Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Would You Like a Little Crow with Your Jaguar, Mr. Magaraci?

Well, well, well.

Prior to the preseason, the Redskins were favored by many to make the playoffs. They were also favored by some to win their division and go far into the playoffs. Then suddenly, it seemed, everyone said to stick a fork in the Redskins because they were done. What changed? Apparently these people changed their opinion because of the Redskins preseason.

I can give many examples, but Colin Cowherd cutely said before the season, and after they were 0 – 2, that the Redskins were the fourth best team in…their division (i.e. they were the worst team in their division. For those who don’t get the joke, Cowherd was making fun of pundits who thought the Redskins were one of the better teams in the NFL).

As late as last week Joel Magaraci of the Newark Star Ledger wrote that the NFL is the “Show Me” league and the Redskins “hadn’t showed him anything.” He said beating the Jaguars would show him something and then he wrote that the Jaguars would win by six points.

Joel obviously felt that the Redskins couldn’t beat the Jaguars. The Jags were a dominating team from the AFC and the AFC is the best conference in the NFL. Two weeks ago, the Jags embarrassed last year’s Super Bowl champs when they shut out the Steelers. Shut them out! They shut down the Colts high-powered offense and held them to 272 yards and twenty-one points. The Colts average 398 yards in non-Jag games.

The Colts—with the much better Manning—were held to 272 by the Jags defense! They held the Steelers to 153 yards! How is that possible? Well it starts with the Jaguars two mountain ranges at defensive tackle. No team had been able to rush for 100-yards against the Jags and they had played: 1. the Cowboys—Peter King’s pick to win the Super Bowl; 2. the Super Bowl champion Steelers; and 3. the second-greatest-show-on-turf Colts. Those are three bonafide, ESPN-certified, Peter King/Len Pasquarelli/Dr. Z glorified powerhouses and the Jags defense dominated them.

Sure the Redskins put 495-yards and thirty-one points on the board against the Texans the week before, but the Texans are bad. There was no way that the sputtering Redskins offense could get 495-yards against the Jaguars.

And, Joel was right. The Redskins only put up 481 yards against the Jags.

Here is what the Jaguars defense allowed per game on average against the powerhouses they played prior to the Redskins game:
Yards: 249.3
Passing yards: 190.3
Rushing yards: 59.0
First downs: 12.3
Points: 12.7

The Jaguars defense also averaged two sacks per game.

Here is what the Redskins offense accomplished against this vaunted D:
Yards: 481 (almost double the Jag’s prior average)
Passing yards: 329 (73% higher than average)
Rushing yards: 152 (almost triple the average)
First downs: 22 (79% higher)
Points: 36 (almost triple)

The Skins did not allow one sack, and the Jags rarely even got close to Brunnell.

And guess what else happened this week? The Texans beat the Dolphins. Peter King of SI had predicted that the Dolphins would win ten games this year, earn a wild card, and take the fifth seed in the AFC. That must mean that the Dolphins are pretty good. Maybe the Texans, a team that the Redskins destroyed, are a little better than people gave them credit for.

This shows how little respect the Redskins and Texans are getting: Mark Brunell did what no other quarterback could do in the ninety-plus-year history of the NFL--he completed twenty-two straight passes--but he didn't even earn NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for the feat. I get it that the Texans are not going to the Super Bowl this year, but let's put this in perspective. In the ninety-plus-year history of the NFL there have been some pretty awful defenses. There have also been many quarterbacks who are currently in the Hall of Fame, or who are locks for it, who played against those awful defenses. Not one of them was able to do was Brunnell did last week.

So, maybe the writing and broadcasting staff at ESPN are wrong. Maybe the staff at Sports Illustrated is wrong. Maybe the folks at the networks are wrong. Maybe half of the people who post on extremeskins.com are wrong. Maybe Joe Gibbs, Gregg Williams, and Al Saunders do know what they are doing. Let’s see: On the one hand I could side with and trust a head coach who is already in the Hall of Fame; a defensive coordinator who perennially has his defenses ranked in the top ten in the NFL; and an offensive coordinator who had the number one offense in the NFL in each of the past two years. On the other hand, I could side with Peter King and Dr. Z. How good are the Redskins coaches? Let’s look back to Super Bowl XXXIV.

Super Bowl XXXIV
One of the most exciting Super Bowls in history was SB XXXIV played in January 2000 between the Titans and the Rams. The game wasn’t decided until the last play of the game when Kevin Dyson of the Titans caught a pass and came up one-yard short of the end zone. The Rams beat the Titans 23 – 17.

The Rams were known as “The Greatest Show on Turf” because of their fast-moving, high scoring offense that played indoors. They had led the NFL in total yards that year (1999) and also in 2000. Al Saunders was their offensive coordinator in those two years. The Titans defense was in the top-five that season (1999) and also led the NFL in 2000. The Titans defensive coordinator those two seasons was Gregg Williams. So, Al Saunders’ offense barely beat Gregg Williams’s defense that year, but both proved they clearly belonged at the top of the NFL hierarchy, and now both are working in the same capacity for one team, the Redskins.

After that Super Bowl, Al Saunders went back to Kansas City to coach the Chiefs offense. Since then, in eighty games prior to joining the Redskins this year, the Chiefs offense had been ranked number one in the NFL in seven categories including the three most important:
Yards: (379.3 YPG)
TDs: 262
First downs: 1760

Gregg Williams followed up his superb Titans results with a head coaching job in Buffalo and his Bills led the AFC in defense in 2003. He came to Washington for the 2004 season and the Redskins led the NFC in defense that year. Of course, both coaches had tremendous success going much farther back than that SB XXXIV.

It Starts with the Head Coach
Joe Gibbs made a tremendous effort to sign both coaches for Washington. He called both as soon as NFL rules permitted him to, which usually meant he was waking them up around midnight. He flew to their hometowns the next day, visiting Williams in a blizzard, to talk about his program with the Redskins and impress upon them his seriousness in bringing them on board. He told them how much he respected them and how much responsibility they would have. And, he made sure they got paid. And maybe most important is how Gibbs subordinated his ego in the first place. When he saw problems, he did what was necessary to fix them even when that meant he had to relinquish some of his responsibilities. Let’s see, Joe Gibbs or Len Pasquarelli?

But, after four preseason games the Redskins were winless and the bandwagon’s wheels not only came off, they exploded. And, after two regular season games the Redskins were being ridiculed (Cowherd: “I said it before and I’ll say it again. The Redskins are the fourth best team in the NFC East”).

Well, I said it before and I’ll say it again: The season is a marathon, not a sprint. The Redskins shouldn’t have been judged by the preseason or even by their first two games. And, they shouldn’t be judged solely by the success they had the last two games when they scored 67 points and accumulated 976 yards on offense. But, now that one-quarter of the regular season is in the books, some things are becoming clear.

It was known before the season that the Redskins have a lot of weapons on offense and Al Saunders is a guru. What is becoming clear is the players are mastering his playbook, Mark Brunell is getting everyone involved, and the whole offense is starting to believe. There is a quiet confidence growing on that side of the ball. Things are finally falling into place for the offense. Despite missing their most important player—Portis—for half of the first game and all of the Dallas game, the Redskins offense is currently third best in the NFL. When the defense gets Shawn Springs back next month it will perform at a very high level again, too. Things are looking good for the Redskins.

(Giants week is always fun in my hometown because I live in the NY metro area. I will post my preview of this game sometime before kickoff.)


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