Fans of the Authentic Mid-Atlantic NFL Franchise,Even if the Skins weren't 7-5 and in the heart of the NFC playoff chase, this game would still mean a lot to many people in the Washington/Baltimore area. Let's face it, although these two teams play once every four years and play in different conferences, their fans don't like each other at all. I believe the bitter hostilities start with Baltimore's second city mentality - a constant inferiority complex because the nation's capital that sits 45 minutes to its south. Another factor that plays into the hatred our fans have for each other is that Baltimorans were forced to watch a decade plus of amazing Redskins football teams while they were without a franchise. The above factors have created a breed of obnoxious, angry and traitorous Ravens fans who'd like nothing more than to see the Skins go 0-16 every year.
What really grinds my gears about these awful human beings is that 30-50% of them were Skins fans during our glory years. Of course I'm not talking about the 50-70 year old Ravens fan who wept upon their beloved Colts leaving town, but the Ravens fans of our generation who, without hesitation, put their Redskins Jerseys in the incinerator once the Ravens showed up. Those people are gonna have big-time issues when they get up in front of St. Peter (who clearly is a huge Redskins fan). On a personal level, I believe that any Ravens or Nats fans who were previously Redskins and Orioles fans should be sent to Guantanamo Bay. For Redskins fans, we look at Ravens fans as that ignorant, pesky and rude little brother who is always so damn annoying (kid was probably adopted or something). At some point between when the Ravens were created fans and now, Redskins fans went from effectively ignoring this group of purple punks to starting to get really pissed off that little adopted brother doesn't ever stop yapping. Now we hate little brother as much as little brother hates us. Game on. Time to BBQ some Poe.
Unfortunately for us Skins fans, as many fights go these days, we'll be the ones hanging from the flag pole by our Fruit of the Looms. As I have told a couple of peers this week, the 2008 Redskins season will be remembered as a slow, painful death. As opposed to 05 and 07, when a couple of Dr. Benton-like shocks got us going late in the year, tonight the plug will be pulled for good. At some point last week (either when I lost feeling in my toes, Amani Toomer ran his fastest 40 in 12 years or when I had beer thrown in my face in friendly fire) I knew this thing was kaput. These guys have nothing left (and as you can see by my abuse use of the analogy today, I got nothing left either). The offense doesn't exist and the defense looks worse every week. Amazingly, they're not just playing bad football but they also have nothing to build on either. In a year when NFL teams are putting up record numbers of points, the Skins are putting up 7 points a game. That's like a baseball team being carried by Mike Bordick during the juicing era (hmmm...sound familiar).
In the Skins last three home games they've put up a combined 23 points. They rank 28th in the NFL in points scored and haven't managed to put up 30 points in a game yet this season. Now you ask this team to go on the road to a very hostile environment (see previous paragraphs) and play a team that gives up 15.8 points a game and even more importantly, gives up 78 yards on the ground. This thing could get real ugly.
So what do we do as fans? I say try to enjoy today as much as possible. Enjoy the spotlight, enjoy the cool intros on NBC, enjoy the attention. Remember there are only four weeks left to the season, and we'll all be feeling a lot more miserable when the season is over than we will when the Ravens kick us around like a rag doll tonight. There's some Bobby Knight quote out there about a situation like tonight - feel free to wikipedia it if you'd like. So throw yourselves a party tonight, Skins Fans. Get some beers, buy some Tostitos scoops and invite some buddies over. It's the last time the Skins will be in the spotlight this year (and maybe for some time after that).
1) Take on JC - There's been a lot of talk in DC this week about the Skins woes having to be attributed to Jason Candle's (it's Campbell) sub-par performances of late. I'd be the first to admit that I am not sold on JC being the Redskins franchise QB, but with that being said, you cannot pin this dismal stretch on number 17. Campbell's productivity is a byproduct of an anemic offensive system. We really haven't seen what #17 can do with a decent array of WR's and when he's getting consistent time in the pocket. The Redskins offensive coaches, especially Jim Zorn, have not really adjusted to what teams have done against them of recent (double Moss, shade Cooley, stuff the box and blitz at will). No extra protection packages, no deep shots, no imagination in trying to free up Moss (more motion, etc.) This offense showed its cards early, had some production and now defenses have caught up and Zorn has pretty much refused to adjust. They've gotta open things up and get out of the west coast for a bit: run, run, play action (with heavy protection). Keep it simple, do the things that Jason is comfortable doing and see if you can wake this group up.
2) The Wildcat - There's also been a lot of talk this week about the Skins going more to trickery and the "wildcat" formation in hopes of keeping defenses off-balance. The idea would be to use Randle El in some sort of one back formation and giving him the option to run or throw. Although I do like the idea of going to ARE a little more in the option setting, I just don't think the Skins can use it 5-10 a game, especially tonight on the road. Maybe they can slowly integrate it into the offense, but I think we might be about 4 weeks late for that. Maybe Zorn picks the right spot for some trickery tonight, but its not how this game is going to be won or lost.
3) The Weather - I woke up this morning to the sound of heavy winds banging against my window. According to local meteorologists (and my wet finger-tip up against this morning's blustery air), the wind will be howling tonight at M&T. Remember last year's mid-December Meadowlands Miracle? Conditions will be identical. This game will be won and lost on the ground. Whoever can control the line of scrimmage and get first downs off of three straight hand-offs will win the game. Unfortunately, the Redskins o-line, specifically Chris Samuels, is really banged up. They're going to need a huge game from this unit, especially from center Casey Rabach, who has the daunting task of controlling Hatoli Ngata, the big mama who anchors the Ravens 3-4 defense and is controlling opposing run offenses. The Skins have had a miserable time against the last two 3-4's they've faced (the Cowboys and Steelers) and will have to do something different to implement the running attack. I'm all about going back to the ole' Gibbs jumbo formations of two TE's and one WR on the outside. Everyone knows were gonna run it, so lets just maximize our blocking resources and hope we wear the Ravens out. Running cute stuff out of 3 and 4 receiver sets is probably not gonna get it done against this smart, fast group of defenders.
4) Split Carries - I'm all about CP, but the dude is falling apart. He's a hero to be playing every week, but Zorny's gotta force him to the sidelines. The Skins need to work Betts in there more tonight early, so CP will have something left for the 4th quarter. Last week Portis ran hard early and after taking some viscous hits was pretty much a non-factor in the second half.
5) Play Action - In the theme of going back to the basics tonight, the Skins should only pass after setting up the play action. Again, run out of one and two WR sets and then pass out of those same sets. Draw as many Ravens to the line of scrimmage, max protect and see if Moss can beat double coverage or if ARE or Malcolm Kelly can beat Frank Walker on the other side. The Ravens can be vulnerable to the pass, especially if you throw away from Ed Reed. But Campbell's gonna have to be smart about looking Reed off and then taking advantage of whoever has Walker on him. I'd even be fine with picking on Rolle - just make sure there's an eye on Reed at all times. This guy can kill you.
6) TE/FB Blocking - A huge factor in tonight's game will be the ability of Chris Cooley and Mike Sellers to locate and then successfully block the the Ravens fierce linebacking unit. When the Skins run outside, Cooley and Sellers will be responsible for getting out ahead of Portis/Betts and finding guys like Lewis, Scott and Suggs. It is essential that these guys don't close holes and penetrate into the backfield, otherwise the Skins running game will never get going.
7) Keeping it Close - The Skins have to stay neck and neck with the Ravens throughout the game. Getting behind at any point will prove catastrophic. If the Redskins get to the point where they'll have to pass the ball to get back in it, you might as well turn off your TV. The Ravens will fire away at Campbell and I don't think we have the pass blocking to hold up. Keep the game close, burn time on the ground and pick spots to go deep. Once the Ravens sniff out pass, Campbell will be on the ground a lot.
8) The Ravens Offense - Cam Cameron (of Indiana and Redskins fame) has done a great job maximizing his talent. He pounds the rock a lot (even at a pretty low ypc), then he lets Flacco and his big arm air it out to Mason and Clayton (very real threats on the outside). The Ravens also employ a lot of trickery, so the Skins corners cannot get caught leaving their men early in the play. If I was Greg Blache, I'd pretty much have to use the same scheme as last week and hope the Skins corners can hold up better. Last week's performance against the Giants was embarrassing and this unit is going to have to do a much better job containing the Ravens outside threats and try to create some turnovers off the rookie in bad conditions. If the Skins can force the Ravens into some third and longs, then they have to send the house at Flacco and hope Springs, Los, Lo and Smoot can man the heck up.
9) Injuries - CP will go. Spring will go. Fletcher will go. Griff will go. I think Carter will play too. No Washington and probably no Golston either. Nothing major on the Ravens side. They had a few questionables but I think they'll all play.
10) Prediction - Not loving this matchup at all. The Ravens defense has somehow stayed young and fast and will make it hard for the Skins to get anything on the ground. With the conditions, don't expect anything through the air. On the other side, the Skins will commit to the run and could get burned by Flacco once or twice (enough to lose). Ravens 13 Redskins 3.