I know it sounds hackneyed, but up here, in the NFL (I love when Coach Joe says that), every game is big. I don't want to get too ahead of ourselves, but I will say this, the Redskins cannot squander the amazing opportunity that has unfolded for them. They are 2-0 with two inferior opponents coming into FedEx over the next three weeks. They must capitalize. I am going to refrain from jinxing this surprise start with words that start with a P or a HFA or NFC CG or SB, because I know that even if the Skins run off the first 6 in a row (it's possible), they are still looking at a tantalizing late October and November schedule with away games at New England, New York Jets, Dallas and Tampa Bay and only one home game in that stretch against a revenge-seeking Philly. An amazing start could be spun around in a blink. That's why the B&G need to cushion a potential fall now; that's why they need to build momentum and confidence. A 4-0 team going into Lambeau on 10/14 is a whole lot surer of themselves than a 3-1 or 2-2 team. These next two are massive.
10 Things I'm Probably BSing (It's stolen but I like it)
1) The Offensive Line - If you are worried about the offensive line and saying to yourself "this could really hijack the season," you might be right. I don't want to sound catastrophic, but the entire right side of the line didn't start on this team last year. Wade is a great filler, don't get me wrong, but when packaged with a Scrub like Fabini (or Scrubini, as JLC likes to say) then we may have issues. Fabini is a backup. The Skins have to upgrade him ASAP. Hopefully by the time this thing's sent out they will have signed Keydrick Vincent, a perennial starter over the last few years with Baltimore and Pittburgh (good power running teams). But even Vincent, a worthy replacement, will need time to learn the system, the timing of the pulling plays and sweeps (something Thomas was one of the best in the league at), and get into shape. Scrubini will be the starter on Sunday, so pray (on Yom Kipps) that he holds up against what we can only assume will be an inspired Giants pass rush. Our best case scenario is that Vincent uses the bye week to get himself ready for the stretch run and performs at a high level, the worst case is that the Skins can't run the ball to the right side all year. Only time will tell.
2) Clock Management - I will defend Coach Joe to the grave (along with all other Skins, including BLloyd - it's just what I do, they're like my grandchildren), BUT late in the first half on Monday night was totally embarrassing and cannot happen again. Coach Joe said he "got nervous." I get nervous too, Coach Joe - it doesn't mean I turn to my FG unit every time. I got a 4PM presentation, my palms are sweating and nothing is ready...no problem, I'll just dial Shaun Suisham - he'll take care of everything. JEEESUS. There were fourteen seconds left in the half, that's a lifetime in the NFL. Three plays - 2 passing and then a chip shot. At the end of the first half the Skins really looked like the "Mites on Ice" who play during intermission of Caps games. Someone with nerves, decisiveness and leadership has got to be controlling the sidelines in those situation or else it's gonna cost the Skins a big game. I hope it's Coach Joe, but if it can't be then he's got to pass the headset over to someone else.
3) Campbell - You can pretty much count on JC getting his name in bold every week around here. I'm gonna track number 17's progress like Leo Mazzone tracks a pitch count. Campbell's got to overcome two major things and then I think he will be a legitimate star (yes, star) in the NFL.
1) He telegraphs his passes (I wrote about this last week). He's been burned twice now because of it. The INT to Randle El was a total force and JC didn't take his eyes off of ARE for the entire route - everyone in the Linc knew the ball was going that way (including Kid Bro Sweets, who was waiting patiently to knock Will James's head off...what a hit. On James for a sec - I love how this guy thought a name change would mean a upgrade in talent. He's still the same old sucky Will Peterson and Santana burned him all night long. There was one other play where Campbell's eyes failed him. In the middle of the first quarter, the Skins settled for a field goal after Todd Yoder dropped a pass off a Campbell boot leg. Campbell locked into Yoder and didn't even glance upfield to a wide open Santana Moss, who had beat James or Brown on a post. That could have been seven. 2) His accuracy (I also wrote this last week). Campbell is still missing guys. I know the Skins dropped some balls Monday night, but he's gotta get more consistent hitting people in stride, if not at all. Campbell could have punted the ball to 'Tana on that fly route late in the game, instead he missed him by a good five feet. I assume the accuracy will come as the kid calms down a bit. We gotta give props to JC also - he still hasn't started 10 games and he went into Philly, kept his composure, limited his turnovers and marched his team down the field four times for scores (that pass to Cooley was life-changing: for me, not for him). Jason's also been great at keeping plays alive using his feet - even when the Eagles got into the pocket, JC burned them by running for critical first downs, something that demoralizes and tires out a defense. I can't wait to see how much better he's gonna get.
4) You Can Call Him Al - I think Coach Joe and Al Saunders came to a nice understanding this summer about the Skins offense. The Skins have used a strong running game to set the offense up and have taken shots with the deep ball when the defense settles on the run. The Skins are also over 50% on third down tries, which means their medium stuff has been excellent too. That's a credit to Saunders, Gibbs and the play calling - I think big Al called a great one Monday night. Hopefully there's more to come.
5) The Pass Rush - Three sacks is three sacks. You can call them coverage sacks and say that Donavan was slow, the bottom line is that they got McNabb to the ground three times. That's three times more than they ever have before. The Skins had push up front all night and really didn't have so many opportunities to throw guys at him as the Eagles were passing quickly in the flat most of the night. Andre Carter was an inch away from big sacks and forced fumbles on a few separate occasions - I think he is actually becoming the speed rusher the Skins were hoping for.
6) Rocky - All the LBs were great again on Monday, but how about Rocky's effort on his sack. He was being blocked by an offensive lineman and he still leaped and threw a hand up in the air so McNabb couldn't release the ball. 52 kept on the play, got around the O-lineman and tracked McNabb down for the sack. McIntosh is ruthless out there and seems to be in every play. There was one series where the linebacking corps missed a couple of tackles on Westbrook late in the first half, but besides that, these guys aren't letting anyone get by.
7) The Secondary - I'm still torn about this group. The safeties showed signs of promise this week but the corners make me nervous. In crucial fourth down situations late in the game, Carlos Rogers got beat: first on a slant (in which he didn't even see the ball whiz by him) and then on a 15 yard post over the middle of the field. The Skins sent the house, leaving Carlos in one-on-one coverage with Reggie Brown and the all McNabb had to do was loft the ball up and Brown came down with it easily. When Grilliams watches the tape, it'll make him more nervous about sending blitz packages and leaving the corners in man. I'd rather them blitz the heck out of Eli, but with Plax and Toomer (along with Rook Steve Smith) as formidable threats on the outside, I see the Skins dropping back in their bend-don't-break cover three which keeps the corners from being vulnerable in man. On the bright side, the corners are tackling very nicely. Even though these guys give a bigger cushion than most, they wrap up really well (which kind of makes up for it). Another positive is how solid Landry and Taylor have been. Landry has chipped in with the run-stopping effort and has been covering well on the medium stuff (see the last play of the game), while Taylor has been great down the field, keeping the big plays to a minimum and hitting well when teams challenge him. It looks like the Springs controversy has been put to bed for now - we'll see what happens Sunday when all three corners are healthy.
The Giants Game
8) I know it looks the same, but it isn't - In each of the last three years the Redskins have come off early season victories before playing the Giants. In 2004, the Skins rode into East Rutherford after the big Tampa win (CP's and Coach Joe's debut game) only to have the offense sputter in a 20-14 loss (the Giants were coming off a loss in their opener to the Eagles). In 2005, the Skins were marching after a 52 point effort in Week 7 against the 49ers, only to fall on their faces in a 36-0 trouncing by the Giants, who were hopped up on emotion after the death of their owner Well Mara that week. Last year, the Skins also came into Jersey in early autumn and had seemed to right the ship with 2 wins in a row against the Jags and Texans, but again it was the reeling Giants (they came in 1-2 off a bye) who used the Skins as a cure and walloped them 19-3. That's right, in three years the Skins have scored 17 points in their early season matchups with the Giants. And now, yet again, the Skins come in looking sharp off of a victory. And again, the Giants are a team in disarray, looking to the Skins for that perennial early season fix. To make matters worse, the Skins are on a short week.
I really believe this year is different. For three reasons. First is that the Skins are a much better team personnel wise. The Giants are weak and old on both their lines and have one of the worst linebacking corps's and secondaries in the league. The Giants have good wide receivers and a solid QB, but that's about it. Which leads me to my second reason this is different: no Tiki Barber. This guy just slaughtered us. He ran to the outside at one of our sissy linebackers and broke through for the biggest games of his career. To all of our's delight, Tiki will be at NBC studious watching this week. The last reason this is different is that the Skins are coming home. They won't come out flat as they always do at the Meadowlands, and FedEx will be loud when the defense is applying pressure and will be silent when the offense is at work. This should make things much easier on Campbell and Co. than in year's past.
9) What we need to be worried about - The Giants are going to close their eyes and pretend Derrick Ward is Tiki Barber. Ward had success carrying the ball against the Packers last week and he's speed will give the Giants reason to try to run the ball to the outsides and challenge our Ends and Linebackers, just as Tiki always had success doing. The Giants will also watch game film and see that Brian Westbrook had about a 9 YPC through the first three quarters Monday. Of course, Andy Reid bailed us out and went to the passing game, but it seemed like Westbrook, who is built in the same mold as Ward, could do what he wanted when he was handed the ball. I also think we need to be concerned about Burress. The guy has been a TD machine thus far and there's no doubt the Giants will take shots with him down the field (why not, they really have nothing to lose). The safeties are really going to have to keep an eye on Plax because he'll be able to make plays on our smaller corners. The Skins are also going to have to be weary of Shockey. He presents serious matchup problems for the Skins and can beat any of our linebackers and safeties in man to man coverage. Lastly, look for a stronger effort by the Giants defense. This unit is taking serious heat up in NY and I don't think they'll get much worse than they've been in the last two weeks.
10 Why we should win anyway - If they execute, the Redskins offense can do anything against this Giants defense. The Giants front four is slow and will get tired; the Skins need to continue pounding the ball as they have been the last two weeks. Their LB group might also get thinner as Coughlin is considering moving Kiwanuka back to end, likely setting up a situation where another backup will be playing in the Giant front seven. Portis and Betts will both have their shots at breaking big ones. Once the Skins get the run going and the Giants stack the box, Campbell must exploit the Giants secondary (which could be the worst in the NFL). Their corners, Sam Madison, R.W McQuarters and Corey Webster haven't been able to keep anyone in front of them, and now the Giants are seriously considering starting a rookie corner, Aaron Ross, to line up across from Moss or Randle El. The Giants safeties aren't much better with James Butler filling in for an injured Will Demps and Gibril Wilson (who might be the only secondary member who could start on another team). All the Skins position players will have big days and the makeshift offensive line will have a week to breath. On defense, the Skins need to keep an eye on Ward, but really make sure the Giants outside guys don't beat them. It's possible Grilliams will get aggressive and try to blitz Eli, but I think the Skins will stop the run early and play a lot of nickle once the Giants start throwing the ball on every down. The Skins should control the clock with the running game and force the Giants to play from behind.
I really did my best to repress my excitement levels over this start. I still think they have a lot to show and a lot of things to work on. The Skins are 2-0 and I don't think they've put together a complete game yet. The Giants are a great opportunity to do that.