Braves on the Warpath,
As we approach the holiday season, I think we must show some appreciation to our beloved Redskins. Despite a myriad of heart breakers, a four-game losing streak during the stretch run, the death of a star player and a roster full of severe injuries, our Skins have still given us reason to hope with three weeks left to play. I can write proudly, albeit hesitantly, that when the Skins lace them up on this Sunday, December 16th, in front of a national TV audience, they will actually be playing for something. That is more than we could have ever asked for in this, the most tumultuous year in franchise history.
So what are there chances? Honestly, not so good. But that doesn't bother me or keep me from hoping. In fact, because the Skins situation looks so dire on paper, I have more reason to believe they could pull it off. You see, so many weeks of this season I have felt that the Skins should have beaten teams. And in most those weeks, the Skins have outplayed their opponent and still lost. Karma, my friends, Karma. The Skins had awful karma for most of this 07 campaign and it has always bit them at the most inopportune times. Games they should have won, they ended up losing (citations unnecessary and inappropriate).
But since last Thursday, I believe the Skins Karma has done a 180. This entire country, not just those of us in DC, are pulling for our boys. We are the true underdog story - and you know what, I think we should relish in it. Our franchise player goes down with a season-ending injury, and the Skins still overcome the odds to beat the Bears with a guy who hasn't started in 10 years (in the same week they lose on a heartbreak and all attend a funeral in Miami).
And there was much more to this story. In that same Bears game, CP overcame stomach poisoning, Shawn Springs fought severe back pain and Fred Smoot escaped the Skins training room (Jack Bauer style) and got back on the field for the end of the game. This team showed heart, grit and character and actually pulled out a tight one. Karma's starting to turn (or at least they remembered how to win).
And if you look at our opponent, they are eerily similar to us, yet still diametrically opposite. They have a very strong defense, a lackluster, underachieving offense and an ole' coach. Yet the Giants, unlike the Skins, have overcome poor performance after poor performance and squeaked out close games against inferior opponents. That's exactly what the Skins couldn't do this year.
Here are some numbers to chew on: in games decided by 8 points or less, the Skins are 5-6 this year (including all four games in their four game losing streak). The Giants, on the other hand, are 5-0 in games decided by 8 or less, including pulling out tight games in their last four victories. The opponents in those games had a combine record of 16-36. The Giants, despite playing less than mediocre, have found ways to win. The Skins, on the other hand, have found ways to lose. And we must look back to September to see when this trend started. Remember, it was week 3 when the Skins blew a 10 point lead to the Giants and couldn't get into the end zone on the game's final play. Hopefully the Skins reverse both teams trends and pull off the upset.
And so here we have it, with three games left the Skins have an opportunity to turn this thing around. Yes, their QB hasn't started since I was a sophomore in high school. Yes, the Skins haven't won in the Meadowlands since Gibbs took the helm. Yes, the team is decimated with injuries and is even more vulnerable going into a cold and snowy Giant stadium. But maybe, just maybe (in William Wallace "Braveheart" voice), karma will be good to the Skins this week and Sunday will be the start of a magical ride.
So need to discuss scenarios. It's all about one week at a time here. Win and move on.
1) Hello Goodbye, Hello Goodbye - You catch Randy Thomas on the field for two series on Thursday? Yup - that was ole 77 all right. Poor Randy fell on the arm a couple of times and realized he wasn't close to ready. Our best lineman is now on the shelf for good. Hopefully he'll be ready for OTAs in March. It's Scrubini time. God help CP.
2) Heyer V. Strahan - Saw an unnerving stat this morning. I can't remember the exact numbers, but it went a little something like this: When Todd Collins was a starter in Buffalo in the mid-90's he was sacked a lot. Saw a different stat that also sent chills down the spine: the Giants lead the league in sacks by 6. Eish.
And to make matters worse, the Skins have undrafted rookie Stephon Heyer manning up Michael Strahan on the outside this week. Let me just say that Heyer has filled in admirably for Jon Jansen and Todd Wade this year. Heyer is a huge boy and will be a big wall for Strahan to get around, but his technique and footwork are still very raw, and the savvy vet will find a way to get around the rook. The Skins are going to be asking Yoder, Cooley, Sellers and CP to chip on Strahan and with Samuels having to deal with another great rusher in Umenyiora on the other side, Collins could be in for a long day.
3) Watch for the Giants Scheme - I'm really not sure how the Giants will approach Collins. I assume it will be a constant mix of pass and run blitzing. The Giants, as all other teams have done against the Skins, are going to plug the gaps with their 3 LBs and make sure Portis can't get past the line of scrimmage. The Giants might also bring up their safeties and throw some all-out blitzes at Collins, hoping to rattle him early and force him to make mistakes. The Giants are going to try to make sure this game is played at the line of scrimmage, regardless of whether Collins drops back to pass or hands it to CP.
4) What do the Skins do- Part 1 - The Skins are going to have to take shots up field, and many of them. If the Giants are going to have 7 and 8 men fronts coming at CP and Collins, the Skins will get man-to-man opportunities on the outside. Both Moss and Randle El should be able to get open space against aging corner Sam Madison and inexperienced rookie Aaron Ross. Unfortunately, the weather conditions and the swirling winds will make throwing the ball much tougher for the weak-armed Collins, who might have trouble finessing the ball to the Skins WRs.
5) What do the Skins do - Part 2 - The Skins other hope to win this game is to marginalize Collins's roll. That means do all the other things well. 1) Get to Eli - the Skins have to make Eli throw off his back foot. Eli is rattled by pressure and makes lots of mistakes. If the Skins can win the turnover battle and play on shorter fields than they'll have a chance. 2) No TOs - even if the Skins offense is stagnant, they can still keep the game close if they don't turn the ball over. In every big loss this year (especially on the road), turnovers have killed them. If they can somehow avoid it completely this week, they might be ok. 3) Special Teams - I know its hackneyed, but if the Skins can steal yards on kicks and have good coverage, they could find a formula for winning in this environment 4) Running the ball - the Skins are going to keep it on the ground, especially in inclement weather. If somehow CP can find some holes and get some push, it will ease the pressure under center. 5) Collins can help himself by combating blitzing with effective hot routes and screen passes. Just like the Betts TD late Thursday, if Collins can remain unflappable and find open under guys, maybe the Skins will be able to move the ball a little but.
6) The Weather - You gotta assume the bad weather helps the home team. Giants stadium is hard enough to play in for the Skins, but having to face a potential ice storm could make it worse. On the other hand, inclement weather could even the playing field. Eli Manning isn't exactly a bright dude, and maybe he'll make some mistakes and turn the ball over even more than he does already. It's also possible that the cold and icy conditions can marginalize guys like Plaxico, Brandon Jacobs and Antonio Pierce who all have been nursing injuries and might be averse to doing some things in wet conditions. If the weather is as bad as they're predicting, this game will come down to holding onto the football. Remember Green Bay? That cannot happen. If the Skins are the benefactors of Giants turnovers, than their fortunes could change. But it could easily go the other way also.
7) Huge for the Giants - Something else that concerns me about this game is how big it has become for the Giants. Forget our scenarios for a second. If the Giants somehow lose to the Skins than they have to face going up to Buffalo and playing New England at home in order to make that last playoff spot. If the Skins, Vikings and Giants all finish 9-7 (which is possible), the Giants would be left on the outside. They realize how badly they need this game.
8) Injuries - Skins will likely get James Thrash back but might not have Philip Daniels. Heyer's in for Wade and there's nothing else of concern to report. Also of note - ARE is the third string QB.
9) Prediction - I'll be there and many of you readers will be there. All I can predict is a jolly ole' good time. Snow. Cold. NFC East Grudge Match. Impossible to predict. This thing can go any which way.