The Washington Redskins are 5-3 going into the second half of the season. They could easily be 7-1 (they lost two games after posting at least a 14 point lead: they manhandled both the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants going into halftime of each loss), and just as easily the Redskins could be 2-6. They had to win in overtime against the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets (arguably the worst two teams in the NFL) and avoided a loss against the lowly Arizona Cardinals after Neil Rackers missed the game-winning kick with no time left. The Redskin's mid-season record can be misleading, so let's look at how they got here.
The Redskins arrived at 5-3, as Joe Gibbs would say by "trying to be balanced." Being balanced means going back to "Redskins Football." Redskins Football isn't just running the ball; Redskins Football is about being physical on the line of scrimmage. On the defensive side of the ball they have been playing this type of football all year. Quarterback pressure came from a four-man pass rush in the first half of the season, but has tapered off the past few games.
This may be due to the inability of the team to control the offensive line of scrimmage. Losing the starting right side of the offensive line (G Randy Thomas and T Jon Jansen) in the first two weeks of the season obviously had an impact. Those injuries plus the addition of a new left guard (Pete Kendall) midway through pre-season to play alongside Pro-Bowl tackle Chris Samuels (who underwent off-season rehab and did not play most the pre-season) would be a good place to start when asking what happened. Whatever the reason it has caused the defense to be on the field for too long in many games, and now, like the offense, the defense is seeking balance.
To the dismay of many fans, the Redskins chose not to bring in any defensive lineman this off-season, but it has paid off so far this season, as the defense has been able to sit back and play Gregg Williams' version of the prevent defensive: playing not to give up the big play (25 yards or better). Going forward Gregg (the second "g" is for genius) Williams must reincorporate his madman style of blitz packages due to all the time those big guys up front have spent on the field.
As noted above, the offensive line has been though major changes since the end of last season and got off to a slow start as a result. Left guard Derrick Dockery signed a huge contract with the Bills when free agency opened, yet Washington didn't trade for his eventual replacement until late into the preseason. Todd Wade was a failed (albeit short-lived) experiment at the guard position but that didn't become obvious until Jansen went down. Having all of the backup linemen (Stephon Heyer, Mike Pucillo, and Jason Fabini) and the starting center (Casey Rabach) get hurt at some point during the first eight weeks didn't help, regardless of how late they got started. Fortunately, the offensive line is finally getting healthy and Gibbs wants them to push people around. His thinking is if the team can run the ball it will open things up down-field.
Last week the offensive line pushed around the 30th ranked defense of the New York Jets to the tune of 48 rushing attempts for 296 yards. Of those attempts, 41 came after the Redskins fell behind 17-3. The team only had 10 passing attempts while trailing … so much for "trying to be balanced". The passing game has a long way to go. Wide Receiver Antwaan Randle El had a 54 yards game a few weeks back and is the only receiver to have a 50+ yard game in over a month. The receiving group has yet to have a member catch a touchdown this season, the Lions game was the last time Jason Campbell had a completion over 30 yards.
The Redskins are a ways off from being balanced on either side of the ball now that the injury bug is biting into the secondary. With Carlos Rogers out for the year and Fred Smoot nursing a hamstring injury, Williams may have to blitz more than last year when he faced the same shortages in the defensive backfield. With the production from Clinton Portis last week it's hard to imagine Gibbs doing anything but running the ball this weekend. Compared to the rest of the NFL, teams have rushed 27 fewer times on average than the Redskins and thrown the ball 39 times more.
News, Notes, and Quotes:
-- Safety LaRon Landry was penalized for roughing the passer when he made helmet-to-helmet contact with New York Jets rookie quarterback Kellen Clemens in the first quarter. After the game he said, "I believe if he wouldn't have ducked, I wouldn't have got the penalty." He went on to say he expected to be fined but it would stop him from "performing the way I perform, or stop my intensity, my style of play." On Tuesday the NFL fined Landry one game-check, or $16,764, for the hit.
-- "We're in a war. This thing is going to go for 16 weekends. We've finished the first half of it, we're 5-3 and that's kind of the way you evaluate it. We had two real disappointing losses in there and we had two overtime games where we came back to win ... I think that's kind of the way I look at it, and I was thrilled to get that one on Sunday." … Coach Joe Gibbs commenting on the season to this point.
-- Running back Clinton Portis had a season-high 196 yards rushing in Sunday's overtime victory against the Jets, on Thursday he addressed the media as "Choo-Choo" wearing a multicolored shirt, oversize glasses and a braided wig. Portis' most recent character is a dance instructor who is encourages players to have fun. Portis wore a different costume each week for his Thursday group sessions with the media during the 2005-2006 season but went the entire 2006-2007 season meeting the media only as himself
-- Among active NFL head coaches with at least 100 games coached, Joe Gibbs ranks second with a .635 career winning percentage, he trails the Indianapolis Colts' Tony Dungy, who has a .637 winning percentage. Rounding out the top three is Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid, who has a .620 winning percentage and a 4-3 head to head advantage over Gibbs.
The Redskins will play host this weekend to division rivals the Philadelphia Eagles(3-5) who are coming off a 38-17 home loss to Dallas last Sunday night. The game will be played at Fed Ex Field; kickoff is scheduled for 1PM EST. For those not in the area you can follow the game online.
The Eagles are led by quarterback Donovan McNabb (86.3 QB rating, 2044 yards, 9 Touchdowns and 4 Interceptions) and middle linebacker Ernie Simms (47 Tackles, 30 Solo/17 Assists). The Philadelphia Eagles are ranked 20th in points scored with 156 points but the defense is 22nd in points allowed, giving up 155 points.
Complete Tale of the Tapes:
Total Offense: Washington is ranked 20th with 310.2 yards per game and Philadelphia ranks 9th with 349.6 ypg.
Rushing Offense: Washington is ranked 9th with 128.9 yards per game and Philadelphia ranks 14th with 113.2 ypg.
Passing Offense: Washington is ranked 26th with 181.4 yards per game and Philadelphia ranks 11th with 236.4 ypg.
Total Defense: Washington is ranked 10th, giving up 310.6 yards per game and Philadelphia ranks 12th with 317.4 ypg.
Rushing Defense: Washington is ranked 9th, giving up 95.0 yards per game and Philadelphia ranks 7th with 92.9 ypg.
Passing Defense: Washington is ranked 18th, giving up 215.6 yards per game and Philadelphia ranks 21st with 224.5 ypg.
LB Marcus Washington (hamstring) is listed as Questionable.
Washington, who has missed three of the past four games because of a hamstring injury, increased his workload in practice this week and is getting closer to returning
OL Mike Pucillo (Back) is listed as Questionable.
Pucillo, who missed the Jets game because of a back injury, returned to practice on Thursday and is expected to play on Sunday.
DT Cornelius Griffin (Back) is listed as Probable.
Griffin was limited to only two plays against the Jets after aggravating a back injury during pre-game warm-ups, he did not practice on Wednesday but returned to practice Thursday and will be a game time decision.
WR Antwaan Randle El (Hamstring) is listed as Probable.
Randle El was limited in practice this week to rest his hamstring.
DE Fred Smoot (hamstring) is listed as Probable.
Smoot aggravated his hamstring injury in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's game, and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.
WR Santana Moss (Groin) is listed as Probable.
Moss, slowed by a groin injury throughout the first half of the season, bruised his heel in last Sunday's game and was limited in practice this week.
RG Randy Thomas (torn triceps muscle) is listed as Out.
Thomas is still recovering and hopes to return in mid December.
The following players are done for the 2007 season:
FB Broughton, Nehemiah (Knee)
TE Ecker, Tyler (Groin)
WR Espy, Mike (Knee)
WR Harris, Steven (Knee)
WR McAddley, Jason (Hamstring)
OL Tucker, Ross (Neck)
OT Jansen, Jon (Ankle)
CB Carlos Rogers (Knee)