Monday, September 17, 2007

Skins 16 - Dolphins 13 OT / Preview Part II

One down; fifteen to go

The Redskins defense rose to the occasion on opening day and held Miami to 3.3 yards per rush. Miami was lucky to get a TD, their only one, at the end of the first half when Cam Cameron went for it on fourth down when he should have kicked a field goal. Green barely got rid of the ball.

The new guy, London Fletcher, was all over the field as I expected. He co-led the team with twelve tackles and inspired the offense at half time with a motivational speech. The Redskins offense marched down the field in their fist possession of the second half and scored their only TD of the game. The addition of Fletcher was the main reason that I thought the Redskins would have a top-ten defense this year.

Season Preview: Final Thoughts on the Defense
Last week I gave a partial season preview and focused on the defense. I have a few more thoughts on defense before I focus on the rest of the team.

Rocky McIntosh spent the entire offseason at Redskins Park. It shows. Last year’s first round pick has been all over the field and also made twelve tackles last week including a sack. The youth movement on the D-line should result in fewer injuries.

The win in overtime would have been a win in regulation if Fred Smoot had held on to an easy pick of a ball that hit him in the stomach at the twenty with less than a minute to play. He could have walked into the end zone. While the Skins defense is significantly better than last year and may even be the best defense in the NFC this year, they still cannot hold on to the other team’s gifts. I don’t get it. Still, that is my only criticism of the D (I have one criticism of the O, later). They played as I expect them to play all year and barring injury they will get better.

Preview Part II

The defense will take the pressure off of Campbell by keeping the Skins in every game. It will take more than one mistake by Campbell to kill their chances for a win before the fourth quarter of a game. Given the poise he has shown so far I do not think there will be many games where Campbell makes multiple mistakes. His confidence is going to grow each game, and he will progress from a guy who only has to take care of the ball to win to a guy who enables his team to jump out early and never look back. I expect to see evidence of that transition by the ninth game this year.

The loss of Jansen will hurt, but Heyer and Wade have shown they are more than capable. I also have felt that Jansen has not played nearly as well as before his Achilles injury three years ago, so the decline in talent there is not as dramatic as some believe. Partial proof of that, albeit in only one game, is that the Redskins rushed for 191 yards against the Dolphins who had the fourth best defense in the NFL last year. They lost Jansen early in the first quarter and earned most of those rushing yards in the second half. The O-line has four potential pro bowlers when Cooley is included. Cooley is one of Campbell’s favorite targets and has a new, lucrative contract. Expect him to have a monster year.

Rushing game
As I previewed last week, I expect Portis to have a big year. He touched the ball 17 times for 98 yards and the Skins only TD against the Dolphins. That is a 5.76 yards per carry average; very gaudy. Tonight the Skins face the Eagles who have had one of the worst rush defenses in the league for a while. The last time the Redskins faced the Eagles Ladell Betts ran for 171 yards against them. Keep an eye on Portis and Betts (P&B) tonight.

In addition to the defense, P&B will also take pressure off of Campbell. By not having to put the team’s offense on Campbell’s shoulders, Campbell can develop at a natural pace. But, he has already made some throws this year and last that make me think that he is on the verge of breaking out. The bomb that he threw to Randle El to start the third quarter was perfect. One of the criticisms that I had with Brunnell was his inability to throw downfield and soften the defenses. Campbell’s QB rating for week one was not that impressive (his stats were significantly hurt by the INT that Lloyd should have caught for a TD—my other criticism) until you look at the yards per attempt. He threw for over ten yards per pop. JC can stretch the field.

When I heard that Campbell had spent the entire offseason at Redskins Park to work with Al Saunders and Gibbs to learn the offense, and work with his receivers to develop a rapport, I became optimistic for the Redskins chances. There is no doubt that he has the athletic ability to play in the NFL. There is no doubt that he is a competitor after going undefeated in his senior year at Auburn and last year beating the Saints—a division winner—and the Panthers, who at the time were in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot. Now there can be no doubt about his dedication. He has already cured the few mechanical mistakes that he made last year and is mechanically better at QB than Eli Manning.

I guess we don’t have to wonder who the second wide receiver threat is anymore. Randle El grabbed the job from Brandon Lloyd the way cornerbacks have grabbed the ball from Lloyd his whole Redskins career. Seriously, can that guy attack the ball just one time? Campbell’s second pick was Lloyd’s fault. JC put the ball where he needed to put it for the TD. Lloyd just drifted back for it like he didn’t think JC could throw it that far and he wound up out of position. By the time he recovered he was in no position to out-jump the corner.

Skins fans also know that they can count on Moss. He had a terrible game against the Dolphins, dropping three passes that hit his hands (also hurting JC’s rating). That will not happen very often.

Overall Offense
The Redskins defense gave the Redskins offense one of the poorest starting field positions in the league last year by setting the NFL-record for fewest turnovers forced. They compelled the offense to be extraordinary to score. My original preview gave the reasons that I think they will have a top-ten defense this year, so I will not rehash that. This year, the offense will have better field position.

Special Teams
The Redskins lost four games by three points or less and six games by six points or less. Shaun Suisham joined the team for game twelve and promptly missed his first field goal try. He hasn’t missed since. His game winner in OT last week was as close to equidistant between the two uprights as possible with plenty of distance. He kicks like he has ice water in his veins. I am very confident in him. I do not expect the scores to be as close as last year, but in tight games the Redskins have an advantage that they didn’t have until Suisham arrived.

Derrick Frost can not only punt, he can tackle. If I had any criticism on special teams it is that I would like to see Randle El go North more often and East-West less often, but that is a small criticism. He has done a fine job as punt returner.

This year, the offense will have better field position, a better running game, better receivers, and a better quarterback for the whole season. The defense may be the best in the NFC. They have an excellent kicker. They have a year of experience working with their new Offensive Coordinator who put together dominating offenses in Kansas City. They have the best coaching staff in the NFL and the players respect them. And, although the strength of schedule at the end of the season can be very different from what it seems at the beginning (recall 2005 when the Redskins ended up with the most difficult schedule by far when it was thought it would be the fifth-easiest based on 2004’s results) the Redskins start this year with an easier schedule than their division opponents.

Since most pundits picked the Skins to finish dead last with about six wins, I think this team is going to surprise a lot of people. I predict they finish 11 – 5, which is certainly going out on a limb given last year’s record. I predict that they will win the division. I predict that they will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

After beating Miami, they have four tough games left on their schedule—New England, Chicago, and two against Dallas. A split of those four (hopefully with the wins against NFC teams and at least one against Dallas) and a split of the Eagles series will give them a cushion of two games to meet my prediction. Those two losses are likely to come against any of the Giants (division games are always tough), Lions, Cards or Green Bay. So a 3 -2 record against the latter means they would have to sweep the Jets, Bucs, and Vikings games. An 11 – 5 record, then, is not a huge stretch.



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