Logic tells you that every game in a 16 game schedule counts the same towards the final won and loss record right? Wrong. The opening night game against the Jets at Fed Ex is about as a big a non play off game as the ‘Skins will play this season. Is the season over if they loose? No – but a win in front of a national TV audience will be massive in terms of building confidence and momentum. Here are this week's featured match-ups:
Watching the game on Thursday between the Jets and the Redskins will a test of two new lines, and it is a critical test at that. One of the key matchups people will be examining, especially coaches, will be to see if the man assigned to the nose tackle position will be able to handle the wily veteran in Kevin Mawae.
Certainly, Jermaine Haley has the size at 6’ 4” 325 pounds to deal with Mawae. One of the issues that the coaches have to deal with though, is the experience of Mawae and how he can use different tricks and speed to stymie the 4th year defensive tackle. While Haley has certainly had a good number of tackles for his limited playing time, 67 in 9 starts, he has yet to truly prove himself to be a starter of any great measure.
Mawae, on the other hand, has been selected for Pro Bowl honors in the past. He is a bit smaller for a modern day center, at only 289 pounds, but he is known to be fast off the snap. Having been a perennial starter for years, his ten years of experience may give him a slight edge along with his speed and quickness to make Haley’s first starting experience with the Redskins a long one.
A bright counter to the last point is the rotation that the Redskins bring to the table with Martin Chase, Lional Dalton and even Renaldo Wynn and Peppi Zellner moving to the inside on pass plays. Dalton and Chase are a bit more experienced, and with Dalton having lost 30 pounds in the offseason to become a svelte 309 pounder, the speed factor will be diminished. In several articles Dalton has commented that he feels better and is quicker off the snap after the weight loss. Additionally, with Zellner and Wynn, Mawae may even have troubles preventing the quicker ends from slipping to either side and shooting gaps to penetrate to the quarterback.
Keep an eye on the center of the defensive/offensive line struggle. If Mawae consistently wins that battle, the running attack of Curtis Martin could become stronger. George Edwards is bound to be watching as well, and starting spots could come into contention at defensive tackle sooner rather than later if Haley does not handle the start well against Mawae. Haley is bound to know this and should be striving that much harder versus his first regular season opponent in the trenches. Watch out for the fireworks on the lines – it could be a doozy.
Curtis Martin comes into this season as the only player in league history with seven straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Even more surprisingly, he has never had a season below 1,000 rushing yards! Martin likes to plow his way through the line and if he still hasn't been dragged down, he jets (no pun intended) his way past the linebackers and finds himself in a horserace with the defensive backs. He is a good goal-line runner and usually produces touchdowns in those situations. Curtis Martin is arguably the most underrated player in the NFL because he puts up the statistics, but rarely gets the recognition he deserves.
Jeremiah Trotter is looking forward to his first full season as a Redskin after suffering torn knee ligaments in last Thanksgiving's game versus Dallas, knocking him out of the last four games. Although he missed a quarter of the season, he still ended up fourth on the team in tackles. Jeremiah is fast and a hard hitter, but is sometimes overaggressive on his tackling pursuits, which in effect, will cause him to miss tackles.
Coming off knee surgery, it may take a game or two for Trotter to return to his usual form.
Although Washington stole the Jets' number one receiver from 2002, Laveranues Coles, Thursday the Redskins' secondary will face a steady receiver that many are familiar with in Wayne Chrebet. Chrebet is a nine year vet out of Hofstra. He ranks third in franchise history with 507 receptions and needs only 11 catches to pass Al Toon for second place. In 126 games he has appeared in, Chrebet has recorded at least one reception in 123 of those contests. He also established an NFL mark for the most receptions by a player during his first two seasons in the league with 150 and his 208 catches over the course of his first three seasons were the sixth most by anyone during their first three years in the NFL.
In 2002, Chrebet started and played in 15 games, missing the KC game due to injury, and totaled 51 receptions for 691 yards and a career-best nine touchdowns. He recorded his 500th career reception against the Chicago Bears on December 15, 2002 and matched his career high with two TD catches (seventh time) in the AFC East Division-clinching win over Green Bay in game 16.
Hopefully, the loss of Chad Pennington and Laveranues Coles will slow down Chrebet's ability to make clutch catches and get into the endzone. Even if those two variables don't slow down Chrebet, we know a shut-down corner #24 that will. Chrebet will struggle to beat Bailey at all due to CBailey's superior speed.
Pat Ramsey is firmly installed as the new starting QB of the Washington Redskins. In his 5 starts last term he showed he had one of the strongest arms in the NFL (we knew that) but he also showed he had courage and durability as he took a beating behind a porous offensive line. This offseason he has worked long and hard to learn the finer points of the Fun’N’Gun offense and declares himself much better prepared. He better be – last season the Skins threw the ball 56% of the time, this year look for that to be in the 60’s.
Ramsey has been surrounded with all the pieces that he needs to make the offense work – not to mention speed at every skill position. At wideout Laveranues Coles gives him a true ‘go to’ receiver. Coles has speed and quickness in abundance and in the preseason Ramsey and Coles started to develop the chemistry and big plays that justify the signing bonus given to Coles. You can guarantee that the Jets will not want to get burned by their ex star. Look for Coles to be doubled all night creating room for Rod Gardner to have a big night catching balls against single coverage and room underneath for Trung Candidate to exploit the slowing Jets LBs.
The Jets secondary is solid at the corner spot with Donnie Abraham and Aaron Beasley being good cover guys who also offer strong run support. However neither guy is known for their speed – which will be a problem against a Redskin offense built around speed players. FS John McGraw is one of the better players at the spot in the league but fellow safety Sam Garnes is a liability in coverage.
The key to this game will be the offensive line giving Ramsey time to read and throw. If Ramsey gets time he has the tools to shred any defense.
Last year the Redskins’ offense sputtered in part because Spurrier’s system relies on speed and separation from the defense. Laveranues Coles, a 5-11 and 193 pound wide receiver from Florida State who is entering his fourth season, was brought in from the New York Jets to provide a premier fast strike option to make Spurrier’s system work. Last year Coles had a break out year with 89 passes for 1,264 yards. He is a lightning fast, big play wide receiver that continually showed toughness in his catches in traffic over the middle. During the preseason, Coles continued his sharp play from last year, recording six receptions for 177 yards. Coles made big play strikes of 48, 35 and 39-yards, indicating to all that Washington’s 13 million dollar signing bonus was well spent.
Coles seems to thrive off of challenges and lack of respect. Early in his career, Coles was motivated by his low draft position (3rd round), and has made it his goal to beat out every receiver drafted before him. In the off-season, Coles was angry at the Jets front office for “low-balling” him on his contract, providing him with only a 6 million dollar signing bonus. Look for Coles to be extremely motivated to show both the Jets and their fans that he was worth the money the Redskins paid for him.
Donnie Abraham is a physical, 5-10, 192-pound 8 year veteran out of East Tennessee State. He is best described as an opportunistic, wily veteran that relies on instincts and experience to compensate for his relative lack of speed. Abraham, a former pro-bowler (2000) is in his second season with the Jets after playing for 6 years with Tampa Bay. He is best utilized in playing in a two-deep zone defense, and has collected a league leading 35 interceptions over his career (4 last year). When in man-to-man situations, he will use his physical style of play to disrupt Coles’ routes at the line of scrimmage.
This match-up will most likely be decided by the performance of Ramsey and the Offensive line. The Jets were 21st against the pass last year, and are facing a very formidable receiving corps built for speed. If the line provides Ramsey with even close to reasonable time, Abraham and his cohorts, Beasley and Mickens, will not be able to keep up with the cadre of Redskins wide receivers. Coles has both speed and desire to perform in this game. Look for Coles with his outstanding speed and quickness to create separation to break open at least one or two long passes as well as a number of short outs.
Canidate is widely regarded as one of the fastest RB's in the NFL. He will pose problems out of the backfield for Jones, an 11 year veteran. Marvin Jones has been a solid pro football player for several years, and hasn't lost much of his skill level over the years. At 244 lbs., he poses a threat as a blitzing LB. Canidate must prove he can pick up the blitz and protect QB Patrick Ramsey.
Look for the Skins to use a variety of combination routes early to force Jones and the Jets LB corps to show their coverage ability. Especially in the flats, using mirror routes with the TE and Canidate, running the slot & WR in deep post, or fly patterns. Trung must capitalize on the quick openers, draws and screens. The Skins are expected to use multiple RB's in Thursday's game. Keeping fresh legs in the game may be difficult for the Jets to match - especially late in the game.
With a crunch that sent reverberations through the entire Jets organization, starting QB Chad Pennington went down with a broken wrist in a preseason game against the Giants on August 23. In the week-and-a-half since, Vinny Testaverde has settled once again behind center, ready to try to reclaim his place in the hearts and minds of fans and teammates alike.
The seventeen-year veteran will have a hard time, though, at least in the beginning. He hasn't started a game since he lost his position to Pennington after playing terribly in a 1-3 start to the 2002 season. He turns 40 in November, is already known to be immobile, and has been INT-prone enough to be nicknamed "Vinny Interceptaverde" by some. To make matters worse, he's sure to be rusty--he has attempted only 14 passes (21 snaps), with six completions for 56 yards and an interception in the entire preseason.
Vinny will have to rely on every one of those seventeen years (two playoff appearances) and 39,547 yards passing, and hope that the offense can be tinkered to fit his strengths at getting the ball downfield. He has neither the mobility nor the accuracy for Paul Hackett's regular West Coast offense.
All of which should be a real gift for the Redskins secondary.
Champ Bailey is, well, Champ Bailey--one of the premiere shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL. In the last two seasons, he's only had three picks, but that's mainly because teams are reluctant to throw against him. He has halted discussions on a contract extension, not wanting it to be a distraction, though it remains unclear whether he will be able to play without thinking about it. On the other hand, he may well play even better this year to prove to the Redskins (or any other team) that he's worth the money he's demanding. CB Fred Smoot suffered through a bit of a sophomore slump last season, getting burned for several big plays. But he had a hairline fracture in his pelvis that limited his ability to make cuts. And even with the injury, Smoot still managed to lead the team in INTs with four, and this year he has dedicated himself to the weight and film rooms and vows to have his play match his words. Newcomer S Matt Bowen (Green Bay) made highlights during off-season practices with a thunderous hit on RB Trung Canidate and hasn't let his foot off the pedal since. Ballhawking S Ifeanyi Ohalete, who finished the year as starter last season, has had a steady off-season and managed to hold off David Terrell for the other starting spot. All told, the Redskins secondary has created a well-earned reputation for a strong defense against the pass.
Advantage: Redskins secondary
The key match-ups are just one great part of our Game Day section.