Braves on the Warpath,
As has become traditional on Skins Serv over the last month, it would only be appropriate that we take a moment of appreciation for our beloved Redskins, the position they have put themselves in, and the magical ride they have taken us on. Never in our wildest dreams could have we scripted such a turnaround - a destiny-filled, emotionally-fueled run at, dare I say it, a post-season birth. The entire Redskins organization, from the kickoff kid right up to the big Danny, has provided all of us happiness, joy and most importantly, hope during the holiday season.
This team is a wellspring of inspirational stories, as they have re-defined the human triumph over adversity. From Todd Collins's ten years as a NFL nomad to Clinton Portis and Santana Moss's revitalization in the name of a fallen friend, the Skins have given even the most cynical hater reason to believe. Regardless of what happens this Sunday at FedEx, the Redskins have done enough - they have managed to erase the bitterness and tears, and have left all of us with a taste of how sweet this whole NFL thing can be. This team has literally crawled through 10 football fields of the most foul-smelling sh%$ and come out better for it. Thank you, Redskins.
But yes, unfortunately, there is still a game to be played. And yes, as fans, it is our duty to be as mentally ready as possible for this monumental showdown with the Cowboys on Sunday. There are no free passes in the NFL, so don't expect the Cowboys to hand us one now. I would like all us Skins Servers to approach this Cowboys game as the Redskins players will.
Monday and Tuesday - the players days off - are OK for celebration and playoff dreaming. Even Wednesday, when the Skins only had a walk through, could our minds be cluttered with thoughts of back-ups, no Romo and TO, and red-eye flights back to Seattle in time for work next Monday (Guilty as charged). But by Thursday, when the players strap on the pads and start hitting each other over in Ashburn, our minds need be solely focused on those shiny silver helmets with those stupid blue stars. For the next four days, its Cowboys and Cowboys only. Please don't mention that city with an "S" - not in front of me, not in front of anybody.
Yes, the Skins are the hottest team in the NFC and yes the Cowboys have nothing else to gain on Sunday, but to the 22 Cowboys who play offense and defense against the Skins this week, that won't matter one bit. If it's the starters, they'll want to play spoiler and ensure they don't have to see the Skins again. If its the bench players, they will try to use the opportunity to prove themselves to their coaches, and show off their abilities on a national stage. Football players are competitive beasts, and in no way should we think that those players and their coaches are going to let the Redskins run it all over them. Pride is a very strong human emotion and there will be plenty of it on Sunday.
Remember new years day '05? Remember how the Eagles were done and without Donovan? Did it matter? Nope. The Eagles went up early and scared the ba-jesus out of us (when we all thought it was a gimme) and not until Sean swooped in and saved the sons and daughters of DC, was that game in the books.
This game will be just like that one: a hard-hitting, cold, bitter affair between two of the biggest rivals in the NFL. It will be closely contested. It will be scary. The Skins are one game from the playoffs, but you better realize that it will be one long, hard game. I hope by the end of Skins Serv, you'll believe me.
One game at a time,
First: Minnesota Gameballs
1) Elan Fredman - Many of you don't know Elan Fredman. A good boy from St. Louis, Elan was wed on Sunday to one Sara Sebrow of Teaneck, New Jersey. In their great Wisdom, Elan and Sara scheduled their wedding at 3:30 PM, so us Skinservers attending could still watch the game at 8:15 PM. With Elan's encouragement and screams of "Skins control their own destiny...wooooo," Skinservers in attendance were sent home after the first dance. Thank you, Elan and Sara.
2) The Coaches - All 300 Redskins coaches earned their combine 3 billion dollar salaries last week. What scheming, what preparation, what genius (in Bill Walton voice). First and most importantly, on the defensive side: Greg Williams delivered. According to a report today, the Skins used 10 different packages on defense. Normally the Skins come into a game with 6 or 7 packages and don't use all of them consistently. Not in this game. Using all 10 packages, including Buddy Ryan's famous 4-6 run-stopping defense, the Skins shut down Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor and confused the heck out of Tavaris Jackson (who was an angel sent from the heavens) and Brad Childress (aka Uncle Allen). The Skins had every gap covered, every pass defended, and got pressure on the QB. It was a coaching performance for the ages.
On offense, the law firm of Saunders, Buges, Beraux and Gibbs finally got it together. The Skins schemed the perfect run/pass mix and didn't back down from the Vikings great front four. Instead, the coaches attacked the Vikings on the ground - first at the edges and eventually up the gut. The Skins game plan tired out the Vikes defense, kept them off balance, and enabled the Skins to set up the play action - which came up huge on big TD passes to Cooley and Moss. The Skins could have opted to abandon the run altogether, but instead took it right at the Vikes defense - it paid off. Also, give credit to the Skins for pouring on the big plays late in the first half instead of being comfortable up 9 or 16 points. The halfback option call late in the first half was the perfect play call for that situation. Kudos to the boys upstairs for that one.
3) The Trench Warriors - This game was won in the trenches. On both sides of the ball the Redskins line play was marvelous. On defense, the Redskins got great push - moving a strong and successful Minnessota o-line backwards all night. Kedric Golston set the tone early with his stuff of Richardson for the safety and Montgomery and Griffin kept the heat up the middle throughout the game. The Skins also got great performances from Carter and Daniels, who didn't let Peterson get outside. Carter, who isn't the best run-stuffer, was tremendous in wrapping up Peterson on the outside toss plays.
On offense, the Skins o-line created creases for Portis and had the Minnesota front-line on their heels. This makeshift group seems to be gelling at the right time - if the Skins can muster 100+ running yards on that Minnesota front four, than they can do it on anyone. The o-line is also doing a great job in pass protection. Collins is comfortable and has enough time to read through all his progressions in the pocket. Heyer and Samuels continue to protect well on the sides and Rabach, Kendall and yes, Scrubini have been solid up the middle. Lorenzo Alexander again made his presence felt Sunday, pulling to both directions on Portis runs.
4) CP Baby!!!! - First, congrats to Coach Jenky Spanky on winning the NFC offensive player of the week this week - the first Redskins RB to do so since Stephen Davis in 1999. Sheriff Gonna Getchya was fantastic Sunday night - fighting for the extra yards and using his cutback ability to gain crucial yards on the outside. Dolla Bill was also excellent with yards after the catch, gaining numerous first downs after catching the ball in the backfield. Kid Bro Sweets seems to be moving quicker and better than he has since the 05 run and his threat alone is opening the field up for everyone else.
5) Santana - Some breathtaking catches, including the TD grab and the sideline acrobatics late in the game. I forgot how good he is when he's healthy.
6) Collins (No. 1 Gameball) - It's almost unthinkable for anybody, in any profession, to be inactive for 10 years and then come in and perform at such a high level. Collins's understanding of this offense, his ability to wait in the pocket, and his deadly accuracy have led to over an 100 QB rating thus far. Collins is making clutch throws, hitting important third down plays and throwing the ball deep - everything you could ask of a QB. Most importantly he hasn't thrown a pick (poo poo poo). Collins is Coach Joe's dream QB - a smart, unflappable veteran leader.
7) The LBs - This group's tackling on Sunday was flawless. Fletcher, Godfrey, Blades and Marcus didn't let anyone by them. They are playing sideline-to-sideline, they're hitting hard and they're fast. It's a scary group right now.
8) Smoot and Springs - These guys have been blankets for weeks now. They haven't given up big plays and are starting to force some turnovers. They're looking as good as any CB tandem in the league.
Dallas: Reason to be Nervous
1) Recycling - Remember Skins Serv before Skins/Boys I? When I showed you that history says the team that is supposed to win usually loses in this matchup? Well, in case you forgot...
2) History (zachor et asher asa Dallas) (note that all the below games took place at home) -
A) 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.
B) 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.
C) 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.
D) 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.
E) 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.
F) 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.
3) Brad Johnson - For those of you licking your chops over 3 quarters of Brad Ball, please let me remind you of one score: Minnesota 19, Washington 16. Remember last year's opener? A sure-win game between the Super Bowl contender Skins and the rebuilding, new head coach-led Vikes? Remember their starting QB? That's right, it was Brad Johnson. He was angry at the Redskins then and he's angry at the Redskins now. You don't think he's itching for the chance to knock the Danny out of the playoffs? The guy who cut him for Jeff George after a playoff appearance in 1999? I don't care if Johnson hasn't played a snap all year - he diced us up for 223 yards and a TD last year in route to a win, he could do it again.
4) The Bench - I want to quickly address the notion of NFL bench players: to think it will be easier against the Cowboys bench than their starters is stupid. Was it easier for the Bears when Collins came in for Campbell? Was it easier for the Giants when Blades came in for Rocky or when Heyer came in to check Strahan? Absolutely not. If you're in the NFL, you can play - that's the bottom line. The Cowboys will sport a healthy, fresh and motivated roster on Sunday, and none of them like Redskins.
5) Starters - Last thought on this issue. The Boys ain't sitting everyone. Pro Bowlers Marion Barber and Jason Witten are going to play. DeMarcus Ware and Roy Williams are gonna play. Those four players can change a game by themselves. Barber will be breaking tackles, Witten will give our LBs fits and Ware and Williams will be looking to take heads off. That's scary stuff.
How The Skins Can Win
1) Establish the Run - Just like last week against the Vikes, the Skins will have to look to CP to ignite the offense on the ground by attacking the 'Boys 3-4 defense. The Cowboys will be without starting nose tackle Jay Ratliff - the anchor of the 'Boys 3-4 - so the Skins need to attack that front seven by going right up the gut. If the line can get push and CP can accrue some early yards, Saunders will turn things over to Collins to work the play action...
2) Attack the Corners - Even with starting cornerback Terence Newman, the Cowboys secondary has been vulnerable to the big play. With Newman out this Sunday, the Skins are going to have to test backup corner Jaques Reeves just like they did Sunday night with the Vikes Marcus McCauley. Moss is back to full speed and will be able to get room on Reeves or Anthony Henry. If the Skins can get some big plays early, they should be able to dictate what they want to do on offense for the rest of the game.
3) Knock Out Romo - I know I spent time shpieling about Brad Johnson, but I still would rather have him in there than Romo. If I am Gregg Williams, I force the issue with Wade Phillips. If Romo trots out on the opening drive, blitz the heck out of him. Get some body blows and even a late hit if need be. Philips has no reason to keep Romo under attack in a meaningless game and if he sees Williams sending the house, he'll put a very short leash on his Pro Bowl QB.
4) Stuff the Run - With no Terrell Owens in the lineup, Marion Barber becomes the top threat on the Dallas offense. The Skins need to take him out of the game early similar to what they did against Minnesota. The Skins have to make the 'Boys QB (whoever it is) throw the ball. Crayton and Terry Glenn are not TO and can be stopped in man coverage. If the Skins can avoid being burned by Barber (another Pro Bowler) they should be able to force some turnovers and slow the Dallas attack down. The Skins rund defense will get a boost as Cowboys Pro-Bowl center Andre Gurode will sit this one out too.
5) Cooley - Remember this guy having a field day in the first half against the Boys and Pack only to go silent in the second half? The Skins need to get Cooley the ball early and often - he can beat any Cowboy linebacker in coverage and his threat should open up the offense even more for guys like Portis and Moss. Cooley needs to have a monster day (see Skins/Cowboys December 2005)
6) Turnovers - Even though the weather forecast is changing for the better, the Skins still need to focus on ball protection. One of the easiest ways for a heavy favorite to give a game away is by turning it over. If the Skins limit their TO's to zero and stay positive in the turnover ratio, they can win this game.
7) Being Ready to Play - This is the most important factor on Sunday. If the Skins come out hungry, mentally prepared and with an edge, the will dominate this game. If it's the same Redskins team as it was in New York and Minnesota, than the 'Boys will get crushed. Any NFL team would struggle against those Redskins teams. But that's a big "if." The Skins might be in playoff cruise control already and it could prove fatal. This is the ultimate trap game. I know Coach Joe will do everything to get them ready, I just hope they are.
1) Skins - The Skins put jumbo guard Mike Pucillo on IR so he's done for the season. Todd Yoder was in pads today so he'll probably be available. Mike Sellers will also be ready after that scary play Sunday night. Everyone else should be ready to go.
2) Boys - The Cowboys will definitely be without TO, Ratliff and Gurode and most likely without Terence Newman. The Cowboys will get Terry Glenn back (he's missed all season) and he'll probably start alongside Patrick Crayton.
By the Numbers (I gotta get you guys a little hopped up)
61-23 - Coach Joe's career December record
2005 - The last time the Skins had a four game winning streak. That year the Skins advanced to the post season.
2 - The number of playoff appearances the Skins have had since Joe Gibbs retired after the 1992-1993 season.
9 of 15 (60%) - Years in which the Washington Redskins have made the playoffs under Joe Gibbs
11 of 55 (20%) - Years in which the Washington Redskins have made the playoffs under every other coach.
5-0 - Coach Joe's record in the wild card round.
1982 - The last time the Redskins faced the Cowboys in the playoffs.
Prediction - The Redskins are going to make us nervous - they always do. Whether its a slow start out of the gate or hitting the late 3rd quarter wall, they make us sweat. On a cold winter day against the arch-rivals on national TV, I can't imagine the Skins make it that easy on us. But as they did on New Year's 05 and as they've been doing throughout this magical run, the Skins will prevail when they're backs are to the wall. At some point on Sunday, the game will turn into a celebration of 75 years of Redskins football (I just don't know exactly when). Redskins 28 Cowboys 10
Pump Up Video - Make sure to watch this 5 times before Sunday at 4:15. http://redskins.torresa.com/videos/video.php?video=12-18Dallas
Parting Shot - If you're going to the game on Sunday, please be loud. FedEx Field usually sounds like a hotel lobby - under these circumstances, that'd be a terrible shame. Get jacked up and bring em' out, baby!!!!!