Walters: The Chief Concern
[center][b][u]The Chief Concern[/u][/b]
Once again a Sunday ended with the Washington Redskins emerging as the statistical superior of an AFC West opponent in their own stadium, and once again their own mistakes were the primary reason why both games resulted in losses. Three turnovers, and another batch of ill-timed penalties, did in the Redskins this past weekend in Kansas City, adding a second loss in as many weeks to go against the three wins their fast start provided.
Despite dropping another tough road game, Washington’s eighth in a row against AFC opponents, the Redskins offense continued its improbable rise to the upper tier of the NFL. The same offense that produced a single 300 yard passing game all of last season has produced such a game in each of the last two weeks. That very same offense, the one that 2004 starting wideouts Rod Gardner and Nine Toes couldn’t wait to get away from, also boasts the league’s second leading receiver. The offense as a whole continued its ascent toward the top of the league, coming to a rest at a tie for sixth with Plastic Jerry’s Cowboys.
But the story of the mid-October tilt with Kansas City for the Redskins isn’t likely to include any of those positives. Instead, the storyline in Washington will focus more on the three costly turnovers that cost the Redskins their fourth victory of the season. Rock Cartwright, who was filling in for the injured Ladell Betts, fumbled while spelling a shaken up Clinton Portis, resulting in an 80 yard fumble return for a touchdown by Chiefs safety Sammy Knight.
Mark Brunell, who turned in an otherwise spectacular performance, added the other two Washington fumbles. His first, on the game’s opening drive, came as the Redskins were on the verge of beginning the game with a touchdown for the first time this season. Jared Allen, who made a mockery of the improved Redskins offensive line, blew past Chris Samuels to strip the ball out of Brunell’s hands, seconds before the quarterback could deliver a pass to a wide open Chris Cooley. The second gaffe resulted from Brunell’s failure to properly secure the ball while scrambling, with Jared Allen contributing to this turnover as well.
Washington also continued to display a rather disturbing propensity to commit penalties in the most costly of situations. In the first quarter, linebacker Lemar Marshall appeared to have stripped Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez of the ball, only to be flagged for pass interference. However the best example came late in the game, when Washington needed to get the ball back. Reserve cornerback Ade Jimoh, who is beaten so frequently he is considering marriage to Ike Turner, blatantly held the jersey of the man he was “covering”, leading to an automatic first down. Washington would ultimately regain possession, but time was at a premium and all their timeouts had been exhausted.
Now, I know that injuries have left the Redskins a little thin at corner. But in a key situation, there simply has to be a better option than Jimoh. Shawn Springs hopping on his one good leg comes to mind right away. Seriously, is Pat Fischer busy? Was Rashad Bauman this bad?
If you’ve seen much Redskins football, then you know the cardinal rule of the Washington secondary: Bad things happen when Ade Jimoh plays corner. He’s not just been bad when given the opportunity to play; he’s been Ralph Brown-against-the-Rams bad. He’s been Danny Wuerffel bad. He’s been, dare I say, [i]David Terrell [/i]bad. Jimoh didn’t cost the Redskins the game this past Sunday, but that’s about all the positive things that can be said about his play.
Once again notorious in his absence, LaVar Arrington played in only two lone special teams plays Sunday, making the second consecutive week that his defensive “packages” weren’t called. This issue has become bigger, not just given his complete lack of snaps, but also because the Redskins have lost two straight. While it’s true Arrington has made his share of plays during his tenure in Washington, it needs to be said that his absence is not the reason that the defense hasn’t made many big plays this season.
To say that the insertion of Arrington into the lineup would create instant chaos for the opposing offense is oversimplifying things just a little. First of all, that would imply that Warrick Holdman, who currently fills Arrington’s old job, is somehow to blame for the lack of turnovers. A notion, mind you, that is completely absurd. The reason that there haven’t been any turnovers since week one is good play by opposing offenses, and just plain bad luck. Washington has forced nine fumbles this season, but they’ve only been able to recover one of them. They’ve had other plays, like the Marshall play on Gonzalez, or Sean Taylor’s brutal collision with the Cowboys’ Patrick Crayton, that should have been turnovers too, but were whistled otherwise.
Where Arrington might have a leg to stand on is in the situations where Chris Clemons has seen the field as a situational pass rusher. Other than blocking a punt in the Denver game, Clemons has done precious little to merit playing over LaVar, at least as far as Sundays are concerned. Now, if you’ve ever read this space before, you’ll know that I’m certainly no Arrington Apologist. But I’d be willing to bet that Arrington might be able to get to the passer a little bit more consistently than Clemons, and would at least be someone that the offense would have to account for in their blocking schemes.
The game ball this week goes to the man who is most directly responsible for the resurgence of the Redskins passing game, Santana Moss. Moss, who is also the first two-time winner of the game ball, turned in yet another eye popping performance. The most notable of his ten catches was the simple screen pass that Moss and his speed turned into a 78-yard touchdown reception. This was the same play that Washington ran time after time last season with limited success, but the injection of speed Moss brings to the table makes any play that finds the ball in his hands potentially a big one. While Moss didn’t specifically mention how humbled he was to be the first two-time game ball winner, I think we all know how important the honor is to him.
Washington is still proud owner of two dubious streaks as the 49ers come to town; they haven’t forced a turnover in four games, and they have yet to get into the endzone on the ground this season. San Francisco does provide a good opportunity to get things on track, though Coach Gibbs’ spirited denial of San Francisco’s inferiority might seem to indicate otherwise.
In truth, this is a game that the Redskins should win, not because the 49ers are bad, but because Washington is good. Good teams win games that they are supposed to win, and the Redskins are supposed to win this one. If this team truly belongs in the conversation with the better teams in the conference, it has to take care of business in games like these.
As is the case in most games, there is a personal angle to the game to go along with the match-up on the field. Those of you who did not pursue therapy to forget about it will recall that current 49ers Head Coach Mike Nolan was the Washington defensive coordinator from 1997-99. To say that Nolan’s time in Washington was successful wouldn’t exactly be accurate. In fact, it would be horribly wrong. The defense went from ninth in the league to 24th by the time he left D.C., and was a limiting factor in Washington’s last playoff appearance in 1999.
From a strictly coaching standpoint, this is a great a mismatch as you’ll ever find. Leonard Little has a better chance of beating a sobriety test than Nolan does of beating Gibbs. It is true that any team can beat any other team in the NFL, but I’ll take Coach Gibbs over Mike Nolan eight days a week.
Many Redskins fans, if they were truly being honest with themselves, would have accepted a 3-2 start when the schedule came out, especially if it included a victory in Dallas. An important fact to remember is that even though their sizzling start is now a distant memory, Washington still finds itself squarely in the hunt for both the playoffs, and its own division. While there are definitely clear reasons as to why the last two games were lost, there is certainly no shame in losing on the road at two of the most difficult places to play in the NFL.
The twelfth man should be back on Sunday, acting bush league as ever, and ready to help return Washington to its earlier winning ways. So check back in next week for your weekly Redskins football fix. Hail to the Redskins!
Questions and comments can be sent to Trevor Walters at [email="email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email]
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