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Walters: Three for Three

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Old 10-04-2005, 03:44 PM   #1
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Walters: Three for Three

Three for Three

The Walt Disney Corporation owns ABC Television, Ray Lewis owns a dubious criminal record, and the Washington Redskins own the Seattle Seahawks. With Mike Holmgren playing Salieri to Joe Gibbs’ Mozart, Washington continued their dominance over the Seahawks by pulling out a hard fought victory in overtime on rookie Nick Novak’s clutch field goal. As the ball came to rest in the net behind the uprights, the Redskins pushed their record to a flawless 3-0, and took another giant step towards regaining their place among the elite teams in the NFC.

It’s important, I believe, not to get caught up in the negativity that can come from some of the still plentiful naysayers. It is true that the Redskins three victories have come by only six combined points. It’s also true that Washington has found the endzone only four times, none of which coming from the ground game. But Peter King and his comrades can spin that broken record any way they chose, but the Redskins are 3-0 and in first place in an improved NFC East.

For much of the game, it looked as if it would prove to be the exact opposite of the Redskins week 2 contest with Plastic Jerry’s Cowboys. In that game, Washington was the team who had all the streaks stacked against them, they were the team on the road in a hostile environment, and they were the ones that had been dominated for the majority of the game, only to make a comeback at the end. Fortunately for the Redskins, October’s maiden match-up took a sharp turn from the one that came before it, and Washington won their first overtime victory in several years.

Once again, Santana Moss proved wrong those who criticized his acquisition, a group that I admittedly must place myself with. Make no mistake about it; parting ways with Ole Nine Toes Coles was something that Washington almost had to do if any sort of locker room morale was to persevere. But at the time, trading him for what seemed to be a lesser player – when he could’ve been released at an agreed upon lesser cap hit – didn’t seem like the smartest move. But, a mere three games into the season, Moss has proven any and all detractors wrong with his play and his immediate infusion of a deep passing attack into the Redskins offense.

Perhaps the most encouraging facet of the game from my perspective had to be the use, and relative success, of the intermediate passing game. Several key third down conversions were achieved by simply exchanging the seven yard out for one of a longer variety. A Seattle defense that had been among the league’s best on third down surrendered an incredible 13 first downs in 18 tries, no doubt due in large part to greater efficiency in the passing game.

The play-calling in general was as good as it has been since Joe Gibbs returned to D.C., especially in the early going. Gibbs masterfully mixed run with pass, and sprinkled in play-action and the roll-out often enough to keep in on the mind of Seattle defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes. Mark Brunell spread the ball around to a myriad of different receivers, and once again used his legs to get the offense out of a third-and-long hole when he scrambled for an 18 yard gain on one of the many daunting third-and-long yardages that the Redskins faced.

Washington also showed the ability to be a team that doesn’t beat itself, something that it had done with frustrating consistency in the past. The Redskins committed a mere two penalties, both delays of game, with the final of the two doing nothing more than giving kicker Nick Novak a practice kick for his eventual game winner that followed seconds later. The Redskins also had only one turnover, and that was on a tipped pass. Granted, the interception couldn’t have come at a worse time, but the luck that so often went against Washington last season and in seasons prior smiled on them Sunday, when usually reliable Seahawks kicker Josh Brown booted the would-be game winner off of the left upright. Two penalties and a single turnover isn’t a perfect game, but it is certainly a marked improvement over some of the efforts turned in recently.

This week’s game ball goes to quarterback Mark Brunell, who is beginning to look like the Mark Brunell that everyone in Redskins Nation thought they were getting when he came over from Jacksonville before the start of the 2004 season. It isn’t just obvious in his statistical performance, though if you were to measure by those standards alone, an improvement would still be quite obvious. The real indicator of a rejuvenated career is in how comfortable he looks in the pocket and in the offense. For the first time since 1999, Redskins fans get a sense that it is perhaps okay to have a little bit of confidence in their quarterback. I’ll grant you that two games doesn’t necessarily erase a horrid 2004 season, but given his improved performance this season, and his stellar career prior to joining the Redskins, it is beginning to look like 2004 was the anomaly, and not his performance in the last two games.

Like all games, though, there are still areas that need improvement. The running game is still having issues getting on track, with Clinton Portis having failed once again to reach the end zone. Totaling 85 yards is a respectable showing, especially given his key production catching the ball and the ferocity with which opposing teams gameplan to stop him. But this offense needs to establish Portis as a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball, or at least show the capability to get him in the endzone more frequently than five times in 19 games. Ladell Betts, who has been solid when spelling Portis, has also failed to reach pay dirt, proving that the issues are most likely more institutional in nature than merely attributable to Portis himself.

This was also perhaps the first time in the 19 games that he has been the Redskins’ defensive mastermind that Gregg Williams’ defense let him down a little. Surrendering two long scoring drives near the end of the game is not the type of storyline that this defense has come to be known to author. Holding a potent offense like the Seahawks to 17 points is by no means a poor performance, but the Redskins defense has spoiled people to the point where a dominating, lock-down performance is almost expected.

Shaun Alexander didn’t have another monster afternoon like he has had in the weeks prior to Sunday’s contest, though he did have a solid afternoon. Washington held the NFL’s leading rusher to just under 100 yards on the ground, and limited the All-Pro to one lone score, almost all coming in the second half.

Despite an increased emphasis on creating turnovers, Washington failed to produce an interception or fumble for the second straight game. Sacks have also been difficult to come by, with the lone quarterback takedown Sunday coming on a perfectly time blitz by linebacker Lemar Marshall. The defensive line, whose pass rush is weaker than the Hasselbeck hair gene, has never been able to be counted on to get after the quarterback, so such blitzes are the Redskins’ primary means to disrupt an opposing signal caller’s rhythm.

Overall, it is rather encouraging to have seen such improvement from the second week. The offense, while not among the league’s elite, is a respectable 14th in the league, and has shown promising signs of life in the passing game. The elusive 20 point mark was achieved in week three this season, a welcome change from the agonizing 13 week wait last year. Mark Brunell’s timing is still a bit off, especially it seems with David Patten, but was certainly better than it was against the Cowboys. The offense is most likely never going to be a high-octane unit, but it is showing signs that it may no longer be an anchor holding back the team.

Three straight wins to begin a season is a marvelous way to start. As I am sure you have been made aware, the last time that a Redskins team won its first three games, it went on to win the Super Bowl. Naturally, the Super Bowl isn’t a realistic goal for the Redskins this season, but with every win, mentioning the words “Redskins” and “playoffs” in the same sentence won’t immediately cue a clip of a Jim Mora, Sr. press conference. For once in a long while, positive things are happening at Redskins Park, and fans should enjoy the elation that comes with that with the proper perspective.

On the horizon looms Roland Bailey and the Cut Block Kings in the Mile High City. They are rolling just like the Redskins are, and they’ll be at home. The last time Washington visited Denver, they emerged with a 17-10 victory on the strength of reserve quarterback Kent Graham’s performance. Talk about a name you haven’t thought of in a while, it just goes to show that in the NFL, four years seems like a lifetime.

Clinton Portis may find a return to his former stomping grounds as extra motivation, and there is certainly no better team to bust out of his touchdown drought against. Champ Bailey, who played like a poor man’s Shawn Springs in 2004, will have the same motivation, although he is currently slowed by a number of different injuries. The Broncos pose the stiffest challenge that the Redskins have faced to date, especially since Washington won’t have the benefit of all their “bush league” fans behind them!

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 skins.fan@comcast.net

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