First I would like to wish everyone on Skins Serv a very Happy Thanksgiving - I hope you each had a special holiday and are ready to parlay that spirit into a huge victory tomorrow. I also would like to wish Sean Taylor's family a long and joyful life filled with great memories of 21 - it's hard to fathom that it has been a full year since 21's tragic death, but hopefully his family has found some solace in their tremendous loss and will honor 21's spirit through their actions for the rest of their lives. As for us fans, it's probably a lot easier to forgot about 21 - players are very transient in the NFL and we are used to not seeing the same names run out of the tunnel annually. I think DC and Skins fans have done an admirable job holding onto the spirit of 21 though - probably because of his great potential more than anything else. We all find ourselves wondering how special the Skins secondary would have been with 21 and 30 back there. But it wasn't meant to be, and now, again we all grieve the loss of this blossoming flower - we will never know what kind of magic he had in store for us. Instead tomorrow, one year after his death, the angel of 21 watches over all Redskins players and us fans - 21 will be there tomorrow willing our boys into their best performance of this 2008 season. I am freaking pumped to see it.
Yes - I believe the Skins will win tomorrow. No x's and o's. No real rationale thought behind it. I just have a gut (and I dreamed they'd lose - which is a good sign). This team has been awesome with its back against the wall and tomorrow is a must win again. I believe the Skins will play with much more passion, aggression and spirit than the Giants, who will be walking into the proverbial NFL boobie-trap. 92,000 emotional fans and 53 driven players looking to honor the spirit of a fallen soldier. I know this game looks similar to the Buffalo game last year, but that Skins team had nothing left. They were emotionally drained. This Skins team will reach an emotional peak at 1255 tomorrow and will have enough energy and spirit to carry it all the way to 4PM. Tomorrow will be cold, wet and ugly. The Giants, who are dealing with all sorts of injury and distractions, will want to get out of the game alive (similar to the Skins against Pittsburgh). At 10-1, the Giants know they are cruising to a division championship - this is a game they just want to get through. They have shown the nation just how good they are and have nothing left to prove. Tomorrow emotion, aggression, and passion will be strictly be on the Skins side. It won't matter how good these Giants are.
Of course the Skins are a battered team as well. In fact, they might have to win this tilt with a bunch of scabs. Players such as Samuels, Portis and Fletcher are no sure thing to play. Of course, on Sean Taylor day, I think they all end up playing - but who knows just how effective they'll be and how far into the game they can go. If I was betting on it, Portis will still carry the ball 25 times. Samuels will struggle in pass protection and Fletcher won't make it through the first quarter. That being said, the Redskins can plug any bodies in there tomorrow to stuff that big Giants running attack and it still might do the trick.
The Giants will be without Plax (idiot), and with Brandon Jacobs and third string back Ahmad Bradshaw battling injuries, I expect the Giants to be very cautious with them on a wet, cold day. Look for this battle to unfold as Derrick Ward versus the Redskins front-8. On a bad weather day with Plax out and the Redskins being very strong at corner, all the B&G have to do is take away the run (sounds so easy). This game will be a war of attrition. No passing, no finesse. Just north-south running - may the best line win. Under normal circumstances, I give the Giants the edge. But again, i believe tomorrow will be special. I believe eight Redskins defenders, honed in on the outside runs they've been getting burned on recently, will hold up. Smith, Toomer, Hixon, S. Moss - they won't be factors. In fact, look for Redskins corners to do a much better job containing the outside runs as Blache will have them play much further up tomorrow.
My only other concern is Kevin Boss - the Skins don't really have a LB who can man this guy up and I can see the Giants sending him out in play-action. The Skins will have Chris Horton keep an eye on him - hopefully the young man will be up to the task.
On the other side of the ball, look for the Giants to do the same thing as the Redskins. Stuff eight men in the box and force Jason Campbell to throw the ball. If the Redskins can effectively spread the Giants out early and move the chains out of 3 and 4 receiver sets, I think the offense has the potential to put up the 20 points necessary to beat this Giants team. Throw early and force the Giants to pull a safety into coverage. Get Moss, Kelly and ARE into the action early and then expose the Giants front-7 by gashing them with delayed draws and that stretch play to the left that Portis is averaging about 7 YPC on this year. Remember those delayed draws in the Meadowlands last year? The Skins need to do a ton of that to keep this aggressive Giants defense off balance. As this game progresses into the later quarters the team who has controlled the clock will have the edge and will be able to run it however they want to - hopefully it's the Skins.
Which makes the first quarter so crucial and the reason I believe the Skins can win this thing. If the Skins can ride the emotion of the moment into a couple of sustained drives, some big stands and get up early, they can dictate the last three quarters. Of course, it's easier said than done.
I don't want to disrespect the Giants at all. This team has been a juggernaut. They have done it without Burress for most of the year and looked just fine without Jacobs last week. BUT - Burress is the player that gives the Skins the most fits. Our corners are too small to handle him in the Red Zone and just about anywhere else on the field. In game one, Eli heaved three or four passes that Plax went up and got. Manning won't be afforded that luxury tomorrow. The Skins corners can man up any Giants receiver tomorrow. Which means the entire defensive focus can be on stuffing the box and blitzing Eli. The Skins have to force the issue tomorrow - especially early. Take chances and tee off on Eli if the Giants face long second and third downs in hopes of forcing a turnover or two. If the Skins can get some short fields they'll get into the end zone more easily on a day when points will be at a premium. We saw much more of LaRon Landry in the box last week - look for the Skins to do more of this tomorrow as they drop Springs back to be the over-the-top security blanket.
Back to offense. Malcolm Kelly being on the field was big last week. The Skins took a deep shot with him and threw him a fade in the Red Zone. Just having those options in the repertoire makes the Skins more dynamic. As this kid develops and gets on the field more, teams will have to account for him. Defenses like the Giants will not be able to stuff the box, shadow Moss with a safety and leave Kelly alone in man coverage. Hopefully tomorrow we'll see more of this develop. Get the young man the ball early, ease up the safety on Moss's side and then get 89 the ball. At that point, run it down their big blue throats. Kelly's had another week of practice - hopefully Zorny showcases him more tomorrow.
I also hope to see more of Chris Cooley and Mike Sellers in the aerial attack tomorrow. Sellers had a big role last week and as long as one of those guys can get down the field a little bit, it'll ease the burden on Portis to carry the load.
Which brings me to CP. 141 yards on 29 carries with the knee, the ribs and the hip. The dude is not just leading the league in rushing, he's evolving into a Redskins legend. CP is 50/50 to go tomorrow but did light drills on Friday, which makes me think he'll be good to go. The Skins had some success on the ground in Week 1 but Zorn got away from it early. I think CP has to have a big role tomorrow. Whether its blocking, catching balls out of the backfield and eventually putting the Giants away late, CP's gotta be the guy. It gives the entire squad and the 92 thousand fans a huge emotional lift to see the star back there sacrificing it all for a win. I love this guy.
If the Skins do have Stephon Heyer tomorrow, look for Portis to be running behind Jon Jansen (right) more than we're used to. Heyer might be an upgrade in pass protection (with Samuels playing on a bad knee for weeks now), but the kid stil doesn't block with anger. I think the Giants will know this and move Antonio Pierce over right on most running plays - again, it'll be a war of attrition. I think the Skins will be more hungry.
Injuries - Griffin will go. Golston will sit, I think. Montgomery and Alexander will have to be huge tomorrow if the Skins are going to pull this off. Fletcher will give it a go. Look to see HB Blades and Albert Fincher spelling him a lot though. And don't be surprised if the Skins drop J Taylor into LB sometimes too. CP will go.
Prediction - Close and ugly NFC East battle. I like the Skins riding the emotion of the day, getting a couple of big turnovers and controlling the clock late with a huge dose of CP. Redskins 20, Giants 16.
Ok - no points by points this week. I'm going to paste an edited version of the Sean Taylor piece I wrote last year (the old version is on skinserv.blogspot.com).
HTTR and RIP 21
In late November 2007, Sean Taylor, a star football player for the Washington Redskins, was murdered in his home in Miami, Florida. Taylor's death was an inexplicable tragedy that left his family, the Redskins organization and their fans in a state of shock. As an ardent follower of the Redskins – a season-ticket holder who attends every game and whose daily mood is a reflection of whether the Redskins win or lose - I took Taylor's loss extremely hard. Yet for the hours that I spent in a cloud thinking about Taylor's squandered life, I spent as many hours trying to figure out why I was so upset.
I only met Sean Taylor once, never knew him on a personal level, and never really understood his persona. Yet I mourned, I cried, and turned to my loved ones for support and answers. This wasn't 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. Taylor wasn't someone I could touch or lean on. Sean Taylor wasn't my own flesh and blood who had been stricken with cancer, leukemia or a heart attack - my mother, father, sister or brother never to be seen again. Yet I, along with so many others in Washington, DC, lost a part of me when I heard the news of his death. Why?
Sean Taylor was 24 years old. There is nothing wrong with weeping over the loss of human life, yet alone someone so young with so much potential for greatness, both professionally and personally. Sean Taylor was just a baby - still learning the world, learning about who he was, and evolving every day. As a young man, only one year older than Taylor, I grapple with those same struggles and growing pains, hoping to one day get "it" right. This made seeing someone who did not realize his full maturation even harder.
I also felt pain for those who were left to pick up the pieces, Taylor's family: his parents, his fiancée and his orphan child. I also grieved for the Redskins players. I never want to see my heroes weep and never want to worry over their mental state. The Redskins are the ones who ease my mind, but after Taylor's death, I worried over theirs.
To me, Sean Taylor was a superhero. His death was even harder because Taylor's intimidating six-feet, two-inch, two-hundred and twelve pound body epitomized the indestructibility of an athlete - he was the strongest and the scariest. Every player feared him. Sean Taylor was immortal.
But for me, Taylor's death went beyond the human tragedy. In my life, football is a constant. And every autumn Sunday for nearly a century, football has been there for America too. For that three hour break, for that escape from everyday life, for a tailgate party with my family or a pile-on with my friends after a big touchdown - football is always there. And for the last four years, Sean Taylor was part of football's dependability. I was used to seeing Taylor's number twenty-one, expected him to play ferociously, and knew he was putting himself on the line for my beloved Redskins. Every week I had the pleasure of seeing Taylor's Samsonian body up close, and now he will no longer be there. Football is no longer dependable.
Football is also my great escape - it lets me shut the real world out: no wars, no tragedy, no sorrow, no terrorist threats or fear of death. Football is a day without stress and a tough work week made easier because of the ability to look forward to Sunday. 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 a dark world.
When Taylor died, football became real for me. It was no longer a hideaway, no longer a safe haven. Football became another depressing tale on the 6oclock news: a soldier never coming home from battle, a child murdered, wild men with guns running amok on our nation's streets. When Sean Taylor died where was I supposed to turn? What means could I use to seek refuge? I was instead forced to engross myself in the tragedy that befell Taylor, his family and the Redskins. I had to deal with this harsh reality because my fantasy world had been hijacked and the real world was so painful.
There is no need to ever justify emotions or feelings. Every person is entitled to handle tragedy as they see fit. For me, Sean Taylor's death struck harder than one might expect. I hope I was able to shed a little light on why this was so.