Walters: Firing on all cylinders
[center][b][u]Firing on All Cylinders[/u][/b]
The Washington Redskins scored 52 points Sunday afternoon. Give that a second to rattle around in your mind. The same team whose first three victories combined resulted in nine [i]fewer[/i] points than their Sunday total, just dropped over half a century in one single afternoon. Mark Brunell played an almost perfect three-plus quarters of football, and tailback Clinton Portis ended his touchdown drought in a big way with three touchdowns (and two rather impressive cartwheels).
It had been so very long since last Redskins Nation had the pleasure of spending a relaxing Sunday afternoon enjoying the smiling end of a blowout. Actually, margins of victory such as the one the Redskins enjoyed over the Niners are a rarity in the NFL as a whole. It seems especially so for Washington, who always seems to go down to the wire with whomever they may find themselves paired against. It was also extra satisfying to see Mike Nolan wince on the sideline as his new team gave up touchdowns with the same regularity Redskins fans had grown accustomed to seeing his defenses surrender during his ill-fated tenure in Washington.
While it is true that the meager opponent did have a little to do with the offensive explosion witnessed by over 90,000 fans this past Sunday, the efficiency of the offense shouldn’t be overlooked. The offense scored four rushing touchdowns, their first four of the season, with reserve Rock Cartwright adding the final score to go along with Portis’ three. Mike Sellars’ two touchdown catches joined the one caught by an incomprehensibly open Santana Moss to give quarterback Mark Brunell eight touchdown passes in his last three games.
But the true theme of this game was a pronounced return to a normal state of affairs. Washington actually forced two turnovers, they scored touchdowns with the running game, and they extensively utilized their former Pro-Bowl linebacker, LaVar Arrington. Whatever the riff may have been between Arrington and the coaches seems to have been buried, at least if LaVar’s Sunday playing time is any indicator. Give him credit, when he got the chance to show what he could do, he didn’t waste it. In somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 plays, Arrington managed to lead the team in both tackles and crowd adulation.
Perhaps the most stunning fact that has risen out of Washington’s fast start has been the meteoric rise of the offense from the depths of despair to heights never imagined. The Redskins now lay claim to the second ranked offense in the NFL, due in large part to the equally dramatic turnaround in the play of its quarterback, Mark Brunell. If I had told you in August that going into Week 8 that Brunell would have more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions than Peyton Manning, or that he would have a higher passer rating than Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb, you would have thought I had been engaging in some off-field transactions with Jamal Lewis. But both are true, and Lewis is “innocent” anyway.
The Redskins now find themselves as easily the most balanced team in professional football. To go along with their second ranked offense, Washington is also home to the league’s fourth ranked defense. No longer can detractors claim that the offense can’t put points on the board, because even though it was the 49ers, 52 points is 52 points. Gone also is the notion that the late-game heroics of Brunell and Santana Moss in the Dallas were merely a flash in the pan. Moss leads the league in receiving yards, and his quarterback is tied for the third highest passer rating in the NFL.
The prolific numbers of this Redskins offense are as impressive as they are improbable. Try as I might, the memories of many a 2004 Sunday spent wrenching my hands in frustration won’t go away. That offense, obvious to even the most casual observer, was weaker than the French Army. Even after Jon Jansen and (as it turned out) Mark Brunell returned to health, and the additions of center Casey Rabach and wideouts David Patten and Santana Moss, not even the most optimistic prediction could have forecast the offensive exploits demonstrated by Joe Gibbs’ bunch this season. In truth, there is no one magic bean that has fueled the turnaround. Rather, it has been a combination of all the factors mentioned previously, brilliant play-calling, and a collective sense of confidence in each other that is behind the resurgence of the offense and the team.
But the success on both sides of the ball and of the team as a whole sometimes overshadows what is truly an important trait of this team. While not always visible on the stat sheet, or to football fans whose main interest centers around the accumulation of fantasy points, this football team has improved each week it has played. From the end of the Dallas game, the offense has become more fluid, more productive, and more reliable. Gone are concerns that the defensive gems turned in each week will go to waste due to an offense that is only offensive to its fans.
The game ball this week goes to prodigal linebacker LaVar Arrington, who led the team with nine tackles despite seeing limited, albeit dramatically expanded, playing time. I certainly have not been shy to criticize LaVar in the past ([url="http://www.midatlanticsports.net/Walters/wa037.htm"]http://www.midatlanticsports.net/Walters/wa037.htm[/url]) but let me say this very plainly, if he can channel his talents into what has shown itself to be a brilliant defensive scheme, there will be a tangible improvement in what is already a stout unit.
It merits mentioning once more than the blowout victory was especially sweet considering Mike Nolan bore the brunt of the loss. This was easily the biggest of what promises to be many defeats in Nolan’s sure to be short coaching career. In San Francisco, Nolan may have found a team that is so bad that even he can’t make it worse. Even though I’d wager than Nolan couldn’t take the AFC Pro Bowl roster and win the greater San Francisco Pop Warner Championship, he admittedly has a roster that would struggle in NFL Europe. Seriously, someone should start a fund to see if Julian Peterson can be rescued.
A crucial three game stretch now stares Washington square in the face. Make no mistake about it; the most important task the Redskins have in 2005 is to re-establish legitimacy in their own division. The Giants are the darlings of the league this season, and are enjoying a fine start of their own. They also have forced the second most turnovers (Bengals) in the league thus far, an area that Washington is not only deficient in, but one that has cost them dearly as well. The Redskins absolutely must protect the football Sunday as part of a greater theme of not beating themselves. The Giants are good, no question about it, but as long as the Redskins don’t beat themselves as they’ve done twice this season, Washington is the better team.
As the season approaches the halfway point, it is a good time to be a Redskins fan. 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="firstname.lastname@example.org"]email@example.com[/email]
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