People have come to expect unbridled optimism from me, both in this space and in general. And while I am far from beaten down, the fact is that I am alarmed. Jim Zorn had a bad day. The failure to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns against the Rams was bad all by itself. But the fact that this has become a trend straddling two seasons in this offense is alarming. I am there. Where I am NOT though, is in a pissed off place after a win. You only get 16 chances to win each year (unless you make the playoffs of course), and regardless of the opponent, kneeling out the clock for the win is a feeling that needs to be enjoyed and celebrated in these parts. I mean, who do we think we are? The Patriots? The Colts? We are not a team that can afford to downplay or discount a victory. We simply are not in that position. We don't have to be blind to the general state of things, but on Sundays, as Redskins fans, shouldn't a win be enough right now? I struggle to reconcile our recent history on the field with the uncompromising expectations to "blow out an inferior opponent." I was right there with my Friday Night "Mights" predicting big things, but the failure to achieve some of those numbers would never constitute a failure on the part of the team (unless I start really lowering the bar on those "Mights".)
As for the booing in the stands, you won't hear me arguing with those people. But while I respect the right of people to boo, I don't believe in booing the home team. I'll leave it at that because it does no good to argue this point. Robert Henson may have chosen his words poorly, but I appreciate his energy and emotion. Of course players don't want to hear booing from their own fans. But ultimately, I know and you all know that the only way to silence the booing is to show us something better than we have been watching for what seems like a very, very long time.
What can we do on offense to establish a red zone identity, or even a touchdown scoring identity period? (read on after the jump to find out)
1) My first suggestion is that we come out on Sunday with a completely different and NEW red zone offensive set. I propose 5 linemen, JC, Cooley, Davis, Thomas, Kelly, and Mitchell. These are the players that we have all been saying are our up and coming red zone threats. Let's get them all on the field at the same time and MAKE Zorn call a play that utilizes them. Moss and ARE simply don't scare anybody in the red zone. There is less room to work and once they get to the end zone, their size hurts them. There are only so many WR screens you can throw inside the 20. Zorn needs to be saved from himself. At the very least nobody can claim that he is not calling plays for these guys if they are all on the field at the same time. And we should have some size advantages as well with this set. Don't tell me they're not ready. They're who we have. Draw up some plays this week in practice and call them on Sunday.
2) We need to take more shots at the end zone once we cross midfield. Santana Moss can get open with that kind of space on the field. Kelly and/or Thomas could/should be targeted as well. Until we can reliably score inside the 20, we need to ramp up the chances we take at the end zone from outside the 20. This may very well be equal parts Zorn and Campbell but regardless, the ball has to go at the end zone from farther out until we prove we can work in the confines of the red zone.
3) Lose the trick plays until we prove we can do something that makes the defense over-pursue, thereby making our trick plays work. Don't we need to establish something on offense first before we can catch the defense overplaying their position? We are really only tricking ourselves if we believe we can convert any old gadget play in our bag. If Zorn can't see that our offense is not yet to the point where defenses are going to get tripped up by a reverse option, there might be a bigger problem here.
Ten Yard Fight: 10 Chances To Make One Good Point
1) Don't let the numbers fool you. Jake Delhomme is NOT back. If you own him in fantasy football, I would search desperately for someone who needs a quarterback and trade him immediately. He did tally 300 yards and a touchdown in the loss, so his trade value will probably never be higher.
2) I loved the no-huddle offense the Redskins ran at times on Sunday. For those watching at home, how did it appear to come off? Was JC catching anyone off guard? It looked to me like it was a pretty positive stretch.
3) The defense I have spent so long touting as ready to dominate from wire-to-wire got beaten Sunday by the Bengals! Green Bay...you're killing me. They continue to be a turnover machine though, with Charles Woodson adding two picks. The Packers get the Rams next week, so I would expect them to bounce back in a huge way.
4) Kurt Warner is not doing anything to help me with my prediction that Matt Leinart will be starting for Arizona by midseason. After he finished going 24-26 for just under 250 yards I actually looked rather stupid. I hate that, but when I'm wrong, I'm wrong. I think what ends up making me right is the fact that he is one good hit away from beginning his HOF waiting period. That hip surgery concerns me. Any time old people have surgery on their hip, you have to be concerned.
5) The outcome of the Lions-Vikings game is slightly misleading. When you look at the box score of this game, some numbers stand out to you as troubling if you happen to be a marginally decent team getting ready to travel to Detroit. The Lions had only one less first down than the Vikings, a better 3rd down conversion percentage than the Vikings, and the exact same amount of total yards. Detroit led (barely) in overall time of possession and had more rushing yards than Minnesota. They even jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter. Ultimately, Adrian Peterson (who failed to get 100 yards on the ground) and Brett Favre wore them down and outscored them in the second half 20-3. The Lions also gave up 3 turnovers. A lot of people have the Vikings in the "world-beater" category. It would be wise to take this Detroit team very seriously these days, as it does not appear they will continue losing forever.
6) As a Redskins fan, there is little better than the feeling I get when we are playing Detroit. That is not cockiness or arrogance. I have been conditioned to think this way. The Redskins hold a 30-10 advantage in the 40-game series between the two teams (this includes a 3-0 record against Detroit in the playoffs.) And am I mistaken in thinking the Lions have only beaten us once since 1968? I know they beat us in the regular season once under Norv Turner but then later in that same season, we body slammed them in the playoffs (1999, right?). I can not think of another time we were beaten by the Lions. That doesn't mean squat after the kickoff this week, but it does feel good.
7) I put the Oakland Raiders on the clock for next year's draft in late August. I might not have been wrong, but at 1-1 on the year, they are showing signs of life. They played the Chargers very tough in the opener last week and stole one from the Chiefs this past Sunday. Their defense has been very quietly playing excellent football the last couple seasons. Jamarcus Russell has a 35% completion percentage so far this year, putting that defense in bad spots at times. What I like about this team is its willingness to run the ball, play good defense and take a few shots. They seem to kind of know who they are, which is at least slightly refreshing, even though what they are is not going to get them to the Super Bowl.
8) Earlier this offseason, I talked up the Saints' signing of Darren Sharper. You might not be paying too much attention to the Saints' defense in general thanks to the scoring spree by Drew Brees every week. But Sharper's 97-yard interception return for a touchdown was awesome. He still has it--only Rod Woodson has taken more balls back the other way for six. If Sharper can stay healthy this season, his presence and experience will become very important in the playoffs.
9) I guess I have to give Byron Leftwich a little love again. I am watching him mostly because we have to play him very soon. But he damn near put 300 yards on the board in a loss. That team seems to be in a bit of disarray in general. One Buc fan I ran into this weekend told me that new coach Raheem Morris simply isn't the guy and that they are as good as they are going to be for a very long time right now...at 0-2. Hmmmm...where else have I heard this sentiment?
10a) If you would have told me that in the Bears-Steelers tilt, one team would run for 43 yards and the other for over 100 yards, I would have bet my life that the team that covered more territory on the ground would be the winner. Yet, the Bears pulled out the win despite only getting 29 yards from their feature back Matt Forte. Jay Cutler did play well enough to deserve the win, but when the Steelers defense is able to make a team so one-dimensional it usually leads to them winning.
10b) The Dolphins' offense dominated the Colts defense. Over 80 plays on offense and over 45 minutes of possession still was not enough to overcome what Peyton Manning is capable of in just 14 minutes and change. Amazing.
Give Me the Numbers, STAT!
Last week, we looked at where the Redskins stood statistically against the rest of the league. On defense, they were 19th in the league in total yards allowed, 19th against the run and 18th against the pass. After week 2, the Redskins moved up to 12th overall in total defense, 10th against the pass, and 18th against the run. That long run given up to Steven Jackson killed them. We are 7th in total points allowed. Listen, the logical explanation for this move is that we played a better team in week one than we did in week two. So we expected our defensive ranking to improve, and it did. We are tied for 15th in total takeaways in the league right now, and tied for 14th in total takeaway differential (0). Our two sacks put us tied for 22nd in the league. This is where we did not expect to be. I will take the improvement in total defense, I will even stomach the middle-of-the-pack nature of our turnovers. But we can not remain at the bottom of the league in sacks this season. Albert Haynesworth appears to be earning his money but his presence simply MUST translate into more sacks. We have seen what sacks can do for a team--they can turn into fumbles that go for a touchdown the other way, they can take an offense out of field goal range, and they can immediately force an offense to become one-dimensional if a team has to pass on long yardage situations due to a sack. That is what we HAVE to have. So next week, we will continue to expect our defense to improve their standing in the league in total yards given up, and total points yielded. But the stat we need to start harping on is sacks. Sacks and turnovers. Because if we are going to be led by our defense, we are going to need more.
Can this town fall in love with a team led by its defense? It did not look like it on Sunday. Yet, that might be the question we face as this season wears on. We knew coming into the season that our strongest unit was our defense. We even knew it was possible that our defense would be asked to win games. But can we stomach an offense that we all think can be better than a "game management" unit? I have serious doubts. I also think it is a bit unrealistic that we can even win enough games to be considered an "elite team led by its defense" if we can't score ANY touchdowns against a team like the Rams.
For everyone out there who, after two weeks of the regular season, thinks there is no Kool-Aid left in the jug, think again. I am admitting that based on what we know now after two weeks, there is reason to be concerned. But at the same time I think we have to look at our upcoming schedule and consider that if our offense has any chance to get it figured out, it would be against some of our upcoming opponents. I hate to say things like, "It takes offenses a few weeks to get rolling," since this offense was far from rolling last winter, but it is still true. And at 1-1, with a chance to stake ourselves to a winning record after three games, I find myself in more of a hopeful place than a stressful one. We're going to have to get comfy with who we are and extract as much enjoyment as possible from it. No need to call for anyone's head yet...the one thing we know this team is capable of doing is changing organizational direction on a dime (whether we think it is the right thing to do or not.)