Due to a 23-17 loss to the New York Giants this past Sunday, the Redskins have started their 2009 season the same way they started 2008; they return home from the Meadowlands without a victory, and hoping to gain ground in the conference with an NFC matchup at home the following week.
The Redskins have historically had problems at Giants Stadium (2-7 in the last 9 seasons) and in their latest regular season matchup there, it did not veer from the script.
Some fans and observers sense either an intimidation factor on the part of the Redskins, or a superiority complex displayed by the Giants when playing Washington.
Redskins defensive end Andre Carter says intimidation is not the case at all.
“I don't feel we are intimidated by the Giants. I feel we come to the game prepared and confident with a great game plan. I look into my teammates’ eyes and I can see that each individual is ready. We work so hard in the off season and the last thing on our mind is failure.”
The Redskins seem to be able to get tough victories over their other division foes, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, but recent history shows that wins are hard to come by against the 2007 Super Bowl Champion Giants. It is important for the Redskins to establish success against upper-echelon opponents in order to seriously be considered annual postseason contestants. Achieving that feat starts with divisional victories.
“This division is tough. The level of competition is great and the intensity is on a level I have never experienced compared to my time in San Francisco. What does it take to be on top of the division, as well as beating the Giants? Execution, no mental errors and starting and finishing strong,” Carter said.
In seasons past, the Redskins have struggled to stop the big play and to make any of their own on offense - an unfortunate trend that continued on Sunday.
Carter, who started off his opening day performance with a sack and forced fumble on Giants quarterback Eli Manning (recovered by defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander), feels he has a lot to improve on, when it comes to his play as well.
“I am my worst critic. It was upsetting not tackling the receiver on the screen play for the touchdown. I needed a better angle on that particular play to help our defense live another down. I also missed a sack on a crucial down, which extended the drive. Better footwork and tackling are key things I need to get better on,” said Carter, who was credited with 3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 1 pass defended against the Giants.
“Like I said before I am my own worst critic. You can't give yourself a good grade even when you lose. And even though we might win as a team, as an individual, you are looking for the perfect game. It's tough in this business. I need to tackle better and make plays when they are needed, especially in crucial downs. One thing I do well is I can play for a long period in a game. I am blessed with endurance but I do have to be smart because it is a long season and having a rotation on the defensive line is a smart idea. It's important to stay fresh,” he added.
When it comes to conditioning and whether it affected new defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth's effectiveness against the Giants offensive linemen:
“I can't really comment on Albert because I was focusing on my job. I feel he is going as hard as he can each play. I felt he was creating double teams in the passing game and did great on the run,” Carter said.
Haynesworth was seen on the sidelines throughout the game and seemed winded early; at one point he appeared injured laying on his back after a particular play. He was able to walk off to the sidelines under his own power.
Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache said after the game that the defensive line rotates personnel in and out on a regular basis throughout each game so Haynesworth’s presence on the sideline should not be a surprise.
One reason Haynesworth was signed was because of his ability to collapse the pocket and force opposing quarterbacks to make bad decisions. That was only part of the plan heading into East Rutherford, N.J. last weekend.
“The plan was to have a four man rush. At times in certain situations of the game you need to collapse the pocket. At times you need to be smart when rushing a quarterback but make plays. Pass rush is the second most determined effort in football,” Carter said.
Perhaps the first most determined effort in football was Hunter Smith’s dash for the endzone for his second career rushing touchdown on a fake field goal at the end of the first half. That decision took onlookers by surprise and gave the Redskins some momentum heading into halftime.
“When Hunter Smith scored we were going crazy. It was a good call from our special teams coach Danny Smith. The man is the best in the business. And no, Fred Davis wasn't upset (that Smith ran with the ball instead of throwing it to a wide-open Davis in front of him). In fact, I saw him celebrating with Hunter when we scored,” Carter said.
Unfortunately, the celebration didn’t last long as the team was unable to establish any offensive rhythm until their final drive at the end of the fourth quarter.
This week, it is important for the Redskins to get back to .500 and avenge an upset loss to the Rams last season, who were 0-4 at the time, and ended their season at 2-14. It appears not much has improved for St. Louis, as they started off their 2009 season with a 28-0 loss to their division rivals, the Seattle Seahawks.
“Last year was last year. This is a new beginning and a new season. We are not worried about another upset but preparing ourselves for a physical game. The Rams are doing the same,” Carter said.
“As far as avoiding another upset, [let’s] put it this way; anything can happen on any given Sunday. We have to prepare ourselves to be the best this week. Just like any other week, day in and day out. It's a mindset.”
The offense will have to establish a tempo and the defense will also have to get to Rams quarterback Marc Bulger on a more regular basis then they were able to manage against Manning.
“It will be interesting [to see] what Coach Blache's approach will be for this week. I am sure he will have some great calls for us. It's important that we have a great week of preparation as players. Studying the film is of great importance week in and week out,” Carter said.
Bulger’s success has dwindled over the past couple of seasons, largely due to a young, underachieving offensive line and the departure of offensive weapons such as veteran wideouts Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. This season, Bulger has his work cut out for him considering his young receiving corps has a total of 66 games of experience combined.
“I feel that Bulger isn't worried one bit in the passing game. Whoever has to fill those shoes of the great receivers that played for the Rams are willing to make a name for themselves this season,” Carter said.
The heart of the Rams offense remains their powerful running back, Steven Jackson, who rushed for his fourth straight 1,000 yard season in 2008. While the secondary has to be wary of St. Louis’ young, fast receiving corps, the rest of the defense can’t afford to lose track of Jackson, who was held to 79 yards rushing in last season’s Week 5 matchup.
“Jackson is the same running back that knows how to makes plays. He is dangerous in the open field in the run game and will make people miss if you are unsuccessful bringing him down. He is great on max protection in the passing game and the screen game is something we can't take lightly. It's important that we gang tackle him and be technically sound in our gaps in the run game,” Carter said.
Personnel-wise, keying in on Jackson will be the most important aspect for the defense, but as a team it will be important to keep mistakes to a minimum, and stick to the basics by making sure tackles and capitalizing on big plays when opportunities arise.
Can the Redskins accomplish that in their home opener at FedEx Field on Sunday? Tune in and find out!
Under the Helmet:
THN: What is the funniest prank you have ever seen (football related or non football related)?
AC: The funniest prank I have seen was one of our offensive linemen told a cop to make a "fake" arrest to one of our back up QB's in San Francisco. He bought an old school car and so the cop pretended that the car was stolen.