Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wizards fall to Hawks; Butler bruises knee

After a strong team effort in the season-opening win against the Mavericks, the Wizards jumped out to a 15-5 lead about five minutes into the first quarter against the Hawks. Caron Butler hit a three, Brendan Haywood dunked, Gilbert Arenas made a jumper, Fabricio Oberto hit a short jumper, Arenas knocked down a three, Mike Miller made a free throw, and Haywood dunked again. Arenas and Miller each had two assists, the Wizards were scoring at will and moving the ball around, and the Hawks were forced into taking jumpers on offense -- and they were missing. Sure, it was early, but the Wizards again looked solid.

Then, things turned south. The Hawks outscored the Wizards 24-9 to finish out the first quarter and led 29-24, and Atlanta never really looked back. Washington tried to close the gap, cutting the Hawks' lead to seven with about eight minutes left and again after a Gilbert Arenas three-pointer with 2:35 left in the game, but the Hawks were able to answer and prevent a comeback.

Overall, the Wizards didn't play horribly. They shot a higher percentage from the field (44.3% to 41.0%) and out-assisted the Hawks 19-18. But Atlanta outrebounded Washington 47-40, committed fewer turnovers (14-12), and shot more free throws (34-22). The Hawks also hit 31 of those 34 free throws (91.2%), which is outstanding. (For the record, Atlanta shot 73.7% from the free-throw line as a team last season, third-worst in the NBA. Funny how that works sometimes.)

More or less, the Wizards couldn't stop fouling on defense and were unable to get any kind of consistent offensive rhythm going, especially since they were already playing without Antawn Jamison -- and then Caron Butler after he suffered a bruised knee and didn't return after halftime. After an inspiring first game showcasing his all-around play, Arenas scored a game-high 23 points but failed to show those same play-making skills, turning the ball over seven times while dishing out just four assists. After Arenas, Haywood had 19 points, Andray Blatche scored 13, Randy Foye had nine, and Miller and JaVale McGee each had seven.

So was this just one of those tough games where the Wizards couldn't get things together, or is this a sign of things to come? Probably the former more so than the latter -- but we'll get the chance to find out a little more when the Wizards face the Nets tonight in their home opener.

Other game notes:

- After Miller got in early foul trouble, DeShawn Stevenson entered the game and couldn't stay out of foul trouble either. He took one shot -- and made it -- but he only played 11 minutes and still doesn't look quite right. (And if you're curious, yes, he did the I-can't-feel-my-face thing after making that shot. At this point, it's not even annoying to me -- it's just hilarious.)

- After three quick fouls sent Stevenson to the bench, Nick Young got on the floor after not playing at all against Dallas. Unfortunately, Young played horribly, missing all eight of his shots (six jumpers and two layups) and failing to get to the free-throw line. In 13 minutes, Young failed to record an assist and grabbed just one rebound. It's definitely too early to write him off or suggest that he won't get a ton of playing time, especially with the injury to Butler, but it's hard to figure out exactly what Young's role on this team is going to be.

- Why doesn't Mike Miller shoot the ball more? In 33 minutes, he took only five shots, hitting three of them. He had a strong all-around game -- 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals -- but how does Young take three more shots in 20 fewer minutes played? Shoot the ball, Mike. You're good at it.

- Blatche had a decent game (13 points, 6 rebounds, one assist, one block) following his superb performance in Dallas. He shot efficiently (5-7) and got to the free-throw line five times. Oddly enough, he had a team-worst +/- of -17 in 34 minutes. Still, I like the new-and-improved Blatche who hustles and seems to have his head on straight. Hopefully he keeps it up.

- Foye regressed a bit, shooting just 3-12 from the field. Still, he hit a three-pointer, dished out a team-high six assists, and had two rebounds.

- McGee gave the Wizards a little spark in his 10 minutes in the second half. He threw down a couple of dunks and blocked two shots.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Phil Jackson has an awkward moment (updated)

Weird moment here: After Phil Jackson sits down in his chair and brushes off his shoulder, he offers a fist bump to Kobe Bryant. Normal stuff, right? Unfortunately for him, Kobe Bryant isn't looking. So Jackson does what any person would do (or not): He takes his fist and, trying to play it off, rubs both sides of his face -- or something like that. Anyway, here's the video:

Funny stuff there.

(HT: Basketbawful)

Update: Maybe Jackson had that awkward moment just so he could see how it feels.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Arenas, Wizards look impressive in season opener

Opening up the season in Dallas against a pretty good Mavericks team, the Wizards received help from both some old faces and some new ones. Gilbert Arenas scored a team-high 29 points and dished out nine assists, and Randy Foye and Andray Blatche combined for an efficient 39 points off the bench in a 102-91 win.

Even better than the win, though, is the fact that Arenas looked great. He wasn't tentative with the ball and attacked throughout the game, getting to the free-throw line nine times and slashing to set up others with good shots around the rim. He also shot an effective 10-21 from the field. If this is the Arenas that is going to come to play every night, the Wizards may indeed be ahead for a fantastic season.

Besides Arenas, Caron Butler chipped in 16 points and eight rebounds. He may have forced a few shots and didn't shoot the best percentage (6-17), but Butler seemed intent on attacking the rim, even with a talented defender like Shawn Marion hounding him for much of the game. Brendan Haywood didn't have the best offensive game (seven points on 3-10 shooting), but he played strong defense in the middle and also grabbed 10 boards. (He needs to work on that wild hook shot, though.)

With Antawn Jamison out for a few weeks, the Wizards were/are going to need other players to step up to help out the current big three of Arenas, Butler, and Haywood. Last night, Foye and Blatche did just that. Both shot a more-than-efficient 8-14 from the field and hit open jump shots throughout game, with Blatche scoring 20 points and Foye right behind him with 19. With the Mavericks trying to key on Arenas to force him to give up the ball early, it was important for others to hit open shots and move without the ball. Blatche and Foye were also the only two bench players for the Wizards to finish the game with positive +/- numbers.

With the Wizards' lead cut to 77-76 early in the fourth quarter, Blatche immediately answered with a 16-foot jumper to extend the lead to three, and Washington never looked back. Foye led the Wizards with eight points in the final frame, while Arenas scored six.

Other game notes:

- Washington outrebounded Dallas 46-42.

- The Wizards finished with 19 assists and nine turnovers.

- Fabricio Oberto and Mike Miller, who both received starting nods, combined for 11 points and only six shots from the field. Miller also grabbed eight boards.

- DeShawn Stevenson didn't score in 18 minutes but did grab five rebounds and collect three assists.

- The foursome of Dominic McGuire, JaVale McGee, Nick Young, and Mike James contributed zero points in three combined minutes, with James and Young receiving the dreaded "DNP Coach's Decision" line.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cooley out for season with broken ankle

As if things couldn't get any worse for the Redskins (especially on offense), Chris Cooley is out for the season after breaking his ankle in the second quarter against the Eagles last night.

The play on which Cooley was injured looked pretty awkward, with Cooley stopping quickly over the middle of the field and possibly getting his right cleat caught in the ground. Cooley immediately fell to the ground clutching his ankle, unable to put any weight on his right foot.

Oddly enough, with Cooley out, Fred Davis had the best game of his career. Davis caught eight passes from Jason Campbell for 78 yards and a touchdown. He also led all receivers with 10 targets in the passing game.

While losing Cooley is an enormous loss, it's not like the offense was putting up huge numbers even with him in the lineup. There's no question the offense is better with him playing, but the silver lining with him being out, if there is one, is that Davis will get a chance to be the featured tight end for the rest of the season. Though it's unlikely that Campbell will return next year, it's still important to find out if the young receivers drafted by Vinny Cerrato -- Devin Thomas, Davis, and Malcolm Kelly -- can actually contribute.

By the way, Cerrato deserves special thanks for drafting both Thomas and Davis ahead of DeSean Jackson, who scored two long touchdowns last night and sure looked like the best player on the field.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Week 7 NFL picks

(Home team is in caps.)

49ers (+3) over TEXANS

The 49ers were embarrassed two weeks ago at home against the Falcons. And not only did head coach Mike Singletary apologize to the fans for the loss, but he also guaranteed that the 49ers would get better an play together as a team going forward.

After seeing that, there's no way that the 49ers come out flat against the Texans.

Chargers (-5) over CHIEFS

LaDainian Tomlinson isn’t the same player anymore. Early injuries have limited him to 38 carries right now, but with those attempts, he’s tied for 34th in the NFL with a 3.7-yards per carry average. Make no mistake about it: The Chargers are Philip Rivers’s team now. Right now Rivers is ranked just 14th in quarterback rating (91.8), but he’s had to deal with an average offensive line (he’s been sacked 15 times (seventh most)) and has still averaged the third-most passing yards per game (304).

After an abysmal performance by the Redskins offense last week, the Chiefs are ranked 24th in points allowed per game (24.0). Rivers and the Chargers should easily surpass that number in this game, even with a less explosive Tomlinson.

Colts (-14) over RAMS
Patriots (-15.5) over Buccaneers
Packers (-9) over BROWNS

Three games, similar results.

Vikings (+5.5) over STEELERS

Here’s the Steelers’ list of opponents up to this point: Titans (0-6), Bears (3-2), Bengals (4-2), Chargers (2-3), Lions (1-5), and Browns (1-5). Those teams are a combined 11-23. There’s nothing wrong with beating up on inferior opponents. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh defense is ranked 11th in points allowed per game (18.7). That’s pretty good, especially while playing without Troy Polamalu for a few games. Pittsburgh is still a good team, but I don’t know that I’m particularly sold on them just yet.

The Vikings’ opponents, interestingly enough, also have a combined 11-23 record, but Minnesota has outscored their opponents by 68 points, and the Steelers have outscored their opponents by 40 fewer points (28). For the record, Minnesota’s defense is ranked 18th in points allowed per game (20.2) while their offense is ranked second in points per game (31.5).

Is any of that necessarily compelling evidence? Not really. But a lot of people seem to be picking the Steelers to win big in this game. Not me. I think it’ll be close.

Bills (+7) over PANTHERS

The Bills couldn’t stop the run last week, so the Panthers should be able to run the ball effectively. But they also have Jake Delhomme at quarterback. I’ll take the points.

Jets (-7) over RAIDERS

Oakland played well last week in a stunning upset over the Eagles. But when was the last time the Raiders put together two strong performances in a row against favored teams?

BENGALS (pick) over Bears

Just a hunch here. Nothing more.

Falcons (+4) over COWBOYS

Interesting game. The Falcons are probably the better team, but the Cowboys are coming off of a bye week. I’ll go with the less error-prone quarterback: Matt Ryan.

DOLPHINS (+7) over Saints

The Dolphins’ performance two weeks ago at home against the Jets on Monday Night Football was impressive. They really know how to use the Wildcat offense efficiently. I think the Saints will win, but they’ll struggle a bit to stop the Dolphins’ diversified attack.

GIANTS (-7) over Cardinals

The Giants were embarrassed last week in a blowout loss against the Saints. They won’t perform that way again against an inferior team at home.

Eagles (-7) over REDSKINS

Would I be shocked if the Redskins kept the game close? No. Would I be shocked if they scored more than 10 points? Yes.

Last week: 6-8
Season: 47-43

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Samuels says he's out for the season, mulls retirement

Chris Samuels released a statement yesterday saying that he's going to miss the rest of the season after suffering a neck injury two weeks ago against the Carolina Panthers. He also admitted that his football career may be over:

"I will continue to seek medical advice. I hope to see where I am physically over the next couple months," Samuels said in a statement released by the Redskins Friday. "At this time, I have not made a decision, but I love playing for the Redskins and hope to be back."

Obviously the loss of Samuels is a huge blow to the Redskins, but Samuels needs to make the most informed decision while dealing with such a serious injury.

Oddly enough, the Washington Post article linked above states that Samuels "plans to retire," while this ESPN article, with the same quote from Samuels, merely says that the star left tackle is "evaluating his future." Does that really matter? Not really. Samuels certainly seems like he's going to retire; it's just a bit odd considering that Samuels, in his quote, says that he hasn't made an official decision yet.

Then again, the ESPN story did have to rub salt in the wound for Redskins fans with this two-sentence paragraph:

Even if he does decide to resume playing, Samuels would have good reasons to take his time and not return this year. The Redskins (2-4) are in last place in the NFC East and are just getting to the tough part of their schedule.

Thanks guys! But where's the mention of playing all winless teams?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Redskins notes: Largent, Sherman Smith, Portis's leg

As you may have heard, things don't seem to be going very well for the Redskins right now. Let's take a look at a few things that are going on and some others that are being said about the team (and the owner):
  • According to Jason Reid, this is how the Redskins will be calling plays on Monday night:

    Zorn announced a new plan that includes offensive coordinator Sherman Smith. With Lewis up in the box, Smith will move to the field and relay the plays to Campbell while he's receiving them from Lewis. Although Zorn has been completely eliminated from the process, he also will hear the plays on his headset.

    "I'll be walking around," Zorn said. "I'll be listening to what's going on. I'm not going to be calling what's going on."

    Well, then. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that plan. [Redskins Insider]

  • Steve Largent on Jim Zorn and the fallout from him being stripped of play-calling duties:

    "Yes, he did consider [resigning], and no, he did not want to give up those responsibilities," Largent told KJR, "but they went to the point of pulling out his contract and saying, 'You have got to do whatever the owner tells you to do.' ...

    "But in my opinion, and this is just totally my opinion -- Jim has never said this, never implied this -- I think what Daniel Snyder was trying to do was to force Jim to resign so he was not liable for his contract any longer. And Jim is just not going to do that."

    Would anyone be shocked if Snyder did that? Of course not. In fact, that was not only my first reaction to the situation, but many other fans' as well. There's no doubt in my mind that Snyder was/is trying to force Zorn to quit. Stay classy, Daniel Snyder. [ESPN]

  • Sherman Smith on the offense's problems: "It's not the play-calling." [D.C. Sports Bog]

  • Chris Samuels traveled to California to meet with a specialist today. He's probably out for the rest of the season -- and he's "strongly considering retirement." [Redskins Insider]

  • ESPN's Matt Mosley says Albert Haynesworth is underachieving. Actually, he's not. [Mr. Irrelevant]

  • The Redskins have signed offensive tackle Levi Jones, running back Quinton Ganther, and re-signed Renaldo Wynn for some reason. Marcus Mason, Anthony Alridge, and Glenn Pakulak were all released to make room for them. []

  • Clinton Portis on his lower-leg injuries:

    "It's really one leg," he said. "It's just my right leg. I've got plantar faciitis, an ankle, the inside of my MCL, and a calf all on my right leg. So if I can get a new lower leg, I'll be fine."

    Good luck with that. [Redskins Insider]

  • SI's Don Banks asks a good question about Snyder: "Other than financially, has anyone been better off after going to work for Daniel Snyder and the Redskins than they were before they got to Washington?" Interesting point -- and the answer is no, probably not. Unfortunately, after ripping Snyder and the Redskins, Banks makes another lame joke about Sherman Lewis and bingo: "All I know is if Lewis's first few calls against the Eagles Monday night wind up being 'B-20' and 'G-17,' Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell might just want to audible." Zing! I'm pretty sure that joke hasn't been beaten into the ground yet. [Sports Illustrated]

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Week 6 NFL picks

(Home team is in caps.)

One-sentence takes on each game:

Chiefs (+6) over REDSKINS

All five Redskins games have been decided by six points or fewer.

Texans (+5.5) over BENGALS

Interesting game -- the Bengals are 4-1, but they’ve outscored their opponents in those four wins by a combined 16 points.

STEELERS (-14) over Browns

Pittsburgh has to blow out a bad team at some point, right?

VIKINGS (-3) over Ravens

Unfortunately for Baltimore, with Jared Gaither out, rookie Michael Oher shifts to left tackle to square off against Jared Allen.

JAGUARS (-10) over Rams

The Rams have been outscored by 112 points -- worst in the NFL.

Giants (+3) over SAINTS

Tough call -- nothing more than a guess here.

BUCCANEERS (+3) over Panthers

The Panthers won last week, but Jake Delhomme is still pretty bad.

PACKERS (-14) over Lions

The Packers have an awful offensive line, but it shouldn’t matter this week against Detroit.

Eagles (-14.5) over RAIDERS

The Eagles have Donovan McNabb; the Raiders have JaMarcus Russell.

SEAHAWKS (-3) over Cardinals

Anything can happen in the NFC West, but the Seahawks looked pretty good last week with Matt Hasselbeck back under center.

JETS (-10) over Bills

When a team (Buffalo) loses 6-3 at home to a quarterback who completed two of 17 passes for 23 yards the previous week, it’s pretty tough to pick them no matter who they play.

PATRIOTS (-9.5) over Titans

I was all set to take the points until finding out that Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan will miss the game, meaning Tennessee will be without their two top cornerbacks.

FALCONS (-3.5) over Bears

Solid matchup between 3-1 teams, but the Falcons are better.

Broncos (+3.5) over CHARGERS

I’ll stop picking against the Broncos when they lose a game.

Last week: 8-6
Season: 41-35

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quick links: Skins criticism

After a disappointing and unimpressive 2-3 start to open the season, the Redskins are seemingly under attack from all angles: fans, former players, media, etc. Here are a few examples:
  • John Riggins: "You know what they used to say about the Washington Senators, they're now gonna say about the Washington football team, which is First in war, first in peace, LAST in the NFC East. I'm afraid that's the way it is." [D.C. Sports Bog]

  • The Redskins' performance against the Panthers displayed all of the problems with this team. [Hogs Haven]

  • Boswell: "This is what Snyder and Cerrato deserve. They brought it on themselves. The Redskins and their fans, however, and Jim Zorn for that matter, don't deserve it. They don't deserve it at all." [Thomas Boswell]

  • Wilbon: "See, Snyder is great at the business side of the Redskins but the exact opposite when it comes to the football operations side. Football isn't instinctive to Snyder and it's never going to be, no matter how many fat checks he signs, no matter how many times he sits and stares out at practice." [Michael Wilbon]

  • John Feinstein calls for a Redskins boycott and says fans should stop going to games until things change. [D.C. Sports Bog]

  • Dave O. on what the future holds for this team: "So the question cannot be avoided: if [the Redskins are] 2-2 against terrible teams (not counting the Giants, obviously), and the two wins were by the skin of [their] teeth, and the offense is likely to get worse instead of better, what's going to happen against the NFC East, Atlanta, Denver, New Orleans, and San Diego?" Probably more losing. [Staying Medium]

  • Even current players are fed up. Carlos Rogers: "It starts not only with the players and the coaches. It starts with the ownership. They bring everybody in, and they've got last say-so of everything. So that's where it starts, I guess." [Redskins Insider]
There's a lot more where that came from, but I think you get the point. It really isn't a fun time to be a Redskins fan -- unless you're a masochist too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Reflecting on the Redskins' loss to the Panthers

After the Panthers scored the last 18 points to sneak past the Redskins 20-17 yesterday, I have to be honest: I was mad, but I wasn't surprised at all. When the Skins went up 17-2, it was more of a mirage than anything. DeAngelo Williams's fumble (recovered by Albert Haynesworth) on Carolina's first offensive play set the Redskins up with excellent field position at the 13 yard line, as did DeAngelo Hall's interception in the third quarter that he returned 44 yards to the Carolina 1. So by forcing two turnovers in Carolina territory, the offense only had to go a combined 14 yards for two touchdowns -- that's 14 points. The Redskins scored only three more points, which is completely unacceptable. But is it shocking? No.

And that's the level the Redskins are at right now. The offense is so terrible that basically being spotted 14 points wasn't enough to pull out a win. Besides not scoring enough points, the offense had only 198 yards of total offense. Nice work, guys.

Other notes:
  • Let's start with the good. The defense forced two turnovers and held the Panthers to 248 total yards. Carolina's running game was more than held in check by the Washington defense: On 32 carries, the Panthers averaged only 2.7 yards per carry. Carolina's longest drive of the game was also only 57 yards, and when Carolina scored three times in the second half, their drives were relatively short: 40 yards (TD), 38 yards (FG), and 12 yards (TD).

  • Andre Carter had 2.5 sacks, and Brian Orakpo had half a sack. The Redskins forced a decent amount of pressure on Jake Delhomme, who looked average at best. So the defense didn't give up much yardage, forced two turnovers to set up the offense, and rushed the passer effectively -- which is basically what everyone has wanted from the defense. And it still wasn't enough to get a win.

  • Jason Campbell finished the game 17-23 for 145 yards and a touchdown. For the amount of pressure he was under -- the Panthers had five sacks -- he was pretty efficient. But besides the touchdown pass to Clinton Portis, there weren't many, if any, explosive plays in the passing game.

  • The rushing attack was ineffective. Portis ran 19 times for only 57 yards -- a three-yard average. He did run for a touchdown though, so that's something.

  • No receiver had more than 44 receiving yards. Those 44 yards came from Santana Moss, who had four catches. The rest of the receiving corps combined for 13 catches and 101 yards. Shockingly, Chris Cooley failed to catch a pass, and I don't remember Campbell throwing his way even one time, but I could be wrong.

  • As mentioned before, the Panthers had five sacks, and the offensive line looked really bad. Losing Chris Samuels so early in the game was a significant loss. The line failed to open up many holes for Portis, and by pushing the Skins' line back inside the five, the Panthers forced a safety. The Redskins have to have the worst offensive line depth in the NFL.

  • Shaun Suisham made his only field goal attempt, and Glenn Pakulak filled in for Hunter Smith with an average game. The biggest play of the game, though, came when a player was pushed into Byron Westbrook on a punt return. The ball bounced off Westbrook and was recovered by Carolina deep in Redskins' territory. It's hard to believe that an opposing player can just shove a blocker into a returner, but these are the kinds of plays that happen to the Redskins on a routine basis. Losing teams put themselves in situations like that.

  • The Redskins' clock management and Jim Zorn's carelessness with timeouts was terrible. When the Redskins needed to stop the clock late in the fourth quarter, all of their timeouts were gone.

  • DeAngelo Hall's inability to tackle Jake Delhomme in the open field with the game on the line was hard to believe. Even Deion Sanders was (probably) shaking his head after that tackling attempt.
Now 2-3, the Redskins face the Chiefs, another team seeking its first win, at home on Sunday. If Kansas City wins, the Redskins will have allowed three teams to gain their first victory against them (not counting the Giants in the season opener).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Week 5 NFL picks

(Home team is in caps.)

Vikings (-11) over RAMS

OK, so did anyone think that Brett Favre would start the season playing this well? I didn’t. Through four games, Favre is third in the NFL in quarterback rating (104.7) and has an 8-1 TD/INT ratio. He isn’t being asked to throw a ton, but with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, he doesn’t have to. If his arm/shoulder/back/whatever can hold up for the entire season, and with the way Peterson and the Minnesota defense is playing, the Vikings (4-0) look like they’ll be a legitimate contender when playoff time rolls around.

Oh, and they play an 0-4 Rams team that has already been outscored by 84 points and will probably have Kyle Boller under center.

CHIEFS (+8.5) over Cowboys

Through four games, here are some quarterbacks with better QB ratings than Tony Romo: Matt Schaub, Kyle Orton, Joe Flacco, Shaun Hill, Jay Cutler, David Garrard, Kevin Kolb, Jason Campbell, Seneca Wallace, and Matt Cassel. Again, it’s early, but Romo is 21st in the league in QB rating and has thrown four touchdowns and four interceptions -- not exactly a strong start to the season. Not to be left out, Roy Williams (11 catches, 214 yards, one touchdown) has had a decent start to the season, but he hasn’t yet rewarded the Cowboys for trading three 2009 draft picks to the Lions for him.

Dallas, by the way, will be playing this game without Williams, Felix Jones, and starting safety Gerald Sensabaugh. I think Dallas win, but it may be close.

Redskins (+4.5) over PANTHERS

Both teams have struggled; I’ll take the points, I guess. One thing worries me though: At some point, Steve Smith (15 catches, 190 yards) has to get tired of hearing about being “the second-best Steve Smith in the NFL” this year and dominate a game or two, right? Hopefully that doesn’t happen today.

EAGLES (-15.5) over Buccaneers
GIANTS (-16) over Raiders

These two games are similar -- and that’s a lot of points. But who feels comfortable going with the Bucs or Raiders right now, even to cover? The early bye week gave the Eagles an opportunity to get healthy, and Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook both return this week. Eli Manning is also set to play despite a foot injury, and the Giants’ defense should have no problem frustrating JaMarcus Russell and company.

BILLS (-6) over Browns

Seriously, who knows? Derek Anderson played well last week, but I can’t trust him on the road, even against the Bills.

RAVENS (-8.5) over Bengals

The Bengals almost lost to the Browns last week. Meanwhile, the Ravens went on the road to New England and were a few tough penalty calls and a dropped fourth-down pass away from having an excellent chance to upset the Patriots. I think the Ravens will play with a little extra fire today and have a huge game.

Steelers (-10.5) over LIONS

With consecutive games against the Lions and Browns, the Steelers have a great chance to get to 4-2 heading into a Week 7 showdown with the Vikings. Mike Tomlin can’t be happy with the how the Steelers have finished games lately; look for that to change this week.

Falcons (+3) over 49ERS

Just a hunch.

Patriots (-3) over BRONCOS


Texans (+5.5) over CARDINALS

There’s no reason to think that this won’t be a high-scoring game. I’m a little afraid of Larry Fitzgerald (17 catches, 181 yards, two touchdowns) dominating and having a breakout game, especially since he hasn’t had a 100-yard receiving game yet.

SEAHAWKS (-2) over Jaguars

Random note: Did you know the Jaguars were 2-2? Not that it matters, but I thought they were 1-3 for some reason. Good for them.

Seattle gets Matt Hasselbeck back this week, so I’ll go with the Seahawks at home.

Colts (-4.5) over TITANS

Not that it warrants concern, but I don’t think I’ve seen one person pick the Titans this week.

What the heck happened to Tennessee’s defense? Last year after ranking second and giving up just 14.6 points per game, the Titans are tied for 26th (with the Rams) in points allowed per game (27). Losing Albert Haynesworth certainly had to hurt, but it’s something more than that. They still have nine sacks, a decent amount, and are seventh-best in stopping the run, but they’ve been horrible against the pass -- tied for the worst in the NFL with the Jaguars. Anyway, don’t look for that to change much this week going against Peyton Manning.

Jets (-2) over DOLPHINS

The Jets’ defense has done a pretty good job of limiting the effectiveness of some pretty good quarterbacks: Matt Schaub in Week 1, Tom Brady in Week 2, and Drew Brees in Week 4. This week they get Chad Henne on Monday Night Football. They should force some turnovers and make things easier for Mark Sanchez.

Last week: 5-9
Season: 33-29

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hoge on Skins offense: 'West Coast is not their strength'

In the last year or two, many fans have expressed their dislike of the Redskins' West Coast-style offense under Jim Zorn. Last season the offense was ranked 28th with 16.6 points per game, and so far this season things haven't improved: The offense is currently ranked 27th, scoring 14 points per game, even though they've played against some pretty bad defenses.

So instead of merely speculating why the offense is performing so poorly like the rest of us, Dan Steinberg of the D.C. Sports Bog went to someone who knows what he's talking about: ESPN analyst Merril Hoge.

And here's what Hoge thinks:

"You have a philosophy, a West Coast philosophy, and nobody fits that mold," said Hoge, who comprehensively reviewed the Tampa game on tape. "I don't think they try to take advantage of their strengths. It's like they've got a philosophy and they want to run it regardless. Shoot, I'd run the ball, run a lot of run action, stack receivers, bunch 'em coming off the line. I'd use a different philosophy to take advantage of their strengths. The West Coast is not their strength. That doesn't mean you can't do it some of the time, it just shouldn't be your staple....That, to me, is the biggest way to fail as a coach. Just watch the Tampa game. They did nothing to help their guys. The quarterback has nowhere to throw the ball, so then he gets sacked and looks like an idiot."

Hoge's thoughts aren't particularly shocking -- he's a huge fan of establishing the run and being able to then use the play-action pass. But the Redskins' lack of creativity on offense is rather noticeable, especially when Santana Moss and Chris Cooley are the only playmakers in the passing game.

Hoge had a few more thoughts:

Hoge said the Bucs--once famous for the Tampa-2 zone--were running man concept stuff in their secondary for the majority of the game. He said the Redskins were countering with pass routes that would be most effective against zone schemes. He cited one 3rd-and-10 play in which the Skins ran three curl independent curl routes.

"Man, you're never gonna win a curl route against man, ever," Hoge said. "Give 'em an option route. Stack your receivers. Run them across the field. You just can't run zone concept stuff and think you're gonna win [those battles]. You're not."

. . . . "The great demise for any coach is when he's unwilling to adapt his philosophy to the strengths of his personnel," Hoge said. "I don't care what level you're at, eventually you have to evaluate the strength of your personnel and adjust your philosophy to those strengths."

To be fair to Zorn, I'm not sure exactly what philosophy this team should be shooting for on offense. They can't really be a power running team -- the offensive line isn't good enough. They can't really run the West Coast offense because none of the younger, bigger wide receivers have stepped up and have shown that they can play, plus Jason Campbell isn't one of the best quarterbacks when it comes to making quick reads and getting rid of the ball consistently. And besides Moss, no one on the offense is really a threat to make an explosive, game-changing play.

So basically, Hoge is saying the Redskins are screwed.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Zorn, Redskins should embrace winning ugly

To put it mildly, the Redskins (particularly the offense) have struggled in the first four games of the season. They lost on the road to the Giants by six, beat the Rams at home by two, lost to the Lions by five, and beat the Bucs by three, meaning they're 2-2 even though they've been outscored by six points. The loss to the Giants is understandable: They're 4-0 and look like one of the NFL's best teams. But the other three teams are a combined 1-11 on the season.

In the next two weeks, the Redskins play at Carolina and at home against Kansas City. By the way, those two are a combined 0-7. But as the Redskins' early play has indicated, opposing teams' records don't really mean a whole lot. The Redskins have played down to their competition (unless they're just a bad team too), but they were also an onside kick away from getting the ball back against the Giants and potentially having a chance to score some more points. They were outplayed in New York, but they still lost by less than a touchdown. So, while the Redskins could have lost all four of their games if they didn't make a few key plays, all of their games have been winnable and have at least been competitive in the fourth quarter.

Anyway, here's the point: The Redskins have flaws. Every team in the NFL does, but the Redskins' flaws are more obvious than most: the offensive line is pretty bad; they can't (or haven't been able to) run the ball effectively; besides Santana Moss and Chris Cooley, other receivers haven't stepped up and haven't scared opponents; Jason Campbell sometimes holds the ball too long and doesn't make quick decisions; and the defense can't always get pressure on the quarterback and until recently has struggled to force opposing offenses off the field on third down. I know I left some out, but those are the major concerns.

As you probably have noticed, most of the correctable problems are on the defensive side of the ball. Rookies Brian Orakpo (15 tackles, two sacks) and Jeremy Jarmon (three tackles, one forced fumble) seem like they can get pressure on the quarterback and should keep improving. Albert Haynesworth has been criticized harshly at times, but he's doing a pretty good job occupying blockers inside. Chris Horton, LaRon Landry, and Reed Doughty have, so far, formed a solid group of safeties. Even Justin Tryon showed in the win over Tampa Bay that he's making some strides, taking over the nickel corner role for Fred Smoot and recording a sack. And, of course, London Fletcher is a tackling machine (leads the NFL with 52 tackles).

Obviously, though, the offense has been awful -- 27th in points scored (14 points per game). Jason Campbell has been about average, ranking 16th in quarterback rating (85.5), ninth in completion percentage (65.3), 11th in passing yards (963), and t-11th in touchdowns (five). But after his three-interception performance on Sunday, he's tied for the fourth-most interceptions with five and has been sacked eight times.

As for other individual performances on offense, Moss has 17 catches for 293 yards (10th among wide receivers) and two touchdowns. Cooley has 22 receptions for 254 yards (third among tight ends) and two touchdowns. Portis has the 10th-most rushing yards among running backs with 281 yards, but his 3.9 yards-per-carry average isn't even in the top 25 among qualified rushers. Part of that is certainly due to the lack of running room, but not every offensive line in the NFL is that much better than Washington's line.

But besides those three skill players, the Redskins really don't have any other weapons. No other running back has done much of anything, and Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas, and Fred Davis have a combined 10 catches for 82 yards. That's it. Oh, and Antwaan Randle El had a good first game against the Giants (seven catches, 98 yards), but since then he only has six catches for 60 yards -- and he didn't catch a single pass against the Bucs.

It's also worth noting that Rock Cartwright is 18th in kickoff return average (23.9) while Randle El has returned only four punts for 35 yards (an 8.8-yard average).

So, again, here's what the Redskins have:
  • a defense that can certainly play better even though it's allowed only 15.5 points per game (against bad teams -- but still);
  • an offense that has struggled to score points even against bad defenses;
  • a lack of playmakers on offense besides Moss and Cooley (and sometimes Portis);
  • an average (at best) offensive line and a group of inconsistent wide receivers who cannot be relied upon;
  • and kickoff and punt returners who haven't set the offense up with a short field.
Even with all of this going down, though, Jim Zorn is still striving for perfection on offense:

"I'm just going to keep pushing. It's my responsibility. I feel like I'm the one it's reflecting on as well. It's reflecting on all of us, but I'm the focal point and it should reflect on me. I'm not going to be happy with that and we're going to keep pushing. . . . It's just been something that we're going to continue to push toward. We demand perfection out here during practice, but you really do have to take . . . you have to look at what's being given during a game and that's hard to take. It really is. I still want that perfection in a game as well."

I'm pretty sure the Redskins aren't getting perfection in practice out of many of their offensive players, but statements like that are fine. Coaches are supposed to say stuff like that. But there's basically nothing that this offense will be able to do perfectly. So far, they've seemingly had to struggle for every yard and every point. And that's fine -- improvement, at least some signs of it, should be coming soon. But deep down, I'm sure Zorn knows that this offense will never be a powerhouse and won't start scoring tons of points against anyone. But there's nothing wrong with winning ugly games, even against bad teams -- the key is actually winning. Whether or not the Redskins can actually keep doing that will depend mostly on how well the defense plays.

But a few more deep touchdown passes to Moss sure wouldn't hurt.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Week 4 NFL picks

I don't have the time to break down the matchups this weekend, so here are my Week 4 picks (with a little note on the Redskins game):

(Home team is in caps.)

Buccaneers (+8.5) over REDSKINS

Until the Redskins do two things -- 1) improve their scoring in the red zone and 2) get opposing offenses off the field on third downs -- they shouldn’t be favored over anyone by more than a touchdown.

(Side note: If anyone goes to the game today with a bag over his or her head like the Junkies have been suggesting fans do all weekend, then those fans are even bigger losers than the Redskins for losing to the Lions.)

Raiders (+8.5) over TEXANS

Titans (-3.5) over JAGUARS

Ravens (+1.5) over PATRIOTS

Bengals (-6.5) over BROWNS

Giants (-8.5) over CHIEFS

BEARS (-9.5) over Lions

COLTS (-10.5) over Seahawks

Jets (+7.5) over SAINTS

Bills (+1.5) over DOLPHINS

49ERS (-9.5) over Rams

Cowboys (-3.5) over BRONCOS

Chargers (+6.5) over STEELERS

Packers (+4.5) over VIKINGS

Last week: 9-7
Season: 28-20

Portis will be a game-time decision vs. Bucs

The beginning of the season hasn't been kind to the Redskins -- or Clinton Portis. Already battling some ankle issues, Portis is questionable this week with a calf injury he sustained in last week's loss to the Detroit Lions.

Portis didn't have much to say on the issue and even offered some advice for the reporters: "Whatever Jim [Zorn] say. Game-time decision. Have a nice night, guys. Don't drink too much. Okay?" Well, that was nice of him.

The Redskins' offense, which is currently ranked 28th in points per game (13.3) yet is 13th in yards per game (341.3), could certainly use a healthy and productive Portis. But so far, Portis and the Redskins' rushing attack have struggled: In three games, he has carried the ball 47 times for 183 yards -- a 3.9-yard average -- and no touchdowns.

Over at Staying Medium, a relatively new Redskins blog that breaks down notable plays after games, Dave O. expresses some concern with the Redskins' ground game and the offensive line in general:

And some final wrap-up thoughts for the week:

- Casey Rabach and Chris Cooley are still the weak links of the Redskins running game.

- Much was made of Portis' bone spurs, but I don't think the injuries hurt him too much. When holes were there he made the most of them; the weak running game was due to the pass-heavy play calling in the first half and problems with blocking (see above).

- I'm worried about Chris Samuels. He hasn't been terrible, but he has appeared this year like an average tackle. I don't know if that is a result purely of age or if he is not fully recovered from last year's injuries.

- Chad Rinehart appeared... somewhat adequate. He was overpowered at times, but managed to not be conspicuously awful, which is all I really ask from a backup guard.

None of those things seem to be particularly hopeful at all. Even if Portis is still running well, injuries seem to be catching up to him. And if the line isn't opening up holes for him, this season may not turn around anytime soon.