to fall in love with a stripper than a rookie, because they’ll break your heart. They really will. We will give them some time and let them prove themselves if they are worthy of it.”

Blache might have made that comment a couple weeks ago, but it definitely applied Thursday night. Rookie wide out Devin Thomas earned the ire of head coach Jim Zorn for his play against the Jaguars, with the coaching specifically mentioning the Jason Campbell interception and a catch Thomas made on third down, where he failed to get the first down. On top of that, fellow rookie receiver Malcolm Kelly was AWOL after warm-ups, when he apparently aggravated the knee injury that has sidelined him all preseason. So when it comes to rookies (and possibly even strippers), it’s safe to say Blache speaks from experience.

2. “Wish You Were Here” by Wyclef.

This modern take on one of the best songs ever goes out to Gregg Williams, who looked completely out of place sporting Jaguars colors at FedEx Field last night. When I saw former ‘Skins safety Pierson Prioleau, who followed Williams to Jacksonville this past offseason, I said “You just don’t look right in those colors, man.” He laughed and said most everyone he talked to told him the same thing. Nothing against Jim Zorn, who may very well have some bright days ahead of him as a head coach, but this should be Gregg Williams’ team. I know it, you know it, and the players damn sure believe it.

3. “Asshole” by Denis Leary.

To the bushleague “fans” in attendance last night at FedEx Field who felt it was appropriate to start “the wave” during the fourth quarter when the hometown offense had the ball.

I understand that the game was not the most exciting NFL game of all time and that the Redskins looked pitiful for large stretches. I also understand that it’s the preseason and the game was on a weeknight, so a lot of the true Redskins fans opted to sell the tickets and save their energy for games that actually matter. But anyone who knows me knows by now that I’d ban “the wave” and gladly throw out anyone caught doing it at a sporting event. That’s no secret. So to see this be the way locals fans chose to carry themselves while spotlighted on a national broadcast … well … let’s just say I died a little inside.

4. “Scenario” by Tribe Called Quest.

To my 22 fallen homies, who won’t be on the team this time next week. When breaking down the roster, one could make a case for guys like linebacker Alfred Fincher, running back Marcus Mason or wide out Billy McMullen to make the 53-man roster. But at the end of the day, we have no idea how the scenario will unfold and which route the front office will decide to go.

5. “My Hero” by Foo Fighters.

To tight end Chris Cooley, for kindly stepping up and helping Chief Zee recovering his missing tomahawk. It’s funny that only a few hours after Cooley posts on his blog that whoever returns the tomahawk will earn themselves a free autographed jersey, some drunk guy who walked off with it suddenly grows a conscience and returns the stolen merchandise. Either way, thanks to Captain Chaos for restoring order in the universe.

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