Monday, November 21, 2005

Raiders 16 - Redskins 13: Ugly in Many Ways

Congratulations are in order for Norv Turner, coach of the Oakland Raiders. Turner coached the Redskins for seven years, but yesterday was Norv’s first win in a close game in Washington.

Of course, Turner did his best to imitate the coach that compiled a 49 and 59 record in Washington, the coach who regularly grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory. At one point, Norv declined a penalty that would have pushed the Redskins out of field goal range. The Redskins wound up getting that field goal for their thirteenth point and what should have been an insurmountable 13 to 3 lead at half time. Maybe the Redskins stopped playing because they thought Norv would find a way to lose no matter what they did. But, Norv got a lot of help to avoid succumbing to his nature.

The Three Constants
Ah, the Redskins; those frustrating Redskins. Every week is a little different, but with three constants. The first constant is the inability to put pressure on the quarterback. I have heard the term arm-chair quarterback before, but I didn’t know that it referred to the Redskins’ opposing QB sitting in a La-Z-Boy waiting for a receiver to break free. Gregg Williams is a great defensive coach, but even geniuses have a hard time solving simple algebra without tools. The Redskins front four on defense is weak and has been for some time. Their best D-lineman and this year’s sacks leader—Cornelius Griffin—hasn’t played in four games and that has hurt, but the D-line is still the weak link on this team. Last year, Gregg made up for that lack of talent with well-disguised blitzes and cornerback Shawn Springs wound up leading the team with six sacks. I cannot figure out why those blitzes are no longer disguised. It seems the other guys have picked up every one of the Skins corner and safety blitzes this year and burned them for big plays.

One has to wonder, then, what a playmaker like LaVar Arrington is doing on the bench on third-down passing downs. Did you see Arrington knife through the defensive line when the Raiders had a third and one from Washington’s three-yard line? Arrington cut through like he did when Penn State played 1-AA teams. He slammed Lamont Jordan to the ground with a high hit for a four-yard loss and kept the Skins’ hopes alive. If he can do that on running plays, he could do that on passing downs. To be fair, his replacement on third downs, Chris Clemons, did hit Kerry Collins’ arm to force the interception and TD by Lemar Marshall yesterday; maybe there is a way to get them both on the field on passing downs.

The second constant is the Redskins turnovers—specifically the fumbles. Yesterday, the Redskins lost the turnover battle again. They have won the turnover battle in only one game this year. If you told me that fact before the season, I would have said they’d be lucky to be 3 and 7 at this point. Was Portis always a fumbler? I didn’t think so. Yesterday he took points off the Redskins board when he fumbled from within field goal range, and he put points on the Raiders board when he fumbled deep in Redskins territory. Portis has put the ball on the ground several times in big moments in his two years as a Redskin and all of those games were close. Was Brunell always a fumbler? I didn’t think so. This year, Brunell’s fumbles in Denver (Denver +7 off) and in Kansas City at KC’s seven yard line were the difference in those games.

The last constant is bad officiating. Now, I am not a paranoid fan. I do not believe there is a conspiracy against the Redskins. But, at some point, when it happens repeatedly, and it is all one-sided, you have to wonder, that’s all. You have to wonder. There were three horrible calls in close games last year that cost the Redskins victories against Dallas, Philadelphia, and Green Bay. If the officials got just two of them right, the Redskins would have finished 8 – 8 and played at least one playoff game last year.

This year there have been three horrible calls that have accounted for the margin of defeat in losses to Denver, Tampa Bay and now Oakland. I was at the game yesterday. I saw the fumble at the goal line by Lamont Jordan that the Redskins recovered. And, I TIVO’d the game yesterday and watched the replay of that fumble. Once again, the officials didn’t see it. They ruled that Jordan was down by contact and gave the ball back to the Raiders. After that fumble and another heroic goal-line stand by the defense, the Raiders kicked a field goal that gave them their first lead in the 59th minute of the game. To be down by contact, the player must clearly be down on the ground after contact with the defense, or the referee has to blow the whistle. Neither of those things happened prior to Jordan putting the ball on the ground. That is not disputable; watch the replay.

I know I am biased, but highlighting these calls is not selective perception. In every instance, the television commentators have been a “reality check;” they had seen it the same way as I did including Troy Aikman last week against Tampa Bay and Dick Enberg and Rich Gannon this week. I also found it interesting that Boomer Esiason, who presumably gets paid by the NFL to write a column on, wrote this (and there are several other examples from independent analysts):
…I've looked at Mike Alstott’s two-point conversion from last week's win over the Redskins at least 10 different times. I still do not see where that football broke the plane of the goal line. Washington was shortchanged. That's all I'm going to say…
It’s rare for a columnist who is as wrapped up in the NFL as Esiason is to criticize the NFL this way, which is probably why he cut it short.

Another reason that I know it is not selective perception: I challenge anyone to name a call that went the Redskins way in the past two years that made up the margin of victory for them. If I were you, I wouldn’t waste too much time on it. So, that is 0 for 6 in the past two years, and that doesn’t include calls like Joey Galloway’s out-of-bounds catch that gave the Bucs seven points last week, which was ruled an unreviewable force out. On average, it would take you sixty-four sets of six coin flips to get either six-straight heads or tails, so the Redskins have absorbed about sixty-four years worth of unlucky calls. If it happens again this year, I’m going to use the “C” word.

Look, I know the referees are human and will occasionally make a bad call. I know that they are generally nice, honest guys. I know that teams should put themselves in position to prevent one or two bad calls from costing them a game. But, I also know that for a league that has worked extremely hard to achieve parity, the NFL does not do its best to get the best officiating, and that is shameful. With parity comes close games. In close games, one bad call can turn a legitimate win into an unjust loss. With parity one loss could mean the difference between a championship and last place finish. If the NFL wants parity it needs the best officiating possible and the best way to achieve that is by allowing virtually unlimited replay reviews, increasing the number of camera angles, and ensuring that all tape is recorded in the highest definition possible. Of course, as a Redskins fan, I would gladly accept the alternative to parity: Get rid of the salary cap.

The Volatility
Now, if these are the constants, what has been different for the Redskins from game-to-game? Well, practically everything else. They have become very unpredictable. Here is the latest example: Against the best defense in the NFL—Tampa—they put up 35 points on close to 400 yards on the road; then, they follow that with a thirteen-point, 246-yard effort at home against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, and seven of those points were scored by the defense. At Tampa, the Taylor-less Skins allow 36 points against a pretty poor offense and yesterday against a good offense, the Skins’ defense scores a touchdown, has two great, fourth-quarter goal line stands, and limits the Raiders to sixteen points. Lately, the Redskins play just well enough to lose and it’s for different, inexplicable reasons each week. Weaknesses one week are fixed the next, but then a new problem is exposed.

The Redskins will not be able to fix their pass rush this year. About the best they can do is get Griffin healthy and maybe work the linebackers—especially Arrington— in blitz packages a little differently. But, why can’t they recover a fumble? I talked about the Redskins terrible record of recovering fumbles here. At that point, they had recovered only six of thirty-one fumbles. Yesterday, the ball hit the turf four times and the Redskins recovered NONE. There is no reason that they shouldn’t get half of the balls that hit the ground.

They can, and probably will, still make the playoffs, but they have to fix the turnover problem. I’ll have more on the playoff picture later in the week including an evaluation of the contenders’ remaining schedule.

Vicious, Cheap, Illegal, and Ugly:
I did not see Mike Sellers get hit. He is the Redskins H-back and special teamer. What I saw live from section 118 was a Redskins player flat on the ground after a punt, barely moving, and a Raiders player standing over him pumping his fist and celebrating the injury. Yes, that’s correct. The player standing over Sellers was not celebrating a great play; he was celebrating the fact that Mike Sellers was hurt. I was able to see the hit later on TIVO.

I’m happy to say that the officials caught and penalized the Raiders for the illegal block in the back on the punt return. The player who made the illegal block was a nobody rookie from Virginia named Isaiah Ekejiuba who wears number 50. The player standing over Sellers and celebrating his injury was someone else—a nobody fourth-year player named Tim Johnson who wears number 51. Johnson’s outrageous taunt was not penalized and Johnson was allowed to continue playing.

It turns out that Sellers—a very significant contributor to the Redskins offense and special teams this year—broke a rib and will probably miss playing time. It was initially feared that he also suffered serious kidney damage on the hit and was rushed to the hospital after the game. That should motivate the league to review the film. Unfortunately, CBS did not show Johnson’s celebration. I hope more tape of that play exists. If so, I am confident the NFL will fine and suspend Johnson. Consider this a small contribution to make Johnson pay for what he did because I have not seen anyone else write about it. If the NFL does nothing, then Norv turner should prove to everyone what a great guy he is by suspending Johnson himself. It is one thing for ridiculous fans to cheer when an opposing team’s player is seriously injured—Michael Irvin in Philadelphia comes to mind—it is another thing for a professional football player to stand over a seriously injured player, taunt, and cheer the injury.


At November 22, 2005 9:00 AM, Blogger mccain-graham '08 said...

You need to finally realize that there is no conspiracy - it is the ghost of Jack Kent Cooke punishing that punk Dan Snyder for taking his name off the stadium.


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