Sunday Afternoon H-Back
Just wanted to thank everyone for their readership and support right off the bat. This was a pretty bizarre season on many levels, and thanks for coming along for the ride. In the end they finished up where many of expected - 8 or 9 wins, fighting for playoff lives in Week 17 against Dallas - although none of us could have predicted the particulars of this journey. And when that kickoff was hopping all over the place and Anthony Mix caught it on the bounce, well, there was no way you could have convinced any of us in the pressbox that we wouldn't be going to Dallas this weekend.
Everyone was reconsidering their story ideas - who was going to write Landry now that he made those two picks? Wilbon was going to write a column looking ahead to the Dallas game - and it seemed to all of us that the team of destiny thing was for real. Didn't quite finish that way, but you have to respect the way this organization responded in crisis and there are many positives to take from 2007 even despite the horrible tragedy. They finally found a good young core of players to supplement an age nucleus put together in 2004 when Coach Joe came back. They seem committed to not spending willy-nilly in free agency and learning from some of their mistakes in the past.
Spoke to several players early this morning before getting on the plane and people in the organization as well and all have the strong sense that Joe Gibbs will return as coach and team president in 2008, and many believe he will sign a contract extension as well. Until Joe has a chance to confer with his family and take a deep breath, however, no one will know with 100 percent certainty. I do not envision much change in the staff, whether coaches or personnel people, as this front office has been highly committed to its philosophy and prized stability and continuity in the last 12 months.
Of course, players will come and go - Brandon Lloyd staying would be a stunner; numerous sources close to Shawn Springs told me the cornerback fully expects to be elsewhere next season - as is the nature of the game. But I fully expect them to renegotiate upwards of 10 contracts - Cooley, Portis, Moss, Griffin, Samuels, Thomas, Jansen, Washington - as has been the norm to get far enough under the cap to sign 2-3 notable free agents (they are currently $20 million over the cap but as I have blogged in the past, Snyder's willingness to convert bonuses to base salary makes it easy enough to get under the cap)
I'll post more looking ahead to the future later in the week, but the team has more of the key players under contract and those free agents they wish to keep should require relatively-painless negotiations. The free agents are: Coillins, Cartwright, Albright, Frost, Suisham, Brunell, McCardell, Caldwell, Godfrey, Prioleau, Fabini, Stoutmire, Pucillo, Macklin, DeMulling, Boschetti, Sampson, Kozlowski, and, I believe Mix signed a one-year deal as well but I am unable to check that right now (if it's a different contract I'll post it ASAP). We're talking deep depth guys for the most part and a group consisting largely of guys who could be re-signed for minimal to no bonus money. Maybe next year they bring in some semblance of legit veteran competition for the kicker and punter in camp, but I would imagine these two would be re-signed as well.
Okay, with that preface out of the way, let's rewind on yesterday's game, because this is the last one we're going to be able to pick apart for a good eight months.
Might as well start with some of the wacky quarterback controversy talk that's been brewing the last few weeks. Can we put it to bed now? They found the perfect relief pitcher for this system, who can give them a burst when needed and fill in admirably. But to diminish Campbell's development in any way to turn over the keys to Todd, well, it boggles my mind that anyone who suggest it. Todd is human. Todd makes mistakes. Todd is 36. Rejoice in what he is and the security he provides, and rejoice in that fact that a young potential franchise QB with great physical gifts and poise and maturity well beyond his years continues to stay ahead of the curve and make significant strides.
Yesterday to me should end madness about this position. What did Todd Collins look like late, when he was trailing and had to chase the game for the first time (they'd never trailed in the previous 4 games)? How did that attempted comeback go? What was it like when the offensive line got overwhelmed and he was hit regularly and Portis and Moss looked like the dudes struggling to get it right in October and November, and not the stars from December? Well, guess what, that's what Jason was working with for the better part of 12 weeks.
Two late picks? Seen that before. 69.2 rating? Yep. All those dropped passes? Seen that before, too. And, just like many of those losses in November were hardly Jason's fault, neither was this Todd's. But I think people drastically underestimate how hard it is to go on the road as any QB - much less a young one - and pull off comebacks in the final minutes. Teams know you're going to pass and they know who you ideally want to get it to and the better secondaries - with guys like Ronde Barber and Terrence Newman and Marcus Trufant make you pay. This wasn't unlike what Jason went through at Tampa and Dallas at all.
What did surprise me about the offense, though, was that it took until midway through the third quarter to go no huddle. I'll never figure that out with that crowd in the playoffs. All the shifting and motion and pre-snap minutia bogged them down horribly in the first half. The offense was sluggish and seemed bewildered at times. They needed more life and tempo and finally got it when going no huddle. Should have started the game with it given those game conditions.
The Redskins right side of the line was obliterated. They kept trying perimeter runs and screens to the side and four were blown up for negative plays in a three-series stretch. Pass rushers Kerney and Peterson would often line up together and Heyer, Fabini and backs Mike Sellers and Portis were all blown up at times. Seattle's speed was overwhelming. The Redskins could not stretch the field at all.
Special teams also buried the Skins. There were three huge special teams penalties, Frost was very shaky and Suisham's 30-yard miss in the fourth quarter - after Mix's kickoff recovery (that kid has been a demon on special teams and could be a very good 4-5 WR next season) was damning. That gave Seattle life and was obviously huge in this game. But it was also another case of a horrible offensive drive inside the red zone, going 3-and-out, that again, echoed back to problems this offense had in the first 12 weeks that go beyond just having a young QB under center.
Defensively, I know the Skins would have loved to have made a play on some of Hasselbeck's strikes in the fourth quarter, and Shawn Springs in particular had a long afternoon, but overall holding Seattle to 21 points as a defense on the road is pretty impressive. The Seahawks had just 240 odd yards when the Skins went ahead in the 4th quarter. If Suisham makes that field goal maybe they drop the hammer on Seattle for good.
As it turns out Hasselbeck showed why he is one of the 6-7 best QBs in the world and came out fired up. Gregg Williams put a ton of pressure on his secondary by playing Cover-1 for the most part with Smoot and Springs in man coverage, and Landry and Doughty were great and those two INTs were huge points not only in the game but in Landry's development. But the lack of a pass rush was glaring, and left the corners out to dry at times, Hasselbeck was far too comfortable and the pump fake and double move became his best friend; it's up to the front 7 to negate some of that and somebody needed to be in Hasselbeck's face in the fourth quarter.
Overall, though, the defense did its job. They stifled the run game with the exception of two carries and held Hasselbeck to a 68 rating. Kept the Redskins in the game for 3 quarters, kept the score down, reversed field position in huge ways, twice got the offense the ball later with turnovers. But when the offense gives up 14 points you're doomed.
The running game needs work as well (finding a way to keep Jansen and Thomas healthy would be huge, but that's been a big iff the last few years). Even during the 4 game winning streak the Skins averaged just 3.3 per carry,. Yesterday was awful on the ground (Portis had 20 carries for 52 yards) and often there was nowhere to go. Plays got blown up in the backfield. I thought they played into Seattle's hands with the outside runs - I thought they might attack the guts a little more - and the right side was crushed. You have to convert 3rd and 4th and 1 and the Skins could not. The negative plays left them in third and long far too often as well, and this time they went 4-for-18.
The Redskins got the ball 8 times in the fourth quarter and held the ball for 34 minutes on the day and still lost the game. They ran 82 plays to 54 for Seattle and out-gained them 319-304, but could not sustain a field position advantage, gave up two long returns and ended up with that looks like a blowout loss, 35-14.
So, with everything wrapped up, thought I would give out some MVPs:
Defense: London Fletcher. Restored a swagger and mean streak to this defense, became the leader of the entire team - finally someone is addressing both sides of the ball - and made a ton of plays as well.
Offense: Casey Rabach. Thought about Samuels and Collins here, but went with the center. Held a patchwork offensive line together for the most part and fought through a crazy painful groin tear in remarkably short order. Had he missed more time I don't think there's anyone they can even make this playoff run. The guard play was pretty suspect at times and I thought Casey was the glue guy on that side of the ball.
Special Teams: Rock Cartwright. He personifies many of the best qualities of this team. As I've said before, I'm a Rock guy. Love what he brings in terms of energy and execution.
Mr. Everything: Not sure how to honor Lorenzo Alexander, since he selflessly spread himself among all three units, but he deserves an MVP award of some sort. With injuries tearing a roster apart he was like having three players in one. What a tremendous story he is. There will be some tussling between the staff about where he goes - offensive line or defensive line - and maybe he's the young guard this offense badly needs. That would fill a big void and eliminate the need to address that via trade or free agency. With Montgomery, Golston and Wilson all showing great promise on the D Line, maybe Lorenzo ends up on offense.
And, let me leave you with this. Want a tangible sign of some progress by the organization? Doughty, Montgomery, Golston, Torrence, Alexander, Wilson, Heyer and Blades, combined, count just $3.4 million against the cap next season (an average of $424,000 per). That's how you start to build your franchise for long haul my friends.
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