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Christmas Eve H-Back

First of all, want to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and if Christmas is your thing, hope your Eve is going well so far. While we're talking about holiday cheer, also wanted to give props to Northwest Airlines for somehow finding a way to get the motley crue of me, Tom Boswell and Mike "I Don't Need No Stinking Drivers License Or Passport To Fly" Wise to Minnesota yesterday. What a blizzard. So much for the one inch of snow weather.com predicted. Raging snowstorm, 350 accidents on the roads, 3 dead from what I heard on the news. Again, between the fog in DC and the snow here (waiting on my plane as I write this), I can't believe we got there in time for the game.

On to the game.

Where to begin? With Gregg Williams earning the second G, you know, the one for genius? Cuz he brought the thunder Sunday night. Killer game plan and his players were clearly pumped to be playing that old 4-6 stuff. Great execution on their part.

Or what about Coach Joe getting some deserved props for astute in game-management on the 12-men on the field replay challenge? Good for him and a major assist has to go to the men up in the coaches box, including Al and Bob Saunders, Bill Khayat, and the guys who shoot the video of the games for the Redskins (Mike Bracken, George Claiborne and Todd Davis). They were all over it from above and Joe pulled the string (now, I'm still a 'lil baffled as to why Coach Joe went for the two-point conversion so early in the game, but I'll save that discourse for another day.

Well, guess I'll start with the playoffs. Everyone should know the scenarios by now. Win and their in. Lose, and they could still cruise ... if the Bears beat the Saints and the Broncos beat the Vikes.

Okay, with that stuff out of the way, let's break down the first half, shall we, since this is where the ballgame was won and lost.

The Vikings won't let you grind the ball against them. You have to use the short passing game to buttress the run game against that stout D Line, and the Skins expertly used Portis a la Westbrook, adopting more of a West Coast feel to their offense rather than the straight power stuff. So you beat the blitz and move the chains with the short stuff, and rely on explosive plays to put points on the board.

In the first half the Redskins had 11 plays of 10 yards or more. That's pretty outstanding. They had three scoring plays of 15 yards ore more and two of 30 or more (they had one TD pass of 30 or longer all season entering the game). The Skins racked up a 22-0 lead with 230 yards in the first half - again, outstanding.

The Vikes, meantime, were reeling on offense, with young QB Tarvaris Jackson and RB Adrian Peterson flummoxed by Williams's ever-changing defensive looks and deceptive blitzes. Minnesota had 8 first half drives; 6 of those drives lasted three plays or less. Jackson turned into the turnover machine the Skins knew he could be, and Minnesota produced just 70 yards in the first half.

No team, even these helter-skelter Redskins were going to blow a 25-0 lead in the second half. They won this game in the first 30 minutes - with some help from Vikes Coach Brad Childress (more on that later)

In the second half, even when Minnesota did move the ball, it was at Williams's pace. The deep zone shell took away the deep ball - the only chance the Vikings had of getting back in the game - and when the Vikes did get in the end zone, it took an effort. The Skins smartly were willing to give up all those slants and intermediate passes, and forced scoring drives of 9, 10 and 13 plays, knowing time and the scoreboard was on their side.

Williams was doing some dizzying substitutions, getting 3-4 players off at a time and keeping his veterans fresh throughout. Kids like HB Blades, Chris Wilson, Leigh Torrence, Reed Doughty, Anthony Montgomery (known as 'Ol Monty to those media schlubs who were rolling with him since back in OTAs), Kedric Golston got a great run, and guys like Springs, Griffin and Godfrey were spared some wear and tear. This defense has dealt with so many crippling losses already, and managing injuries and playing time was huge.

Williams played an ultra-aggressive Buddy Ryan scheme against Jackson in the first half in particular and the kid had no idea what hit him. All the work stressing double moves and patience to the DBs paid off as Jackson threw two huge picks. The decision to get Godfrey in the base package in place of Rocky McIntosh was sage. He was dominant against the run and forced a huge fumble as well.

Just consider all of the varied personnel groupings the defensive coaches utilized:
Defensive backs - at various times there were either, 3, 4, 5 or 6 on the field at once
Linebackers - 2, 3, or 4 on the field at once
Linemen - 3, 4 or 5 on the field at once

They schemed the hell out of this game and completely shutdown the Vikings ability to run. And once the score got out of hand, Minnesota didn't even have the will to utilize the NFL's top-ranked run game anymore.

KEYS:

THE SAFETY - Huge play, huge momentum turned, huge way to silence that crowd early on. First of all, the Vikings, the biggest, baddest run team in the land, could not gain an inch from their own 1, even with their Pro Bowl fullback carrying. That play set a huge tone, with Golston and Montgomery gaining great penetration and London Fletcher right behind them pushing them forward. It was also a huge field position play in what most thought would be a close game. Minnesota lost position on that free kick and Washington ended up starting from its 41 for the game, while the Vikes' average drive began at their 28. That's a huge

TURNOVER RATIO - During Washington's 4-game losing streak they had a minus-8 ratio (12 giveaways to 4 takeaways). During the three-game win streak they are plus-5, with just one turnover. Nuff said.

THE PLAYMAKERS - I don't have the time or ability to research this right now, but you guys tell me the last time the Skins had a game where they got this kind of contribution from the QB, both starting WRs, the feature back and the starting TE. Collins throws for 2 TDs, Cooley has a 30-yard TD catch. Moss has a 30-yard TD catch. Portis runs for one TD, is awesome in the fourth quarter putting the game away and throws a TD pass. Randle El catches his first TD of the game. That's all the key cogs getting in the end zone. Offensive, can't draw it up any better than that.

TODD COLLINS - Dude is balling right now. No two ways about it. Jason Campbell is The Future and anyone who even thinks there should be a QB conundrum next season is crazy, to me, but having Collins as Mr. Present ain't bad and Todd has played his way into a hefty payday as a back-up beyond this season. The Skins are going to have to ante up to keep him as an unrestricted free agent.

Save for the fumble on the quick snap to beat that replay challenge, he was excellent. 22-for-29 for 254 with 2 TDs and no picks doesn't leave much to nitpick. Timing was off on some throws, but he has a 107 rating in three games for goodness sake, including that wind-swept night in Hoffa's swamp.

Collins had a pass of 20 yards or longer in each quarter, and the offense did a nice job picking on kid corner Marcus McCauley - who I think is going to be a good one - whether he was lined up on Reche Caldwell (nice game by him, some huge third-down catches) or Santana Moss.. Again, pressed for time before this flight to meet up with my family near Cooperstown takes off (if it does take off), but you guys tell me the last time that's happened around here. The Skins have 7 passes of 30 yards or more in 2-plus games since Collins replaced JC against the Bears. They had 11 such passes in the first 12 games.

PORTIS/MOSS - Like I said earlier, this was a great West Coast-style approach with him. 124 combined yards, 23 touches (with 5 catches). That's Westbrook and that's how you keep the ball moving against a team that will use 8 to stop the run and gets its DBs very involved in pinching at the line. He's run hard in the fourth quarter the last two weeks in a way I haven't seen since 2005. He's clearly more healthy than he's been in a long time and the O Line has been much better the last few weeks (Stephon Heyer had another great effort). Portis left his feet trying to take off EJ Henderson's head and blew one pass protection - almost got Collins decapitated in the process - but other than that he played a near-perfect game considering the strength of the opposing run defense.

After the reversed fumble call, Portis ran 4 times for 37 yards, including a highlight reel 13-yard TD dash to make the score 32-14.

Moss had another strong game as well and it's obvious that when these two guys are right this is a completely different offense. Only wish some of the haters got a chance to see JC operate in this kind of offense with this kind of game plan with his playmakers healthy and the O Line in a good run of form.

SKINS D - They were awesome. Peterson was a complete nonfactor, with his coach part of the problem (more Childress bashing to come, promise). Minnesota ran for 1.8 yards per carry in the first half. The Redskins have allowed 5 TDs in the last 5 games since that poor second-half at Dallas. They have allowed just two rushing TDs to running backs in the past 7 weeks, and one was the alert TD they gifted to Westbrook in the Philly game to give the offense a chance to tie late down by 8.

CHILDRESS - Wonder if this dude ends up getting whacked at the end of the season should they lose at Denver? His team got manhandled in the first half and was down 25-0 at home in what was essentially a playoff game, and he spends his post-game media session whining about an arcane interpretation of a substitution rule as it pertains to a hurry-up play to beat a replay challenge. Sorry bro, that didn't cost you the game. You weren't going to rally from 25 down with that QB and that game plan even if you took over at midfield on that fumble.

He failed to get RB Chester Taylor - to me the perfect weapon with which to counter Williams's heavy pressure - involved into it was too late. He failed to show patience in getting the run established in the first half before the game got out of hand (Peterson never ran on consecutive plays in the entire half). With his team down 16-0, Jackson already rattled throwing poor passes and an interception and Williams clearly befuddled the kid with the various looks, the Vikings continue to put the ball in the air. It's still a close enough game with plenty of time, but the Vikes call 4 passes to two runs after going down 16-0 and through that drive late in the second half have run 13 pass plays and just 8 runs.

And Washington's pretty 4-minute drive to end the half was a dagger. They go up 22-0 now and the Vikings can't really run it in the second half now. Peterson gets just 9 carries in the game.

Childress's players don't like him much, from everything I heard from players and sources around the league, and he was looking primed to get run out of town before his team reeled off 5 straight wins. But if they end up 8-8 and sitting home after having controlled their own playoff fate with 3 weeks to play, I think there will be some serious decisions for ownership to consider.

Okay, about to board the plane. I'm probably not going to be able to post much the next few days, as my in-laws are in a pretty remote area with scant internet access and I'm going to be doing the family thing on Christmas then spending all day Wednesday driving back to Virginia from New York with Lauren and the kids. I'll try to get something up if there's anything big going down and will be back at it Thursday.

I would be surprised if Romo, TO, Terrence Newman or a lot of other banged up Cowboys play Sunday. Back-up QB Brad Johnson, who has a strong dislike of Dan Snyder and would surely love to knock the Skins out of the playoffs, will be highly motivated and I would imagine long-time injured Dallas WR Terry Glenn would be given a good run ahead of the playoffs to see how much he can do.

It wouldn't be out of character for the Skins to get this far only to blow it in the cruelest way possible, but I think this team has turned the corner and if riding something special right now. We'll find out for sure in a few days.

Happy holidays.

Cheers.

By Jason La Canfora  |  December 24, 2007; 2:03 PM ET
 
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