Walters: Beat Up and Knocked Down
In a season that had been one continuous breath of fresh air, the Redskins found themselves trapped in the NFL equivalent of a Dutch oven this past Sunday in the Meadowlands against an inspired Giants squad. Coming into their Week 8 match-up with New York, the Redskins had been able to glean mostly positive vibes from each of their previous six games, even the two that they failed to win. The offense was riding a high that surprised even the most optimistic of fans, and the defense had proven itself time and again to be Super Bowl caliber. Then, along came Sunday.
This late October debacle almost had to be seen to be believed. Clearly, the fact that Washington lost the game on the road to a tough divisional opponent isn’t world-changing news worth interrupting surgery to spread. But just exactly how Washington lost that game, how they were so totally manhandled from the first snap to the last, that was an outcome that no one could have accurately predicted.
There was hardly a single facet of the entire affair that could be termed even mildly positive. Perhaps the fact that punter turned kickoff man Derrick Frost was able to reach the two yard line on one of his kickoffs could be classified as pleasant news, but that’s a pretty big reach. Frost’s flirtation with a touchback does very little to ease the sting of such a complete annihilation at the hands of a divisional foe.
Washington turned the ball over four times, continuing their season-long theme of generosity. Three of those turnovers came from Washington’s three most prolific offensive players this season, Mark Brunell, Santana Moss, and Chris Cooley, the latter two with a fumble apiece and Brunell with his first interception since the Seattle game. But that’s what kind of day it was. When the primary threats are the ones making the mistakes, the horizon dims considerably.
But the turnover that stung most was Ladell Betts’ fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half. Betts wasn’t the victim of a good defensive play, or even a bad one for that matter. He just simply let the ball escape from his grasp, giving the Giants prime field position and effectively ruining any chance Washington may have had to reverse the direction of the game coming out of the locker room.
I must say that I fully expected Betts to have a good season this year, since he is after all in his contract year. I also theorized, and still do, that he won’t return next season. He seems like the type of guy who will quickly play the disrespect card when the Redskins make their initial offer, and ultimately fly the coup for literally greener pastures. Betts seems to make some sort of catastrophic mistake about every five to six weeks, as if to allow time for his most recent mistake to fade from memory before he commits his next costly error.
But Betts wasn’t anywhere close to being the only Redskin to turn in a poor performance in Week 8. Walt Harris played his worst game in a Redskins uniform Sunday, routinely finding himself out of position, or missing tackles when he was in the right spot. Warrick Holdman played so poorly that he was benched in the second half. Despite a few exhibitions of his otherworldly athletic ability, Sean Taylor also spent most of the day out of his lanes, including on the first play of the game in which The Fumbler scampered down the sidelines for nearly 60 yards.
It is also about time that David Patten makes a contribution to the offense. It is bad enough that he has almost been invisible thus far this season, but reports coming from Redskins Park this week have him frustrated that he hasn’t been utilized more in the offensive gameplan. While it would be ideal to have a dangerous compliment to Moss on the other end of the field, it would also be quite nice if Patten wouldn’t drop passes as if he were in some silent tribute to Rod Gardner. I’m specifically referring to the third and long play Sunday in which Brunell scrambled to his left, fired a perfect strike to Patten, who let the pass fall harmlessly to the turf.
It isn’t just with this past game in mind that I say this, but I believe it’s time for Taylor Jacobs to see a little more of the field in place of Patten. Even before his drop and subsequent grumblings, Patten hadn’t been the compliment to Moss that he was billed to be. Jacobs, on the other hand, has been unproductive due in large part to his inability to stay healthy, but lack of opportunity has also been a key element in his nondescript performance. At some point Washington needs to see what it has in Jacobs, and with the second receiver spot needing a spark, now seems as good a time as any to see what Taylor can do.
But at least there is a backup waiting in the wings for Patten should he continue to falter. Left tackle Chris Samuels, who injured his knee in the third quarter Sunday, found himself spelled by 42 year old guard Ray Brown. Brown, who although a guard did play right tackle last season, has been a solid NFL lineman since Sean Taylor was in diapers and is an absolute physical marvel to be playing anywhere on the offensive line at his age. Brown gets a permanent pass for not being able to handle the rigors of left tackle, but for putting him in a position to fail, the coaching staff does not.
With only one true tackle listed as a reserve, second year man Jim Molinaro, the Redskins were walking a thin line when it comes to depth coming into the game. With guard/center Lennie Friedman being a key component of special teams and thus solidly on the roster, Corey Raymer should have been the one that was inactive, and Molinaro should have donned the pads. Raymer may be the second string center, but Friedman is capable of filling in there should the need arise. At the very least, Friedman is a better center than Ray Brown is a left tackle.
Of course, even while he was in the game, Samuels didn’t fare much better than did Brown. For the second time in three weeks, Samuels was dominated by a defensive end that he should have been able to handle. Giants end Osi Umenyiora was in the backfield so much Coach Gibbs should’ve called a play for him. Just two weeks prior, Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen garnered AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors while lining up opposite Samuels.
To be fair, it is often difficult to evaluate the performance of an offensive lineman, especially considering that the less he’s noticed, the better he’s played. Many times different schemes or blocking packages call for linemen to release, pull, or may even force them into situations that are nearly impossible to successfully traverse. But in those instances where it is one man against another, evaluations are more easily ascertained. It is in these situations that Samuels has repeatedly been beaten by players purported to possess far less ability than he. If his knee is the cause of his lackluster play, then he owes it to the team to remove himself from the game. All the propaganda about playing through pain being admirable is true until the injury causes you to hamper the performance of the team. If this was the case with Samuels, he’s got to head to the sideline.
Due more to force of habit than out of any sense of merit, this week’s game ball goes to safety Ryan Clark, whose 11 tackle performance was one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise dark day. Clark, who also recorded his first career interception in the game, seemed at times to be the only one playing with any intensity. Clark has worked himself into a key role in this defense, and is a clear upgrade from Matt Bowen at strong safety. I would begin a “Resign Ryan Clark” campaign, but we have all seen how successful those crusades have been.
With the Eagles coming to town, the storylines are even more plentiful than normal. Philadelphia has the fewest rushing attempts in the NFL, and quarterback Donovan McNabb is as banged up as he is overexposed. The calls for Philadelphia to utilize the running game more frequently have gathered more momentum as their struggles mount. That sets up, in my mind, the very likely scenario that this is the week that Andy Reid and company pound the ball more often on the ground. Philadelphia has the fewest rushing yards in the NFL, but that very well may be a product of their play-calling and not reflective of an inability to run the ball. Halfback Bryan Westbrook has always faired well against Washington, who now find themselves 25th in the league in run defense.
It just seems like one of those stories that you can see coming a mile away. With their backs against the wall and their quarterback ailing, Andy Reid calls on his ground game to come to the rescue. I fully expect to see it. Washington has allowed the fewest passing yards this season, so instead of going strength vs. strength, Reid may decide to mix things up and run the ball with a back that has enjoyed considerable success against Washington in the past.
After such a demoralizing defeat, the upcoming Sunday Night Showdown with Philadelphia takes on even greater significance. Philadelphia would be one blocked punt away from a four game losing streak with a loss, and Washington would be one Mike Nolan away from a four game skid of their own. The Redskins simply have to have this game if they are to have the season that their first six games seemed to promise.
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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