Sunday, November 2, 2008

Crawling to the Bye: Volume 3, Issue 11

Let me just throw this out there. If you like it, great. If not, you can throw it right back at me. Tomorrow night's game versus the Steelers is a nightmare waiting to happen. The only saving grace for you Skins Servers is that I firmly believe the Black and Gold are going to give us an ole' fashion spanking, and usually whatever I think is wrong - which means the Skins have a fighting chance.

First and most importantly, I believe the Skins players and coaches want no part of this game right now. If you read between the lines are guys are basically saying this: they're tired, they're hurting and they can't wait for the bye week to rescue them from the longest stretch of games of any team in the NFL. Is that really something you want to be hearing from a team that is going on national television tomorrow night in a marquee NFL match up? And what's worse is that they happen to be playing the most physical, bone crushing team in the league.

While the Redskins seem to be crippling physically, the Steelers are starting to get stronger (they get Parker and Holmes back this week). And don't think I fault the Skins players and coaches for saying what they're saying. They are tired and beat up. If you run the numbers, except for the teams on bye next week (and the Colts), the Skins have played a full two more games than everyone else in the league. That's crazy. These guys have been playing every week since August 1. That will be 14 straight games as of tomorrow night - remember, they played 5 in the preseason. The Skins are hurting and desperately seeking the week off. Problem is they're gonna have to play an angry, physical football team tomorrow night who are desperate for the win. I don't think the Skins want any part of it. I think in the back of a lot of their heads they want to get through the game healthy and are happy going into the bye at 6-3. I know this sounds outlandish and baseless but I really believe this is the sentiment around Ashburn. That is scary - if the Skins duck out tomorrow night and play for 6-3, it'll get ugly quick.

And we haven't even gotten to matchups and actual injuries yet.

Even if the Skins were playing the Steelers at full strength in Week 5, I wouldn't like this game. Two main reasons. The teams that have the most success against the Steelers are able to get at Big Ben, while the Steelers are a team that can shut the run down no matter who they play. For the Redskins, this presents a terrible matchup. They can't get a hand on a QB no matter what offensive line they play, and I'm not sure how the offense can produce if the Steelers front seven can contain Portis.

First the pass rush - it doesn't exist. Somehow the Skins have gotten away with it thus far, but being in the bottom five in the league in sacks and turnovers forced (a direct correlation to sacks) will come back to bite you. They cannot be an elite NFL team letting QBs sit in the pocket and pick them apart. Especially a QB like Big Ben who has shown how capable he is when given time. Rothlesberger was mauled in his games against Philly and the Giants (something like 15 sacks combine) - but I just don't see the Skins front four being able to distrupt him like that - no matter how bad the Steelers o-line might be. Jason Taylor isn't in my dog house yet because he's been playing through injury and I do think the Skins pass rush will get a boost with Taylor out of the lineup this week - still though, a three headed monster of Demetric Evans, Erasmus James and Chris Wilson doesn't exactly put fear in an o-line. Somehow Greg Blacke is going to have to scheme the heck out of this one and figure out a way to get at the QB - if it means blitzing corners, safeties or LBs, the Skins will have to do something to make up for a pathetic pass rush.

Second - Portis or bust. Despite being 6-2, I can't help but be sad over just how plain our offense is. I know the Skins move the ball and I know they control the clock, but none of that matters if they can't score. Not reaching the 3 TD plateau over the last 5 weeks is pathetic. It wasn't like the Skins were playing good defenses either. This team has no second receiving threat, they have no red zone receiving threat and now, with a hobbled Santana Moss, defenses can utilize all their resources to stop the run. So if Portis gets bottled up, Santana isn't a viable option (or doesn't end up playing), how the heck are the Skins supposed to move the ball, let alone score? Somebody's going to have to step up a be a threat. ARE has been decent, but he doesn't strike fear in a defense. James Thrash could fill in for Moss tomorrow night - you think the Steelers are going to allocate more than one defender to contain him? I love CP and I love what our o-line's been able to do this year, I just don't think they'll be able to be as effective when the Steelers (a super-fast defense to begin with), put all their energy into stopping 2-6. With James Thrash/Santana Bad Hammy on one side and ARE on the other, why not hone in on CP.

Oy. A little about Santana. Right now he's questionable to play and hasn't run side to side or cut on his hammy yet. What that tells me is that either he doesn't play, and even if he does, he'll be thinking about it. Let me remind you of a similar Santana situation last year when he was questionable with pretty much the exact same injury against GB. 'Tana was awful - he dropped at least three big balls and had a fumble that led to the game winning TD for the bad guys. 'Tana's great, but when he's unhealthy he is a liability. I don't even know what I'd rather have tomorrow: him play with the hammy lurking or him not play at all. Either way, it makes things a whole lot easier for Pittsburgh.

Quick point of re-emphasis. Every time I've been this down on the Skins this year they have disproved me. I hope they come out and do it again tomorrow.

This Chris Samuels knee thing isn't going a way for a while either. Poor guy is practicing in a lot of pain and is going to have surgery to repair some messed up cartilage. How long he can play through this and when he'll need to go under the knife is unclear, but as of yesterday evening he went from a sure active to a very questionable. In case you didn't notice, we need him badly. Stephon Heyer was awful in replacing Samuels last week - he didn't look comfortable and was consistently being beaten around the corner. Can Heyer go from being schooled by a weak Detroit pass rush to stopping Harrison, Farrior and co.? I don't see it.

And while I'm tearing up the Skins, let me just get a few more body blows in there. The Skins offense is killing me. I can't put my finger on it, but something isn't right. Maybe Zorn's gone conservative. Maybe he doesn't trust Campbell to take chances. Maybe there's nobody to catch the ball. I don't freaking know. All I do know is that this offense can't score, doesn't make big plays and relies way to heavily on big CP runs and TE screens. As I said before, they got away with it because they've played some god awful teams of recent. It ain't going to work with the likes of Pittsburgh and Dallas coming to town.

OK. Saving Graces. I think Zorn and staff know that this 6-2 team isn't as good as their record indicates. They're not satisfied and only getting hungrier. To add to that, somehow this team is 6-2 and still hasn't played their best football this year. There is so much room for improvement on both sides of the ball. A pass rush, some rookie WRs, some turnovers and this team could be hoppin.

For now, they're all CP all the time and not much else. With a hungry steel curtain coming to town and with a hobbled Moss and Samuels potentially not available, it might get ugly. I am always wrong though.

Rest Up,


Failed to Mentions

1) Campbell -
I probably don't give this guy enough credit. He's been solid, hasn't thrown a pick in years and finds the open guy. I still think if the Skins are going to take it to the next level, Campbell's going to have to do more. How often do you see him splitting the corner and the safety? Zorn plays it safe with the play calling, Campbell plays it safe with his choice in throws. It makes for a great offense between the 20's, but it doesn't give us anything on the scoreboard. JC's gotta start opening up more.

2) Rookies - Everyone knows I hate them. I do. Rookies are good for carrying bags and being torn up on blogs. That being said, we need Devin Thomas to wake up NOW. If Tana doesn't play tomorrow, he'll be on the field a ton and will have to give this team something. Catch a deep one, break some tackles - anything to keep the defense honest and believing the Skins will throw the ball.

3) Steelers Offense/Skins Defense - I think Pittsburgh's offense will get 17-20. They're a pretty underachieving unit plagued by terrible line play, but still have the ability to pound it out on the ground. The Steelers will get Willie Parker back and he could give the Skins fits as all small, shifty backs do. I also think the Steelers will try to test our secondary deep with Holmes and Washington, and Heinz Ward is a tough matchup for any DB. Don't forget, though, that despite a lousy pass rush, the Skins are a top-7 defensive unit that doesn't let up a lot of points. I think the Steelers will struggle moving the ball at times, but will be able to pick spots where the Skins are vulnerable.

4) 3-4? This game will be determined by the Skins success running on this 3-4 defense. Remember, CP and co. have torn two 3-4 teams to bits already on the ground (Dallas and Cleveland), but I think Pitt's personnel is much better suited to stop us than those two teams. The Steelers LB's can cover more field than the both the aforementioned teams and they have Troy Palomalou - probably the best run stopping safety in the league. If the quicker Steelers defense can break through the Skins zone running schemes, Portis will get caught in the backfield a lot. If, on the other hand, the Skins o-line is able to control their zones and find all pursuers, maybe CP will have the lanes he did in the Cleveland and Dallas game. I'm not sold he will.

5) Blitsburgh - I've focused a lot on the the Steelers run-stopping ability, but don't forget that his team gets after the QB. Jason Campbell is going to see blitzers from all over the place. Corners, safeties, LBs, waterboys. It is my hope that the o-line and Campbell can call the right protections, identify the blitzers and give JC a chance to throw the ball. If not, Campbell will be under the gun and forced into making bad throws. My hope is that the Skins combat the blitz as well as they did against another blitz-heavy team, the Eagles. It will be tough though as Pittsburgh will send anyone, anytime and because Heyer is just not game-tested yet. The Skins do have the advantage of CP picking up blitzers, but he can't fend off two guys alone. Another great way to combat the blitz is setting up the screen (which the Skins do well) and taking shots downfield. I hope they're able to do both, thus forcing the Steelers to play off the line of scrimmage more.

6) Blitzington - Greg Blache has been very conservative about getting after QBs. He can't be tomorrow. Teams beat the Steelers by getting in Ben's face and making him throw picks. Look for Blache to start throwing more people at him too.

7) Injuries - Regardless of whether Santana plays, assume he won't be the Santana were used to having. The dude isn't the same with a bad hammy. Samuels is in a lot of pain and if I had to bet, I think he misses another. Springs will miss another one - as will Kelly. I think the Skins will have Griff back and will have Carlos and Smootsie getting close to 100%. Beware of one more injury: LaRon Landry. He too has been bothered by a hammy and has missed a lot of practice. I wouldn't be shocked if he's inactive.

8) Prediction - Late byes are good in that they make a team fresher later in the year. I still think that this one comes one week too late. The Skins are dying for a break, and again, playing the most physical team in football is a daunting task for anyone - especially one that is so banged up. Like our beloved owner says, its all about who is more physical. I give the edge to the Steelers tomorrow in the physical department and that's why I'm gonna take em.
Steelers 17 Redskins 7


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