Category Archives: Washington Redskins

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

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

With Shanahan & Allen, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

Right now, if you ask ten different so-called NFL experts, draft pundits, and Redskins fans alike the question of: “Who do you think the Redskins are going to take with their first round pick” you could very well end up with 10 different answers.

First, everyone thought they were going to take Cam Newton. If not Newton, then Blaine Gabbert from Missouri, the other “blue-chip” quarterback in this draft. Then Phil Taylor, the nose tackle from Baylor was the hot name. When it looked like the former two wouldn’t be available and it would be a big reach to take the latter, we started throwing out other possibilities. Perhaps they’d take someone like defensive end JJ Watt from Wisconsin or defensive end Robert Quinn from UNC to upgrade the defense. After the scouting combine, the new hot name linked to the Redskins – despite no other credible evidence out there supporting this idea – is wide receiver Julio Jones from Alabama. And, of course, you’ve still got “the field”: other shots-in-the-dark possibilities like running back Mark Ingram of Alabama, cornerback Prince Amukamara of Nebraska, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan from Purdue or any wild guess really.

Here’s what I think. When it comes to the Shanahan/Allen regime, they thrive on secrecy and misinformation. They’re the opposite of that bungling fool Vinny Cerrato, who if you were playing in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em, he would have let you know what cards he had before you even flipped the Turn or the River cards.

But even with this new found secrecy in Redskins park, historical precedent has shown that with Shanahan and Allen, look for the most smoke, and you’ll likely find the fire. Last year, the name of Trent Williams started emerging more and more as the guy the Redskins would take with the 4th overall pick, even though he may not have even been considered a top 10 pick late in the winter. The debate raged on, regarding whether the Redskins should take Williams versus a guy like Russell Okung, who most considered to be the more “NFL-ready” guy. Okung had all the accolades (two-time All American, Big 12 lineman of the year, Outland trophy finalist) and was even projected by some to be the first overall selection in the whole draft.

But Shanahan and Allen saw a guy with enormous potential and upside (even greater than Okung’s), and someone who could be dominant in Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme. Even on draft day itself, when rumors swirled that the Redskins would make a trade up to go get Sam Bradford (turns out there was no basis for this), or that they were seriously considering taking Eric Berry (not even close), they stuck with their guns throughout and zeroed in on taking Williams.

Really, that’s really the only evidence or precedent we have to go with, if we’re trying to predict exactly what Shanahan and Allen are going to do. So what exactly can we extrapolate from this?

Here’s my thought: even with all of those names mentioned above, as speculation regarding whom the Redskins may end up taking with their first round choice, who’s the one guy whose name is consistently linked with the Redskins, even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense right now?

That would be University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker.

If you read between the lines and take samplings of well-connected media guys, player agents, and the always-secretive guys “who know a guy who knows something,” the Redskins and Jake Locker’s name keep popping up together.

And to me, it makes a lot more sense than you might think. Let’s be honest: Mike Shanahan didn’t come to Washington to have Rex Grossman to lead him to a Super Bowl (or anywhere at all, really). Rex is the placeholder, at best. And Shanahan and Allen have to realize, at this point, that they’re at least a year or two away from being a contender for anything, given how pathetically bare the cupboard was left for them when they first arrived.

Locker has as much upside as any quarterback in this draft, not named Cam Newton. From my armchair quarterback point of view: I want three things from my quarterback: accuracy, loves the game of football as much as anything else, and a guy that his teammates would go to war with any day of the week. Those three things matter more than anything else, if we’re projecting future success in this league.

From all accounts, Locker aces the latter two. His intangibles are second to none. Even all the other accoutrement you could possibly want from your franchise quarterback – arm strength, mobility, frame – he grades out as an “A+” in all of those areas as well. He already had some experience in an NFL-style West Coast offense, playing under Steve Sarkisian at the University of Washington, which will slightly minimize his learning curve when making the jump to the NFL.

Now, as far as accuracy goes; yeah, there’s a lot to be desired with that. He’s streaky, erratic, and still has a ways to go with his decision making. There’s still a lot to develop with him, as far as his throwing rhythm, reading defenses, and footwork.

But here’s my thing with Locker: unlike guys in the past who were all athlete and none quarterback, Locker wants to get better. He wants to learn how to be better. He wants to be coached, and doesn’t just want to show off his athletic marvels (arm strength and running speed). Again, you can’t find a single person that doesn’t love Locker as a person or as a football player.

I’ve made my belief pretty clear when discussing other quarterbacks in the past, especially for one that’s as “raw” as Locker: they should hold the clipboard for as long as possible, and learn from the sidelines. Let him soak up as much as possible in the classroom first, and then take his reps with the scout team, throwing to scrub wide receivers, and improving his game the old-fashioned way: through hard work on his own. And if the Redskins happen to be out of playoff contention come early December, then it’s ok to let Locker onto the field and get some reps in real-time; but only after he’s had time to get some “seasoning” on the bench, first.

Only those fans with the highest prescriptions on their burgundy and gold glasses will think the Redskins are a legitimate contender for anything in 2011. They just have way too many holes to address on both sides of the football.

But biggest of all those holes is the future of the quarterback position. Drafting Locker at least gives you an answer at that position, especially if he turns out to be a success.  And really, how many guys in the league would you take over Mike Shanahan, when it comes to developing a quarterback? Shanahan got Brian Griese and Jake Plummer to lead his team to AFC West titles, and had Jay Cutler throw for a mind-bending 4500+ yards (still his career high) in only his third season.

Is there a big part of me that fears Locker may be the second coming of Heath Shuler? Absolutely. But there’s a bigger part of me that’s absolutely intrigued by him as well. If he was just a physical specimen that played in a gimmick offense in college for a season or two, I’d be a lot more worried. But I think there’s a ton of potential there that, if developed properly, could lead to some very promising results.

So either I really believe all of this about Locker, Or maybe I’m just convincing myself into buying into Locker, because that’s who I think will be the quarterback of the future for the time being in Washington.

This article was cross-posted on RedskinsGab.com

Mock Draft 2011, ver 1.0

Look, I firmly believe that over-analyzing mock drafts in mid-February, to steal a line from Van Wilder, is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. There are so many things that are going to happen between now and late April that this will probably be rendered completely useless even before the month is over.

But given the fact that we’re now entering the joyless abyss – the end of the NFL season, with no future NFL season(s) in sight – this will hopefully give us something to discuss, chew up, and dissect, until there’s something else noteworthy to talk about.

1. Carolina Panthers – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn

Fairley was the best player on the field for the biggest game in college football (Auburn vs. Oregon). Isn’t that what you want from a franchise guy? He reminds you a lot of Albert Haynesworth: a force capable of single-handedly disrupting the opposing offense. The problem is, like Haynesworth, he has a propensity to take plays off every so often.

2. Denver Broncos – Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson

Now that John Fox is the head coach, it looks like Denver will probably go back to the 4-3 defense. Fox took Peppers with his very first pick as the head coach of the Panthers, and I could see him doing the same thing in Denver with Bowers.

3. Buffalo Bills – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri

Here’s my thought: Gabbert has all the tools you need, but he just needs a lot of “seasoning” before he’s fully ready to go. But the Bills already have Ryan Fitzpatrick as a perfectly viable starter, so the Bills won’t need to start him right away. Regardless, that franchise needs someone to reinvigorate the fan base with, and provide some stability at the position.

4. Cincinnati Bengals – AJ Green, WR, Georgia

Green could be the best offensive player in this entire draft. T.O and Chad Ochocinco are probably going to be leaving Cincinnati after this year because they’re not getting any younger and they’re becoming even bigger headaches, so somebody has to fill those shoes.

5. Arizona Cardinals – Patrick Patterson, CB, LSU

New defensive coordinator Ray Horton was a defensive backs coach for the Steelers, so I can see the Cardinals looking in that direction as they take someone to help fix a pass defense in the bottom 10 of the league last year. Everyone has the Cardinals taking a QB here, but I think they’ll address that via free agency or trade, because the last thing Larry Fitzgerald wants is to wait around for a young QB to develop while he’s already in his prime.

6. Cleveland Browns – Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M

Miller absolutely tore it up at the Senior Bowl, which has catapulted his draft stock into the top 10. Cleveland is going back to the 4-3 defense, and Miller has the type of athleticism and talent to play linebacker on first and second downs, then put his hand in the dirt on third down and go after the quarterback.

7. San Francisco 49ers  – Robert Quinn, OLB, North Carolina

The 49ers are moving to a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Quinn would be an awesome play maker at outside linebacker in this scheme, opposite of Manny Lawson. Plus, having guys like Lawson, Quinn, and Justin Smith would give that defense a ton of flexibility in giving different looks to the opposing offense.

8. Tennessee Titans – Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

In a division where they have to deal with the aerial attacks of the Colts and Texans, the Titans could use a guy like Amukamara. Given the fact that they finished in the bottom four against the pass last season, and that Amukamara is one of the most clean-nosed, hard-working guys in this draft (aka, the opposite of PacMan Jones), this pick makes a lot of sense for them.

9. Dallas Cowboys – Marcell Dareus, DE/DT, Alabama

Dallas’ biggest need is a “five-technique” defensive end, which Dareus is more than capable of playing at a high level. He’s got great size, does everything right on the field, and is a high-character guy to boot.

10. Washington Redskins – Cam Newton, QB, Auburn

The Redskins have a ton of needs all over their team, and Quarterback ranks up there as high as any of them. Newton has all the physical tools and some of the intangibles to be a great quarterback, but he needs a lot of “seasoning” before he’s really ready to lead a team. The question is: will the folks in Washington be patient enough for him to develop?

11. Houston Texans – Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Purdue

Calling the Texans pass defense “abysmal” would probably be a compliment. They were a lot closer to “historically bad.” So while cornerback would make a lot of sense here, I think it’s too much of a reach to take one here. You can help solve an awful pass-defense by improving the pass rush. Kerrigan is a high-motor guy that would work well in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense.

12. Minnesota Vikings – JJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin

The Vikings defense took a big step back last year. Jared Allen came into camp fat and out-of-shape, and it showed last year. They just didn’t have the same pass rush as they did in 2009. Watt already has the size and strength to be the perfect compliment to Allen at defensive end, a position where the Vikings aren’t getting any younger.

13. Detroit Lions – Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Most people would argue that cornerback is the biggest need for the Lions. Smith is one of those guys that’s been shooting up draft boards over the last few weeks. He’s a 6’2 cornerback that’s fast and fluid enough to run with the majority of receivers he covers, even despite his size.

14. St. Louis Rams – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

Sweet jesus, this would be a great pick for the Rams. If you look up the “It” factor for NFL quarterbacks in the dictionary, whatever “it” is, Sam Bradford has “it.” Now he’s got Josh McDaniels calling plays for him. Give him a receiver like Julio Jones, who is big, strong, and ridiculously productive, and you could be looking at the next high-octane offense in the NFL.

15. Miami Dolphins – Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor

If nose tackle Paul Soliai leaves via free agency – and the early word is that he’ll garner a lot of interest from other teams – the Dolphins will have a big hole right in the middle of their 3-4 defense. Taylor is another guy whose name is shooting up draft boards. He has prototype size for a nose tackle (6’3, 337) and is just one of those guys who is impossible to move – exactly what you want from a nose tackle.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars – Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri

It’s safe to declare the entire 2008 draft a colossal bust for the Jaguars. They spent their first two picks looking for a pass rusher, and still came away with nothing. Smith is versatile enough to play linebacker and defensive end, and rush the quarterback from either position.

17. New England Patriots –  Cameron Jordan, DE, California

I think it’s safe to say that the Patriots offense didn’t do to bad for itself in 2010.  Their defensive line, however, isn’t exactly getting any younger. Jordan just smacks of being a “Belichick”-type player: polished coming out of college, great football IQ, and versatile enough to play different positions in different schemes. He can step in and play the five-technique defensive end from day 1.

18. San Diego Chargers – Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

I think the Chargers could use a right tackle opposite of Marcus McNeil. This entire team is basically run by Phillip Rivers now, so it’d make sense to do everything humanly possible to help keep him upright.

19. New York Giants – Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois

Even with a defensive line already loaded with young talent, the Giants need a big upgrade at defensive tackle. They’re old and increasingly ineffective. It just makes sense that they’d look to upgrade there.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

The Buccaneers are approaching this draft with the hopes of finding a defensive end to pair with last year’s first round pick, Gerald McCoy. Clayborn has great size and is one of those players who doesn’t really excel at one thing but does pretty much everything above-average (at worst). He was projected to be a top 10 pick last year but decided to stay in school, which ultimately cost him since this year’s draft is much deeper at the position he plays.

21. Kansas City Chiefs – Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

Even with all the rushing yards they piled up last year, the Chiefs offensive line badly needs an upgrade. Solder is one of those guys who looks the part, but could be one of those “looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane”-types. But he’s definitely an upgrade from what the Chiefs are currently trotting out, and has a chance to develop on an up-and-coming team.

22. Indianapolis Colts – Tyron Smith, OT, USC

The Colts have essentially been trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents, when it comes to their offensive line. They’re taking every able-
bodied player they can find and slapping them on the offensive line, regardless of fit. I’m going to guess that keeping Peyton Manning upright would be a good thing, and given the fact that there’s a talented (though somewhat unpolished) prospect available, they have to take him.

23. Philadelphia Eagles – Mike Pouncey, G/C, Florida

If you’re ever in doubt as to whom the Eagles will select, just guess an offensive lineman and you’ve already given yourself 50/50 odds (if not better). Pouncey can start from Day 1 at guard, and then like his brother in Pittsburgh, can take over as the Center of the future for the Eagles.

24. New Orleans Saints – Cameron Hayward, DE, Ohio State

The Saints just didn’t get after the quarterback in 2010 the way they did in 2009, when they won the Super Bowl. Their pass rush took a big step back, which caused their turnover rate to drop as well. How cool would it be for the Saints to draft Cameron Hayward, the son of the legendary long-time Saint Craig “the Ironhead” Hayward?

25. Seattle Seahawks – Justin Houston, LB, Georgia

Everyone likes the idea of Seattle drafting local boy Jake Locker as their quarterback of the future, but I honestly think he falls to at least the second round of the draft, if not the third round. Houston is another player who is versatile enough to play strongside linebacker on first and second down, then put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer on third down.

26. Baltimore Ravens – Brandon Harris, CB, Miami

The Ravens secondary has slowly been declining over the last few years. They just haven’t had the same talent nor production as they have in years past. They have a bunch of question marks at both corner positions heading into the offseason, so drafting a talented guy like Harris would be a great addition. Harris also went to the University of Miami, so you know that guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed would be happy to take him under their wing.

27. Atlanta Falcons – Muhammed Wilkerson, DE, Temple

The Falcons proved that while they’re not quite ready to hang with the big boys in the NFL, they’re pretty damn close. I think the offense is fine, they just need a little more talent on defense. Wilkerson is a guy who can hold his own on running downs, then slide inside at defensive tackle in passing situations.

28. New England Patriots – Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

There are whispers that Belichick loves this kid, and he and Saban are tight, so I could very well see this pick happening. Imagining a battering ram running back like Ingram on an already stacked offense like New England’s is just plain scary.

29. Chicago Bears – Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

Before Mike Martz started going to double tight end formations and running the football more often, Jay Cutler spent the early part of the 2010 season getting his brains beat in. Castonzo is a good fit for the Martz offense: he’s a better pass blocker than run blocker, he’s hard working, and he’s really smart.

30. New York Jets – Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State

Another guy to throw into the Jets defensive end rotation, which is getting up there in age. Paea is phenomenal at the point of attack and is as strong as an ox (like most prospects from the Polynesian Islands).

31. Pittsburgh Steelers – Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State

The Steelers had four different players starting on their offensive line in the Super Bowl who weren’t their opening day starters, a trend that seems to happen every year for them. Sherrod is someone they can groom into a starting position. He has the physical tools to be an effective starter and is better in the run game, but still has room to develop.

32. Green Bay Packers – Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland

It seems a bit silly for a team that’s already stacked on offense to add another receiver. But Donald Driver could retire after finally winning the Super Bowl, and I could see James Jones leaving Green Bay for a heftier contract. The Packers are most effective with Greg Jennings on the outside and Jordy Nelson as the slot (third) receiver, so Smith would be a nice fit for them. He can work the underneath stuff, and excels at YAC (Yards after Catch).

This article was cross-posted on RedskinsGab.com