Three major things I need to address before kick off. One, the Skins are good. For those of you who've known this since week 1 at the Meadowlands - good for you, Nostradamus. For those of you, like myself, who needed four weeks of empirical evidence - well we got that too.
Two, I decided last night that cautious optimism is bologna. I don't understand what I was thinking over the last month when I wrote to you all that I was "cautiously optimistic." Either you think they're good or you don't. Cautious optimism is for coaches, its for Zorny - to make sure his players stay "medium"... whatever that means. I have no responsibility to keep readers of Skins Serv honest. You guys aren't suiting it up on Sunday. You're not running out of the tunnel. You guys are going to be sitting on your butts watching a game - it makes absolutely no difference if I have you have proper mental prep for the experience or not.
I'm sorry. I saw the Skins stink in the pre-season and I saw them stink against the Giants - that was enough for me. I thought they stunk. And now that they've dominated two of the supposed best teams in the NFL - I think they're good. Was I wrong? Yes. Do I care? Nope.
And now that I have decided that they're good, I'm gonna run with it. And why not - lets just embrace it while we can. Can you imagine being "cautiously optimistic" for an entire season? And lets say that season turns out to be a glorious one. Are we, as fans, going to look back and say "good thing I was even-keeled for that Super Bowl run - I can't imagine what the Skins would have done if I got too excited at any point during the year." Haha - no! You're gonna shoot yourself for not being as emotionally involved and unhealthily hopeful as possible. These kind of special years happen once a yovel - a fan can't take any chances. Am I saying the Skins are going to the Super Bowl - no way. But I am saying that you might as well start dreaming about it (just in case they actually do). Permission to dream granted.
Third point - this week is no gimme. Five people in this world really scare me. Marc Bulger, Steven Jackson, Tory Holt, Al Saunders and Javier Bardem. No matter how much this team is in disarray, not matter how many points they've given up, they still flaunt three pro bowlers and one angry offensive coordinator - and Bardem's just flat out scary. If there's anyone who knows how to score on the Redskins defense, its probably the guy who's been practicing against them every day for the last two years. Saunders knows every flaw of our defense and every defensive player's tendency. He'll exploit it. And don't think the anger factor isn't a part of this - every Ram knows how Danny boy ran Saunders out of town. They'll come to play tomorrow.
Back to point one for a second. The Skins are legit good. 4-1 with three winnable games coming up. Close your eyes and imagine the feeling of having a 7-1 Redskins team host the Steelers on Monday night football in early November! If by that point the Titans and Giants lose one, the Skins will be the consensus best team in football. Crazy? Not that so. The Skins have shown dominance in every facet of the game over the last month (except punting). If they don't hiccup, they'll be the NFC Super Bowl favorite before too long. Are we gonna get burned because I'm drinking the Kool Aid? Because cautious optimism is chilling somewhere with Maurice Clarett, Ray Finkel and Ray Guy? Lets find out. Its early October and the Skins are 4-1. It's time to start tansin' a little bit.
1) The O-Line - It's getting late and a big tailgate awaits, but I need to show some appreciation for, and apologize to, the Skins o-line. I hope in the days after Yom Kippur, they'll grant me some forgiveness. These guys are still old, but man have they been effective. Since Jon Jansen's replaced Stephon Heyer at tackle, this line has shown power and aggression in the run game. I know a lot of it has to do with play calling and keeping defenses guessing, but have you ever seen Clinton Portis work with such big holes? Since he's been in DC, poor Dolla Bill's had very little to work with - eight man fronts, unimaginative play calling and injured o-lines. Now CP runs behind a healthy, re-inspired group that is blowing up younger, quicker defensive units. What might be more shocking than the Skins winning two in a row in Dallas and Philly is that CP went over 100 in both games - something he hasn't done at Dallas and at Philly in the same year since he's been here. Of course Dolla Bill's running like the Dolla Bill we know and love, but a lot of credit has to go to Samuels, Kendall, Rabach, Thomas and Jansen. Watching them perform has been a thing of beauty.
2) The Pass Rush - I know I've been sounding like the eternally optimistic old-school Scoots, so I'm gonna turn the tables for a sec and say that the Skins 4-man pass rush could be what breaks them this year. Remember the Giants? Remember how they ran the table by having the best four-man front in the playoffs last year. The Skins aren't close to that yet and if they don't improve, some QB with weapons is going to sit back there and pick them apart - no matter how good a scheme Greg Blache has to cover up the front-four's flaws. In good news, Jason Taylor returns tomorrow. He can give the front four a significant boost and maybe help revive Andre Carter, who, except for last week, has been very quiet this year. The Skins need to start hitting QBs,and there's no way around it.
3) Zorn - Zorny's been masterful under the headset thus far. Since the Meadowlands debacle the guy hasn't called a bad play. He's keeping defenses honest with his balance of pass and run, he hasn't shown any tendencies on specific downs and he keeps on changing strategy and formation in the red zone. It is so telling that CP keeps going into the end zone untouched. It shows how confused defenses are and how Zorn continues to baffle opposing d-coordinators who never seem to make the right call against us. My only concern is that defenses will catch up to Zorn. They'll watch tape, study tendencies, and run some derivatives (whatever that means) - with enough to study, they'll figure something out. That is unless if even Zorn doesn't know what Zorn's going to do - in that case, we're safe. Seriously though, its analogous to a rookie pitcher who's gone around the league once or twice - teams pick things up. Hopefully nobody in the NFL figures things out for at least a year. Keep it fresh, Zorny, keep it fresh.
4) Campbell - Moxy. Good ole' moxy. I don't even know what that word really means besides the fact that it rhymes with Oxy and it illustrates everything Jason Campbell has done over the last month. Pure Moxy. Jason Moxy Campbell. The dude is composed, he's poised - he's "medium." The guy's tone hasn't changed - through the rough start and this amazing run - he's just so calm. Some, like me, were concerned that Campbell's nature can be construed as apathetic; that maybe he needs to be a bit more fiery on the sidelines. I guess I was wrong... again. Campbell has used his unflappable nature to make amazing decisions, to limit (eliminate) turnovers, and lead this team to victory. He's avoiding sacks, running for first downs, hitting his receivers in tight spots, throwing the deep ball and throwing on the run. Dude's played like a pro bowler thus far. Keep it up, Moxy Pad.
5) Achtung! - Did I mention that Stephon Jackson held out and is only starting to get his running legs back? Did I mention that Jackson ran all over a stout Buffalo Bills run defense two weeks ago? If the Rams can establish the run with Jackson, which, I believe they can, that will open things up through the air for Bulger. The Redskins can't let the Rams control the ball. We need to take the opening possession up the field and score and keep piling on the points and keep the Rams offense off the field. If the Rams chew clock, this game will be closer than expected.
6) Injuries - Taylor In. Kelly In. Springs In. Washington, Doughty, Heyer probably won't play. Griff should be good to go.
7) Prediction - As you can tell, I'm a bit nervous about this one. Saunders really scares me. If that guy wants one all year its this. Good thing for the Skins is that Saunders can't control that Rams horrible defense. I think the Skins defense is pushed a bit in the first half, but CP and that o-line wear the Rams down in the second. Redskins 31, Rams 18.