Children of the Landover Lumbee's,
Whether you find yourself chatting by the water cooler or in the back of synagogue amongst fellow MMQB's, I would like this addition of Skins Serv to equip you with a full arsenal of talking points and retorts about Sunday's week 1 victory over the Miami Dolphins. When you hear snickers of "I guess a win's a win, right?" or "Nice moral victory over a bad team," simply pull out this printable version of Skins Serv from the your pocket (don't let it sit in the same pocket as the day-old, used tissues) and come out swinging.
As I noted in last week's Skins Serv, you should all make a concerted effort to enjoy the progress of this team. I don't think we can get overly excited and too ahead of ourselves (this a marathon, people), but I have a hunch you are going to see the Redskins improve and grow each week throughout this season. As opposed to year's past when negatives and losses compounded, the positive momentum is going to accumulate, making for a very enjoyable year.
The Bad's Are Not So Bad
1) Jansen - Mike Wise of the Washington Post put it best: the loss of Big John is not the same this year as it was in 2004. Jansen had shown signs of age over the last two years and instead of being irreplaceable (as was evident by the Skins disaster '04 season), the Redskins will find a more than serviceable replacement in Todd Wade and/or Stephen Heyer. Wade, who will get the nod for now, showed at the end of last season that he had recovered from a devastating knee injury, and could be the lineman he was when he only missed 4 starts between 2000-2004. And if Wade does not pan out, the Skins got a great confidence boost by Heyer's performance on Sunday. The undrafted rookie stepped in to his first NFL game, in a position he's never played, and held his own against a formidable pass rush and one-on-one situations with Jason Taylor (who came at Campbell from both sides). The Skins were able to run effectively behind Heyer and did an adequate job picking up the blitz, reason to make me think the Jansen loss isn't a blow to my 10-6 prediction.
2) The Corners - We all saw how bad Smoot was on Sunday: he got beat deep and gave way too much cushion on Chambers. Smoot is a good corner and can be a big spark off the bench in nickle, but I don't see him holding his spot on the depth chart ahead of Springs for much longer. There have been rumblings that the Skins are pulling the same shtick on Springs that they played on Lavar in 2005 ( i.e phasing out a highly-paid veteran who is nearing the end of his contract). It didn't help that Springs ignored the Skins request to restructure his 5 million base pay for this year or that he skipped out on OTA's, but I still can't believe that the Skins would keep their best corner on the sidelines while mediocre WR's are making Smoot look stupid. Holding grudges or making an example of Springs isn't going to work if the Skins are getting lit up. Gibbs and Springs have done some jostling in the media this week over an apparent hammy injury that could be the reason for Springs stint on the bench - hopefully cooler heads will prevail and the soap opera will end. The Skins need Spring as the starter - he makes that secondary click.
3) Campbell - It was his ninth NFL start. No need for any other explanations. He rushed some throws, made some poor decisions and didn't look away receivers - all things that will erode with more starts. Campbell made the plays when it mattered and showed resilience by bouncing back when he could have wilted after a couple of bad throws. The kid has a great arm, can get these guys the ball anywhere on the field, and most importantly he can keep the chains moving with his feet.
4) Cooley - Captain Chaos was invisible for more than three quarters on Sunday. That is due to two things: 1) The Dolphins keyed in on him after watching the Skins preseason film. Cooley was JC's favorite target in August and the Fins did a nice job preventing him from doing it again on Sunday. 2) Cooley spent a lot of the day chipping next to Heyer, keeping him from getting to the middle of the field as a target for Campbell. If Randle El continues to be a threat on the sideline for the Skins, Cooley will get his share of balls as defenses will not be able to keep such a close watch on him. With Wade starting I also don't think Gibbs and Buges will keep him on the line as much.
5) Only 13 Points in Regulation - I chalk up the first half offensive performance to nerves and rust. Campbell squandered two good drives with the Cooley INT and a horrible overthrow of Moss. Moss also didn't help the cause with two drops on critical third downs. Those drives should have ended up with points. The second half was a different story: 10 points on 305 yards of offense with over 160 on the ground. The offense will click when they can use the ground game to set up Moss and company (without the drops and errant throws).
The Good's are Great
1) CP and LB - I don't think any of us could have dreamt up a better performance from the RB duo this week. Against the number 4 rush defense from last year, the Skins hammered the ball down the field with a aggressive downhill running, controlling the line of scrimmage throughout the second half. The Skins told the Dolphins they were running (going to Jumbo sets with Pucillo) and it didn't matter. Portis (as I told you he would) looked fast and healthy - getting to the holes quickly and cutting back nicely as well (see the TD run). Betts was his usual self as well - ramming people over and wearing the defense down. Credit Al Saunders with sticking to the run and not getting too cute on offense (except one terrible third down reverse call to Randle El). Lets hope he doesn't get away from it if the Skins don't have great success on the ground in the first quarter Monday night. If the Skins can carry the ball 40 times against the Eagles, they'll have a shot at winning. I don't see the 50/50 thing lasting much longer with CP and LB, btw - I think we'll get about a 20-22/12-15 ratio as the season progresses. Regardless of the carry numbers, both backs will be fresher at the end of games and the end of the season because of the system they've got now.
2) The LB's - Heard an interesting point in the post game: you know things are improved on defense if the LB's are leading the team in tackles and not the safeties. Instead of Taylor's and Landry's names being called, Fletcher and McIntosh were the ones being called most after plays on Sunday. That means the Doplhins weren't getting into the secondary, and that most running plays were being stopped at the line of scrimmage or a little beyond it. If the Skins make it clear that teams won't be able to run on them, they'll be able to get more aggressive in passing defenses and hopefully create some turnovers. McIntosh and Fletcher combine for 23 tackles Sunday - these two are definitely the real deal.
3) ARE - The Redskins might have found a real number two receiver. You may ask, how can ARE have improved so much from last year? The answer is simple: this is his only his 3rd year starting as a Wide Receiver...ever. The guy is a converted quarterback and is still perfecting the art of his new position. NFL commentators, including Peter King, have discussed the strides Randle El has made with his route running and catching. If he can continue to improve then defenses will not be able to key in on Moss and Cooley (the skins only aerial threats last year). ARE also gives Campbell another target he feels comfortable throwing to. Today's addition of Caldwell will help spread defenses more and give Campbell a slightly bigger target when teams can bump Moss and ARE in 3rd and 4 or 5 situations.
4) The Front Four - Don't laugh - a sack is a sack. I know the Skins only got one from the front four this week but it actually changed the entire Dolphins scheme. After Carter got to Green, the Fins immediately went to quick, three-step drops to prevent more sack opportunities and potential turnovers. If the Skins can get a speed rush off of Carter's side it would be a huge boost to this normally inept group.
5) The Fins Point Total - 13. The defense is faster, tackles much better and actually stopped drives on third down. I know they didn't play a high-octane offense, but you've got to like what you saw.
The Eagles Game
1) McNabb - The Skins may catch a break getting McNabb early in the season. He looked slower and a bit rusty on Sunday (I only saw clips) and I really don't expect him to get out of the pocket much, something that normally leads to major secondary breakdowns or big McNabb first-down runs. I hope the Skins feel comfortable manning up on the WRs early and blitzing more than they did Sunday. We saw a lot of zone stuff against Miami (showing Grilliams doesn't trust Carlos or Smoot), which is another reason why we didn't see much blitzing. If Springs can man up Reggie Brown and they don't have to worry about McNabb leaving the pocket, they might have some success. But...
2) Westbrook - The Skins gave up a lot of in the flat stuff against Miami - that's not going to fly against Westbrook. The man thrives on the dump down, west-coast passing game and always kills the Skins by getting big chunks after the catch. If I'm Williams, I focus on stopping the run and taking away the middle, underneath stuff by playing up our speedy LB's. Let McNabb try to beat our corners deep - I think it's a lot better option than Westbrook having a total field day on us.
3) Sheppard - The Skins must take advantage of Sheppard being out. The Eagles are very vulnerable at corner with Will James filling in as the number two CB. We'll probably see Sheldon Brown on Moss, so Campbell can go right back to ARE on the other side.
4) The Eagles Blitz - Campbell makes his tenth start under the lights on national TV among the craziest fan in sports. It will be hostile. Jim Johnson is going to send the house at Campbell until he shows he can pick up the blitz. The Skins can defeat the blitz in one of two ways: running right at it or going with quick hitters to Moss, Cooley and ARE. I think both options are viable and the Skins will have to see which works best. I think they need to run at the Eagles first. Just like in the Fins game, if the Skins can get them going backwards early, the Eagles D will be a worn squad in the second half. If the Skins can't get it going on the ground, they're going to have to start picking on James. Hopefully something will work.
5) Special Teams - I hate putting this as a key to the game, but the Eagles muffed two punts on Sunday while the Skins special teams were flawless. These type of things usually linger throughout the season - hopefully the Skins will have the edge again.
Realistically, I just don't think the Skins can pull it out. Throw x's and o's out the window - most NFL teams would have a rough time going into Philly and beating the Eagles in their home opener on MNF. Lets hope turnovers and special teams give us the edge in what should be another pain-staking and closely contested NFC East match up.
Fret not though Skins Serv, the Giants are less than two weeks away.