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15Sep

saints playlist

(photo by Brian Murphy)

As is tradition around these parts, here are five songs in honor of the Washington Redskins 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

1. “Hot in Herre” by Nelly.

Feeling more like July than September, the conditions on the field at kickoff were downright brutal with a heat index of 105 degrees at FedEx Field. And while the heat could have made a lesser man falter, quarterback Jason Campbell rose to the occasion. The football gods gave him a 105 degree day, and he responded with a 104.1 quarterback rating.

Campbell haters will not be pleased to hear that J.C. went seven for seven in the fourth quarter for nearly 160 yards and a game-winning 67-yard touchdown to Santana Moss. Nearly as big as the touchdown was the gutsy completion to Moss again, this time on fourth and two with roughly two minutes to play. For a guy labeled as a quarterback who won’t ever make it in the West Coast offense, he sure did play the part today – completing 67 percent of his passes and finishing with that sparkling QB rating.

2. “No Leaf Clover” by Metallica.

Redskins starting safety Reed Doughty was so sick with flu-like symptom Sunday morning that he texted his backup, rookie Chris Horton, at 8 a.m. to tell him there was no way he would be able to take the field against the Saints. Coach Jim Zorn said after the game that the team took Doughty to the hospital to try and calm his stomach, but that every time Doughty even tried to jog, he threw up.

No one knew what to expect with Doughty sidelined and a seventh rounder making his first NFL start against New Orleans high-powered offense. And even in their wildest dreams, ‘Skins fans couldn’t have envisioned Horton exploding onto the scene with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. While that’s great news for Horton and Redskins fans, it’s not so good for Doughty. While he probably won’t admit it, watching a seventh-round compensatory pick claim his job while he had an upset tummy couldn’t have made his day any brighter.

3. “Forgot About Dre” by Dr. Dre (featuring Eminem)

Thanks in large part to nagging injuries last season, Redskins receiver Santana Moss barely resembled the game-changer ‘Skins fans had come to know and respect. Instead of choosing to give Moss the benefit of the doubt for trying to play while hurt, folks began to whisper that maybe his best days were behind him and if the Redskins wanted big plays out of the receiving corps again, they should probably consider finding someone else to get the job done.

Fast forward to yesterday, when the ‘Skins were down by nine points with around six minutes to play. If someone didn’t step up and make a play, then the home team would have found themselves in the unenviable position of 0-2 against a stacked NFC East. We already mentioned the 67-yard touchdown, but just as vital was Moss’ eight-yard catch when the ‘Skins opted to go for it on fourth and two. For the day, Moss finished with seven catches for 164 yards and the touchdown. Good thing rumors of Moss’ demise were a bit premature.

Here’s something ‘Skins fans can relish from the post-game news and notes:

Moss’s 67-yard touchdown from Jason Campbell marked the fifth straight contest, including playoffs, in which he has caught a touchdown. He is the first Redskin since Charlie Brown in the first five weeks of 1982 to record a touchdown reception in five straight games.

4. “Ugly” by Bubba Sparxxx

How about those Redskins special teams on Sunday? The rookie punter averaged 33 yards a punt for the game and botched a hold on a field goal attempt. Saints returner Reggie Bush returned a punt for a 55-yard score. And if that’s not enough to make special teams coach Danny Smith lose it, Antwaan Randle El continued his quest to drive Smith to an early death with his play as a punt returner. We’ve been subjected to his patented “one step to the left, one step to the right, fall forward for a two-yard gain” since he came to town, but on Sunday he decided to also throw a fumble into the mix. Of course that blunder resulted in a touchdown for New Orleans. If not for a solid day defensively and the heroics from Campbell, Moss and the offense, today’s story would be all about the horrid play of the Redskins “special” teams.

5. “Testify” by Rage Against the Machine

This one goes out to me. Turns out that in addition to patrolling the sidelines while watching my favorite team come from behind for a much-needed victory, I also managed to win $100 yesterday. I bought four squares in the office pool and won the first and third quarters, turning my eight buck investment into 100. That means today I get to pick up Rock Band 2 with my winnings, and will gladly enjoy thrashing to some Rage this evening.

15Sep

how soon they forget

(photo by Brian Murphy)

You’d be hard pressed to find another eight-year veteran as underrated as Redskins receiver Santana Moss. Even though he’s been a Pro Bowl receiver and possesses game-changing abilities, critics call him injury-prone or a one-hit wonder. Since Moss doesn’t care what the critics think, I’ll gladly speak up on his behalf and remind folks exactly what he’s brought to the table since moving to Washington.

Sept. 19, 2005 – The Redskins seemed overmatched and were outplayed for the first 56 minutes of this Monday night affair against their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. Down 13-0 on the road with less than four minutes to play, there was little reason to think the ‘Skins would make a game out of it until Moss shocked the world. With a 39-yard touchdown and a 70-yarder just over a minute apart, the Redskins stole the game, 14-13, in what Joe Gibbs called one of the biggest wins of his Hall of Fame coaching career. Moss finished the day with five catches for 159 yards and two scores.

Dec. 24, 2005 – On Christmas Eve, plain and simply “Santana Claus” stole the show. Touchdowns of 17, 59 and 72 yards by Moss put the Redskins in the holiday spirit as they defeated the New York Giants 35-20. Moss finished the day with five catches for 160 yards and three scores.

Oct. 1, 2006 – The Redskins surprisingly find themselves in a shootout with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who came into the game with the number-one ranked defense in the NFL. Both offenses traded blows throughout and fans get the sense that whoever got the ball last would walk away victorious. Whenever the Redskins need a play they turn to Moss, who hauled in touchdowns of 55, 8 and 68 yards. The final strike, that 68-yarder, was in overtime, sending the FedEx Field faithful into a frenzy as the good guys were victorious 36-30. Moss finished the day with four catches for 138 yards and three scores.

Dec. 30, 2007 – Needing a victory to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, the Redskins once again turned to Moss against the Dallas Cowboys. While the ageless wonder known as Todd Collins was still working into a rhythm after finding himself on the field again for the first time in ages, he increased his chances for success by going to Moss early and often. The knockout punch came early in the fourth quarter when Collins and Moss connected for a 42-yard touchdown and the ‘Skins cruised to a 27-6 win. Moss finished the day with eight catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.

Sept. 14, 2008 – With a rookie head coach and an unproven quarterback, the Redskins found themselves perilously close to an 0-2 start, trailing the Saints by nine points with just over six minutes to play. Instead of panicking went to old reliable, and Moss didn’t disappoint. A 67-yard strike by Jason Campbell to Moss with 3:29 left to play in the game propelled the Redskins to their first win of the Jim Zorn Era and hushed critics for at least a day or two. Moss finished the day with seven catches for 164 yards and a touchdown.

In these five games, touchdowns were thrown by a slew of different quarterbacks – Mark Brunell, Patrick Ramsey, Todd Collins and Jason Campbell. The one constant? Santana Moss. When healthy, there isn’t much room for debate – Moss is clearly one of the elite receivers in the game.

Heading into week three, Moss finds himself fifth in the NFL in receiving yards with 201, but anyone who has ever talked with Santana knows he doesn’t concern himself with stats or personal accomplishments. Wins are what matter first and foremost to the diminutive wideout. History shows that if the Redskins continues to call Moss’ number when the game is on the line, chances are they’ll be victorious more times than not.

10Sep

the harsh truth

(photo by Brian Murphy)

During the Skinscast taping last night, I said that in my humble opinion fans will give more leeway to rookie head coach Jim Zorn than to quarterback Jason Campbell.

Even though I have been labeled a “Campbell apologist,” I realize that this is clearly a make-or-break season for the fourth year signal caller out of Auburn. It’s safe to say the only reason Zorn got the job was because management felt he was the best-case scenario to help Campbell realize his untapped potential. What’s more, the ‘Skins focused their 2008 draft almost exclusively on adding weapons to surround Campbell with as much support as possible – using their top three picks to add pass catchers Devin Thomas, Fred “Sleepy” Davis and Malcolm Kelly to the mix.

It was at that exact moment the fanbase realized management’s decision to live and die with Jason Campbell. If he grasps Zorn’s West Coast offense, then brighter days are ahead. If not, well … that’s a subject many ‘Skins fans don’t even want to contemplate. With these thoughts fresh in my mind, I decided to take a closer look at Campbell’s career in hopes of seeing what he’s brought to the table thus far and try to figure out how this story may play out.

After holding a clipboard his rookie season, Campbell found his way onto the field in 2006, starting seven games for the Redskins. The team went 2-5 in games Campbell started in 2006. That year he completed 53 percent of his passes, with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions and a QB rating of 76.5.

The following season, Campbell started 13 games before his season was ended prematurely due to a knee injury.

The ‘Skins went 6-7 in games Campbell started in 2007, which doesn’t take into consideration that Todd Collins came into the Chicago Bears game and led the team to victory after Campbell’s injury. For the season, Campbell completed 60 percent of his passes, with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and a QB rating of 77.6.

When you add in this week’s loss to the Giants, the Redskins are 8-13 with Campbell running the show. Here’s what Campbell has done over his 21-game NFL career: a 57.6 completion percentage, with 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions and a QB rating of 77.4.

For what it’s worth, Mark Brunell has a career passer rating of 84.2. Sonny Jurgensen finished his career with a QB rating of 82.6. Joe Theismann had an identical QB rating of 77.4. Outside of our nation’s capital, Campbell’s rating is good for 22nd best out of active quarterbacks, and compares to the career ratings of Charlie Batch (77.9), Jon Kitna (76.8) and the ageless wonder Vinny Testeverde (75.0), who may very well end up back in New England after Tom Brady’s season was cut short.

Redskins fans aren’t going to want to hear this, but Campbell’s completion percentage of 57.6 actually puts him below the career marks of Jeff Hostetler (58.0), Jeff George (57.9) and even Ty Detmer (57.7). Campbell’s completion percentage is good enough to rank 24th on the active players’ list, which is just above Kyle Boller’s 56.9 percentage. Any time you’re in the same category as Boller, you can’t feel good about yourself.

So where does all of this leave us?

Although there have been flashes, nothing on Campbell resume says that he is without a doubt, The Franchise. If he gets it together and leads the Redskins offense to glory, then great. But if, for one reason or another, he simply can’t get it together between now and the season finale at San Francisco, then there’s a very real chance we’ll reach a “Matt Leinart situation,” where a change of scenery is probably best for everyone involved.

While several questions remain unanswered at this point, one thing is for sure – when the 2008 season comes to a close we’ll be able to say once and for all whether Jason Campbell is the answer.

Update: A reader politely asked me to compare Jason Campbell’s first 21 games to Peyton Manning. Not sure what someone should take from this information, because I’m a nice guy, here you go:

Jason Campbell’s first 21 games:
8-13 record
375 completions
651 attempts
4,130 passing yards
57.6 completion percentage
23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions
77.4 QB rating

Peyton Manning’s first 21 games:
6-15 record
432 completions
751 attempts
5,134 passing yards
57.5 completion percentage
37 touchdowns and 35 interceptions
75.5 QB rating

10Sep

land o’ links

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Got a few things to knock out this morning, so I figured I’d pass along some links to tide folks over.

  • It’s often been said that Papa John, Reffkin and I have our best shows after a Redskins loss. If that’s the case, then I for one would be perfectly happy not having another good show for a while. In the meantime, click here to listen to this week’s Skinscast to hear us try to make sense of the season opening debacle.
  • Hog Heaven also spends some time breaking down the week one loss to the Giants, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. Post Game Heroes has you covered on the other side of the ball, using screen captures of the game to show novices how the ‘Skins defense fared in the heat of the battle. They also break out pie charts to show that Eli Manning and friends targeted the interceptionally-challenged Carlos Rogers 26 percent of the time when passing. Interesting stuff, to say the least.
  • Once you’ve had enough of the Giants game, feel free to head over to Rich Tandler’s Real Redskins blog to see his early take on the ‘Skins chances this weekend against the New Orleans Saints. Tandler has a feeling that this could be a much-needed “get well” week for Jason Campbell, seeing as the Saints made nobodies like Chris Redman and Luke McCown look like competent quarterbacks last season.
  • And if that can’t get you fired up, then how about a link to Maxim Magazine’s tribute to the First Ladies of Football? Beauties like Dawn, Anabel and Sooin should help erase week one and get fans in a better frame of mind for the Redskins home opener.
  • One non-football link for you as well – HoboTrashcan has a great interview with the guys from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” After reading it, one can’t help but think that Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day are either always “in character” or they’re just a little demented in real life. Either way, it makes for a great TV show.
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)

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