Redskins/Texans Analysis: Questions and Answers, Week 2

LANDOVER - SEPTEMBER 19: Santana looks like the Moss of old -- this is a good thing. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Everyone catch their breath yet?

Now that the dust has settled, it's time to examine exactly what happened in the NFL season's most thrilling game to date. Sunday, the Redskins lost at home to the Houston Texans, a football team a week removed from the biggest win in its franchise's history over the Indianapolis Colts in Week One.

We learned a lot about our team, but a lot of questions remain going forward. Welcome to the first installment of a weekly/bi-weekly/whenever-I-can segment of Questions and Answers, and I thank you for reading. 

Question 1: Can the Redskins run the football?

Clinton Portis has been acceptable, but far from explosive -- through two games he has only 96 yards on 31 carries, but he also racked up two touchdowns against Houston. Larry Johnson has been a non-factor, accumulating only two yards on five carries. Keiland Williams is mostly a pass-catching back, mostly used on third downs.

Portis has been running hard, and his numbers perhaps look a little less impressive than they really were last week given that he had a lot of carries from inside the Texans' 10-yard line. He clearly looks better than he did last year. 

But the Redskins were, overall, unsuccessful when running the football for the last two games. They did deliver touchdowns on Sunday, but they did not establish a consistent rushing attack. Eventually, given the nature of the NFC East, the lack of talent opposite of Santana Moss, and a litany of other reasons, the Redskins will not be able to throw the ball as much as they did Sunday. Any NFL team, especially a team coached by Mike Shanahan, has to be successful running the football. It takes up clock and rests the defense; it tires the opposing defense and opens up the pass for the offense. Clinton Portis will have to shoulder more of the load, and soon we will have to learn whether the Larry Johnson experiment is worth further investigation or worth ending prematurely. That one carry that lost ten yards certainly didn't bode well for Johnson, though, did it? 

Question 2: Are our receivers better than we thought?

When you have a quarterback like Donovan McNabb (more on him later), you don't need elite wide receivers to necessarily have a top-level passing attack. Look around the league -- sure, Peyton Manning has Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, but Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez are huge parts of the offense. The same can be said for Drew Brees -- Marques Colston is unstoppable, but Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Jeremy Shockey are by no means elite players at their position. Look at the Texans. They have a great quarterback and Andre Johnson is probably the best wide receiver. But neither Owen Daniels or Kevin Walter are "elite" players -- they are capable players blessed with a good quarterback.

All off-season -- and again after Week 1 -- we wondered if the Redskins receivers could hack it. I think we all debated whether we'd accept trading our second-round pick for Vincent Jackson to give Santana Moss less of a burden on the field. 

But suddenly, Moss looks like the Pro Bowler he was a few years ago and Roydell Williams, Joey Galloway and Anthony Armstrong all proved to be at least capable NFL receivers on Sunday. Sure, Moss only had 89 yards receiving yesterday, but he had 10 catches, no drops, and one of the biggest plays of the game with a catch in coverage at the 1-yard line. Galloway had three catches for a pretty significant 88 yards, including that gorgeous bomb that set up a touchdown. While the guy is not as explosive as he was, he is a guy who won't drop easy passes and will run pretty good routes. Same with Roydell Williams. It's my hunch that Devin Thomas isn't the route-runner the rest of these receivers are, which has set him down the depth chart. I also believe he will be a factor at some point this season (in addition to the good job he's done returning kicks) because he's too talented to keep off the field. 

But if this receiving corps is as effective as it was yesterday, the Redskins will have an effective offense. The question is, can they play well against a better defense? Will they be able to make plays all season? If they are as good all season as they were Sunday, they may be acceptable for the season.

More after the jump...

Question 3: How hurt is Trent Williams?

Did anyone expect this kid to be as good as he is already in his rookie year? He absolutely has lived up to his billing as a quality left tackle in the NFL against two of the best pass-rushers in the league: DeMarcus Ware and Mario Williams, both Pro Bowlers last year. He more than held his own against two players that are among the best at their position -- in fact, there were moments he dominated them.

As soon as Williams went down and Stephon Heyer stepped in as left tackle, the entire offense changed. Heyer's immediate holding of Williams was Alex Barron-esque; it stopped a crucial third down conversion and instead forced the Redskins to punt the ball away in the fourth quarter. McNabb stopped dropping deep and started throwing more quick slants and screens, the result of a collapsing pocket, once Williams left the game.

Trent Williams went one-on-one with Mario Williams for most of the game and absolutely held his own. With the arrival of one player, the offensive line improved tremendously. Man, aren't we all glad we picked him!

But the problem is that he's hurt. Apparently, it's just a sprained knee. But if he's hurt for a few games or longer, the Redskins will have to figure out what they want to do on the line. Do they move Jammal Brown back over to the left side? Does Stephon Heyer have enough talent to hold back Chris Long and/or Trent Cole in the next two weeks? Imagine Heyer vs. Dwight Freeney four weeks from now -- goodness. 

We need Trent Williams to have a fully-functional offense. McNabb can't be running for his life -- and if we can contain a top pass-rusher, largely by himself, for an entire game, our offense will be a lot better. If we have to worry about McNabb's blindside, we have a lot to worry about this season. 

Question 4: How scary will this defense be with Kareem Moore?

Remember this preseason how much praise was heaped on free safety Kareem Moore, the only Redskins starter to get hurt before the season?

Despite all the criticism levied at Reed Dougthy, I think we all have to give him a little credit for making some good tackles and being a decent option for a backup at safety. Come on, it's not his fault he was one on one with Andre Johnson, or that he couldn't out-jump the best receiver in the league. For those of us who have been pulling for Chris Horton to make himself a factor again, we sure had a setback yesterday -- an offsides and getting beat on a big pass play in overtime were not good signs. Clearly, the Redskins need someone opposite LaRon Landry who is great in coverage.

 

Moore was the unquestioned starter almost from the beginning. He was arguably the biggest story of training camp (besides Haynesworth). He possesses cover skills that Doughty and Horton cannot match. When he is back, you have to think some of those pass plays over the middle that the Texans used so often will not work. Apparently, he practiced in pads last week, so maybe we'll see him back sooner rather than later. Let's hope so -- the Rams and Eagles are next, but the Packers and Colts (and Rodgers and Manning) are after them. We will need all the help we can get against their prolific passing offenses.

Question 5: When will the Redskins get it together on special teams?

Does it seem like no team over the last decade that has had more strange plays occur on special teams than the Redskins? We've had a historic turnover at the kicker position since Eddie Murray, and our punting situation -- although significantly better this week than last -- has been more than dubious for the last several seasons. 

Each of the last two games was either lost or almost lost due to special teams gaffes. Josh Bidwell (or the long snapper, Nick Sundberg) botched a snap/hold against the Cowboys and almost -- perhaps, in fact, it should have -- cost the Redskins the game. Fred Davis didn't even attempt to stop a streaking cornerback on a short field goal -- which would have put the game out of reach if Graham Gano had nailed it. Then, Gano missed terribly on a 52-yard game winner, which is a tough kick under pressure, but a special teams deficiency nonetheless.

Danny Smith was retained by Joe Gibbs, Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan. Two of those are Hall of Fame coaches (I'll let you guess which two). He must be good. Yet, you wonder how these kind of mistakes happen, specifically when no one was there to slow Bernard Pollard on the blocked field goal. 

The special teams unit has been holding the Redskins back this season. The offense and defense are relatively well-oiled machines despite huge changes in personnel (offense) and a new scheme (offense and defense). The special teams need to improve or the Redskins cannot win games. Some say you're only as good as your backup quarterback in the NFL (I sure hope that's not true this year for the Redskins), but I always have thought you're only good as your special teams. From Adam Vinatieri to Mike Scifres, from Dante Hall to Darren Sproles, you need good special teams to either keep you in the game or help you win the game. So far, the Redskins have not had that. How much is Danny Smith to blame?

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Those are five questions that the Redskins will be confronted with for the next few weeks -- if not the rest of the season. 

Now, for five answers -- mostly positive ones. 

Answer 1: The Texans are really good.

The Texans are a playoff team this year. They have a great quarterback, a great option out of the backfield (if Arian Foster can keep it up) an amazing wide receiver, and other really strong complimentary weapons like Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels. Their offense is an absolute force. Mario Williams will do enough on that defense to make sure it's at least competitive -- but in many games, the Texans' opponents will have to put up ridiculous point totals just to keep up, so their defense won't have to be great. 

The Redskins should not be ashamed of losing to a team like this. First of all, the offense and defense are still meshing. Sure, that's no excuse, but this is a team that was 4-12 last year and had a different coach, quarterback, offense and defense. The Texans' offense had a really amazing game against the Redskins. Despite that, this game was essentially a 50/50 game. If the Redskins had won the coin toss, if Galloway had caught that pass in the fourth quarter, if Davis had made one block on a field goal, if Gano had nailed the 52-yarder, if a ball had bounced our way, etc, etc. Essentially, we lost a game we should have won in Week Two and won a game we probably should have lost in Week One. Personally, I'd rather have the Dallas game than the Texans game. This is not a catastrophic loss and, in fact, should show Redskins fans that our offense and our team in general is good enough to play with a really strong team. 

Answer 2: We won the Adam Carriker trade.

Can you believe we got a quality starter for the price of almost nothing? We moved down in the fifth round of last draft and UP in the 7th for a starter. Carriker is an effective 3-4 end -- he fits the scheme perfectly. He was credited with half a sack and absolutely made it difficult to run in his area on the field. It's tough for 3-4 linemen in this scheme to really make themselves noticed, but Carriker certainly did against Houston, I thought. This was a great trade and certainly an underrated one on our defense. 

Answer 3: We really, really won the Donovan McNabb trade.

That throw to Joey Galloway (the first one) confirmed it for me. I liked Campbell, but there's no way he makes that pass. It was more than the pass though -- it was the first 400 yard effort for the Redskins since Brad Johnson in 1999 (the last time we won the division, by the way). And, in typical McNabb fashion, he completed passes to eight different receivers, only two of whom are real threats (Cooley and Moss). 

Donovan McNabb possesses everything you want in an elite quarterback. First and foremost -- professionalism and leadership. He has complete control of the team and is unquestionably the most important player on the field for the Redskins. He is an accurate passer, both short and long range, especially important on a team with no elite receivers. He is mobile. He can take a hit without fumbling. He has a good sense of what's going on in the pocket. He doesn't throw interceptions. The list goes on for paragraphs. 

Seemingly overnight, the Redskins went from the offense of last year to a credible offense. Because of one player -- McNabb (and two coaches). 

Jason Campbell does not have the ability of Donovan McNabb. How much longer could we afford to wait for his possible potential ability to unearth itself? Instead, we gave up two picks (neither of them first rounders) for the most important player in the organization, one of the best quarterbacks of this era, and a leader with a huge chip on his shoulder. This was a fantastic trade and Donovan McNabb, for me, certainly, has proved himself to be the quarterback this franchise desperately needed. Can anyone in Washington disagree?

Answer 4: Albert Haynesworth's presence would be a luxury, not a necessity.

I thought a lot about whether stating flat-out that Haynesworth was no longer a relevant piece of the defense. But he is frankly too special of a football player (sometimes) to completely rule out. There were some key moments where Matt Schaub slipped out of a few sacks -- maybe Haynesworth would have helped there. Who knows. But the defense will get its turnovers and be largely the same without him. 

I think anytime you can add a top-of-the-line pass rusher, you should. And I think Haynesworth will be a factor for this team at some point down the line... but I disagree with McNabb's statement a few weeks back that said, "We can't win without him." He made little to no impact in the Cowboys game and our team could easily have won the Texans game without him.

Of course, you'd rather have your highest paid player be both a luxury AND a necessity, but we all know what reality is with Haynesworth. We'd love to see him on the field, I'm sure, and we'll be a better team if he's in, but he is not by any means the most important player on the defense. You know who is?

Answer 5: LaRon Landry is playing like the 2010 DPOY.

He makes tackles. He sacks quarterbacks. He covers tight ends. He comes out of nowhere and delivers punishing hits. 

#30 has completely changed. This guy was a huge liability on our defense last season. Look at this post from Kevin -- LaRon was a joke last year. He was a possible draft bust. 

Now, he's the most exciting player on the defense -- arguably more so than Brian Orakpo. His 28 tackles lead the league (interestingly, Rocky McIntosh is #3 with 24). That's 17 week one and 11 week two -- wow. He has 21 solo tackles already -- last year (all year) he had 78.  He also has a sack and multiple quarterback hurries, not to mention some fine coverage over the middle. 

What a huge improvement by LaRon Landry. What a better use of player personnel by Jim Haslett. Landry is not a true free safety like our beloved Sean Taylor was. Landry is a hitter, essentially a faster and more athletic version of a linebacker who has pretty good coverage skills. He's doing what he does best, and he should be the early leader for DPOY.

Think I'm crazy? Peter King seems to agree with me. He's made that much of an impact that people around the league are starting to take notice.

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Thanks for sticking with me for this piece -- see you next time. HTTR. 

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