Saturday, September 08, 2007

2007 Redskins Preview

I’m back…it feels like I’ve been away for a long time.

Once again I planned to write my season preview before the first game, but once again work kept me busy. Here is a preview of the preview.

SUPER BOWL !!!!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t want to get carried away, but this is the NFC we’re talking about. Did you see what the Colts did on Thursday to the Saints—the team that many have already crowned as NFC champs? Trust me; the NFC is wide open. Almost anyone can take it. It’s just that the Skins have the best shot.

I’ll provide plenty of evidence to support this position in the actual preview, but here is a hint: It’s all about defense and the running game.

What’s that you ask? How can I be so confident in a team that had the 31st ranked defense last year? It’s simple math. It’s all about addition, subtraction, infinity, and regression to the mean.

Add London Fletcher, a perennial top-5 tackler, to the all important Middle Linebacker (MLB) spot and subtract Lemar Marshall, a good second-string Outside Linebacker, from that MLB spot and you get infinite improvement to the defense. In Gregg Williams’ defense the MLB is responsible for reading the offense and calling the defensive play. Fletcher is a terrific, sideline-to-sideline player with experience, who has averaged over 140 tackles a season in the last six years. His 146 tackles last year was third-best in the NFL. And, he hasn’t missed a game in that six-year span. When Joe Gibbs let Fletcher play this preseason, he was all over the field.

Add an exceptionally talented, hard hitting, and competitive LaRon Landry to the Strong Safety position and subtract Adam Archuleta and it’s the same infinite improvement. If you just watched that YouTube video and have seen fellow safety Sean Taylor play, then you know why they call the place between Taylor (#21) and Landry (#30) “Area 51.”

Add experienced cornerbacks like Fred Smoot to the depth chart and they don’t have to worry about losing Springs to injury nearly as much as they did last year..."to infinity and beyond.”

The knock on the Skins defense is that they do not have a good defensive line. Trust me; their back seven is so good they are going to make the front four look like the Steel Curtain. This defense is going to unleash a fury on opposing teams that Skins’ fans have never seen, at least not in my lifetime. One omen: When the starters were on the field during the preseason the Redskins did not allow a touchdown.

How about regression to the mean? Gregg Williams is one of the best defensive coaches in the game. His defenses have ranked in the top-ten for most of his career; his unit earned a three ranking in 2004—his first year with the Skins—and a nine ranking in 2005. Last year was a complete fluke. In addition to the two poor personnel decisions (Marshall and Archuleta), the entire defensive line, two of the linebackers, and half of the secondary missed significant playing time due to injury. That is not likely to be repeated, especially since they are a lot younger on the line due to some addition and subtraction.

On to the running game: Can someone explain to me how a running back like Clinton Portis gets overlooked? I believe that there is a bias against the Redskins in the media, and some things, like Peter King’s selection of the 500 best players in the NFL, go over-the-top to prove my point.

You remember Peter King. He is the clown who made it his “mission” to keep the all-time receptions leader (when he retired) out of the Hall of Fame. Well, Peter King does put Clinton Portis in the top 500, but only after he selected SEVENTEEN running backs ahead of Portis.

Look, I’m not so biased that I would have an apoplectic fit trying to convince someone that Portis is a better RB than, say, LT (even though Portis did have better stats in his first four years than LT), but putting seventeen running backs ahead of Portis on that list is absurd. It’s beyond reason. But then again, people always said that King knows Laurence Maroney, Marshawn Lynch, Michael Turner, and Willie Parker better than anyone. Who, you ask? Those are four of the seventeen Running Backs that King thinks are better than Portis.

I haven’t even brought up the fact that 121 players were selected to that list before the first Redskin was chosen, or that the only mention of the Redskins in the top-121 was this tidbit when he placed Champ Bailey sixth on the list:

"Skins rue Bailey-for-Portis deal, big-time"

A digression: Did you know that Gregg Williams did not teach Giants MLB Antonio Pierce anything? Pierce was an undrafted free agent who was given the Redskins’ starting MLB job after playing special teams for a few years. No, according to King, Pierce is a

“Self-made, productive playmaker.”

But, Marcus Washington, a second-round linebacker (Editor fixed an error on where MW was picked) who was not selected to a Pro Bowl until he left the Colts to play for Gregg Williams; that Marcus Washington is, according to King

“A Tony Dungy-developed star.”

I kid you not. Believe me, I am not digging for this stuff. It just bowls you over if you are paying attention.

Back to the running game. Here are the facts: In 2004, Clinton Portis’s season was cut short by an injury near the end of the season while he was trying to become the first running back in the history of the NFL to ….drum roll… rush for 1,500 yards in each of his first three years in the league. He finished 185 yards short of the record.

In contrast, King-favorite Marshawn Lynch is almost there. Lynch will become the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,500 yards in each of his first three seasons if he gets 1,500 yards in each of his next three seasons.

In Portis’s first four years—all healthy—he rushed for 5,930 yards and 45 touchdowns with a 4.7 yards per carry average. He added 1,129 yards and 4 touchdowns as a receiver. He missed most of 2006, his fifth year, due to injury but he still managed to get over 500 yards and 7 more TDs. If memory serves me correctly, only two Running Backs in NFL history had more rushing yards than Portis after his first three seasons, and the great LT was not among them (nor greats Laurence Maroney, Michael Turner, or Willie Parker). LT had 5,899 rushing after four seasons with a 4.3 yard per carry average. Close, but no cigar.

Portis owns the Redskins single-season rushing record. This is a storied rushing team. This is a team that had Hall of Famer John Riggins. This is a team that had exceptional running backs in Larry Brown, George Rogers, Stephen Davis, Gerald Riggs, Earnest Byner, and Mike Thomas. This is a team that had the Hogs blowing open holes for guys like Timmy Smith, whose 204 rushing yards is still a Super Bowl Record.

Look folks, overlooking Clinton Portis is like overlooking Alex Rodriguez because he didn’t break Aaron’s home run record in his first five years. I’m not saying Portis will finish with the most rushing yards in history, but if he has another five years like his first five (and Peter King and Dr. Z’s Hall of Fame votes are revoked), then Portis is a LOCK for the Hall. The guy just turned 26-years old. TWENTY-SIX!!!! What does Peter King know that I don’t? (Don't answer. That is a rhetorical question.)

In the worst-case scenario, if Portis misses significant time due to injury, Ladell Betts can still get them to the promised land. He stepped in last year and rushed for 1,153 yards on 4.7 YPC in nine starts.

So, let’s summarize this preview of a preview:
• the Redskins defense is going to be outstanding this year; and
• Portis is due for an outstanding year behind a very good offensive line;

Football championships are won with great defense and a great ground game.

And I haven’t even begun to talk about the year Jason Campbell is going to have….



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