Tag Archives: Clay Matthews Jr.

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

Super Bowl XLV: Creating their legacy

You want to talk about NFL lore?

Try this on for size: the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers have a combined nine NFL championships and nine Super Bowl wins. There are four Hall of Fame head coaches (including some guys named Vince Lombardi and Chuck Noll), two Hall of Fame owners  from the same family (the Rooneys), and thirty seven other players in the Hall of Fame amongst the two teams. That’s almost enough people to start an entire expansion franchise. To say these two teams are intertwined directly with the  historical development of the NFL in general would be doing each respective team’s histories a sure injustice.

Coming into this game, you’d have to think, though, that the Steelers are the favorite to win this game (Vegas be damned). Hell, this is their third trip to the Super Bowl in five years. Watching them walk around and interact with
everyone in Dallas during the days leading up to the game, you can just see that there’s a strong sense of a “been there, done that” mentality. They’ve approached this week with a  workmanlike, taking-care-of-business attitude, like it’s  just another Tuesday afternoon at the office. And why not? To get here, they knocked off their unquestionably toughest division rival in Baltimore (with an assist from Joe Flacco imploding on himself in the second half), and then
withstood a second-half rally from the Jets – the same team to beat the Colts and Patriots on their own home fields – to hold on to the victory in the AFC Title game. So it’s not like they haven’t been tested, either.

In a way, the Steelers are like a guy who is entering his senior year of college, looking to tie up any remaining loose ends and permanently cement his legacy. He’s climbed to the proverbial mountain top, and knows all the ins and outs
of staying on top. It’s just a matter of making sure that he’ll be remembered as the greatest of all time (or at least that era).

And in comparsion, the Packers would be that kid’s extremely talented but wide-eyed younger brother who is just starting his freshman year, looking for new things to conquer so that he can make a name for himself. Here’s what know about  the Packers: they were the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs, after finishing the season with a record of 10-6. They won three playoff games, on the road, to get where they are today.  But here’s what nobody seems to be talking about:
Counting the regular season and the playoffs, the Packers are 13-2 in games where Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews Jr. start and finish the game.

Just take a look for yourself. As we know, the Packers lost six games this season, with four of those losses coming in back-to-back occurences. In the first pair of losses – right around mid-October, at Washington and then at Miami –  Clay Matthews Jr hurt his hamstring by halftime of the first  game and was inactive for the second game. For anyone who happened to be watching that Redskins-Packers matchup, they’d know that Matthews Jr. was literally terrorizing the  Redskins offense, and virtually the sole reason that they mustered a a grand total of zero points for the first 14 minutes and 45 seconds of the first half. There’s no just coincidence that the Redskins came back and won that game in the second half with Matthews on the bench. That same hamstring injury kept him out of the Packers game in Miami the next week, and look how the Packers fared.  In the second pair of losses – at Detroit and at New England – Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion midway through the first quarter of the Lions game, and couldn’t play in the game versus the Patriots.

So that basically leaves the games at Chicago (week 3) and at Atlanta (week 12) as the only instances where the Packers lost a game despite being “fully manned.” Even discounting the fact that the Packers had a league-high 15 guys on  injured reserve (including their Pro Bowl caliber running back and tight end, two starting linebackers, and their right tackle) you’re looking at a team that could’ve been a lot closer to 14-2 than they were to 10-6 if their best two
players played in all 16 games. And when the football gods provided the Packers with the opportunities to go into Atlanta and Chicago for rematches during the postseason, they absolutely took it and ran with it (no pun intended… I
think). They went into Atlanta, a place that was supposed to be one of the toughest venues for road teams to play in, and embarassed the Falcons on national television. The following week, with the added pressures of a Super Bowl plus another chapter being added to one of the most storied rivalries in the entire league, they beat the Bears, in Chicago, for the second time in four weeks.

On the same level, watching the Packers post-season run has given us the chance to see Aaron Rodgers begin cementing his own legacy, and showing how really damn good he actually is. Right now, the Mount Rushmore of elite NFL quarterbacks is already in place: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger. Each of them have a Super Bowl ring. They’re household names, transcending the game of football. Brady and Manning will top this list as long as they’re playing, and will some day be near the very top of the “greatest NFL quarterbacks” list as well. Brees has been the most statistically dominanant quarterback over the last five years, and now has a Super Bowl ring (and MVP) to add to that resume. Roethlisberger has two rings of his own (granted, with a big assist to his defense), but he can still boast a season with over 4000 yards passing (’09) and two seasons with over 25 TD passes thrown (’07 and ’09).

With a win, Rodgers may begin to make an argument that a fifth head should belong on that mountain. The stats are there: in his three season as the starting quarterback, he’s thrown for over 3900 yards passing, 28 or more touchdown passes, and four or more rushing touchdowns. He’s as well-liked and well-respected amongst his teammates as Brady is. He’s as hard working, intelligent, and prepared for every game as Manning is. He’s got that ability to put the entire offense on his shoulders and orchestrate it like a world class symphony conductor, similar to the way Brees does. And perhaps most interestingly, he’s got that “gunslinging swagger” and “riverboat gambler mentality” that was always forever associated with the way his legendary predecessor, Brett Favre, played the game.

It’s really hard not to root for Rogers. Remember, this is a guy that who was passed over by 25 NFL teams before he was taken in the draft. Then he was groomed to be the guy replacing the living legend. Then he was the guy who was never  able to get his chance to lead the Packers because Favre kept sticking around. And even when he finally got his chance, he was the guy whom the Packers fans initially never really gave a fair chance to, even when Favre did leave town, just because he wasn’t Brett Favre. But three years later, Rodgers is on the verge of etching his name amongst the super elite NFL quarterbacks in this league, while Favre is at home, battered, bruised, and fending off lawsuits from “hostesses” and massueses whom he couldn’t handle himself around.

Look, I firmly believe that you can only truly love one NFL team. You have one team that you truly love, that you live for and die with. I don’t believe in any of this “they’re my second favorite team” bullshit. You know what happens
when you have a wife and a girlfriend? You end up having neither. But, it’s really hard for me not to like the Packers a whole lot. If there ever was a team that was built the right way, it’s them: whit a cor of phenomenally talented home-grown players (Rodgers, Matthews, BJ Raji, Greg Jennings, Tramon Williams, AJ Hawk, Brian Bulaga, and James Stars, among many others), a splash of grizzled veterans (Chad Clifton, Cullen Jenkins), and topped with the occasional sprinkling of free agent acquisitions (Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett) to round out the squad. And you know they’re coming into this game with all the motivation in the world, considering there isn’t a single player on the Packers roster with a Super Bowl ring.

But then again, my newfound love for the Packers could also very well be my bias against Pittsburgh – or more specifically, their insufferable fans – in disguise. Those fans who just wont shut up when their team is playing well, but will empty those packed Steelers bars at the first sign of misfortune, never knowing what it means to stick with a team through the tougher times (just ask Redskins fans about that: we’re on 18 years, and counting). Those fans who grew up in eastern Ohio, and/ora stone’s throw from Cleveland,  but couldn’t waste their time rooting for their hometown team. Those Steelers fans who love Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, but will quickly change the subject when you bring up the Pirates. Those fans who grew up in eastern Ohio, a stone’s throw from Cleveland, but couldn’t waste their time rooting for their hometown team. Yes, the smugness from these fans is only matched by their raging homerism and belief that the entire NFL revolves around “Stiller football.”

No sir. You’ve had your time on the mountain top, and there’s a new sheriff in town. Someone who knows what it means to come in and take the place of a legend.

I’m a Redskins fan through and through, but come Sunday evening, you’ll be hearing me say: “Go Pack, Go!”

I’m taking Green Bay.