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Why Not the Redskins?

Why Not the Redskins?

You can reach me by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net

There’s a new eBay commercial asking, “What is ‘it’”?  In this ad campaign, “it” is anything and everything. In the NFL when the calendars are about to turn to November, “it” takes on a different meaning. “It” isn’t something that put your finger on, but you know “it” when you see “it”.

What is “it”? “It” is the talent, the swagger, the moxie, the smart, the guts and whatever else it takes to successfully navigate the road to the Super Bowl.

Do the Redskins have “it”? Before the season started, even those with the burgundy and gold glasses permanently perched on their noses would have been hard pressed to make a case for the Redskins, 6-10 in 2004, going to the Super Bowl XL. In September, they were a year or two away at best, primarily because the offense was a mess and the Eagles were the dominant force in the division. Saying that they had an outside shot at a wild-card playoff spot was considered to be a bold statement, anything beyond that was a mix of wishful thinking, fantasy, and lunacy.

Of course, similar things were said of the Carolina Panthers in early 2003. And the 2001 Patriots, the 2000 Ravens and the 1999 Rams and Titans had the same slim to none chance of making it to the title game as the Redskins were given in August. Somewhere along the line, however, they all got “it”. At some point during the season, the players started to seriously think, why not us? The teams’ home cities went nuts, the fans gripped onto the team with a fevered frenzy. Team apparel both flew off the store shelves and emerged from years of sitting in the closet. The national media started to talk and write as if they knew it all along, that they told everyone (off the air, of course) that this was their sleeper pick.

It’s too early in the 2005 season to say that the Redskins have what the Panthers, Rams, and the others had in their magical seasons. But it’s not so early that we can’t take a look at some of the elements of “it” that the Redskins have going for themselves this year.

Coaching: Joe Gibbs has “it” or, rather, them--three Lombardi Trophies. Any questions?

Quarterback play: Mark Brunell isn’t playing as well as he did when he twice took a team to the doorstep of the Super Bowl. He’s playing better. For the first time in his career he has thrown for three touchdowns in back to back seasons. His QB rating and TD to interception ratio are both much better than it was in 1996 and in 1999, the two seasons he took the Jaguars to the AFC title game. He’s a savvy veteran with a very hot hand, a priceless asset.

Playmakers: Santana Moss can take it to the house any time he gets his hands on the ball and he has. We just discussed Mark Brunell, who makes most of his big plays with his arm, but has made a few with his feet as well. Sean Taylor makes crunching hits to separate offensive players from the ball with great frequency and he nearly scored on his first interception of the season. Marcus Washington’s season started to turn the corner from solid to spectacular when he got the sack and strip of Alex Smith on Sunday. They’re the players that the others can turn to when the team needs a spark. And those are just the ones who have demonstrated playmaking ability this season, leaving out players who have turned the big play in the past like LaVar Arrington, Clinton Portis, and David Patten. If they start to add a big spark here and there, watch out.

No glaring weakness: The Redskins don’t excel in all phases of the game, but there is no one area that the other team can point to and say, that’s where we’re going to go to beat them. The presence of Moss and Patten precludes overplaying the run and Portis makes it a bad idea to play too soft in the box. Even Mike Sellers can make a team pay for turning its head the other way. The offensive line is gelling to the point where they might actually earn a nickname. The defense can get burned for the long play on occasion but it’s solid against both the run and against the pass. The kicking game is not spectacular but solid and you’d be hard-pressed to find a hole in any phase of the game planning.

Battle all the way: The teams that have “it” don’t win every game, but they’re in almost every one until the end. This desire and ability to battle to the end results in some close losses and, as we saw in Dallas, some magical wins.

Again, it’s early; we’re not even halfway through the season. But in a just few weeks, we’re going to look up and Thanksgiving will be approaching and the pack will be starting to separate. Some of those pulling out in front will be the usual suspects and others will be surprises.

Why not the Redskins?

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Redskins report card vs. Cardinals: Cousins cools off

Redskins report card vs. Cardinals: Cousins cools off

Here is my report card on various aspects of the Redskins 31-23 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday. I didn't cover everything, feel free to hit on what I missed in the comments.

A

Week after week Pierre Garçon just leaves it out on the field. All he does is produce.

It’s getting to the point where you can say the same thing about Jamison Crowder.

B

After he struggled against the Cowboys, Rob Kelley was his normal self against the Cardinals. For Kelley, "normal" means getting a couple of yards more than the play was blocked for and popping off a few runs of 10-plus yards. It looks like Matt Jones will continue to be inactive and Mack Brown will continue to look for his first NFL carry. 

This may be a little high for Jay Gruden but I liked that he got angry after the game. He could be heard ripping into his players through closed doors after the game. If a coach does that after every loss the players will tune him out eventually. This was the right time for Gruden to play that card. His game strategy was OK but I might have gone for a touchdown from the one yard line in the first half instead of having Dustin Hopkins kick his second 20-yard field goal in ad many games. 

C

All hot streaks come to an end at some point and Kirk Cousins' run of putting up elite performance on a weekly basis ended on Sunday. Yes, he was under some degree of pressure on many of his dropbacks but even when he had time he just wasn't sharp. He did have some top-drawer passes like the 59-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson that set up the Redskins' first touchdown. But for every one of those, a couple of other throws missed the mark.

D

If you read much of what I write you probably know that I am much more apt to point the finger at the players for defensive problems than the coaches. But on Sunday the Cardinals were a step ahead of Joe Barry's defensive calls all day long, especially on plays involving David Johnson. Arizona had scored over 30 points just twice this season before Sunday.

The offense was bad on third down situations, converting just five of 11. The defense was worse as the Cardinals moved the chains on 10 of 16. And don’t forget that one other Arizona third-down try in the fourth quarter got them close enough to go for it on fourth down and they just about sealed up the game on David Johnson’s run. Just not a good day on either side.

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There's lots of talk about Trent Williams at guard instead of tackle. Don't listen to it.

There's lots of talk about Trent Williams at guard instead of tackle. Don't listen to it.

With Trent Williams eligible to return to the Redskins after serving a four-game suspension, much chatter has emerged about the All Pro left tackle moving inside to play left guard.

Don't listen to that chatter.

Williams made the move inside to guard once this season, during a win in New York when injuries decimated the Redskins offensive line. He played well, especially considering Williams said after that game that he had never played guard in his life. 

For Washington moving forward, some fans want Williams at left guard and Shawn Lauvao sent to the bench. That would mean Ty Nsekhe stays at left tackle. 

A few problems with this plan: 1) Trent Williams is the best left tackle on the team, and maybe in the NFL. 2) Injuries are mounting up for Nsekhe and right tackle Morgan Moses, not to mention the rest of the offensive line.

RELATED: Nsekhe could move to left guard with Trent Williams back

Nsekhe left the locker room in Arizona with a walking boot on his foot. Moses has dealt with a severely sprained ankle since Halloween. A healthy Williams returning to the team allows Nsekhe or Moses sit and get the rest they need for their injuries. 

Further, on Sunday in a loss to the Cardinals, center Spencer Long sustained a concussion. His backup John Sullivan came in and handled the center duties well. 

Some might suggest that Long move to guard, Sullivan stay at center, and Lauvao go to the bench. That move has more merit than moving Williams inside, but still seems like it would be a reach. And now with Long forced to enter the NFL concussion protocol, it's unclear when he will be back on the field at all.

Another suggestion has been to move Nsekhe inside to left guard. Consider that Nsekhe has been a development project; he's bounced around lower professional football leagues and at age 31 only has six career NFL starts. Couple that with his size - he's 6-foot-8 - and it's a tall task to move from tackle to guard. 

Lauvao played poorly against the Cardinals, that's indisputable. But as much as some fans believe a reworked offensive line is the answer, moving those pieces is not very simple. Coaches and players like and respect Lauvao, and his play can only improve with Trent Williams back standing next to him. 

Like all things in sports, the situation will remain fluid. More injuries could force more changes, but speaking with folks that know the situation, do not expect to see Williams at guard when he returns to the field next week in Philadelphia. 

MORE: Gruden says Redskins "not even close" to thinking about playoffs