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Walters: Changes Lead to the Same Thing

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Old 09-14-2005, 09:55 AM   #1
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Walters: Changes Lead to the Same Thing

Changes Lead to the Same Thing

Despite the pledges that the offense was going to spread out and stretch the field, and with blatant disregard to the skill set of the receivers brought in to do just that, the stagnant Washington Redskins offense returned to their old ways Sunday. With a sprinkle here and there of the heretofore taboo shotgun formation, the offense proved to just be a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Hitches and quick screens were the order of the day, and nine points was the reward for the loyalty to a system that has the players to execute the deep passing game, but has thus far displayed a reluctance to do so.

Really and truly, sitting at 1-0 after a hard-fought victory should rouse a greater feeling of euphoria. Redskins Nation should be holding its collective breath in anxious anticipation of next Monday Night’s showdown with the rival Cowboys. However this is largely untrue, given the clouds of doubt that have surfaced since Cornelius Griffin’s fumble recovery sealed the season’s maiden victory.

Offensively, one has to wonder to where the more balanced play-calling that was seen in the pre-season has disappeared? Was it cut, or inactive like most of the Redskins’ draft picks of the last two seasons? Was it just simply tossed aside as if it were a starting quarterback? During the pre-season, the play-calling was perhaps the most encouraging change to the tepid offense of 2004, and was certainly the most welcomed. Be it tough defense by an underrated Bears unit, or simple conservatism, the Redskins offense looked more like last season’s squad, save for a few new components.

One very tangible improvement that was made by the offense was the clear improvement of the offensive line. Stalwart right tackle Jon Jansen, now playing without the benefit of opposable digits, solidified the right side of the line. Newcomer Casey Rabach was as good as advertised, and both men played a large role in guiding Clinton Portis to a solid 121 yards on 21 carries, as well as the 41 yards chipped in by backup Ladell Betts. The line will no longer be the Achilles Heel (pun intended) of the offense, but that doesn’t mean that a replacement anchor should be sought.

Fortunately, the defense also resembled its 2004 predecessor, holding the admittedly putrid Bears offense to one lone score, one which might have never happened had Rod Gardner not left his hands with Antonio Brown as a keepsake of their time together. The defense, just like they did six times last season, won this football game for the Redskins. But just as was in the case in 2004, it can’t do it alone. The fate of the ’05 Redskins will not vary greatly from that of the ’04 bunch until some Redskins are spiking footballs, and some extra points kicked.

The largest story from the season’s opening game was born of a frantic play midway through the second quarter. Quarterback Patrick Ramsey was nearly decapitated when Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs violently clotheslined the Redskins passer and drove his head viciously into the FedEx Field turf. Ramsey understandably lost control of the football in the collision, not knowing at the time that the lost ball would indeed serve as a frustrating metaphor for his job.

While on the subject of things that haven’t changed, and in the spirit of last season’s debacles against the Packers and Cowboys (first game), the officials saw no need to flag Briggs for his assault on Ramsey. Of course, in the subsequent days, the league will most likely see fit to fine Briggs for his actions, but that was not going to deter this ever-virtuous officiating crew from the shirking of their professional duties. This on the heels of an offensive pass interference call on H-back Chris Cooley, who had the audacity to run a pass route, has the sensible person at a complete loss for words. So to review, the guillotine, completely legal; getting open on the goal line, heinous.

Even though Briggs’ hit temporarily sidelined Ramsey, it was his own coach that has decided to keep him there. As far as the remainder of the Bears game goes, it was a prudent decision on Gibbs behalf to hold out his young starter in favor of backup Mark “Don’t Call Me Scott” Brunell. Ramsey’s toughness being a well-established fact, he may well have not had the full range of motion in his neck, nor the complete clarity of mind.

But then comes Gibbs’ Monday press conference where he announced that Brunell and Ramsey would be swapping places for the Cowboys game, and presumably the foreseeable future as well. I am of the opinion that Gibbs has secretly wished he could retract his statement that Ramsey was the starter, and that he has been looking for a reason to make the switch since Ramsey’s struggles in the pre-season. Coach Gibbs is of the mind that this team can win games with their dominant defense and an offense that doesn’t lose games. Brunell, in Gibbs’ mind, gives him that.

As to Ramsey, reports of his trade demands conflict like the Ravens roster and the United States Judicial System. First ESPN reports that Ramsey, or at least his mouthy agent Jimmy Sexton, has demanded to be moved. Not after that, more local news agencies assert that Ramsey has denied any such rumor. ESPN then reaffirmed its own report, alleging that a trade could take place in the next few weeks.

If it is the case that Ramsey wants out, I hardly think that anyone among us could blame him. Insomuch as he didn’t have a great opening quarter-plus Sunday, he certainly didn’t merit losing his job either. Honestly, Gibbs stuck it out with Brunell last season despite his [Brunell] performing so poorly at his job that one would swear he worked for FEMA.

Alas, it’s almost forgotten in all the post-game chaos that the Redskins did indeed win their opener, keeping pace with the Cowboys and Giants in the division who did the same in their games. It wasn’t a particularly aesthetically pleasing effort, but it is a win nonetheless. NFL teams are virtually impossible to shutout, and that is precisely what this unit would have done had the recently departed Brown not gift wrapped a red zone trip for the Bears.

The first Game Ball of the new season goes to new middle linebacker Lemar Marshall, whose solid play made the loss of Antonio Pierce an afterthought. He flawlessly directed his fellow players with every bit as much aptitude as his predecessor, and contributed eight tackles (six solo) and a key interception of his own. Whereas Fred Smoot’s replacement Walt Harris is a known commodity, one could only speculate as to Marshall’s effectiveness in the middle. Marshall effectively answered any concerns about his capabilities, and silenced any critics that said that the defense would slip on his watch.

It would indeed be nice if Redskins Nation could rest on its laurels and await Monday’s showdown in Irving with anxious anticipation. In truth, it was a foregone conclusion that a quarterback controversy surface at some point this season. It just simply showed its face well before anyone could have expected.

The important thing is not to divide one set of fans by who each side thinks should be the quarterback. Whether or not you personally agree with Coach Gibbs’ decision, it certainly is what he thinks is best for the team. It is what he believes will give us the best chance to win, so the outcome, no matter what it turns out to be, will be attributed to Gibbs himself. The prescription for solving all the feverish attention surrounding the announcement (other than more Cowbell) is to go into Texas Stadium and steal one on the road. Win that one, and the critics will play the quiet game all the way through the bye week.

Keep checking back in for your weekly Redskins football fix. HAIL TO THE REDSKINS!

Questions and comments can be sent to Trevor Walters at skins.fan@comcast.net

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