Sons of Washington
It is with great excitement and anticipation that I wish each of you a Happy New Football Year. As I am sure the rest of you can attest, this has been one of the most stirring and anxiety-filled weeks of the year, and thankfully now, kickoff is less than 72 hours away.
As my family wraps up our opening game tailgate each season and heads into FedEx amongst thousands of other drunk and delirious Redskins fans, it has become tradition to say "It doesn't get any better than this." With each new season, comes new hopes and new dreams, and for that one sweet moment before the ball is placed on the tee, we all believe that our beloved Skins can conquer the football world. Everyone in the NFL, just like our Skins, is 0-0. No one is better, no one is worse. They all must prove themselves on the field.
And with most seasons I can remember, the Redskins eventually shatter those dreams. They turn out to not be the Goliaths we convince ourselves they are and within a month (or two, if we're lucky) the harsh reality of mediocrity (or worse) sets in, leaving us to dream big about the next campaign.
So that brings me to my initial question: can it get better than week 1? Will the 2007 Redskins give us something to build upon our dream (as opposed to last year when we knew they stunk by halftime of week 1)? Will our hope be realized for 60 minutes this Sunday, enabling us to dream even bigger while we sit our desks waiting for Philly in week 2? Can the dream continue till week 8? 16? Super Bowl Sunday?
Thank goodness we finally get to find out.
In a special week 1 edition of Skins Serv (get ready – it's huge), I will not only walk you through Sunday's battle with the Fins, but I will give you my humble predictions for how I see this year transpiring. And if you don't believe me, I'll give you some solid brainwashing material so that by Sunday at 1PM you will.
Lastly, a hearty Skins Serv mazal tov to Gadi Rozmaryn on the birth of a little baby tight end.
Why They'll Be Better - Defense
1) It's the Secondary, Stupid - It's all starting to add up for me. Gregg Williams couldn't give two hoots about a front four. He made the playoffs two years ago and had a top 10 defense in 2 of his 3 Redskins campaigns with Renaldo Wynn and Joe Salavea up front. With all due respect to those two, they were, at best, average NFL d-lineman. Williams defensive success came from corner blitzes and his CB's abilities to shut down opposing WRs. To prove the theory, Williams's ignored his front four in the off-season and acquired 4 new secondary specialists instead (Smoot, Landry, Macklin and Torrence - he came in 12/06). Was this a case of hubris, or did Williams go back to '04 and '05 game film and realize what set us back last year? I'll go with the latter. The Skins were depleted at corner and safety in 2006. Some weeks they were starting Kenny Wright and Mike Rumph alongside Vernon Fox at safety - the former two should have hung up their cleats after college. Never mind asking them to spot blitz, they couldn't keep any receivers in front of them. So the Skins kept Springs (who's now fully healthy) and brought back Smoot as a nice insurance policy and great nickel guy. With the corners settled, the safeties won't be nearly as exposed as they were last year, enabling Landry to sneak up on the run Taylor to roam around and look to knock some heads off. The corner depth will also allow Springs and Landry to do more blitzing (as they did in the preseason), because Williams now trusts the guys covering behind him. (Side note on Landry: It seems the entire league has crowned this guy defensive rookie of the year already. He's fast, he's a heavy hitter and he'll blitz a lot. This guy is going to hurt many QBs). The focus on secondary personnel will create two things: more turnovers and more third down stops, thus creating shorter fields for the offense to work with (something they never got last year). The Skins rushed three and played soft on third down last year leading to the worst third down defense in the league (see below Slate article). That won't happen again - Williams will bring the house this year and make QBs get rid of the ball a lot quicker.
2) Youth Movement - One thing you hear all the time in the NFL is that speed makes the difference. For the first time in a while, the Skins are making a commitment to getting young legs on defense - opting for quickness and athleticism over experience. I liked Marshall, Wynn and Big Joe, they were character guys, but seeing them go in favor of players like Golston, Montgomery, McIntosh and Blades means the Skins will be faster to the ball and better down the road. The buzz on McIntosh has been amazing this off-season with many (including those outside DC circles) saying he could play at an all-pro level. I can't tell much you about Golston and Montgomery other than that if Griffin can stay healthy, these guys will have fine years. With Griffin always taking so much of the offensive lines attention, any kind of burst from the other two will be an upgrade from Big Joe.
3) The Linebackers - The Linebackers have a huge role in this defense as well. They're asked to help with the run on first and second down and fade into coverage on third. These guys need to know where to be and have to be able to be quick to the ball and tackle like crazy. So far, so good. I know it's only the preseason, but Rocky and London Fletcher seem to always know where to be. Both guys are fast, smart and have an acute awareness of this system. Washington will be great as well, and could be a help to the pass rush when he moves to all fours in nickel situations. I can say confidently that this is the best middle three the Skins have had in a bunch of years. They're smarter (no more Lavar over pursuing), they're better in coverage (Holdman and Marshall were a disaster last year), and they can stop the run (no more missing tackles).
4) Slate - Everyone's been talking about it. I'll let you read the article and draw your own conclusions. Whether or not the third down defense makes them a super bowl contender remains to be seen, for now, it at least makes your mouth water a bit. http://www.slate.com/id/2173233/entry/2173269/. And while I'm throwing some fodder at you, why don't you try this article on for size: http://www.pfcritics.com/news101/Thisseasonssurpriseteamtha.php
Why They'll Be Better - The Offense
1) They'll Have the Ball - The most frustrating part of last year was how little the Skins were on the field. Of course, you need to convert a first down to keep playing, but time and again, the Skins defense gave up sustained drives that kept the O off the field for huge chunks of time. Whatever momentum and continuity the offense could get going they would lose after sitting on the bench for half a quarter to a full quarter. I remember one game last year where the Skins offense wasn't on the field for 70 minutes in real time - that's absurd, and something we'll see a lot less of this year.
2) QB Stability - Let's face it, Brunell's career ended when he injured his knee in week 16 of 2005 against the Giants. His knee wasn't right against Philly, TB or Seattle and he never gave them a chance to win in any game he started last year. Yes Campbell is young and inexperienced, but his great arm poses as a legit deep ball threat. As opposed to when Brunell was flicking 4 yarders to Sellars every play, defenses will not know how to play us. Campbell's deep play potential will spread the field, push the corners back, give Cooley room to roam the middle and keep extra players out of the box so Portis and Betts can get going with the run. The big concern a young QB's tendency to make bad decisions - hopefully that will lessen with some more game experience. Regardless, I think Campbell right now gives them a better chance to win than Brunell did when he was behind center (even in 2005).
3) The Running Game - I still have a modicum of reality in these bones and understand that our receiving corps won't make us a winner this year. The Skins will have to rely on their two horses to move the chains and keep the clock ticking. The combo of Portis and Betts is a top three tandem in the league. I don't care what people say - Portis is healthy. He could have practiced in August and could have played in games, but the Skins got smart and rested him hoping he'd be a little fresher in November, December and January. Portis is only a year separated from 1500 yards and 11 td's. Don't close the book on his career just yet - even in an injured shortened season last year, Portis scored 7 tds in just 7 games started. Betts gives them a great compliment and a great change of pace – it's possible they'll both rush for 1000 yards. Once the coaches figure out who will carry the ball when, we will really see this thing blossom. Lastly, once the Skins establish their ground game, the pressure will cease on Campbell and maybe the air game will take flight.
The Season: The Official Prediction (Hold me to it)
The defense will get this team rolling early and the offense will arrive as well. Campbell and Co. have a year of the offense under their belts and will actually find themselves in the end zone like most other NFL teams. Barring injuries, there's no reason the Skins can't get off to a fast start with a relatively light schedule. If they can roll off some early wins, then Campbell will continue building confidence and we might see some winning football later in the year.
I see the young QB being solid (but not spectacular) with Portis and Betts doing the grunt work and giving the defense time to breath. The turnovers will come pouring in this year and all will be forgotten about last year's misery - Williams's defense will find itself right back in the top five.
The Skins 07-08 run will be promising and something to build on (unlike 2005) and will set up a year five for Gibbs that we all envisioned when he started.
Week 1, 9/9, Miami (W, 17-7)
Week 2, 9/17, @ Philadelphia (L, 24-21)
Week 3, 9/23, New York (W, 31-17)
Week 4, Bye
Week 5, 10/7, Detroit (W, 35-10)
Week 6, 10/14, @ Green Bay (L, 13-10)
Week 7, 10/21, Cardinals (W, 28-21)
Week 8, 10/28, @ Patriots (L, 24-14)
Week 9, 11/4, @ New York Jets (L, 9-6)
Week 10, 11/11, Philadelphia (W, 28-20)
Week 11, 11/18, @ Dallas (L, 27-9)
Week 12, 11/25, @ Tampa Bay (W, 30-13)
Week 13, 12/2, Buffalo (W, 21-20)
Week 14, 12/6, Chicago (L, 12-6)
Week 15, 12/15, @ New York (W, 19-17)
Week 16, 12/23, @Minnesota (W, 22-14)
Week 17, 12/30, Dallas (W, 33-21)
10-6, Wild Card Berth
I've come full circle...yet again.
Just get on the bandwagon now, peeps. Might as well.
The Miami Game - All Defense
1) Trent Green - Cam Cameron brings in a new offense and the last time we saw Trent Green play he was still feeling the jitters of that horrible week one hit to the head last year. Green comes in with no great receiving threats (don't sell me on Ted Ginn) and a running game that couldn't establish itself last year. This offense will be very rusty and Green, if pressure is applied, will make mistakes early and often. Even in 2006 the Skins could sack Drew Bledsoe and Green is of the same mold. He's butt will be hitting the ground all day.
2) The Miami Defense - This game, as all opening day games go, will be a struggle. Miami has a fantastic front four and they added Joey Porter behind it. I don't see the Skins having much luck running the ball and we'll probably see a lot of Campbell scrambling and throwing to check downs because of a heavy rush due to Samuels and Kendall's rust factor. This shouldn't concern you as a long term problem; it is just that they are up against a mighty defensive foe this week. Is Jason Taylor more good looking or scary?
3) Turnovers and Defensive Touchdowns - I am convinced this will be the difference in the game and I'd be surprised if we saw a single offensive TD. The Skins, who have spent all off-season figuring out a way to make a turnover, will get a few - two of which they'll take back to the house themselves. I could see Campbell getting sloppy and maybe throwing a pick himself, but I don't think it will make a difference. The Skins defense is going to establish itself early and Green, who wouldn't dare leave the pocket, is going to throw some go-fer balls up there (hopefully Carlos will catch one)
4) One Player to Watch – Santana Moss – I think Cooley will get his balls and I think Portis and Betts won't average more than 3 YPC. They guy who I see do helping the Skins move the chains is Santana Moss. Santana is always good at home and he goes up against a guy who he absolutely tore to bits in 2005: Will Allen. If you recall, Will Allen was last seen on the ground after Santana shoved him out of the way en route to his third TD in the Skins Christmas day massacre of the Giants in 2005. Allen wants revenge and I sure don't see him getting it this week.
Redskins 17, Dolphins 7
It's getting closer and closer. I can't wait to enjoy an amazing season of Redskins football with you all.
PS – If you need some pump up videos to get you amped up for Sunday try this guy's Redskins video library. He's pretty much got everything: http://redskins.torresa.com/videos/