Moving Forward

I hate having to do this after a loss which partially explains my tardiness, though let's talk about what happened on Sunday. I learned too much about this team, and regardless of whether Mike Wise had it right or wrong, this team is guilty of giving up a 17-3 halftime lead to a division rival. Who happened to be 0-2. At home. While blowing chance after chance after chance to make it all right. Why? How?

Familiar culprits, all about, and nobody is safe. We lost the first down battle, though marginally. Third down on both sides of the ball were forgettable, converting just 5 of 16 (31%) while allowing a 56% clip, seemingly all of them in the 2nd half. Just to give you an idea of how that works out, the Giants had, if I'm reading this right, 2 successful third down conversions in the first two quarters, and 3 of them in the first drive of the 2nd half. Incidentally, that led to a touchdown.

Total yards was a bust, as we dropped 260 against their 315. We couldn't rush the ball, going just 3 ypc on 27 attempts, which, as Jason points out, isn't getting it done. Let me caveat that: I don't think rushing 40 times a game is a useful endeavor if you're only scooping 3 yards a carry. The conventional wisdom is that teams win when and if they run the ball a lot, though the opposite is more likely the case; teams that are winning have the opportunity to run the ball a lot and thus finish with a lot of carries against a beaten and tired opponent. We should've run more than 10 times in the 2nd half, but if those few rushes weren't getting us anywhere, they weren't getting us anywhere. In the 2nd half, prior to the Giants taking the lead in the 4th quarter, the Redskins ran 12 offensive plays, 7 of which were run plays (though it could be counted as 6). That's still a manageable clip of runs. Of course once we went down it looked something like this:

1-10-WAS 38       (5:25) 17-J.Campbell pass incomplete deep right to 89-S.Moss.
2-10-WAS 38     (5:19) 17-J.Campbell pass short middle to 26-C.Portis to WAS 40 for 2 yards (28-G.Wilson).
3-8-WAS 40     (4:39) 17-J.Campbell pass short middle to 82-A.Randle El to NYG 48 for 12 yards (29-S.Madison).
1-10-NYG 48     (4:02) 17-J.Campbell pass incomplete deep left to 82-A.Randle El (29-S.Madison).
2-10-NYG 48     (3:55) 17-J.Campbell pass short middle to 46-L.Betts pushed ob at NYG 35 for 13 yards (9-L.Tynes).
1-10-NYG 35     (3:48) 17-J.Campbell pass incomplete short left to 45-M.Sellers.
2-10-NYG 35     (3:43) 17-J.Campbell pass incomplete deep left to 82-A.Randle El [92-M.Strahan].
3-10-NYG 35     (3:37) 17-J.Campbell sacked at NYG 39 for -4 yards (97-M.Kiwanuka). FUMBLES (97-M.Kiwanuka), recovered by WAS-47-C.Cooley at NYG 46. 47-C.Cooley to NYG 46 for no gain (58-A.Pierce).
Pass pass pass pass...

We lost the passing battle despite going crazy that way towards the end of the game, and our 3.6 yards per attempt aren't going to instill fear in our opponents anytime soon. JC went below 50% in completion for the 4th time in 10 starts. I love Jason Campbell, but at what point should I start worrying about his ability to throw passes accurately? Last year can be explained by inexperience, but as this one buzzes past us many more 47% days cannot simply be forgotten out of sight, or off of site, out of mind.

What is perhaps saddest is that we won the quintessential Joe Gibbs stat: turnover ratio. Here's something to chew on:

In the 201 games during the 2005 regular season where there was a difference in turnover margin, the team that won the turnover battle was 140-61.

"Any football coach you ask will tell you the one statistic they want an advantage in is turnovers," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "Every football coach wants that turnover advantage. Turnovers generally decide games with teams so evenly matched."

In the 57 playoff games since the 2000 season where Team A has an edge in turnover margin over Team B, Team A is 46-11, including 7-2 in this postseason.

In the 31 Super Bowls where one team wins the turnover battle, that team is - get ready for this - 29-2. The last team to win a Super Bowl but turn the ball over more than its opponent? Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIV against Los Angeles.

Indeed, if a team is ahead in turnover margin, that team has to like it chances. Of the 12 teams to reach the playoffs in 2005, 10 were ranked in the top 11 in turnover margin.

Are we exceptional? Yes, but perhaps not in the ways we'd like to be. The Redskins of old were exceptional at making halftime adjustments and ruining their opponents with a vicious run game that tired and ended any chance they might have of coming back. An ideal Joe Gibbs scenario, sometime in the mid or late 80s or early 90s, would've been a 17-3 lead at the half. And yet, here we are talking about a loss? But is it unusual? Naw, par for the course I'm afraid:
According to [The Elais Sports Bureau], since 2004 the Redskins have 11 losses when leading at the half, which puts them ... worst in the NFL. Oakland (11) and Houston (10) are the only other teams with double-digit loss totals when leading at the half since Gibbs came back to the NFL.

Overall, Washington is a mediocre 15-11 in 26 games when leading at the half since 2004.

What the hell happened?

Let's talk playcalling quickly. Newcomer to Hogs Haven Voyce81 raises the issue:

I honestly feel that Joe at times is to conservative with the ball. We (Washington Redskins) have so many weapons, however I feel that we are not able to spread defenses, maybe its do to injury on the offensive line...

Once we got [to the goaline we] played in the the Giants defenses hands by not spreading our offense, they knew that we were running the ball!!! Come on Joe!!

So that's two separate criticisms, one from me and Jason Canfora above that we didn't run enough in the 2nd half and one from a reader that we were too predictable and perhaps didn't utilize our playmakers enough in the 2nd. I don't think this is a right/wrong answer scenario, as reasonable minds could very well disagree about what we did wrong from a playcalling perspective. But let's be clear about who was responsible on the last drive:
UPDATE: (via Dan Steinberg) Apparently, the AP, which originally reported that Gibbs was calling the plays down the stretch, was pulling stuff out of their butts. The Redskins' team spokeman said the account is absolutely not true, so we shouldn't blame Joe Gibbs for sitting Janky Spanky during that last drive. We should blame Al Saunders.
So if you want to hand out blame, sift through the conflicting data and make a value judgment on who is responsible. I don't know. And, frankly, I don't think it matters. I felt there were a lot of things wrong with the Redskins last drive, but playcalling wasn't necessarily it.

What we know is that the playcalling, flawed or not, successfully marched this team from the opposing 35 to one yard away from a touchdown. We know that the team managed to stop the clock on 1st down with a spiked ball, and then had enough time to execute 3 plays presuming that one was used on a pass, which it was immediately thereafter (incomplete to Mike Sellers). That means no matter what you have enough time for two rushing plays to get the ball 1 yard. For me, and maybe I'm alone on this, that isn't a play calling issue. It shouldn't matter what the play call is. The Giants can know what play we're running and we should still be able to get 1 fucking yard on two plays. This is a failure to execute when it matters most, preempted by a failure to execute on 2nd and 1. If Ladell Betts doesn't trip on an opposing defensive player, who shouldn't have been that far in the backfield except for lack of execution on the line, we're either talking about how great it was that the team won in overtime or how frustrating it was that we lost in overtime. A Coach gets you 99 yards down a field, the players should be expected to carry it the remaining one. Predictable, poor, or uncreative play calling is not an excuse. Winning teams can carry a yard against losing teams and should be expected to do so even if the other team knows exactly where the ball is going. QB sneak gets a yard up the middle if and when the offensive line executes well regardless of the defense. Handing the ball off to  your backs gets one yard if that back runs head down and forward without tripping, and the offensive line executes, regardless the defense. The offense has an enormous advantage in that situation, and a failure to capitalize blamed on bad coaching is excuse making of the enabler kind, in my opinion. There are a lot of legitimate criticisms of how that game was coached, but two uncreative runs up the middle to close out a game we deserved to lose isn't it. Blame the coaches for not getting the players fired up enough to score. Blame the coaches for not getting the linemen or Ladell Betts or the rest of the team prepared enough to beat a mediocre defense enough to gain 3 feet to the endzone. God damnit, if Joe Gibbs and Joe Bugel and Al Saunders are the coaches we believe them to be, I should be able to phone in a running play right between the tackles on 3rd and 4th and 1 and get either the first down or the endzone.

I get frustrated just thinking about the game, and feel my thoughts are pretty well expressed above, despite the ranting and the raving. A lot went wrong. A few things went right, but I'm not going to reward a losing effort by sugar coating that. We look forward now to a bye week that allows us much rest and recovery from injury, and hope that this team looks like one that wants to win come Oct. 7th against Detroit.

Is there a silver lining? No. The good news... What didn't piss me off to no end: Apparently reader(s) are more encouraged to post their thoughts on the team in loss than they are in good times. I do like that, a lot. Voyce's aforementioned diary was just one of a number of new commenters providing their valuable thoughts on what happened last Sunday, and I want to reward those of you who participated in the dialogue by drawing attention to it.

kcsplash:, Romans12,  JV Offense, and pmpott are just a few of the new(ish) comers to join us in posting their views, and I'm greatly appreciative of them for it. This place is not, and cannot be me talking to myself. I won't have it. Thank you guys for contributing and awesome nickname.

By the way, why is that? We have this incredible 2-0 start, beating the Eagles (who we rarely beat, especially on the road) and it seems like no one wants to talk Redskins. We lost a heart breaker at home to a division rival we should've beaten and all of a sudden people want to talk about the state of the team. Personally, I prefer recapping games we win. I don't like to revisit and live again the horror of losing to the Giants. So why is it that we have so much more to say after a loss than a win? I'll answer my own question.

I suspect that Tolstoy was right all along about more than just families:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
The point carries over winning and losing football teams. Winning teams always seem to do the same kinds of right things, like play great defense, run the ball effectively, kneel the ball late in the game, hit clutch field goals, et cetera. No explanation is needed after a big Redskins win over the why or the how, because who cares? We won. Whatever it is we did against the Miamia Dolphins was just enough to beat them by three points and, thus, a success. There are a finite amount of explanations for why teams win football games, and people don't really care much to recount them. The important part is celebrating victory over adult beverages and being done with this "analysis" nonsense. The good guys won.

When they don't, as they didn't last Sunday, the explanations why are neither finite nor forgettable. Was it execution? Play calling? Force of will? Injuries? Scheme? Bad luck? Act of God? Failure to run? Failure to defend the run? Pass? Special Teams? Coin flip? Ref error? It goes on and on and people want to find out why, not because we're masochists but because that's one of a thousand ways fans identify with their team; we like to codify what went wrong in order to look forward with confidence knowing that the problems are fixed. If injuries held us back, we're just a bye week away from being the same 2-0 team we all loved watching. In the case of truly desparate teams, if the error was systemic bad coaching, then a change of guard will surely lead to better results. If it was...

We could go on and on. The point is that this space exists for you to provide whatever theories, crazy, coherent, or otherwise, for why this team succeeds or fails. I would encourage reader(s) to take advantage as much during the good as you have when the going gets tough, if only because it's that much more entertaining and enjoyable.

[An aside, while we're talking on the topic of dysfunctional families, what makes this loss ever more tragic is that we had to drop an L to the NFL's cliche uniquely unhappy family: The Giants were a broken team at 0-2 with the dickhead, overbreaing father in head coach Tom Coughlin, which necessarily creates petulant children in the mold of Chas Tenenbaum, herein played by Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey. Your aunt's crazy ex-husband with all his piss, vinegar, and vitriol still publicly directed at his former kind-through-marriage -- the one who remains some vestigial member of the family despite no one wanting to admit it or claim him -- sounds like Tiki Barber. Jared Lorenzen is the suspiciously out of place bastard child, not looking at all like a quarterback progeny of history tipping the scales somewhere near 300 pounds, but isn't it odd that he does look identical to the mailman? Has anyone seen mom lately? And, last and best, is Kate Mara, the hot cousin that the rest of this twisted family wants to shag rotten but can't confess their secret love. Own up, ye devils.

And we invited this ruined congress into our home for the holidays and yet somehow, twisted fucking fate, we end up looking like the unhappy family. Yeehaw.]

We could've effectively ended the Giants' season with a win, we had it wrapped up at 17-3 by halftime, and inexplicably let them walk away victorious. That's not how winning teams play, nor is it how we will eventually make the playoffs this season.

Though, spring on, hope:

Modified prediction: 18-1.

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