Friday, November 30, 2007

R.I.P 21: Volume 3, Issue 15

Skins Servers,

Most everything that can be discussed about this awful tragedy has been discussed, and most everything that can be reported has been reported, so I will not use this forum to discuss Sean's life, the horrific magnitude of the tragedy, and the nightmarish consequences for the people that he leaves behind - that would only add to our, and frankly, I don't think I can read, write, listen or watch much more about this senseless story. It is far too depressing.


Instead, I would like to address something else that has been weighing on my mind over these last tumultuous days, and honestly, has been eating at me more than anything else. That is figuring out why this is so hard on all of us. I understand that emotions cannot be justified or explained - every man deals with pain and anguish differently and there is no such thing as a correct emotion -  yet, somehow this fan base, this city and even this nation grieves harder and more passionately over Sean than for other tragic events that befall us on a daily basis.


For the hours that I have spent in a cloud  thinking about Sean's great potential, his growth as a person, his being a great father and teammate, I spent as many hours trying to figure out why I was so upset.


Most of us have never met Sean Taylor, never knew him on a personal level, never really understood his persona and many, it seems, even questioned his demeanor. Yet we mourn, we cry, we sit still in shock, we turn to our loved ones for support and answers. This isn't 9/11, this isn't Pearl Harbor. Sean wasn't someone we could touch or lean on, he wasn't our own flesh and blood who had been stricken with cancer, leukemia or a heart attack - our mother, father, sister or brother - never to be seen again. Yet we all lost our breath, we all waited in anguish on Monday, we all lost a part of us when we heard the news on Tuesday, and we all still mourn for the passing of someone we barely knew. Why?


A few answers have come to my mind and I will share them all with you. You may think some of these answers are weird and over-the-top,  you may relate to some, and some of these answers might hit on a feeling you haven't been able to put your finger on this whole week. These are in no particular order:


1) Sean Taylor was a 24 year old human being. There is nothing wrong with weeping over the loss of human life, yet alone someone so young with so much potential for greatness professionally and personally. Sean Taylor was just a baby. Still learning the world, learning about himself and changing every day. As many of us who grind through those same struggles, those same growing pains, hoping to one day get "it" right, it is unfair to see someone who will never realize his full maturation. That is terribly sad.


2) In my life football is a constant. It is something I can depend on and know is always there. I spend months looking forward to it in the off season and 6 days looking forward to it during the season. Every autumn Sunday for over 75 years football has been there for America, if and when we needed it. For that three hour break, for that escape from everyday life, for a tailgate party with our family or a pile-on with our friends after a big touchdown - Football is always there. And for the last four years, Sean Taylor was part of football's dependability. We all got used to seeing Sean, we all expected him to play ferociously and always knew he was putting himself on the line for us, the fans of the burgundy and gold. Every home game we had the pleasure of seeing Sean's Samsonian body up close and personal, cheered for him, screamed for him and made him our own. And now he will no longer be there. Football is no longer dependable.


2) As I touched on above, Football is America's great escape. Football is the greatest way for me to shut the real world out. No wars, no tragedy, no trauma, no sorrow, no terrorist threats, no fear of death. . A Sunday without stress, a tough week at work made easier because of the ability to look forward to Sunday. Football lets many of us shut out the world and put our unused, built-up emotion, aggression and passion into a football team we come to care so much about. And then, with one piece of news, the wicked world that we use football to ignore rears its ugly head - sabotaging the game that is supposed to protect us from it. When Sean died, football became real for me. It was no longer a hideaway, a safe haven, no longer a fantasy land. Football became another depressing tale on the 6oclock news: a soldiers never coming home from battle, a child being murdered on the street and wild men with guns running amok on our nations streets. When Sean Taylor died where were we supposed to turn? What means could we use to seek refuge and tuck the emotions deep down to deal with it later? We were left to turn to nothing, and instead forced to engross ourselves in the tragedy that befell Sean, his family and the Redskins. We had to deal with this harsh world it because our fantasy world had been hijacked, it had become real.


3) Many of us are die-hard Redskins fans. That's the bottom line. I, like many of you, make the team my own, make the team like my family. You build a bond with the players that wear your colors and you familiarize yourselves with them as much as possible. You learn what they're like, you get glimpses of their personality, you expect certain things from them when you watch them on TV. Sean become a part of our sports family. We grew close to him in our own ways: we cheered for him, wore his jersey, bragged on him to our friends. All these things made the pain of losing him that much worse.


4) Similarly, we feel pain for those who must now pick up the pieces. For Sean's family, his fiancee, his orphan child. And we probably feel those emotions even more for the Redskins players, Sean's teammates - because they're the ones we know. We never want to see our heroes weep, we never want to worry over their mental state. They are the ones who ease our worried minds, and now we worry over theirs.


5) Sean as a superhero. It's possible something like this is so hard on us because Sean epitomized the indestructibility of an athlete. He was the strongest and he was the scariest. Every player feared him. He was an immortal.


6) Personally, I found this so hard because over the years Sean brought us Redskins fans great joy. We high-fived after his hits, hugged after his interceptions, and screamed his name after a 3 and out. Even more poignant was thinking about the fact that Sean brought us Skins fans two of our happiest sports moments over the last 15 years. In Philadelphia, on new years eve 2005, Sean swoops in like an angel from above and picks up a fumble, gracefully carrying the ball to the end zone and clinching a playoff spot for the Redskins (I was there with my family and friends, and I believe that was the happiest moment of my sports life. I don't know if we'll ever recapture those feelings). And then, just one week later, Sean did it again, as if he was almost destined to, and his TD lead the Skins to a playoff win. Now these memories are tarnished, now they are bittersweet. 

Friday, November 16, 2007

Wake Up, It's Cowboys Week: Volume 2, Issue 13

"Do you believe in miracles???...Yes!!!"           

- Al Michaels, 2/22/80


"Do we need a huge won???...Yes!!!"

- Scott Zakheim, 11/16/07


Cowboy Hunters,

First, let me just say that for the first time in recent memory, there is zero buzz in this city over Cowboys week. It's truly sad. And well, maybe it's justified. The Skins are three games behind the Cowboys for the division, they will play without their best defensive player, their top outside weapon (again), and are coming off what amounts to the most egregious home defeat this decade (and we all know there have been many). The Cowboys, on the other hand, are white hot. Their offense is a juggernaut, Tony Romo has solidified himself as a top-5 NFL Quarterback and Terrell Owens is the most intimidating receiving threat in the league (and we haven't mentioned how good Marion Barber is). Their defense is 5th in the league against the run and have a fierce pass rush led by DeMarcus Ware. And oh yeah, they've just come off convincing road victories against the Eagles and Giants - two NFC East foes we couldn't take care of at home. The Boys are true Super Bowl Contenders.


On the flip side, the proverbial poopie is hitting the fan at Redskins Park. The Skins were six feet away from taking an insurmountable lead with five minutes to play on Sunday, and in a heartbeat were down eight points and looking at 1-2 in the division. Coach Joe, who has never taken so much heat from the media in his entire career, nearly got into fisticuffs with the DC locals at his Monday presser. Santana Moss and his bummed heel couldn't even bring themselves to watch practice yesterday. James Thrash, coming off a two TD performance, is on crutches. Sean Taylor is out for three weeks. And even Brandon Lloyd, who was penciled to be the number three this week, broke his clavicle on the last play of practice yesterday and is now down for the year. Wow. And it's only Thursday! Can it get any worse for the Skins? (Have no fear, Jimmy Farris is here)


Well, to be honest, this dreamer and yellow journalist is revelling in this situation and is about to create a hell of a storyline for my beloved Skinsservers.


The Skins are 10.5 point dogs, DC couldn't care less about this game, the Skins are losing headlines to a presidential debate in Nevada (where people still don't have the right to vote), and the season is slipping from their fingers.  And yes, even though I believe deep in my innards that the Redskins have less of a chance to win this week than they did against the Patriots, they do have one amazing thing going for them: they're playing the Cowboys.


The Blue Stars are great, The Braves are playing poor, They're the Brady Bunch, we're an "E: True Hollywood story" - it just might be the perfect storm.  Remember, after about a 10-year lull in joyous Skins Cowboys games, the last two years have been blissful. Do I need to remind you about Tana's 2 TD's in two minutes in 2005? Or Troy Vincent's block last year? The Skins have won 3 out of the last 4 of these matchups and shocked the world twice. This rivalry has become a true rivalry again, and just like the old days, the team who isn't supposed to win, usually wins. A Cowboys fan said something interesting to me today "If the Skins can keep it close, I'm really nervous. Anything can happen, it's the Redskins." They're actually scared of us! If for no other reason than the fact that our boys will be wearing the burgundy and gold.


So yes, on paper they should get creamed. But that never makes a damn bit of difference when indians go hunting for cowboys.


Don't let your babies grow up to be Cowboys,




In Case You Don't Believe Me, Here's 25 Years of Proof


1) 12/5/1982 - The Skins, the eventual Super Bowl champs, are shocked at home by the Boys 24-10. Joe Theismann is sacked 7 times.


2) 9/5/1983 - The Cowboys come back from 20 points after halftime to beat the defending champs 31-30 in the season opener at RFK on Monday Night Football.


3) 11/5/89 - The Cowboys, who finished the season 1-15, get their lone win at RFK against a playoff-bound Redskins team, 13-3.


4) 11/24/91 - The Skins, who came in undefeated (11-0), lose to the Cowboys at home thanks in large part to an Alvin Harper-caught Hail Mary just before halftime. As we all know, the Skins went on to with the big one.


5) 12/13/92 - The Redskins come up with a miracle at home, defeating the eventual Superbowl champs, 20-17, thanks to a sack-6 of Troy Aikman in the Washington end zone late in the fourth quarter.


6) 9/6/93 - Fittingly, the Redskins quickly took down the Super Bowl champs in the season opener, crushing Dallas 35-16 at home. The Skins went on to a 4-12 record and the Cowboys went on to win another Super Bowl.


7) The 1995 Season - The Redskins sweep the Cowboys in a year the Boys lose only two other games in route to another Super Bowl. The Skins only won four other games to finish at 6-10.


8) 9/12/99 - The Redskins blow a 35-14 lead and lose on a Rocket Ishmail OT TD catch, 41-35 in the season opener. The Skins would go on to make the playoffs and the Cowboys would finish at 8-8.


10) 9/18/00 - In a Monday nighter filled with huge expectations for the Skins (they got Deion and co. after making the playoffs), the Skins crumble at home 27-21 to a Cowboys team playing without Troy Aikman. Dallas would go on to win the next 8 out of 9 meetings.


11) 9/18/05 - On ring of honor night in Dallas the Skins go flat, finding themselves down 13-0 with two minutes to go, before Mark Brunell finds Santana Moss in the back of the end zone for a TD on fourth down and then again, just a minute later, for another long TD score. Skins win 14-13. The Skins finish one game ahead of the Cowboys and make the playoffs.


12) 11/5/06 - After missing a potential GW field goal, the Skins block a 35-yard Cowboys FG attempt and Sean Taylor returns the block to the Cowboys 44 yard line plus a 15 yard facemask penalty, setting up a game-winning 47 yarder by Nick Novak.  Redskins 22, Cowboys 19.


Some Additional Thoughts


13) If They Lose - Losing in Dallas does not mean an end to the season by any stretch. A loss (or a win) would still set up a huge tilt in Tampa next week (who, by the way, have somehow  become our other true rivals). I figure Tampa, New Orleans and Detroit to be our biggest #6 seed competitors, having a tiebreaker on 2 of 3 teams is huge. If we beat Tampa and head home to face Buffalo and Chicago, we're still looking pretty good for the post season.


14) Williams, not Gibbs, Should be Getting Slammed -

Gibbs has been getting killed for the third down call and the timeout situation. I believe that the offense actually turned a corner on Sunday and looked good for four quarters (for the first time all year). Gibbs should get credit for that and some of the blame for the debacle should go elsewhere.


Sometimes my natural Sunday commentary is curbed by the time Thursday rolls around, but one lingering criticism I had while at the game still resonates: why the heck didn't we blitz McNabb? We payed him way too much respect. The guy's accuracy is terrible, he has limited threats on the outside and does not escape the blitz like he used to. And yet, the Skins sat back and didn't force the issue at all. One specific play, a 3rd and 21, late in the third quarter could have been a huge momentum changer in the game, instead of blitzing, the Skins gave McNabb all day to convert a 20 yard pass, and gave up a QB sneak for the first down on the next play to extend the drive. Amazingly, the one time the Skins called for an all-out blitz, the Eagles knew it was coming and set up the screen for the go-ahead score. If you're so scared to blitz because Westbrook will burn you, why not spy him and send everyone else? I just don't get it. The Redskins defensive scheme let them down big time - 25 points was enough to win the game.


15) What do they do on defense?

After shpeiling about how we need to attack more on defense, I will tell you that if I'm scheming a game plan for Dallas, I would only rush three. Blitzing Romo doesn't work. If the Skins rush three and camouflage their coverage schemes, maybe they confuse the guy. The Cowboys love taking big shots and will not alter to the dink and dunk like the Patriots did. TO and company need to be fed the ball downfield and Jason Garrett will find ways to do it. If the Skins drop into coverage (pulling Landry further back in the cover 2 or 3 to help Prioulou on the big stuff) and show some different things than usual, Romo might do something stupid, as he did when Buffalo confused the heck out of him on MNF.  I think Romo is way too good on the run and escapes the rush well so forcing him outside the tackle box will not work.


16) What do they do on offense?

Keep it balanced and stop showing their cards. I wish for one full game, the Skins would only pass on running downs and run on passing downs (except for 3rd and goal at the 7). I really feel CP has the hardest job in football - he's the only back who has to gain yards when everyone in the stadium knows the run is coming. They need to run CP out of spread formations, and on second down and not on first. The no-huddle had the offense moving against the Eagles so they might as well stick to that, although I don't know how affective it will be on the road. Somehow, the Skins will have ARE, Keenan McCardell and Reche Caldwell in their three receiver sets this week, and I hope that doesn't deter Joe from throwing because the Skins need to keep the Cowboys off balance.Hopefully if Campbell can get hot early then running lanes will open up for CP, similar to how they did against the Eagles (another very good run defense). A CP note - Sunday was the quickest I've seen him run it since he's been here. Choo Choo's really coming along nicely.


17) Injuries -  If you ignore the fact that the Skins lost Taylor, Thrash and Lloyd this week and 'Tana is still hobbled, the injury situation is looking pretty good. The O-line keeps trucking (and is getting better with every week) and the Skins will get Marcus Washington back into the lineup (finally). Fred Smoot didn't have any setbacks with the hammy on Sunday so he should be in better form. On the other side, the Cowboys may not be with their best Guard, Leonard Davis, who hurt his ankle in practice yesterday, and might also be without starting corner Anthony Henry (cross your fingers). BTW - if Taylor plays this game is a different story, and it wouldn't take a miracle to beat them. That's a huge loss.


18) Prediction - No need. They keep it close, they win on a miracle. They go down 2 TD's early, you might as well start watching film on Tampa.



Friday, November 9, 2007

I Hate Haters: Volume 2, Issue 12

"Haters Suck" – Scott Elisha Zakheim, 11/9/07


Mr and Mrs. Halfways,

I first would like to apologize for the interruption to Skins Serv last week. Please don't be misled - it had nothing to do with the Patriots defeat, but was rather a ramification of a severe time crunch due to a Skins Family wedding in Miami this weekend (mazal tov). In fact, I was more driven than ever to write Skins Serv last week, with the majority of my planned missive to be aimed at Redskins fans, and not the Pats game or X's and O's. So here, now, 10 days after the Foxboro Swirly, I would like to comment on a certain breed of Skins fans who have reared their ugly, cowardly, incest-produced faces in the last week and a half: Skins Haters.


I define a Skins hater as someone who uses every opportunity they have to get down on our team. Criticizing coaches, players, the front office and the Funky Four, Skins haters are those who make themselves feel good by pouncing on our beloved heroes as a mere defense mechanism to protect against future losses and a fall in the standings (stupid cowards). And of course, when the Skins come back and prove those haters wrong, they are the first to cheer for the burgundy and gold, buy Redskins performance fleeces, and flaunt the accolades of their amazing team to their friends and loved ones. These type of people make me sick (literally - I had a fever last week).


And, as can be imagined, Skins Haters were out in force last week, literally kicking the Skins while they were down (according to Dave Feldman of WTTG Fox 5, a Skins hater was actually seen punching Santana Moss just outside the Skins Ashburn facility last Monday - typical). Instead of sticking with their guys, their soldiers, their warriors, their flesh and bloods, Skins haters packed it up and went home for the season. Just called it quits. And why not? For heartless deadbeats, it's so much easier. I hope Skins haters don't treat their wives and children the same way, because if they do, divorce rates and orphan cases will skyrocket in the DC area.


So the Skins got run out of town by the Patriots? Big freaking deal. Who hasn't? I know 52-7 is astronomical, but please consider the fact that they were lining up David Macklin, Leigh Torrence and Pierson Prielou against Moss, Stallworth and Welker - was that really going to work? But never mind excuses - the Skins lost to what possibly could be the greatest team ever. Does that mean the defense is bad? Nope. Does that mean CP's career is over? Nope. Does that mean the Skins can't be one of the best teams in the NFC? You got it - no.


And when those evil haters peered their disgusting heads again after the Jets victory, I hope you punched them in the mouth, kneed them in the balls and sent back to hibernation until Norv Turner is coaching here again. Why? Because despite what it may have looked like to a plebes eyes, beating the Jets was a good win. The Skins gave up a special teams touchdown and allowed another three points due to a stupid personal foul call before they even had a chance to catch their breath. They ended up dominating the game in the trenches and only gave up 13 points on defense - to a quarterback who showed great escapability in the pocket and who was able to zip some passes to his receiving threats (something previous Jets opponents didn't have to worry about with Chad at the helm). The Skins also were minus Griff - a defensive stalwart who helps the front four with pocket push - and yet they still contained the Jets and kept pressure on all day.


Portis carried the ball 36 times! Explain to me how some washed-up, knee-crippled, fast-food eating punk could do that? Push. That's it - push. I know they did it against a bad run defense, but the offensive line is actually getting better. They've played together as a unit for 4+ weeks now and it's starting to show. CP ran behind Samuels and Kendall most of the game, but actually had some nice bursts behind Fabini and Wade (who got a game ball). A lot of this stuff is continuity, communication and timing: as CP gets used to this O-line and they get used to one-another, the running situation will only improve - 196 and a TD is a great start.


So what's it going to be? You can be a cowardly (third time I've used that word) hater and turn your TV off for the rest of the season - CP is done, the defense is reeling and they can't move the chains enough to win games against good teams - so don't even mention playoffs. OR - you can look at the fact that they're 5-3 at the midway point, have a tiebreak against Detroit, have lost to teams with a combined record of 22-3, have a star running back who is in prime form for the first time in two years, a defense that is lightning fast who will be getting their anchor back this week, an offensive line that is gelling, and a receiver (Santana Moss) that might actually be getting healthy again. And oh yeah - Randy Thomas WILL play against the Giants on December 15.


We're halfway through the marathon and I'm sticking with my boys. Are you?


Haters Out,




Looking at Week 2 v. Philly

1) CP the Workhorse - Don't expect to see CP running totally wild against Philly this week - he'll have to earn all his yards. Philly's run defense is seventh in the league and CP ran it 17 times for 69 yards (about 4.0 a clip) in their first meeting. Remember, that was the first game with the new O-Line (Thomas got hurt early) so we might see some improvement to those numbers. I see this one playing as a grind-it-out NFC battle and if CP can get 4-4.5 per carry and they can run him 25-30 times, they should be just fine. It seems like Gibbs is going to stick with the running game and has clearly made CP his top dog.


Interesting side note: Word around the NFL is that Gibbs has taken back the game planning and offensive direction of the team from Al Saunders - so don't expect anything cute going forward, just a lot of downhill running mixed in with some play action. Many believe Saunders's contract will be bought out after the season - if that's the case, I assume he'll marginalized more and more as the season goes on, especially if the offense improves.


An additional note on CP - whether you think Portis's early season struggles were due to the o-line, injuries, or him getting back into playing shape, I will admit this: whatever it was, it shattered his confidence. Against the Pats and Cards Portis wasn't running with any belief. It was as if he knew holes weren't going to open and he might as well brace himself for a big hit from an oncoming LB or Safety. Heck, CP hadn't had a 100 yard game in over a year and was struggling to get 3 yards a carry, why should he have had any confidence? Portis, who has all the swagger in the world off the field, wasn't running with the same swagger on it. CP put himself out on the line last week by saying he could carry the team against New York - whatever he knew ended up being right. Portis ran with aggression and spirit and I think he will use Sunday to propel him to better things (chayil to chayil baby).


2) JC Must Get it Done - Looking back at Skins/Eagles I, Jason Campbell was solid. He passed for 209 yards, but more importantly he spread the ball around and converted third downs (they were 8 of 15). Moss had his best game with 6 for 89, Randle El was big on third down and Cooley had that big TD before the half. It's gonna have to happen again. CP will get Jason to those 3rd and 3s and 3rd and 2s and the young man is going to have to make plays. Moss will be 100% for about 25 snaps, so JC will have to take advantage of 89 when he's in there, he's also going to have look to other targets (Yoder, McCardell and dare I say Lloyd). To be frank, Campbell hasn't been good of recent. He doesn't look confident in the pocket and his accuracy has faltered a bit. The kid's going to have to make plays to get the chains moving. The Eagles are more susceptible to the pass and their linebackers aren't good in coverage - the Skins will get opportunities and Jason must convert.


3) Front Four Must Get Push - Going back to Skins/Eagles I, the front four was excellent all night. They got in McNabb's face, forced bad throws and took him down. The same must happen again. I think we might see a little more safety blitzing to help the big guys out (the Eagles WRs are pretty weak so that isn't a concern), and Griffin's return should help Carter, Daniels and Montgomery collapse the pocket, making it easier for the guys behind them to force turnovers.


4) Containing Brian Westbrook - Brian Westbrook was very very good against us in the first go-round and the Eagles didn't use him when it mattered. He was getting major chunks in the first half and Reid (in typical manner) went to the pass throughout the second half. Reid will get smart (especially after seeing what Maroney did in the first quarter last week) and Westbrook will get a ton of carries - the Skins are going to have to stop him. The defensive gameplan will be different than in most previous weeks as the Eagles have a weak aerial attack but instead hand it to Westbrook and pass in the flat. The Skins will bring Landry and the LB's up to stop Westbrook and let Taylor worry about Brown as their lone down field threat. If the Skins stop Westbrook, they win. Easier said than done though.


5) Injury Update - The Skins are taking a different approach to Moss this week. They're gonna let him rest (sit him out of practice) and as I mentioned, limit his snaps so he isn't slowed later in the game. The strategy paid off against the Jets as Moss looked quicker than in weeks past. I hate making excuses for the anemic offense, but Moss's injury was a lot worse than people thought and he hasn't been the same WR - that's killed the passing game, and I think it will improve as he gets healthy. The Skins sat Griff today in practice, but all signs (JLCs blog) indicate he will go Sunday. Marcus Washington did conditioning drills, but the Skins don't seem to know if he'll go. Lastly, Smootsie (who missed most of the 4th quarter) won't be practicing all week in hopes of resting the hammy for Sunday. He'll be active, so we'll see how long he makes it. I think they actually can afford to take it easy with Smoot this week because of the lack of Eagles receiving threats, Springs and co. should be ok if Leif Ericson Smoot is still hobbled.


6) Prediction - I am convinced that Sunday will go just like the first matchup, except Portis will be more of a factor. As I mentioned, Dolla Bill will get a nice workload and help keep the Skins on the field more than we've been seeing. I also think the Skins are going to have to take some more up field shots if they want to score (as they did nicely up at the Linc). The Skins could get some fits from Westbrook, but I think a bad Eagles passing game will help the Skins out. Look for the B&G to get a nice boost from being back at home - they'll force at least 3 turnovers and work with much shorter fields than they did over the last two weeks. Redskins 24 Eagles 13.


Remember: Down with the hatas, up with the playas.