Redskins vs. 49ers preview: By the Numbers

If you’re a Redskins fan, you might want to brace yourself — because this isn’t going to be pretty.

Team Record:

Washington Redskins: 3-4
San Francisco 49ers: 6-1

Quarterbacks:

Rex Grossman + John Beck, Washington: 134 completions out of 223 attempts (56.8% completion), 1736 yards, 7 TD’s, 12 INT’s, 67.7 QB Rating
Alex Smith, San Francisco: 115 completions out of 182 attempts (63.2% completion), 1267 yards, 9 TD’s, 2 INT’s, 95.7 QB Rating

Advantage: Let’s see, Smith has a better QB rating, better completion percentage, more touchdown passes, and less interceptions. I’ll go out on a limb and give this one to San Francisco

Runing Backs:

Tim Hightower + Ryan Torain + Roy Helu, Washington: 150 attempts, 618 yards, 4.1 yards per carry, 2 TDs, 4 carries for 20+ yards, 0 fumbles lost.
Frank Gore, San Francisco: 140 attempts, 675 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 5 TD’s, 7 carries for 20+ yards, 2 fumbles lost

Advantage: Frank Gore has more yards, touchdowns, and runs of 20+ yards on less carries than the entire Redskins backfield combined. Again, San Francisco, by a landslide.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Both teams have had to deal with injuries here, so we’ll look at the top 3 receivers plus tight end for each team.

Washington:

Jabar Gaffney: 27 recs, 401 yards, 14.9 ypc, 1 TD, 6 receptions for 20+ yards
Terrance Austin: 6 reces, 80 yards, 13.3 ypc, 0 TD’s, 1 reception for 20+ yards
Anthony Armstrong: 5 recs, 47 yards, 9.4 ypc, 1 TD, 0 receptions for 20+ yards

Fred Davis: 36 receptions, 517 yards, 14.4 ypc, 2 TD’s, 10 receptions for 20+ yards

San Francisco:

Michael Crabtree: 25 recs, 263 yards, 10.5 ypc, 1 TD, 4 receptions for 20+ yards
Delanie Walker: 11 recs, 114 yards, 10.4 ypc, 3 TD’s, 2 receptions for 20+ yards
Braylon Edwards: 8 recs, 90 yards, 11.3 ypc, 0 TD’s, 1 reception for 20+ yards

Vernon Davis: 27 recs, 298 yards, 11.0 ypc, 3 TD’s, 6 reception for 20+ yards

Advantage: San Francisco. Crabtree is more talented than any receiver on the Redskins roster, though he just hasn’t seemed to get his act altogether yet. Crabtree and Edwards have both been slowed by injuries this season, but are monumentally more talented than any receiver the Redskins would put on the field on Sunday. On the flipside, Fred Davis has already become one of the 10 best tight ends in the league, but there may not be a more talented tight end than Vernon Davis. Vernon’s stats might not be as good as Fred’s, but that’s because the 49ers don’t have to lean on him nearly as much as the Redskins do on Fred Davis.

Offensive Line:

Washington: 23 sacks allowed, 3 out of 5 opening day starters still playing
San Francisco: 17 sacks allowed, 4 out of 5 opening day starters still playing

Advantage: San Francisco

Rushing Defense:

Rushing Yards allowed Per Game

Washington: 21st in the NFL (allows 120.4 yards per game)
San Francisco: 1st in the NFL (allows 73.4 yards per game)

Rushing Touchdowns allowed:

Washington: 6 (16th in the NFL)
San Francisco: 0 (1st in the NFL)

Games in 2011 where opposing running back has gained 100+ yards:

Washington: 2 (Philadelphia, Buffalo)
San Francisco: 0

Advantage: Again, San Francisco by an embarassing margin. The 49ers haven’t given up a 100-yard rushing effort to an opposing running back over the past 29 games, the longest active streak in the NFL. They’ve held very solid running backs like LeSean McCoy, LeGarrette Blount, and Jahvid Best to under 40 yards rushing for the entire game. On the flipside, the Redskins gave up 120 yards to Fred Jackson, 104 yards to the the duo of Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and 126 yards to McCoy over the past three weeks alone.

Passing Defense:

Yards Per game:

Washington: 12th in the NFL (allows 223.1 yards per game)
San Francisco: 21st in the NFL (allows 255.7 yards per game)

Sacks:

Washington: 23 total (5th in the NFL), lead by LB Brian Orakpo (4.5)
San Francisco: 21 total (7th in the NFL), lead by LB Aldon Smith (6.5)

Interceptions:

Washington: 6 (21st in NFL), lead by LB London Fletcher (2)
San Francisco: 9 (7th in the NFL), lead by CB Carlos Rogers (3).

Advantage: Push. San Francisco might allow a few more yards through the air, but they get after the quarterback and intercept the opposing passer at a better clip than Washington does.

Total Defense:

Total Yards per game:

Washington: 343.6 (14th in the NFL)
San Francisco: 329.1 (10th in the NFL)

Points Allowed:

Washington: 19.9 per game (7th in the NFL)
San Francisco: 15.3 per game (1st in the NFL)

Turnover Ratio:

Washington: -6 (27th in the NFL)
San Francisco: +10 (2nd in the NFL)

Advantage: San Francisco. Face it, the 49ers Defense is just playing better than the Redskins defense overall. In the six games the 49ers have won this season, their opponent has not scored more than two touchdowns. In five of their seven games, they’ve given up less than 20 points (including 10 or less points in three of their last five games).

Bottom Line:

Watching this game will probably be incredibly frustrating for Redskins fans, because the 49ers are winning in the way that us Redskins fans have desperately yearned for: running the ball down the opponents throats, keeping them out of the endzone, and taking the football away from them.

If Redskins fans are hoping this is the week that the offense comes to life, they might not want to hold their breath. Judging by the stats coming into this game, John Beck is going to get virtually no help from his running game on Sunday. The Redskins are already in the bottom seven in the NFL in running the football (averaging less than 96 yards per game on the ground), and they’ll essentially trying to run against a brick wall. The 49ers will absolutely sell out to stop the run, knowing that Beck won’t have time to throw nor the weapons downfield to beat them. Seriously, if you’re the 49ers, why wouldnt you blitz Beck every play? His receivers are too young and raw to really recognize the blitz and make route adjustments accordingly, the entire left side of the offensive line will have backups playing, and it’s painfully apparent that Beck is nowhere near comfortable commanding this offense yet.

If the Redskins win, it looks like it’s going to have to be an ugly one, with the defense shutting down Frank Gore (he accounts for over 45% of the 49ers offensive touches), getting a takeaway or two, and maybe even having to put the ball in the endzone themselves.

This preview was cross-posted on RedskinsGab.com

NFL Picks: Week 9

So, I’ve always meant to do one of those “weekly picks against the line” segments each season, yet in all the hysteria of the NFL season starting, the last few days before our fantasy football league draft, and my endless rationalizations why THIS will actually be the year the Redskins will be a contender, I always end up missing the first week’s picks.

Naturally, the same thing happened this year. But given that we’re now eight weeks into the season (essentially halfway through, if you discount the partially-meaningless week 17), I thought now would be as good a time to start as any.

Away we go. These picks are for nothing more than entertainment and recreational uses only. Home teams in Capital letters.

WASHINGTON (+3.5) over San Francisco: let’s be clear: I don’t have any faith in this Redskins team. It’s just against my personal fiber to pick against them. I literally might make it rain on myself if John Beck throws a touchdown pass; that’s how much I think of his quarterbacking abilities.

Atlanta (-7) over INDIANAPOLIS: The Colts aren’t bad; they’re historically bad. If the ’72 Dolphis pop champage ever year a team doesn’t go undefeated, what would the 2008 Lions (only team to go 0-16) do if their streak is broken: pop a 40 ouncer?

NEW ORLEANS (-8) over Tampa Bay: Something aint quite right about Tampa Bay this year. On the other side, since 2008, the Saints are 11-0 the week after Drew Brees’ quarterback rating falls below 75.0. Drew Brees’ QB rating last week was a 73, and Tampa Bay is in the bottom seven in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. Do the math.

Cleveland (+11) over HOUSTON: Cleveland is one of those teams that can inexplicably beat anybody and also lose to anybody. Houston is also one of those teams that can inexplicably lose to anybody or beat anyone. I like Houston, just not by 11.

New York Jets (+1.5) over BUFFALO: Over the last two seasons, Rex Ryan has averaged a 5-3 record over the first eight games of the season, and a 5-3 record over the last eight games of the season. Eery. The Jets are 4-3, and the Bills went 2-2 in October after starting the season 3-0. The numbers say: pick the Jets.

KANSAS CITY (-4) over Miami: if your team is poised to get the first overall pick twice in a four year span (2008 and 2012), you might want to take a long look at how you’re running things.

DALLAS (-11.5) over Seattle: Miami’s and Seattle’s QB situations are the only reasons that, as a Redskins fan having to deal with Grossman (never had it, never will) or Beck (never had it, never will), I can say: “hey, our QB situation could be worse”

DENVER (+8) over Oakland: over-saturated betting line > Tebow.

Cincinnati (+3) over Tennessee: The wagon is starting to fall apart for the Titans; they’re 2-5 for the season, and have scored a grand total of 15 points over the last two games. Chris Johnson looks slow, fat, and unmotivated; it’s like he spent the lockout hanging out with Jamarcus Russell.

ARIZONA (-3.5) over St. Louis: All i’m saying is, if your fans are excited about AJ Feeley, you have a lot bigger problems than you might realize.

NEW ENGLAND (-8.5) over New York Giants: I’ll take a pissed off Brady & Belichick over an overrated Giants squad any day (unless that day is February 3, 2008).

Green Bay (-5.5) over SAN DIEGO: Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football right now. Conversely, I could really see Phillip Rivers following his three tunover performace last week with a 5 turnover performance this week.

PITTSBURGH (-3) over Baltimore: Oh, sure , i’m sure the Steelers have COMPLETELY forgotten their week one beat-down from the Ravens, and how everyone called this team old, slow, and washed-up.

PHILADELPHIA (-8) over Chicago: I think this one turns into a laugher, in the Eagles favor. Oh, and my currently-on-life-support fantasy football team up against an opponent who has LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin this week. They’ll be going against a defense in the bottom 10 in the NFL overall and bottom five in passing yards allowed. As the kids like to say: FML.

A “Lack of Talent” Show

Anyone who knows anything about NFL football knows that it’s no secret that the Redskins and their fanbase were the butt of numerous punchlines of jokes surrounding the Redskins throwing excessive amounts of money at big name players, and consistently contending for the “offseason championship” or “championship team on paper” title. Over the last 11 years or so, the amount of money the Redskins have thrown at has-beens or or guys looking to cash in on career years like Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier, Jeff George, Jeremiah Trotter, Jessie Armstead, Laveranues Coles, Adam Archuleta, Antwaan Randle El, Albert Haynesworth, and Donovan McNabb exceeds the gross domestic product of over 50% of countries on this planet. That’s insane.

But here’s the sad irony in all of this: even with the tens of millions of dollars thrown at those guys or used to pay any of the high profile draft picks this team has made, the Redskins are easily well towards the bottom of the NFL in terms of overall, across-the-board play-makers on this football team.

As a Redskins fan, ask yourself this question: does this team have one single elite, “blue chip” player whom you could really call a cornerstone for this franchise? Is there really one guy whom you can say: “this is a guy we have to lock up for the next decade, and build this team around him”? The only truly game-changing player that this team has been able to draft over the past decade was Sean Taylor, and he was taken from this world far earlier than he deserved to be (RIP).

Just run down the list of guys currently on the roster:

Brian Orakpo: Listen, I love the guy – especially his intangibles and leadership at a relatively young age (he turned 25 this summer) – but you’re kidding yourself if you think he falls into a true “franchise player” designation. He’s a really good pass-rusher, no doubt, but he’s simply not a game-changing linebacker. He’s had one season with double-digit sacks (2009), and forced a grand total of two fumbles coming into 2011. Drafting Ryan Kerrigan was supposed to free him up from double-teams and being the focus of opposing teams’ game plans, yet he’s currently tied for 20th in the league in sacks. He always seems like he’s in the backfield, but just a step slow from making a momentum-shifting or game-altering play.

As Redskins fans, we hold Orakpo in much higher esteem than the rest of the NFL, mostly because he’s all we have to brag about. But when ESPN.com’s top football bloggers sat down to rank their top linebackers in the entire league, seven out of eight of them didn’t include Orakpo in their top 10 in the game. Redskins fans like to think of Orakpo as being in the same echelon of pass rushers like Demarcus Ware, Clay Matthews Jr, or LaMarr Woodley, but that’s simply not accurate.

LaRon Landry: Landry looked like he was on his way to being an All-Pro player last year in 2010 – he was arguably one of the top five defensive players in the NFL halfway through last season – but the injury to his Achilles tendon changed everything. With the cursed lockout taking away the ability for him to rehabilitate the injury with the Redskins medical staff, he’s just not the same guy anymore. His play has taken about four to six steps backward from what he was in 2010, and now he looks alarmingly ordinary, if not mediocre.

DeAngelo Hall: forget about it. Hall remains one of those guys who talks a far better game than he plays. God forbid he just shuts his mouth and covers the guy in front of him. Yeah, he might get you four to six interceptions per season, but he’ll get burned just as many times for big plays by opposing receivers. I’m not calling a “feast or famine” cornerback one of the better players in the game; like Orakpo, five of eight ESPN.com columnists didn’t include Hall in their top 10 cornerbacks in the NFL.

Ryan Kerrigan: Ignoring the fact that you can’t make a true judgement about a guy just seven games into his NFL career, he’s like Orakpo: damn fine player, busts his tail on every play, outstanding intangibles, great football IQ, but not a game-changing, top-five-at-his-position guy.

London Fletcher: the best player on this team, hands down, but father time will catch up with him at some point. And it’s a damn shame, too, because he may be the only player left on this roster who genuinely cares about whether this team wins or loses.

Anyone on Offense: You must be kidding. Did you even watch the last three games this team has played? To steal a phrase from Rip Torn: this offense looks like a bunch of morons trying to hump a doorknob. Our offensive execution last Sunday looked like one of those electronic vibrating football games from the 80′s where all the plastic players either end up falling over or spinning around in circles. The only guy you could even mention on the offense without completely being laughed at is Trent Williams, but right now, he has as many questions about his work ethic and passion for the game as he has physical tools and potential upside. Point being, he’s far from “there” yet.

That’s why it makes me go into a Bruce Banner-esque rage every time someone tries to compare the Redskins injury situation in 2011 to that of Green Bay in 2010, in trying to find some hope and silver lining for this team.

Calling that asinine just doesn’t describe how stupid that is. As many injuries as the Packers had last year (and it was pretty incredible; they had over 15 guys on injured reserve by the time the postseason rolled around), Green Bay had a top three quarterbacks in the NFL (Aaron Rodgers) and two of the top twenty defensive players in the league on their team (Matthews and Charles Woodson).

Again, even if all 22 of the Redskins starters were 100% healthy today, there isn’t one single player on this team whom you could say is a top 20 player in the NFL on offense or defense. Put it this way: you shouldn’t expect to win a whole lot of games if Brandon Banks and Sav Rocca are the only two players you could argue are in the top 20 on their side of the ball in the NFL (and that’s just Special Teams). My friend Tim said it best: this team is like a old dam – as soon as you plug one hole, another one opens up. Years of wasted money on free agent busts, trading away key middle round draft picks for more overpaid busts, and poor drafting in the later rounds by the Cerrato regime has absolutely crippled this roster of both blue-chip and overall talent.

Redskins fans were teased with false hopes and aspirations after the 3-1 start to this season. But, like always, we’ve been slapped with the cold, hard reality by November: this team has more problems than answers right now, and still has a ways to go before it’s anywhere near ready to contend.

This column was cross-posted on RedskinsGab.com

The Redskins vs. The Bills preview: Accepting Reality and Moving Forward

It goes without saying that the Redskins loss against Carolina last Sunday was easily their worst loss of this 2011 season. Not only was it their first loss by double-digit points (their previous biggest margin of defeat was seven points, courtesy of Philadelphia the week before), but they trailed by double-digit points for the entire fourth quarter to a team with a quarterback making his sixth NFL start, and had one a grand total of one game all season.

Now, the Redskins are sitting at 3-3, having dropped three of their last four games overall, with the one win coming against one of the three worst teams in the NFL. Those 3-1 NFC East-leading Redskins are nothing more than a quickly-fading memory, so lets not talk about them anymore. That team was just there to give us just enough false hope, like the way-out-of-his-league hot girl at the bar who talks to the guy with no game for just enough time until the drink he bought her arrives, and she promptly disappears.

Over a third of the way through the NFL season, it’s time the face the facts. Dallas is better than us, even if they’re tied with us in the division standings. Philadelphia is better than us, despite what their record says; that should’ve been painfully apparent if you watched the couple of weeks ago. You could easily make the argument that the Giants are better than us, because that’s exactly what their NFC East-leading 4-2 record says (they’re 4-1 since the Redskins beat them opening week).

And the Redskins? We’re now playing without our opening day quarterback, top wide receiver, starting running back, and first team tight end. We’re playing with second string guys at 60% of the positions on the offensive line (if you count Will Montgomery as a backup guard). We spent a majority of this week signing guys off the street to fill roster spots of key players that keep dropping like flies hitting one of those backyard bug zappers.

Yes, it would be a bit dramatic to say “the season is over” when you’re not even at the midway point yet, except for when you take into account our continually growing injury list, our overall lack of blue-chip talent to begin with, and our remaining brutal schedule. In six of our last seven games, we play all three NFC East rivals remaining (two of those games are on the road), New England (i’m already fearing how ugly this could get), the New York Jets (always plays better in the 2nd half of the season), and Minnesota (we’re now 0-7 against teams starting rookie quarterbacks, and Adrian Peterson is one bad mother-shut-yo’-mouth).

So let’s see what this team really has left in the tank; Sunday’s game will be a great barometer for that. After Grossman’s benching, we had a slate of four games which you could really argue the outcome for either way, before we began the aforementioned brutal stretch run of 2011. As mention, we got bitch-slapped last week, so that’s one down.

Now, we head north of the border, to take on the Buffalo Bills in Toronto. The Bills are like a Canadian pseudo-cousin of ours (Buffalo might as well be in Canada, it’s basically to Toronto what Barstow is to Las Vegas: a place on the way to stop off to eat something and use the bathroom). Like us, since their glory days of the early 90’s, they’ve been a revolving door of coaches, coordinators, missed high draft picks, and seasons filled with promising starts and disastrous finishes.

Except now, they’ve put together a scrappy, over-achieving, and highly-likeable squad that’s not afraid to play with anyone (like what we thought the Redskins had in late September). They gave the New England Patriots everything they could handle, and then some, including the Patriots only loss of the season. They absolutely took it to the Eagles, pounding Michael Vick and forcing Philadelphia into six turnovers. And even their two losses – against Cincinnati and the Giants – were classic “hangover” games after two huge wins (Philadelphia and New England), and were just as much of them beating themselves as it was the other team really defeating them.

Their quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, came out of that mighty football factory known as Harvard. He’s smart (duh), accurate, and gets the ball out in a hurry, one of the reasons that the Bills have allowed the least sacks in the NFL despite having one of the least talented offensive lines in the league.

Their running back, Fred Jackson, is the best running back that almost nobody, outside of fantasy football circles, had heard of prior to this season. He has the second highest yards rushing per game average in the NFL (over 100), the second highest yards per carry average among all NFL running backs (5.7), second most runs of 20 or more yards (eight), third most rushing touchdowns (six, which is more than all the Redskins running backs combined).

Steve Johnson, their top receiver, essentially came out of nowhere (12 career receptions prior to this thousand yard campaign in 2010), and has turned into their consistently dangerous big play threat. And that’s not even mentioning how Buffalo loves to use four or five receivers on offense, using guys like Jackson (tied 5th in the NFL for most receptions by a running back), CJ Spiller (the 9th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, whom they’re trying to convert to receiver) and tight end Scott Chandler (tied for 4th in the NFL for most touchdown receptions by a tight end) in pass routes.

The NFL season is like a microcosm of the seasons during the calendar year. The team you have in September is often different than the team you see in October & November, or the team you see after Thanksgiving and into December. Like going from the warmth of Summer to the chill of Fall, so too have the presumed hopes and fortunes of this Redskins team seem to have turned.

But on Sunday, we find out for sure about what this team still has moving forward, given everything its already lost.

This column was cross-post on RedskinsGab.com

Still Searching For The Answer at Quarterback

How’s this for a knee-jerk reaction?

John Beck isn’t the answer at quarterback for the Washington Redskins.

Yes, last Sunday was only one game. Yes, last Sunday, he made his first NFL start in over three NFL season and close to four years overall. Yes, he finished last Sunday’s game without the services of his starting running back, best wide receiver, and 40% of his team’s starting offensive line. All of those are true.

Here’s my retort: when you watched the game last Sunday, did we really see anything from Beck that, at any point, made you think: “wow, I know it’s only his first game in four seasons, but I really think we have a chance with this guy”? Emphatically, no.

Anyone who’s being completely honest with themself would admit that Beck showed us that he’s an average quarterback, at best, with a little bit of mobility. That’s it. There’s nothing special, or even above average, about his game. Again, being honest, the only reason that myself, among many other Redskins fans, rallied behind John Beck was that he wasn’t Rex Grossman. That’s about it. It’s not like we saw something in 2007, or even this past preseason, that makes us believe that there’s something to this guy. Hell, this is the guy that Grossman beat out for the starting job. Decisively, I might add.

At this point in time, we just have to let Beck finish out the season. Because, really, what other choice do we have? There’s no point in going back to Grossman. He was a below-average quarterback, and he showed nothing different when he was the Redskins starter; there’s nothing to gain by going back to him (except maybe draft positioning). And it’s not like we’ve got some third guy at quarterback, waiting on the bench. Our third string, pratice squad quarterback is Jonathan Crompton, a guy who wasn’t even in camp with the Redskins and signed with the team just days before the regular season started.

Honestly, I’m sick and tired of the patchwork quarterbacking this team has rolled out over the past decade. 21 starting quarterbacks in 19 years, since the end of the Gibbs I era. That’s just ridiculous on so many levels. Even with the new hope found from the Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan, we’re still busy rolling out retreads like Donovan McNabb or castoffs like Grossman and Beck, and being told to have patience and faith.

Damn it, we’ve had nothing but patience, faith, and hope for the better part of two decades now. Enough is enough.

Quarterbacks aren’t like kickers, where there’s five capable guys waiting by the phone for tryouts, ready to take the incumbent’s spot if and when necessary. In today’s NFL, more than at any point ever in the history of the league, a team’s success lies with the performance of its quarterback.

Just take a look around the NFL, as of late October, 2011. The resurrection and current success of some of the league’s top franchises, both currently and over the past decade, began with finding their franchise quarterback – usually capitalizing on an early pick in the draft – and then putting together the rest of the team around that.

Green Bay won the Super Bowl last year, and went to the playoffs two of the three years Aaron Rodgers has been the starting quarterback (yes, I know Rodgers was drafted 24th overall; if you remember that draft, Rodgers was legitimately in the running to be the top overall pick, and only fell to #24 after Smith was drafted because so many teams were afraid of the risk and cost associated with drafting a QB, given the high bust rate between 1997 and 2004). I’ll make the argument, right now, that Rodgers could very well be the best quarterback in the entire game – especially with Peyton Manning gone – even over Tom Brady.

In addition to having him as their starting quarterback in two Super Bowl wins, Pittsburgh has never had a losing season since drafting Ben Roethlisberger. The Giants have never had a losing season since drafting Eli Manning (outside of Manning’s rookie year in 2004), and they also have a Super Bowl ring to show for it. The Chargers have never had a losing season with Phillip Rivers (the third member of that 2004 draft class) as their quarterback , and have won 11 or more games in three of the five season’s he’s been the starter.

Indianapolis drafting Peyton Manning, and their subsequent success, should go without saying (at least until this season). Philadelphia ruled the NFC East for the better part of a decade, after drafting McNabb. The Bengals won two division titles with Carson Palmer as their starting quarterback. Atlanta won their division twice this decade, behind two different highly-drafted franchise quarterbacks (Michael Vick and Matt Ryan). Joe Flacco has taken the Ravens to the playoffs every season he’s been the starter. Detroit has been slowing down over the last few weeks, but looked like one of the best teams in the league through the first five weeks of this season, largely in part due to Matt Stafford’s play.

Even Mark Sanchez, who has looked erratic and inconsistent at times (and that’s being polite), has led the Jets on 7 fourth quarter comebacks, 9 game-winning drives, in less than two and a half seasons as the Jets starting quarterback. And, of course, that’s not mentioning the fact that he’s helped take the Jets to two straight AFC Championship games. Heck, even Vince Young took the Titans and Tim Couch took the Browns to the playoffs once.

Along with intense pre-draft background searches and character interviews, the sophistication of many college offenses, along with draft preparation camps and private coaching from ex-NFL coaches and coordinators, have made some of the recent top draft picks more NFL-ready than we’ve ever seen. If you count every quarterback drafted in the first round between 2008 and 2010 – Ryan, Flacco, Stafford, Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, and Tim Tebow – all but Tebow (a known project and considered a reach overall) started very early in their NFL career and are firmly entrenched as their team’s starting quarterback for at least the next decade. And while the jury is still out for most of the guys from the 2011 draft class – namely Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder – Cam Newton is well on his way to joining the formerly mentioned entrenched starters as well.

In contrast, take a look at teams like Miami, Buffalo, Oakland, Houston, Kansas City, and yes, Washington, who’ve foregone the draft route and tried raiding other teams’ rosters or plugging in retreats at quarterback. These are among the teams with the longest playoff droughts in the NFL (you could argue that Kansas City’s playoff run was a huge fluke last year given how bad that team has been this year, and even despite all the offensive statistics they’ve put up under Matt Schaub, the Texans have never made the playoffs in the history of their franchise).

Yes, I know: drafting a quarterback is far from a perfect science, and there’s often as much of a chance of missing as there is of getting the right guy. For all the guys mentioned above, one could easily throw out names like Ryan Leaf (gigantic douche), David Carr (still in the NFL, but just never quite seemed to get it), Joey Harrington (more interested in being Elton John than John Elway), Akili Smith (overrated because of physical attributes while ignoring only one year of college football experience), Byron Leftwich (lazy work ethic and lousy teammate by numerous accounts), Alex Smith (no arm strength and gimmick college offense), Vince Young (overall IQ equivalent to a bag of hamburgers), Matt Leinart (more interested in partying and chasing tail), and Jamarcus Russell (couldn’t stay away from questionable characters, purple drank, or buffet lines), among others, as retorts. All of them, except Alex Smith (who seems to have finally caught on to some extent), have been colossal misses, setting back the fortunes of their franchises for years.

Even the Redskins had to deal with this after they tried to take this route – although not necessarily with a high draft pick – by drafting Jason Campbell, which obviously failed. Campbell was a better physical prospect – and human being – than he was a quarterback. The revolving door of coaching staffs and offensive supporting cast did hurt his development, but he was just one of those guys whose mind and football acumen weren’t nearly as good as his physical skills and talents.

But as we’ve seen, the “acquisition” route at quarterback hasn’t exactly worked either, and we’re once again in a position where we have to hit the reset button. Beck, Grossman, or whoever else we can dig up (Kellen Clemens) will suffice for the 2011 season, but not a day past that.With as many as six guys (maybe more) who could carry a first or high second round grade in the 2012 NFL draft
(assuming they all declare for the draft) – Andrew Luck of Stanford, Landry Jones of Oklahoma, Matt Barkley of USC, Robert Griffin III of Baylor, Nick Foles of Arizona, and Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M – if there was ever a year that Shanahan was to find “his” guy that he could groom into the next franchise quarterback of this team, it would be this year.

But for now, even while John Beck remains the starting quarterback, the search for the Redskins franchise quarterback continues.

This column was cross-posted on RedskinsGab.com

The Redskins vs. The Eagles preview: A Game to Define a Season?

A game in the middle of October – win or loss – rarely dictates the rest of the season is going to unfold for a given team. Heck, at this point last year, the Green Bay Packers were a .500 team coming off back-to-back overtime losses, and looking up at the Chicago Bears in their own divisional standings. Yet three and a half months later, they stood in the center of that gaudy monstrosity in Dallas, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champions.

But when the Philadelphia Eagles visit FedEx Field this Sunday to take on the Washington Redskins, this mid-October game will be different. Because, depending on what the outcome is around 4:30pm that afternoon, we’re going to learn a whole lot about both teams, and their prospects for the 2011 season.

Let’s start with the much-discussed Eagles. For them, this isn’t a “must win” game; it’s a “can’t, under any circumstance, lose” game. If the Eagles lose this game and get to 1-5, barring some miraculous rally later on, it could very well cost Eagles coach Andy Reid his job. When your notoriously frugal franchise goes and blows insane amounts of money to acquire Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Ryan Harris, Steve Smith, Ronnie Brown, and Vince Young, all in hopes of gearing up for a Super Bowl run, it always follows that anything less than the goal in mind is considered a failure. But to even think about the Super Bowl, you actually have to make the playoffs, the odds of which will be dramatically lowered for the Eagles should they lose on Sunday. In the modern Super Bowl era of the NFL, only one team has started their season 1-5, only to make the playoffs: the 1970 Colts. And that was 41 years ago, so it’s not exactly like there’s any precedent handy to draw from.

When juxtaposed against the bevvy of problems and flaws that this Eagles team has shown, Young’s comment referring to this squad as a “Dream Team,” before they even played a preseason game, is nothing short of completely asinine. Their offensive line is terrible. Their defense might be worse; they can’t stop the run to save their life (3rd worst in the league), and they’ve given up over 85 yards rushing to an opposing running back in every single game they’ve played this season.

And that high-priced secondary, with those three Pro Bowl cornerbacks (Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Asante Samuel)? All sizzle, and no steak. They’ve allowed the second most touchdown passes in the NFL and the third highest average opposing quarterback rating. They’re in the bottom third of the league in interceptions (three), opponent’s completion percentage, and opponents yards per attempt.

But there’s also one more problem with this squad, which everyone conveniently forgets to talk about: Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

Whatever your opinions of him may be due to his off-the-field issues and legal troubles, the following are indisputable facts: since Thanksgiving weekend of last season, Vick is 4-7 as the Eagles starting quarterback (4-8 if you count the playoff losss against the Packers). This season, he’s has the most turnovers of any player in the NFL (14). I don’t care how many bounced passes or bad breaks he’s had: seven interceptions and seven fumbles in five games is laughably ridiculous. Vick may be the most gifted playmaker in the entire league, but it’s a complete joke in the way that the Philadelphia fan base that refuses to acknowledge this fact, just like they refuse to acknowledge how much they were against signing him in the first place, only to change their tune once he replaced Kevin Kolb as the starter and started winning games.

Let’s be honest: you’re damn right if i’m relishing the current demise of the Eagles. For years, us Redskins fans had to hear the taunts from Philadelphia fans about how we’re the “offseason Super Bowl winners” and “paper champions.” Watching the Eagles try to buy themselves a Lombardi Trophy, i’m firmly enjoying being the kettle who calls the pot “black.”

And yet, there’s a reason that this 1-4 Eagles team is favored, on the road, against a division leading team with a 3-1 record – the first time that’s ever happened in NFL history. If the Eagles do find a way to stop self-destructing – please, Lord, just push this off for one more week – this is a damn scary football team. It’s essentially the same offense that punched us in the gut, slapped us in the face (repeatedly), stole our lunch money, and gave us an atomic wedgie, a couple of wet willies, and a swirlie on national television last November – only slightly better.

With Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin, they’re arguably the most explosive offense in the entire NFL. I hate using cliches, but the Eagles literally can score from any part of the field on a single given play. Their team speed on offense is ridiculous; when a guy like Jeremy Maclin – someone who runs a sub-4.5 40 yard dash – is one of your middle of the pack speed receivers (and slower than your quarterback), that’s saying a lot. And being honest: McCoy scares the living crap out of me. I don’t know if there’s a more elusive, dangerous runner in the open-field, this side of a healthy & productive Chris Johnson.

The Eagles players know that they’re basically playing for their coaches jobs; many of the Eagles are supposedly dedicating their performance this Sunday to saving Reid’s job. But for the Redskins, this probably isnt the most important game of the season for the Redskins – just the most telling.

Here’s what we know about the Redskins: they took care of business in the season-opener, beating a depleted Giants team by two touchdowns. They had to come back in the fourth quarter to beat Arizona, who looks to be a lot crappier than we thought they’d be. They pummeled a horrible Rams offense and pulled out a victory in St. Louis on the backs of the Defense (essentially inspite of quarterback Rex Grossman’s abysmal performace). And on National Television, they both blew a fourth quarter lead and completely choked at critical moments, allowing the Cowboys to beat them.

So, there’s a reason for the skepticism and disbelief about this team being a legitimate threat in the NFC East, let alone the NFC. In four games, they have only one “quality” win. Grossman is simply not a good quarterback (i’m not even sure if we can call him “serviceable”); he’s played two-and-a-half lousy games of football, and the season is only four games old. The offensive line play is inconsistent. The offense has no true playmaker or game-changing threat that scares opposing defense.

But a win this Sunday, over Philadelphia? That changes things. If the Redskins really have the ability and the killer instinct to put their foot on the throats of this vastly overrated “dream team”, and put them (and Reid) out their misery, that will speak volumes, even if it’s against a team that’s well into their self-destruct sequence. To beat a extraordinarily talented and dangerous team, who’ll be playing with their 2011 season and possibly several coaches jobs on the line, would be an enormous “building block”-type win. The last time a Redskins squad had only one loss through six weeks of the NFL season was the last time they won the NFC East (1999).

If the Redskins lose (as everyone predicts they will), to steal a quote from Dennis Green: “they are who we thought they were” – a resurrected franchise with an infusion of young talent mixed with smart free agent signings, but still with plenty of work to do, before they’re truly “legitimate.” But even if it is just one game in October, a win changes all of that. We’ll have ample reason to believe that the corner really has turned for this team.

But they have to beat Philadelphia first.

So by bedtime this Sunday, we’ll know whether the 2011 Eagles will either remain on life support or need their last rights delivered, and we’ll have a much better clue as to what we can realistically expect from the 2011 Redskins.

This column has been cross-posted on RedskinsGab.com

The Redskins vs. The Cowboys preview: Another win changes things.

Almost every Sunday, I try and meet up with my parents to have dinner with them, especially since I have the good fortune of living close by to them. I’m an only child, and even tough I’m married and have enough things going on to keep me plenty busy, spending a few hours on a Sunday evening hanging out and catching up with my family is the absolute least thing I can do.

After all, the person I am today is almost entirely a reflection of the way I was brought up by parents. And that fact absolutely extends to Football, or more specifically, my/our love for the Redskins. Again, the fact that the blood coursing through my veins runs distinctly runs burgundy and gold is due, in large part, to my parents sharing that same passion and loyalty towards the Redskins, and teaching me those same virtues about being a fan.

My mom always felt that fans of the Dallas Cowboys are less welcome in her home than even door-to-door salesmen, uninvited houseguests, or termites. My dad always believed that the pulse of Washington DC ebbed and flowed with the success of the Redskins. He always joked how people just naturally seemed to be happier, friendlier, and in a better mood overall the Monday morning after a Redskins win.

So over dinner last night, we joked that, with the Redskins being 2-0, and the level of optimism and excitement surrounding this team, if Washington beats Dallas tonight, Redskins fans are going to start figuring out how much Super Bowl tickets will cost, and whether they’ll able to take off a few days from work sometime around the first weekend of February, 2012

As a fan – and as a passionate one, no less – it happens. You start thinking ahead. You start looking at the schedule, and start seeing W’s where you may orginally have seen L’s.Even though the leaves haven’t even started changing colors yet, you start predicting playoff matchups and figuring out the ramifications of home field advantages.

Especially when it’s coming up on four years since your team has been to the postseason.

Yes, the Redskins are 2-0. Yes, they’re the only team in the NFC East with an undefeated record. Yes, they’re one of only four teams in the NFL that are undefeated, period. But the somewhat pessimistic, but masquerading as realistic, part of me realizes that, after all, the season is only two games old. As good as we feel about the two wins this team has racked up, we have to remind ourselves, constantly, that it’s still only two games. There’s 14 games, 10 teams, and three months that this team still has to get through.

And yet, going 3-0 – even if it’s just another early season in in September – feels like it changes everything.

Whether or not we’re still giddy from the euphoria of these first two wins, things just feel different, in a special way, with this team. It’s only September, yet they’ve already beaten the Giants by two touchdowns, something they haven’t done in six years. They’ve already showed you how they’ll play with their backs against the wall, having erased an eight-point fourth quarter deficit to came back to win the game, something they haven’t done in I can’t tell you how long.

The last time we felt this way about the Redskins was probably 2005, the second year of the Gibbs II regime. The team started the first half of the season 5-3 (including 3-0 through their first three games), lost three heartbreakers, and then ran the table to get to their only double-digit win season that decade. Like that team, if the Redskins can start 3-0, we could very well be looking at a team with a 6-2 or even a 7-1 record come midseason

There’s plenty of reasons to believe the Redskins should win tonight, without being biased. They’re playing a Dallas team tonight that’s both struggling and wounded. Four of the Cowboys five best players on offense are either not playing tonight (Miles Austin) or are still struggling with injuries (Tony Romo, Felix Jones, Dez Bryant). Their offensive line has been crap, getting almost no movement along the line of scrimmage. Their defense is giving up over 25 points per game, with a secondary that’s been busy covering no one.

You just know that the Redskins will happily tell the Cowboys: “Make Tony Romo – the guy with cracked ribs and a punctured lung that we’re not really sure has completed healed yet – beat us. We dare you to.” You know Jim Haslett will bring the heat, and tell anyone who hits Romo to make sure Romo felt it. The Cowboys refuse to run the ball anyway (30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, 32nd in yards per attempt), so there’s little reason to believe the the Redskins defense won’t spend the evening teeing off on Romo’s midsection, hoping he coughs up the football (he’s turned it over three times in two games already).

So, what if the Redskins win tonight? You never want to think ahead, but as a fan, you’re lying to yourself if you say you aren’t.

The Redskins would be 3-0, and would send Dallas to 1-2. The Philadelphia Eagles – the supposed “dream team” – are already at 1-2, with Michael Vick’s body slowly falling apart like it was a piece of IKEA furniture assembled by a bunch of drunken frat boys. The only other team with a winning record in the NFC, the Redskins already beat by two touchdowns.

Next week, the Redskins take on the St. Louis Rams, a team that’s scored a grand total of three offensive touchdowns, and is getting beaten by an average of 20 points per game this season. Steven Jackson is already dealing with a nagging leg injury, Sam Bradford’s receivers can’t catch anything, and their defense is giving up huge plays in the passing game, especially since it’s on the field for most of the game already.

Another win there would put them at 4-0 as they head into the early bye week, with a huge matchup against Philadelphia looming on the other side. The Redskins could very well be getting the Eagles without Michael Vick, who’d be just 22 days removed from an broken right (non-throwing) hand that’s projected to take “three to four weeks” to heal.

And after that? They play at Carolina, a team that’s a lot more dangerous than people gave them credit for – how many people realize Cam Newton ran third in the NFL in passing yardage, as of this morning? – but still very beatable. They’ll then play Buffalo on the road (a game that will take place in Toronto), San Francisco at home (even at 2-1, I still stay they’re one of the five worst teams in the league), and then Miami on the road (another one of the five worst teams in the league; they’re probably in the bottom three, actually).

Even if they somehow lose to a Vick-less Philadelphia, and maybe one more team (odds on favorite, right now, would be Buffalo), that’s still 6-2 by midseason. There can’t be a single fan who wouldn’t gladly take the Redskins having only two losses around the middle of November. How many people around the country believed the Redskins wouldn’t win six games all season?

It starts tonight. Tonight’s game is a fulcrum, a springboard for the rest of the season. Yes, there’s few things better than raining on yet another Cowboys home opener on Monday Night Football (just like in 2005), but it’ll mean more when you look at the bigger picture.

This one can shape the rest of this season. With the entire country watching, let’s see what happens.