Braves on the Warpath,
I would first like to wish you all Happy New Year! Tomorrow night is the start of the next chapter in our riveting, emotional ride as Redskins fans - and before we start chalking up the L's and W's, I think we should pause to remember just how great it is to be here for another season of NFL football - the greatest spectator sport in the history of mankind.
I would also like to apologize for being a deadbeat SkinsServer (Chief Server?). I am going through some major life changes and am still figuring out how to include Skins Serv in the juggling act. Thus, I totally neglected the preseason, discussing hot new players (assuming we have any), and cutting the roster down to 53. In hindsight, this was probably the year to do it. Lets just say the last few weeks haven't been pretty. As you can see though, I have found the time to get this Week 1 edition out to press, and with God's will, I'll be able to do it for 21 more weeks.
Before I get down into the nitty and the gritty, I would also like to make a general statement aimed at all of Skins Servers and Redskins fans universe-wide. The malaise ends tonight. All cynicism, skepticism, and any other "ism" that has captured the sentiment of 99.9998 of Redskins fans (the .0002 are Ami and Elan) over the last two months must be laid to rest tonight (rest in peace, cynicism - see you at the 2009 draft).
As of tomorrow, it is just us the fans, our 53-man roster and the coaching staff that parade on the Sunday sidelines. When Squeezy or Tynes place the ball on the tee tomorrow, there will be no more front office, no more politics, no more PR fiascoes. It will be us the fans and our beloved Potomac Warriors.
This rebuke is just as much internal as it is external - we all need to exorcise our bitterness (go the mikvah maybe?) and come into 2008 with positivism, love and excitement for our boys. JC, CP, Marcus, Rock and all the others that comprise this team we all love so much need us as much as we need them. So lets bring it Skins Fans - better, faster, stronger and more emotionally-tied than ever before.
As for what to expect - I just don't know (as indicated by "Mystery" in the Skins Serv title). This team has some major upside, some major downside, a fledgling QB and a post-fetal head coach. And oh yeah - they play in the hardest division in the National Football League. To me, as a humble blogger, it's the equivalent of making chulent for the first time - I just don't know how it's gonna come out. Good thing is we now have 17 weeks to watch it all play out.
To a very happy new year full of happiness, health and 19/20 total wins.
1) Welcome Zorny (Yeah - I coined that)
When you talk about the 2008 Washington Redskins, you cannot look past the new man under the Motorola. Regardless of how you feel about the total alienation of, and sheer disregard for, human life the front office showed during the hiring process (OK, I'll stop), you can't help but like Zorny. This guy brings a fresh energy and youthful exuberance (shocking that he's a 50-something, actually) that this organization needed. He's a great offensive mind, he develops quarterbacks, and his most endearing trait, he is candid with the media (no more "great team effort" and no more "3 lb, 8 oz baby Jesus").
In terms of X's and O's, Zorn brings in the West Coast offense. The WCO, based on my limited knowledge, is all about quick hitting, timing-based patterns, which depend equally as much as yards after the catch as it does on the QB's ability to make a quick decision at the line of scrimmage. What this means for the Redskins offense is that Jason Campbell is going to have to know where all his options are within mili-seconds after the snap and then make the optimal decision based on the defensive coverage. In the preseason, I'd say JC was 2/5 in performances - against the Colts and Bills he looked like he had a handle on it, in the last three games not as much (we'll get to that later). The west coast also implements more of a spread-style offense - look for 4-wide sets as well as 2 passing catching TE formations featuring Cooley and Fred Davis. Also look to see more of CP and Betts lining up wide or swinging out of the backfield - this offense loves good pass-catching RB's (see Roger Craig and Ricky Watters).
The other thing Zorn did was keep the Gibbs-era running game in tact. That means we'll still see a heavy dose of Portis and Betts in the North/South running game, but even more so in the zone blocking schemes - where the big guys in will get out front and pull ahead of the pack.
I expect the offense to be a major work in progress. For anyone who thinks the Skins offense will be a Juggernaut out of the gate - I'd downgrade your thinking to cautious optimism. This offense will work eventually - JC has played in it before and is smart enough to manage it, and all the receivers (including twiddle dumb and twiddle dee) will eventually understand where they need to be - but it will take time and the early stages might not be too pretty. That isn't to say the Skins won't shown signs of brilliance. They still have a dynamic and talented group of offensive weapons who will be able to compensate for what they might not grasp yet with their natural skill. Again, this thing is going to be a mystery.
2) The Development of JC
As I alluded to earlier, I believe this team and this offense rides on the development of Campbell under Zorn. In his three years, JC has looked amazing, looked terrible and looked everywhere in between. He ran the west coast brilliantly as a senior in Auburn, but as I said, this is going to take time. Many observers, like Peter King, have stated that JC is up for the task and ready to make an impact immediately. Again, I'd approach the situation with cautious optimism - the dude's barely played a full season as a starting QB and needs to get real game experience in this offense before we can expect him to fully flourish.
Campbell has worked extremely hard in the off season, established himself as a team leader and has made sure that everyone on the offensive side of the ball is on the same page with him. He clearly has the tools and the attitude to be a pro bowl quarterback, and it is my belief that if Zorn can develop Matt Hasslebeck into a stud NFL QB, he'll be able to do it with Campbell (who has much more raw ability than Hasslebeck).
3) The Defense will be Top-5 in the league
My bold statement of the season isn't really that bold. This defense is stacked. I don't think we've seen a Redskins defensive roster with this much talent since, dare I say, 1991. Gregg Williams and Greg Blache put together a top 5 defense in 2004 with much less talent than this Redskins team, and the schemes and strategy haven't changed much since then. Although Williams is gone, Blache hasn't overhauled the playbook and now has many more options to defend than Williams ever did.
First is the defensive front four - the anchor of a teams defense. The Skins upgraded significantly at Defensive End with the signings of Jason Taylor and Erasmus James and added depth with the drafting of Rob Jackson out of Cal. They, along with Demetric Evans as a run-stopping DE specialist and Andre Carter as a speed rusher, will give QB's a lot more to think about than they've ever had to before when facing the Skins. In the interior, the Skins are anchored by CGriff and have a nice rotation of tackles between Montgomery, Golston and Lorenzo Alexander (who is probably the most talented of the lot).
With Taylor and Carter lining up at end, the Redskins secondary can finally count on a consistent pass rush, something that will lead to more press coverage on the outside and more freedom for the Linebackers, who can now focus on the middle of the field instead of having to worry about getting to the QB as well. The Skins will utilize safety and corner blitzing, but again, it won't be as necessary with a good rush from the front four. With addition of Taylor (and with Cater opposite) every player on the Skins defense can go back to their natural roles without having to worry about compensating for a flawed front four.
For the line backing corps this means players like Marcus Washington (who is finally fully healthy and may have had the best preseason of any Skins player) can roam sideline-to-sideline, help on the rush defense, spot blitz and drop in coverage when asked to. The Skins LB's might be the most vulnerable unit because Rocky McIntosh is still recovering from the knee surgery, but I believe that London Fletcher and a healthy Washington will compensate for any rustiness McIntosh might show.
As for the secondary, the Skins got a nice surprise when Carlos Rogers made a miraculous recovery from his knee surgery. Rogers, along with Smootsie and Springs, are ready to go. No more 10-yard cushions - this corner triumvirate will be able to be more aggressive and take chances with plays on the ball. I think we'll see a ton more turnovers than we're used to. LaRon Landry has been absent in the preseason with a hammy, but that doesn't worry me too much. Landry will be able to roam 20 yards deep in many cover-1 coverages (just as Sean Taylor did last year) and will also spot blitz and maybe even cover the run (if Shawn Springs doubles in safety coverage as well). I think Reed Doughty is a good run stopper, but the superlatives stop there. Doughty is very flawed in coverage - even when matched against lumbering tight ends. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the Redskins rookie safeties takes over the job mid way through the year.
4) The Offensive Line
I guess you could stay this is the start of the "oooh boy" section. I just don't know what to make of this unit. They're old, they're looking slow and they can't protect JC at all. In a west coast offense (see timing, precision), the QB needs some space to go through his reads and have a second to think before acting. Joe Montana always had time, Hasslebeck has time, even Jeff Garcia has time - so far in the pre-season, JC's has had time find a nice resting spot for his tusch. Although I will leave the front office out of this, the Skins didn't really address the 30-somethings that make up JC's secret service. They drafted this kid Rinehart hoping he might develop into a tackle - now its looking like he can be a solid guard in the NFL (just not yet). The Skins also have another kid (2nd year) Justin Geisinger, who might also develop into a decent NFL guard, but he isn't first team ready either.
What this means is that the Skins are looking at an o-line with the ages of 32, 35, 31, 31 and....24. I'll get to the 24 in a minute. In a league that gets faster by the minute, with younger, quicker defensive ends and tackles, the Redskins offensive line has only gotten older. Randy Thomas can still pull, but beyond that there are no guarantees. In his limited action in the pre-season CP did have some room to roam on about every other play.
And we haven't even really addressed the pass protection. Lets just say it has been has been non-existent. Amazingly its gotten so bad that the Skins have demoted 32 year old Jon Jansen. Jansen, to be fair, is coming off his second major injury in four years, but the man has looked slow and ineffective. Every pass rusher who he faced in the preseason ran circles around him (literally), and now Jansen must re-establish himself as a force on the practice field, because Stephon Heyer (24 years old) has usurped the role. I could brag about Heyer's age (he brings down the average age of the line significantly), but the guy is raw. He did show some signs last year, but he still doesn't have the footwork or experience the Skins need at that position. I think Heyer will develop nicely, and getting reps as starter will be great for him but still expect a learning curve.
Somehow this unit needs to hold together. Maybe this can be the reincarnation of the over-the-hill gang. Maybe they'll last into late January. Maybe JC will find a comfort zone behind them. All huge maybes.
5) Something's Stinky in the land of WR's
The Skins ended '07 with major problems at WR. They were carrying the usual suspects - 'Tana, ARE and James Thrash, to go along with Keenan McCardell, Reche Caldwell and my boy Brandon Lloyd. This troop of pass catchers made up for one of the worst in the league - they were old, small and injury-riddled. So, in the off season, the Skins tried to address the issue by drafting not just one, but two WRs (and a pass catching TE). That's right ladies and gents, the Skins used their first three draft picks to upgrade on the outside (at the expense of not drafting any 2nd Round O-lineman, btw) and now, this is what they have to show for it:
'Tana, ARE and James Thrash.
Confused? I am. Of course it's still early and there's time for Kelly and Thomas to make up for a comical summer, but until they prove themselves with red-zone TD's (or just time on the field), these two guys are the reincarnates of Michael Westbrook, Desmond Howard, Albert Connell and ...Tidus Wynans (remember him? If you don't, he sucked).
The wrap on Kelly was that he wasn't durable and scared to play through it (that's why he slipped in the draft). Guess what? He's injured and scared to test his surgically-repaired knee. The wrap on Thomas was that he was slow and was a one-season-wonder. Guess what? As I write this, he's still getting to the twenty yard line of the opening kickoff versus Jacksonville. I know I'm being harsh, but these guys haven't brought it. And I'm not the only one saying it.
Apparently JC himself (not Jason Campbell, but Jesus) went to the receivers' homes and begged them to get serious about playing football professionally. For real - this actually happened. Thomas was quoted last week as saying that he's started to take film home with him so he can get a better grasp of the the playbook. It was Labor Day weekend! Both guys have disappointed everyone around them in the early going. The only good part about the whole thing is that that Jim Zorn has been open about just how bad they've been.
So you'd assume the Skins would carry some more WRs right? Not so much. According to my calculations, the Skins will carry 2.5 WRs tomorrow night. 'Tana, Thrash and ARE's right hand (his left one has a brace - don't ask me how he plans on catching the ball). Thomas will be active, but considering he still doesn't know all the routes, don't expect to see him. Kelly will be inactive with the knee thing, and I would assume we don't see him until late October.
So how will the Skins move the ball down the field? They'll get Chris Cooley in the slot in 4WR sets and they'll mix in Fred Davis to match up with weaker-in-coverage LB's. Also look for some two RB formations with either Betts or Portis coming out to catch the ball.
The bottom line is that if you're expecting to move the ball down field with your second TE and two RB sets, you might have some offensive tsurus.
As not to be Debbie Downer, Moss is 100% healthy and is still a big play threat, and ARE's legs are also 100% - which means he could be a threat in the middle of the field. Thrash also could be a guy who gives them a red zone score.
Where have you gone Billy McMullen (who, by the way, was the best WR in the league during the preseason)?
6) I Love CP
If you haven't noticed, I'm one of the 50% of DCites who fall out in the "love CP" camp. Dude can get to the outside in a jiffy, lay out LBs and has good hands coming out of the backfield. This offense is perfect for a RB with diversified skill sets. Portis is healthy, has shed a ton of weight, and is running faster than he has since his days at the U. I think Zorn has actually built a nice trust in Portis, and when the passing game hits road blocks, they will turn to CP to carry the offense. Look for Portis to have his best year as a Redskin, both running and catching the ball. I know Dolla just got a fat contract and has nothing but pride to play for, but something tells me 2-6 has grown up a lot and realizes his window for success in the NFL is starting to close. If there's any guarantees from week to week on the offensive side of the ball, it's that CP will give this team a lot.
Skins v. G-Women
I'm starting to ramble and time is a getting late, so lets move on to tonight's Meadowlands showdown. I actually have no idea what's going to happen...shocker?
1) History favors the Skins
Isn't it nice having a NFC-East affair in prime time to open up the season? Traditionally, the NFC East Super Bowl winner would play a division rival on Monday Night to open the season, and would usually get shmised. Cowboys would whoop the Skins, Skins would whoop the Cowboys, etc etc. That's why my gut tells me that tomorrow night the Skins come out hungry and the Giants come out flat. No X's and O's, no matchups, purely empirical.
2) What to Expect
JLC wrote that the Giants plan to spread the Skins defense out and get some favorable match ups with their Tight End, Kevin Boss, and maybe their 4th WR on Reed Doughty and McIntosh (the weak links). If the Giants can pull this off, then those two are going to have to find a way to rise to the occasion. If not, the Giants could dink and dunk with the big TE for many long drives.
Personally, I think the Skins have looked vulnerable against the run. Tom Coughlin remembers Eli's 50-pass disaster in late December last year, and will instead opt to wear the Skins D-line down with a heavy dose of Jacobs and Bradshaw. This strategy concerns me more. If the Skins line doesn't shore up those gaps and creases quickly, the Giant RB's will get to the secondary and wreak havoc.
If the Giants try to test our pass coverage, I think the Skins have no trouble. If they keep the ball on the ground, it could be a long night.
On offense I assume Zorny will try to pass the ball early, testing our lineman in pass protection. If the outcome is good, expect to see the beauty of the west coast unfold before your eyes. If the o-lineman can't protect Campbell, expect to see a lot of Portis, and for Zorn to pick and choose spots to throw the ball. Yes - it pretty much all rides on this offensive line.
3) The Prediction
Gotta have one, right? I think the Skins win this game because the Giants come out flat and the Skins defense comes through (as they always seem to do on opening day). The offense will put together two good drives for the game and squeak in a late field goal before the half as well. A win, but nothing to get too excited about. Just like in recent years past, opening day doesn't reach the 20's.
Redskins 13, Giants 10
Over the past three months, I've been everywhere from 3-13 to 11-5. I don't think anything is out of the question. Seriously, if the week 3 Giants of 07 could end up winning the Super Bowl, what's not to say we can't? Just picture it now - "The swarming pass rush of Andre Carter, Jason Taylor and Erasmus James over-matched the Patriots offensive line. Just like 07, the NFC East defensive monster was just too much for Bellichek." Hey it happened in 86, it happened in 90, and it happened in 07. Who's to say it can't happen in 87, 91, and 08?
But really, my friends, this thing seems to be a work in progress. I refuse to use the world rebuilding though. You don't rebuild by picking up a 30+ yr old's 8 million dollar contract. The Skins front office isn't in rebuilding mold. The players want to win right now. So lets just call it a work in progress.
And how far can they progress? Can the offense click by week 4? Week 12? Week 16? We can only wait and see. I personally see this thing coming together for them in October, unfortunately, after they've dug themselves too big a hole to get out. The schedule the NFL handed them is just too grueling, and I think we're asking a lot of them to develop as an offensive unit while going on the road in the NFC East in 3 of their first 5. They'll win tomorrow and then I think it gets ugly for a couple of months, before they start showing signs late - just in time for us to get legitimately excited about a 2009 Super Bowl run.
Here's how I break it down (for those of you scoring at home)
Week 1 - 9/4 - @Giants - W - 13-10
Week 2 - 9/14 - Saints - L - 24-10
Week 3 - 9/21 - Cardinals - L - 21-14
Week 4 - 9/28 - @Cowboys - L - 20-13
Week 5 - 10/5 - @Eagles - L - 16-10
Week 6 - 10/12 - Rams - W - 28-9
Week 7 - 10/19 - Browns - W - 24-21
Week 8 - 10/26 - @Lions - W - 27-13
Week 9 - 11/3 - Steelers - L - 21-9
Week 11 - 11/16 - Cowboys - W - 30-17
Week 12 - 11/23 - @Seahawks - L - 16-14
Week 13 - 11/30 - Giants - L - 22-17
Week 14 - 12/7 - @Ravens - W - 31-9
Week 15 - 12/14 - @Bengals - L - 28-14
Week 16 - 12/21 - Eagles - W - 24-21
Week 17 - 12/28 - @49ers - W - 34-21
Didn't Joe Gibbs will an 8-8 record after an 0-5 start in 81? Guess what happened the next year...