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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.

By Jason La Canfora  |  January 6, 2008; 4:28 PM ET
 
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Next: Gregg Williams Update

Comments

First
HTTR!

Posted by: abtassler | January 6, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Jasno, thx to you and WaPo for the outstanding coverage throughout the season. Yes, at times it has been a difficult season, so much so that I stopped posting after Sean's death. However, I was always reading RI and depending upon your reporting for my info.

Thanks again for such great work through this tough and memorable season.

Posted by: CBT | January 6, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

From the previous thread...
Sporaro, our sources say, is most likely to get the Miami gig. He's a Parcells guy.
Thanks, Patteagape, for the kind words. When the schedule came out, I told my boss, "8-8 and I could be off by a game either way." Sadly, I had no money on that. It's been an interesting year -- the offseasonis really going to be fascinating.
No Nate this week??????


Posted by: TheCindy | January 6, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

hailbg,

What you described is what Campbell dealt with all season -- decimated Oline, not much of a running game, defenders in his face, and 60% of his passes completed during his time under center. You've proved that given similar conditions, Collins is no more productive. Minus JC's upside, what would be the benefit of playing Collins next season?

*******************************

I don't think the Seahawks game was representative of anything. They're 8-1 in their house. Our o-line was decimated. We averaged less then 3 yards per run. There were crucial drops. There was someone in Collins' face the entire time. No one could hear anything. And the Skins still got over 300 yards of offense, and Collins was one shy of a 60% completion percentage. I'm not sure why people are so close to dismiss Toddball.

If Campbell can do those things (and he was beginning to), then start him by all means. But, he hasn't shown that yet

Posted by: hailbg | January 6, 2008 04:33 PM

Posted by: JustMe | January 6, 2008 4:42 PM | Report abuse

They should try Lorenzo at WR :-)

Thanks Jasno, for great work throughout a challenging year.

Posted by: PDiddy | January 6, 2008 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Get rid of J. Jansen, B. Lloyd, J. Fabini, Frost, Suisham, Brunell, Pucillo, P. Daniels. Keep Springs and move him to free safety and move Landry to Strong Safety.

Posted by: fj8152001 | January 6, 2008 4:45 PM | Report abuse

no way get rid of suisam....

Posted by: chrislarry | January 6, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

mr. everything should be groomed at O guard....

great post janso, i agree about the "building" approach...thats why i am hoping for minimal change this offseason....keep it boring!

Posted by: chrislarry | January 6, 2008 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Also, when Jason was playing our WRs were banged up and rarely practiced. Collins had the luxury of having them healthy and in practice.

Posted by: Lisa_R | January 6, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse

JustMe,

You point out Campbell had similar statistics under similar conditions. That's not true because the running game was better and the O-line played better than under Campbell typically than it did with Collins yesterday.

However, even if we assume it to be true, we are comparing Collins' worst game with Campbell's average. That is a flawed comparison.

Therefore, if Collins' average performance lies somewhere between yesterday's game and the previous 4 games, then Collins' is a better proposition than Campbell *now*.

Of course, it may turn out (and I hope it does) that Campbell had enough time to watch and learn from Collins' operation of the offense to operate a couple of notches higher than he did before and that may make him the better qb in this system once training camp comes around. But, that's not at all a given at this point

Posted by: hailbg | January 6, 2008 4:54 PM | Report abuse

They can't ignore the d-line this offseason like they did last year. Need to upgrade and add depth. Jevon Kearse is a free agent and so is Darrin Howard, might be able to get either one relatively cheap. Neither would be a starter, but would add depth and a pas rush to the d-line. Release Daniels and start C Wilson. Release the punter and kicker immediately. Lloyd's locker should be cleaned out already.

Posted by: gmr4874 | January 6, 2008 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Jason,

Good meeting you Friday night, and thanks for all of your hard work (you too, Cindy). Thanks especially for the thoughtful, gentle, and all-around classy way you handled Sean's death. I'm looking forward to my first offseason on the blog.

Posted by: freakzilla | January 6, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

hailbg,

I would think that Skins fans, of all people, would recognize the folly of focusing on the *now*. This franchise has done that for many years, and how has that worked?

Posted by: JustMe | January 6, 2008 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Lisa_R, fair enough, but Collins also gives his playmakers more of a chance to make plays than Campbell does. Of course, sometimes that backfires like the killer int to Trufant yesterday, but sometimes you gotta just trust your guys to be able to make the plays

Posted by: hailbg | January 6, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

beep beep

Posted by: chrislarry | January 6, 2008 5:03 PM | Report abuse

beep beep

Posted by: freakzilla | January 6, 2008 5:04 PM | Report abuse

JustMe,

You'll find no argument from me about Campbell being the franchise quarterback. However, if Campbell has just started 20 games and if you have a quarterback that can take you deep into the playoffs next season, wouldn't you use that opportunity?

Especially, knowing that Campbell will have the opportunity to start for the 7-8 years after that and he'll be much, much better for the chance to learn.

Again, all of this is with a caveat that at the start of training camp next season, Collins runs the offense better than Campbell

Posted by: hailbg | January 6, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

hailbg,

Jason is the only quarterback that can take the Redskins deep into the playoffs. Todd couldn't even win a single playoff game as we saw yesterday. Go back and read what Jason wrote above and in his earlier column.

Todd is a backup. Jason is a starter.

Posted by: talent_evaluator | January 6, 2008 5:25 PM | Report abuse

My god. How can any of you seriously think Todd should be the starting quarterback next year? I mean, put aside the interceptions for a minute. Look at his throws to the sidelines on those 5-10 yard outs. The ball takes FOREVER to get there. Todd Collins is on par with Chad Pennington. A guy that can play great in a timing system but that doesn't have the arm strength or natural athletic ability to be a truly great QB. Please, no quarterback controversy. Jason is the future and will be an elite QB in 2-3 years at most. He would have performed so much better yesterday than Collins, because he has the ability to use his feet to avoid the blitz, he could have gotten the ball down the field on a line, and he can run the no huddle much more effectively. The reason the Redskins have sucked for so long is exactly because of situations like this. Instead of respecting stability, we grasp at every easy, quick fix and then pay the consequences for it later. Let's not destroy Campbell the same way we allowed Spurrier to destroy Ramsey. Please, let the QB controversy die.

Posted by: vjr9r | January 6, 2008 6:55 PM | Report abuse

"You've proved that given similar conditions, Collins is no more productive. Minus JC's upside, what would be the benefit of playing Collins next season?"

*******************************

If nothing else, the benefit would be not having the QB turnover the ball as many times. TC lost a playoff game? LOL ... don't think we watched the same game. We'd not have been there without him. Try the O line if you must point fingers.

In any case, Collins at 36 may not be the QB of the decade, but he is more than capable and younger than Garcia or Favre. Jason hasn't developed the ability to do the quick reads and get the ball out.

If Collins doesn't get a shot, then he ought to see what he could find elsewhere.

Posted by: forces | January 6, 2008 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Great analysis Jason on Campbell/Collins. These fake GM's on this blog know nothing. I challenge anyone to find a well respected NFL personnel guy who would make Collins the starting QB over Campbell. Collins played well and we have a great problem in that we have two QB's that can run the offense.

Having said that...

1) Keep Suisham
2) Trade Betts for the 4rd rounder we gave for Kendall. Cartwright can do what Betts does.
3) Cut McCardell maybe Daniels. The Redskins have some tough decisions to make on Springs and Jansen.

Posted by: rickyroge | January 6, 2008 8:41 PM | Report abuse

No need to overthink some of these issues.

The NFL playoffs are brutal - they separate the men from the boys. Pittsburgh, Tampa and Tennessee were pretenders. Skins got hot against some vulnerable opponents but just did not have the talent to win on the road in the playoffs yet. They're just not good enough right now, but with the right moves in the off-season can be competitive with any NFC team. That's a real dicey situation since Snyder & Co. have not demonstrated that personnel evaluation and selection are their strengths.

Gibbs demonstrated that he is a unique Christian centered leader of men and has chosen for the most part the right coaches to surround him. But it's another issue whether the team he has helped assemble is well suited for the type of offense that Saunders wants to run. This is a bit of a lesser concern since Williams has shown that he can adapt to change and has fielded a competitive defensive team for most of his time here despite changes in personnel and injuries.

There is no reason to have a QB issue. This is easy to settle. Collins is a career #2 for a reason. He played lights out, but faced with a fierce pass rush and a playoff game on the road, he just did not have the tools. Campbell is the future.

What is really hard to swallow is that the Skins had this game for the taking and failed to take advantage of great opportunities - the same problems that plagued them for most of the season. Other than a five game stretch in 2005 and the four game stretch this season, this has been their pattern. Are these short runs of success outliers or are they the true measure of the team? If they are a true measure, then why can't the team play well consistently after several years of continuity? What responsibility rests with players, coaches and front office personnel? These are the tough issues to resolve, which have not been solved over the last 15 years or so, and we won't know if there are solutions until next season's games are being played.

Posted by: i155133 | January 6, 2008 8:41 PM | Report abuse

We have to upgrade this receiveing corps and get younger on the O-line

Posted by: rickyroge | January 6, 2008 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Jason, as always excellent coverage. I agree that this is overall good progress by the Skins.

Any chance we will see the H-Back for the rest of the playoffs? Would love to see your analysis of the next three rounds.

Posted by: wp | January 6, 2008 9:23 PM | Report abuse

So where's all of the 21 mysticism talk today? We lost by 21, doesn't that mean anything, since winning by 21 was so huge?

Posted by: Redskinrex | January 6, 2008 9:55 PM | Report abuse

No two ways about it. This game was won by the Seattle D line. They plugged every hole, harassed our QB to no end, and forced us to keep playmakers in to block. They forced quicker throws and decisions, so Todd didn't see everything he might otherwise have seen.

But so what. We had two backups (including one backup's backup), and Seattle simply won their battles. There's no shame in that.

I think Todd is an excellent QB. No, he doesn't have youth on his side, but that's the end of that list. You certainly tell JC he's the future, and he is, but any wise jury would wait a moment before deciding WHEN that future is. If Todd significantly outplays JC in preseason, Todd should start. Period. I'm not saying that's going to happen, but I am saying that closing the door on Todd just because you have another guy you like is foolish. Gibbs is too pragmatic (and too predisposed to mature QBs) to make that call.

I think the coaches stand pat for one more year. One. This was a five year plan, and I think Williams might have left after one or two, but he's going to stick it out for year five. At the end of 2008, though, I think people will really start wondering what comes next.

Besides, I do not see Williams coaching a Parcells team, and letting Parcells take any credit that the team garners. Double-G wants to sign his own name to any success stories he's a part of.

I agree with the commenter who said we should trade Betts and let Rock run the rock more. Bring in a young RB or two and develop them as a third. Betts has too much value to be riding the pine. CP is fragile, but I think Rock is as capable back-up as Betts, if not better.

I also think you need to keep Shaun Springs. I know that would be painful. But I think SS would renegotiate his contract to some extent. The D relies on man coverage too much to leave it to Smoot and Rogers, who is still unproven. Even bringing in a free-agent, I still think you have to pay for that position ultimately. Springs has earned a reasonable check.

Posted by: jvwright | January 6, 2008 10:11 PM | Report abuse

Doughty, Montgomery, Golston, Torrence, Alexander, Wilson, Heyer and Blades.... I don't think I want to start a franchise with these guys.

Posted by: relishfilms | January 7, 2008 12:42 AM | Report abuse

Back from Seattle. What a rollercoaster game and what a season to remember. I have some stories but will wait til tomorrow to gather my thoughts.

Just one thing I had to share since it's "fresh" in my mind. Not sure if Mike Wise could smell what I was smelling on the back of the plane on the way home (he was on same flight as me but sat closer to the front) but either A)the guy I was sitting next to ate a massive burrito before he boarded the plane or B)Alaska airlines ran out of airfreshener tonight. Either way, I may have to bring some of the stuff coroners put under their noses next time I fly across country.

Gagging just thinking about it...

Anyways, good piece by the beat reporter. Will post some more comments tomorrow.

(yes I said good piece)

Posted by: Barno1 | January 7, 2008 2:18 AM | Report abuse

CNNSI.com:

Not the most inspiring of efforts by the Redskins offense on Trufant's 78-yard scoring return of that Collins interception. With the exception of a few Washington offensive linemen, most of the Redskins in pursuit looked like they preferred to let one of their teammates try and tackle Trufant.

Santana Moss and Todd Collins, we're looking in your direction.

Posted by: i155133 | January 7, 2008 8:21 AM | Report abuse

I just had to make the Esa Tikkanen joke last week when Jasno compared this team to the 1997-98 Red Wings.

Suisham choking on that field goal was akin to Tikkanen blowing the open-net goal. The momentum completely shifted at that moment.

The Caps got rid of Tikkanen after that season (granted, he was initially only a playoff addition, but he really could have stayed on until he was made the goat). Suisham is an FA. I'm thinking the Skins do the same thing.

Posted by: JohninMpls | January 7, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

...once again, jason: Kudos on the excellent coverage this year ... most informative, balanced all-time... You were the only WaPo Sports All-Star...

redskins fan since '59

Posted by: bobeaston | January 7, 2008 12:52 PM | Report abuse

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