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03 Oct 2006

Any Given Sunday: Redskins over Jaguars

by Ned Macey

When the Washington Redskins and Jacksonville Jaguars got together last Sunday, most people assumed that a defensive struggle would ensue. The Redskins for the past several years had been a dominant defense that was supported by an average-at-best offense. Instead, a shootout broke out featuring the proficient offense Washington envisioned when they hired Al Saunders. The Jaguars kept up by going to the air and taking advantage of a suspect Washington pass defense. In the end, one big play was enough to get Washington back into the playoff discussion and slow down the Jacksonville bandwagon.

The Redskins' return to the playoffs last year following years of mediocre play was greeted in some circles as a fluke. The team struggled to score points in the postseason, totaling 27 in two games. Quarterback Mark Brunell, a disaster in 2004, looked old and tired against good defenses in the playoffs last season.

Always aggressive, owner Daniel Snyder brought in Saunders, the highly successful offensive coordinator of the Chiefs. The early results were dreadful. No team looked worse in the preseason than the Redskins, and they opened up the season with two anemic offensive performances in losses to Minnesota and Dallas.

Of course, Clinton Portis was injured in the first preseason game and had only ten carries during the two regular season losses. Equally important, a team does not learn an offensive system overnight. An easy win over the Texans was dismissed by the quality of the competition. No such critique can be leveled on Sunday's game, as the Jaguars had given up only 31 offensive points in their first three games, including a shutout of the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers.

The Redskins may experience more growing pains as the season progresses, but Saunders' offense was in full effect on Sunday. His offenses in Kansas City were always led by a dominating running game, and Washington resembled those great Kansas City offenses on Sunday. Portis and backup Ladell Betts totaled 149 yards on 38 carries. Those are not record-setting numbers, but they kept Washington consistently in good third-down distances against a tough defense. Brunell faced only one third down longer than six yards in the first half.

Keeping the down-and-distance manageable is essential for making Brunell an effective quarterback. Saunders mixed in bootlegs and rollouts, as Brunell throws well on the run. He threw numerous screens to the running backs and tight end Chris Cooley to keep the Jacksonville pass rush honest. For the game, Brunell completed 18 of 30 passes for 329 yards. Coming into the game, opposing quarterbacks had completed less than 50 percent of their passes with five interceptions against the Jaguars.

All this analysis ignores the real star of the game, Santana Moss. Moss was one of the best receivers in football a year ago, and none of that has changed with the arrival of Saunders. He only caught four balls, but three went for touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime. The Redskins seem content to get the ball to Moss within the scope of their offense rather than forcing balls to their "playmaker" as they sometimes did a year ago. Throwing predominately underneath to backs and tight ends eventually creates a situation where the defense momentarily takes their eyes off of Moss. Every time they blinked on Sunday, Moss was in the end zone. Nobody outside of Steve Smith can hit a defense quicker for a big play.

Moss is a special player, but it is hard to overlook the connection between Washington's success and the return of Portis. He carried the offense a year ago and was among the most effective running backs in football. In Saunders' scheme, he has the chance to be the dominant force he was in Denver. Portis is quick, and he's hard to bring down in space. He was featured on a series of pitches and stretch plays, consistently getting to the corner for substantial gains. The Redskins offensive line is the same group that was mostly average a year ago. On Sunday, they looked quick and were able to get out in front of the backs. As a result, Jacksonville's enormous defensive tackles were neutralized.

Before the Redskins start printing playoff tickets, they still need to sort out problems on their once-stout defense. They did cough up 30 points to an offense that had totaled 23 the previous two weeks. For two years, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has overseen one of the most ferocious defenses in football. So far this year, they are a below average unit. This ranking is largely attributable to an atrocious pass defense that desperately misses Shawn Springs.

When Washington made its famous Champ Bailey (and a second-round pick) for Clinton Portis trade, they backed it up by signing Springs. Over the past two years, Springs has played at a high level. Paying top dollar for Springs, Portis, and many others leaves Washington short of depth. With Springs sidelined, the Redskins pass defense has been inept. Too much Kenny Wright and Mike Rumph is never a good thing.

Byron Leftwich responded by shredding the Redskins for 289 yards and three touchdowns. The Redskins thought it best to go after Leftwich and blitzed him consistently. The pressure did result in four sacks, but whenever Leftwich's line held, he had open receivers. Jacksonville never threatened on the ground, and Washington still was unable to defend the pass. Jacksonville had three fourth-quarter scoring drives that featured a total of one rushing attempt. Until Springs returns, look for opposing teams to spread the field, set up in the shotgun, and beat the Redskins through the air.

The Jaguars offense functioned well through the air, except on third down. For the past two years, the Jaguars consistently performed better on that most-important down than they did on first or second. For most teams, consistently outperforming first and second down performance on third down is impossible. The Jaguars defied this trend the last two seasons, but the numbers may be catching up with them now.

The Jaguars went 2-for-13 on third down against Washington, and for the season, they are 22-for-60. A year ago according to our advanced statistic DVOA, the Jaguars were an average offense on first and second down and become the Indianapolis Colts on third down. So far this season, they are just an average offense.

The Jaguars will see 2-for-13 and discuss how they need to get back to "running the ball" to make third downs more manageable. The beauty of DVOA, however, is that it takes the length of each third down into account. By insisting on running the ball poorly on the first two downs a year ago, they asked the impossible of Leftwich. The fact that he often delivered in those situations is admirable but not sustainable.

Returning to the ground game is a way of putting the offense on Fred Taylor's old shoulders. Taylor was a great player, but he no longer is even an average running back. He is 30 years old, has not had a positive DVOA since 2002, and is averaging 3.6 yards per carry this season. He is a drag on the offense, and giving him 300 carries this season would be an enormous mistake.

The obvious solution is Maurice Jones-Drew, the dynamic rookie who destroyed the Colts and then added a 51-yard touchdown reception last week. Considering the substandard production from Taylor, more carries for Jones-Drew is a viable option. Still, running on the Colts is something that few running backs have had trouble with this year. Whether the slight Jones-Drew is capable of running between the tackles is still to be determined. (Of course, the same thing was said about Warrick Dunn and Tiki Barber when they were young, and those two shifty backs are doing well for themselves.)

Defensively, the Jaguars are very good but not great, just the same as a year ago. Their destruction of Pittsburgh was largely aided by Ben Roethlisberger's poor form. Against Indianapolis, they always play well because they are physical with the Colts receivers. The problem for the Jaguars, however, is that their physical play comes with a price: susceptibility to get beaten deep. The Redskins were content to take advantage of the Jaguars linebackers underneath and wait to attack the cornerbacks for big plays.

Moss beat Brian Williams for several big gains, and Brandon Lloyd pulled in a 33-yard reception. The week before, the Colts just missed on multiple big pass plays. The Cowboys hit on several big plays in Week 1, including a 51-yard completion to Terry Glenn. A team that specializes in low-scoring games cannot afford to consistently give up big plays.

The defense is indeed one of the better ones in the league, but it is not at the level of Chicago or Baltimore and could not support a substandard offense. The outside linebackers are both average players, and after watching tapes of the Redskins' performance, other teams will attack them in the passing game.

As a result, the season will likely come down to the continued development of Leftwich and his young wide receivers. Reggie Williams continued his breakout season against Washington, but Matt Jones was almost invisible. He is battling injuries, but even healthy, he is still more potential than production. Ernest Wilford, the team's most productive receiver on a per-play basis a season ago, seems to be running routes without aggression and has dropped several balls. The Jaguars will need consistent production from these players to create the above-average offense they need to return to the playoffs. Otherwise, they will be looking at a step back from their impressive 2005 season.

Washington, meanwhile, has developed an excellent offense and ironically needs the defense to get in line with previous production. Portis and Betts form a potent one-two combination, and Brunell is playing at a high level within the structure of the offense. Springs is still a few weeks away from returning, and he will be missed against the Giants this weekend. With that trip to the Meadowlands and a trip to Indianapolis in Week 7, Washington could be 3-4 before their bye despite ranking among the ten best teams in football. While they certainly can win in Indianapolis, it would behoove the Redskins to win this weekend in New York, during the first half of an NFC East doubleheader that is truly worth watching.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the most surprising result of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these surprises as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 03 Oct 2006

49 comments, Last at 06 Oct 2006, 12:57pm by Loose On the Lead

Comments

1
by underthebus (not verified) :: Tue, 10/03/2006 - 7:52pm

So is Cooley is the Kevn Jones of this year? Or is just the offense getting used to Al Saunders playbook?

2
by Rollo (not verified) :: Tue, 10/03/2006 - 8:53pm

Nice analysis, and I think spot on for the Jaguars. Missing top pashrusher Reggie Hayward has put even more pressure on the secondary as teams have longer to throw. Two of the Reggie Williams/Matt Jones/Earnest Wilford/Mercedes Lewis group need to substantially step up their performance to give Leftwich some reliable options. Jones-Drew should be on the field more than Taylor (he's a far superior receiver and pass-blocker), but he hasn't established an ability to run inside. Time for those recent high draft picks to produce...

3
by Luz (not verified) :: Tue, 10/03/2006 - 8:57pm

#1

don't forget hasselbeck

4
by drew bledsoe\\\\\\\'s heart (not verified) :: Tue, 10/03/2006 - 8:57pm

did you see the catches cooley had last week?

5
by weinsteinium (not verified) :: Tue, 10/03/2006 - 9:36pm

#4 No I didn't. Cooley is my TE in fantasy football so I'm wondering whether you are saying that he played well or poorly? He finally put up decent fantasy numbers this week.

6
by MRH (not verified) :: Tue, 10/03/2006 - 10:52pm

Jones-Drew is short. He is not slight.

7
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 10/03/2006 - 11:04pm

Good analyis. It was almost astounding regarding the efficency with which the Redskins' offensive line was able to seal the Jaguars off on running plays to the perimeter, especially once one considers that it is a mortal sin for good defensive front seven to allow itself to be sealed so easily.

8
by Dave (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 12:13am

Matt Jones was only on the field for about 10 plays. Pretty hard to make an impact when you're hurt.

Also, while Brian Williams made two high profile bad plays, Terry Cousin was getting beaten all day long. He was a huge problem, and the Redskins were clearly picking on him every time he was on the field. The Jags are going to have to get better coverage from their nickel back.

And, yea, what MRH said about Drew. He's 5'7 and about 800 pounds.

9
by Kalyan (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 2:52am

Now that Al Saunders has reported to work, will the tastefully named Gregg Williams also report to work for the Redskins

10
by Fiver (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 9:18am

Nice piece. I especially enjoy the Any Given Sunday analysis when it covers a game I watched closely. I do have one quibble with the part on Fred Taylor....

Taylor was a great player, but he no longer is even an average running back. He is 30 years old, has not had a positive DVOA since 2002, and is averaging 3.6 yards per carry this season. He is a drag on the offense, and giving him 300 carries this season would be an enormous mistake.

Enormous mistake? That's a little much. This makes it sound like they have all sorts of other proven, viable options that they're stubbornly ignoring. The Jags were counting on Greg Jones to help carry the load before his pre-season injury. They may turn out to have a steal in Pinball, but they're not going to bench Taylor and start the rookie in week 5. That only happens in fantasy football.

Secondly, Taylor's performance against Pittsburgh was borderline heroic. He may have had a great YPC, but he had so many important yards in that game it was silly. He repeatedly produced positive runs with defenders draped all over him. This is one of those cases where the raw yardage numbers may not be an accurate gauge of the player's importance to the team's W-L record. I would bet there will be more such cases for Taylor before the end of the season.

11
by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 9:58am

So do we conclude that Clinton Portis makes that much difference? Or should we conclude the Jag's earlier opponents weren't that good on offense (though the beatpaths will run Jags->Dallas->Wash loop.

12
by Charlie (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 10:11am

It seemed to me that on at least a couple of those occasions when Brian Williams appeared to get beaten he was, in fact, expecting safety help over the top and Deon Grant was simply too sluggish in getting across. Considering his non-tackle on Moss' catch-and-run TD in the first half, it looked like Grant had a pretty poor game.

13
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 10:46am

This was a nice article, but I have to get snarky when I read something about the team I root for. It's just part of being a fan. I'm sure you all understand. :-)

The Redskins for the past several years had been a dominant defense

I guess, if two is several.

Quarterback Mark Brunell, a disaster in 2004, looked old and tired against good defenses in the playoffs last season.

He looked old and tired because he was injured and because his offensive line was failing him (injury to Randy Thomas) to one extent or another. Okay, he was also probably tired, but a healthy Brunell at the beginning of a season should be fine, assuming he's comfortable with the offense.

Always aggressive, owner Daniel Snyder brought in Saunders, the highly successful offensive coordinator of the Chiefs.

Of course, this was Gibbs's decision, not Snyder's. But Snyder signs the checks, and more important, it's so much more fun to write about Snyder doing stuff than Gibbs.

Moss is a special player, but it is hard to overlook the connection between Washington’s success and the return of Portis.

To some extent, yes, but notice that the offense is running smoothly when he's out of the lineup, too.

Over the past two years, Springs has played at a high level. Paying top dollar for Springs, Portis, and many others leaves Washington short of depth.

1. The Redskins have plenty of cap space left, so they could have signed another player or two at any point if they'd seen someone out there they wanted. They chose not to. They're also fine with respect to the 2007 cap. If there's a depth problem, it is not being caused by spending too much on free agents.

2. How many teams in the NFL could comfortably replace someone like Springs with a third-stringer? What's happening is that not only is Springs being replaced by Wright and Rumph, but Carlos Rogers is not having a good year so far. It's a confluence of factors, not just one. So while Springs's return will obviously be a big deal if and when it happens, it may not entirely solve the problem. Rogers has to be more effective, too.

14
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 11:15am

They’re also fine with respect to the 2007 cap.

Where are you getting that from? The two sources I've seen have the Redskins at $102M signed for next year, with not all players signed. Adding in the remaining players at an average of $500K puts them at ~$107M or so, which basically means 'zero cap space.'

2. How many teams in the NFL could comfortably replace someone like Springs with a third-stringer?

Most teams can replace one cornerback comfortably. The third cornerback should be a starting quality player on most teams, considering he typically comes in on something like 50% of the plays in nickel packages.

15
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 11:29am

Where are you getting that from? The two sources I’ve seen have the Redskins at $102M signed for next year,

It's more like $104M now, or at least $103M.

with not all players signed. Adding in the remaining players at an average of $500K puts them at ~$107M or so, which basically means ‘zero cap space.’

Even if the cap limit is only $107M (I've read $109M), you're ignoring cuts and restructures. Also, note that the only key players not signed for 2007 are Dockery and Betts.

Most teams can replace one cornerback comfortably. The third cornerback should be a starting quality player on most teams, considering he typically comes in on something like 50% of the plays in nickel packages.

Well, Wright did start last year. And before you say he isn't really "staring quality", he's apparently played better than Rogers has so far this year, so putting most of the blame on depth (Wright) is probably missing the mark.

Anyway, let's say the Skins do lack depth at CB. We could also say the same for the OL, I guess, or at least I'm not prepared to argue with conventional wisdom on that score. On the other hand, the rest of the team's depth is fine. Well, the depth at safety isn't great, but that's becausse they've already sustained a significant injury (Prioleau to IR) there.

How many teams are deep across the board? Be honest.

16
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 12:21pm

Pat, PCinOz posted re Patten in the Week 4 Open Discussion thread. Take a look.

17
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 12:23pm

Even if the cap limit is only $107M (I’ve read $109M), you’re ignoring cuts and restructures.

No, I'm not - "fine" cap space doesn't include needing to cut people and restructure contracts. By that argument, the Tennessee Titans in 2004 were "fine" with respect to cap space.

It's not horrible, like the Titans were, but it's certainly very tight.

And a team can't go into the season with zero cap space - they need space for the practice squad, eventual injured reserve, and draft picks. $107M with a cap of $109M is zero cap space. It's actually probably negative cap space. Most teams have a few million or so cap space at a minimum during the season for replacing players who go on injured reserve.

Also, note that the only key players not signed for 2007 are Dockery and Betts.

Unless the Redskins plan on starting the first team with less than 53 players, they're still going to have to sign 53 players, though.

And before you say he isn’t really “staring quality�, he’s apparently played better than Rogers has so far this year, so putting most of the blame on depth (Wright) is probably missing the mark.

Not from what I've seen! Who's been saying that Wright's played better than Rogers, and why are they trying to lie to us?

On the other hand, the rest of the team’s depth is fine.

DT (absolutely!) and DE, considering the age of the players. So if that's CB, S, DL, and OL, that's 13 positions out of 22.

Why does everyone forget about Washington's defensive line? Two undrafted rookies and a career backup without significant playing time is not good depth at DT.

18
by Minsane (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 12:52pm

Does DVOA have anything to say about Redskins offensive proficiency with Portis and without?

Watching the game, I was struck by how much more easily Washington moved the ball with Portis in the game than without (Betts was not running the ball poorly, but it seemed as if the threat of Portis breaking off a big one opened up the offensive possibilities whenever he was in the game).

19
by Carlos (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 1:02pm

DT (absolutely!)

Why does everyone forget about Washington’s defensive line? Two undrafted rookies and a career backup without significant playing time is not good depth at DT.

Is there really no depth on the DL? They've got Wynn as backup at DE, and two (I thought drafted in the 6th and 7th round) DTs who very well last week -- at least according to the WaPo, who is i'm sure just repeating what they heard from coaches. Maybe that's all BS, but that sounds like pretty darn good depth to me.

I know it's fashionable to say that the Skins have no depth. Frankly, I think it's virtually impossible for us fans to judge depth or lack of depth beyond a few obvious cases (Steve Young backing up Joe Montana = great depth! Ricky Sanders backing up Art Monk and Gary Clark = great depth!). "Great depth" is something "discovered" only in retrospect... after the starters get injured, does the backup perform? Who would have thought the skins of a few years ago had great depth at LB when Barrow didn't play at all and LaVar hardly played either. But then Antonio Pierce emerged as a near-star and Lemar Marshall as a solid starter -- both out of nowhere, and suddenly, hey, "great depth."

20
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 1:11pm

5th and 6th, my mistake. Undrafted should've applied to Boschetti, not the rookies. Still, that's not exactly depth. After the starting two tackles, they've got a grand total of 2 starts among all the other DTs.

They’ve got Wynn as backup at DE,

Note the "considering the age of the players" for DE. Wynn and Daniels are both fairly old.

Remember, lack of depth doesn't mean that a team will play bad. It just means that there's a risk that if an injury happens, the player who comes in won't be anywhere near the original player's caliber.

21
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 1:16pm

No, I’m not - “fine� cap space doesn’t include needing to cut people and restructure contracts.

Yes, it does, at least in the Redskins' case. Without the cuts and restructures, their strategy wouldn't make sense. You have to understand that the cuts and restructures are planned, more or less. Brunell's contract was nominally for seven years, but the contract was written for him to collect only three years of that (plus the guaranteed money). The intention from the beginning was to cut him. You are free to dislike the strategy, but don't misinterpret what you're seeing. Yes, the Redskins do a lot of cutting and restructuring, but not out of desperation. It's planned.

By that argument, the Tennessee Titans in 2004 were “fine� with respect to cap space.

I don't know enough about the Titans to comment. I just know that the primary cut the Redskins will make in 2007 will not be forced, in the sense that the Redskins wrote the contract with the full expectation that the player would be cut long before the contract expired.

It’s not horrible, like the Titans were, but it’s certainly very tight.

Put it this way: The Redskins will be able to re-sign current players to reasonable contracts and will be able to sign a big free-agent or two if they choose. If that's "tight", then okay, I agree.

Unless the Redskins plan on starting the first team with less than 53 players, they’re still going to have to sign 53 players, though.

They'll be able to. Like I said, cuts and restructures are part of the equation. They're part of the overall plan. Maybe other teams don't do it that way, but the Redskins do. You can't use the same rules of thumb with the Skins as you do with other teams. You can't look at the superficially apparent cap number for 2007 and say, ah ha, the Skins will have no space. The Skins don't do things the way other teams do, so the numbers look different.

How many observers claimed the Skins wouldn't be able to do much in free agency this year, even after the new CBA?

Who’s been saying that Wright’s played better than Rogers, and why are they trying to lie to us?

I can't do too much with this topic, since the observations aren't mine. I personally am not competent to make them. However, the word according to educated observers here is that Rogers is being picked on more than Wright is, and that since Game 2, Wright has been the more effective of the two.

On the other hand, the rest of the team’s depth is fine.

DT (absolutely!)

Absolutely not. Both rookies (Golston and Montgomery) have begun playing often and well, to the point where the veteran Boschetti has been inactive for the last couple of games. Or at least he was inactive against the Jags. I think he was for the Texans game, too. Also, Williams and Blache emphasize versatility, so guys like Wynn, Daniels, and Evans can move inside on occasion, as well.

and DE, considering the age of the players.

The backup DEs are Evans and Wynn. Ages aren't important if we're talking only about this year. It's hard to project anything into the future because the Skins are so comfortable with just picking up free agents to fill needs. Who knows who they'll have next year?

I do mostly agree about the age of the lines. Given the play of Golston and Montgomery, I'm more worried about the OL than the DL, though.

So if that’s CB, S, DL, and OL, that’s 13 positions out of 22.

I'm neutral on CB, so I won't argue there.

The depth is lacking at S, but that's because of an injury. I have to think this happens to other teams, too. If your third S goes on IR, you're going to have a depth problem at that position for the rest of the season.

Again, I disagree with you on the DL.

Why does everyone forget about Washington’s defensive line? Two undrafted rookies and a career backup without significant playing time is not good depth at DT.

1. Montgomery was drafted in the 5th round and Golston was drafted in the 6th round. And who cares, anyway? They're not draft picks anymore. They're promising young players.

2. Who is the career backup without significant playing time? If you mean Boschetti, you're mistaken. He absolutely has had significant playing time. The rotation scheme used by Blache and Williams guarantees that, except when a player is inactive. Boschetti has been inactive recently because the rookies have been doing so well. Okay, and also because Boschetti is no better than a journeyman :-), but he's our third DT at this point, not our first.

22
by B (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 1:20pm

Defensive backs and Offensive lineman are among the worst places to have lack of depth on a footbal lteam because those positions are likely to get injured. Running back is a higher injury risk than offnesive lineman, but db is the highest.

23
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 1:21pm

Note the “considering the age of the players� for DE. Wynn and Daniels are both fairly old.

Let's stick with 2006 for now. For 2006, Wynn and Daniels are okay. So with respect to this year only, will you concede that maybe the Redskins' depth along the DL might not be so bad?

Again, for the future, it's hard to say what will happen, because the Skins are so acquisitive. I would like to have some younger DEs around...although at least Carter and Evans are still in their 20s.

24
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 1:27pm

Age is important because older players get injured more often. So with a higher age at DE, you need better depth due to the strong possibility you'll lose one.

Put it this way: The Redskins will be able to re-sign current players to reasonable contracts and will be able to sign a big free-agent or two if they choose. If that’s “tight�, then okay, I agree.

That's fair. That's about what I'd say. And yes, that's what I would consider "tight".

Absolutely not. Both rookies (Golston and Montgomery) have begun playing often and well, to the point where the veteran Boschetti has been inactive for the last couple of games.

Yes. But they're rookies. You don't know how well they'll hold up. You certainly don't know how well they'll hold up if an injury shoves them into the starting lineup.

He absolutely has had significant playing time.

Wha? Guy has 13 tackles for his entire career. That's significant?

25
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 1:47pm

Age is important because older players get injured more often. So with a higher age at DE, you need better depth due to the strong possibility you’ll lose one.

Okay, granted. Not sure if that's enough to make me uncomfortable with the current depth, though. Younger players may not be injured as much as older players are, but they still get injured, and the practical difference may not be that great when measured over an entire DL unit.

Put it this way: The Redskins will be able to re-sign current players to reasonable contracts and will be able to sign a big free-agent or two if they choose. If that’s “tight�, then okay, I agree.

That’s fair. That’s about what I’d say. And yes, that’s what I would consider “tight�.

Okay, cool. This is what I'm talking about, though, when I say you can't judge the Redskins the same way you'd judge the Eagles. The strategies for cap management are too different. The Skins plan things so that they are close to the cap limit every year while still being able to sign a few FAs here and there, as desired.

Yes. But they’re rookies. You don’t know how well they’ll hold up. You certainly don’t know how well they’ll hold up if an injury shoves them into the starting lineup.

It already has. Golston has started in place of an injured Salave'a, and I didn't read any complaints. I'm sure he wasn't a total standout or anything, but he's quality depth. I wouldn't argue that he was a quality starter at this point.

Wha? Guy has 13 tackles for his entire career. That’s significant?

I couldn't tell you how many plays he was in on, but I'll guestimate that when he's been active, he's been on the field about 25 percent of the time. He participated in 13 games last year.

I never said he was good. On the other hand, I'm not sure how much the tackles stat tells us...and I mean I have no opinion.

26
by Carlos (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 1:50pm

Yes. But they’re rookies. You don’t know how well they’ll hold up. You certainly don’t know how well they’ll hold up if an injury shoves them into the starting lineup.

C'mon Pat! This is a pretty strained argument for someone who's trying to make the case that depth is really important. You're discounting the DT depth because the top two backups (who have displaced the veteran journeyman backup) are drafted rookies! How, pray tell, are teams supposed to acquire this depth if not through signing expensive FAs (like Lloyd, whom you hate), cheap FAs (like Wright, whom you hate), undrafted FAs (whom you deride) or draft picks??

27
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 1:54pm

It already has. Golston has started in place of an injured Salave’a,

Salave'a's not the one I'd worry about replacing - It's Griffin. I've never noticed a difference when Salave'a's out - but when Griffin's out, it looks like an entirely different pass rush.

28
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 2:01pm

Salave’a’s not the one I’d worry about replacing - It’s Griffin. I’ve never noticed a difference when Salave’a’s out - but when Griffin’s out, it looks like an entirely different pass rush.

I thought the general opinion on Salave'a had become that his absences were noticed. Maybe not. In any case, I'll leave that alone.

As for replacing Griffin, that brings us to the same issue we've seen at CB. When you replace a #1 guy with a #3 guy, you see a clear drop-off in ability. Isn't that almost always the case? The better the #1 guy, the more noticeable the drop-off.

Incidentally, some observers think Griffin has not been the same since '04. While he's still good, he's not the dominant presence he used to be, so replacing him might not be as big a deal as you think.

29
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 2:04pm

How, pray tell, are teams supposed to acquire this depth

Draft picks and time. That's the cheapest way to do it. Cheap free agents as well. Later round draft picks usually need more time.

if not through signing expensive FAs (like Lloyd, whom you hate), cheap FAs (like Wright, whom you hate)

I deride Lloyd and Wright (and Mike Rumph) because they're bad (and Lloyd because he was way overpriced) not because they were bad intentions. Everyone knew Lloyd was bad when the Redskins signed him - every 49er fan I've ever heard was cheering when he got signed away.

I thought Carter was a great signing, for instance, and keeping Wynn is great for depth. I think they really, really could've used a 5th DE on the roster (rather than, say, TJ Duckett or James Thrash, although Thrash is on special teams) for additional depth there.

30
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 2:15pm

Incidentally, some observers think Griffin has not been the same since ‘04. While he’s still good, he’s not the dominant presence he used to be, so replacing him might not be as big a deal as you think.

I agree. Actually, that's kindof my point. Right now, their DTs consist of a starter who's rapidly declining, a starter who's injured, two rookies and at best, a journeyman. Why is this not worrying? Montgomery and Golston could end up actually being a better pair of DTs, but they could also end up wearing down rapidly as the season goes on.

When you replace a #1 guy with a #3 guy, you see a clear drop-off in ability. Isn’t that almost always the case?

It depends. The most common way teams replace older, declining guys is by bringing in a high-round draft pick under them in the later years. Then if they get injured, you can get a boost if there's an injury.

31
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 3:46pm

I agree. Actually, that’s kindof my point. Right now, their DTs consist of a starter who’s rapidly declining, a starter who’s injured, two rookies and at best, a journeyman. Why is this not worrying?

The starters are still effective (Salave'a should be back soon), and the backups are promising rookies. That doesn't sound like a depth problem to me. I'm not saying the situation is ideal, but it's not bad. It's certainly not bad to the point where the Skins should be singled out wrt the rest of the league for lack of depth there.

It IS "worrying", but being a Skins fan, I worry about many aspects of the team. What I don't get is why a journalist, or a fan of another team, would pick on the Skins for depth issues that really aren't substantially worse than what other teams face around the league. Well, except that it's fun.

For the record, I would be happy to trade lines with the Eagles. More than happy, even. But life isn't perfect.

32
by joe (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 3:49pm

I agree that "depth" is hindsight for the most part, although, arguably, you could argue that WAS has great "depth" at the RB position (Portis, Betts, Duckett & Cartwright).

I am concerned about the secondary, but Springs return should do alot to fix it. I think the most glaring fault is not the CBs, but Archuleta's pass coverage skills (and Taylor's too). Archuleta is great against the run, but let the guys up front handle that. He needs to defend the pass better. Taylor can hit, but he ought to work on his pass coverage skills as well (his are still far better than Archie's). I'm actually starting to wish for Ryan Clark to come back.

That being said, Mike Rumph has actually played fairly well, and so has Wright. Rogers is still learning, and he's been burned quite a few times this season, much like he was last year. WAS released some of their CBs who had overperformed last season (Morten and Jimoh) so they are probably regretting those cuts now.

33
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 4:06pm

I agree that “depth� is hindsight for the most part, although, arguably, you could argue that WAS has great “depth� at the RB position (Portis, Betts, Duckett & Cartwright).

Funny how I can't convince anyone beyond this board that Cartwright is any good as a runner. Frustrating. It's as though anything good he does at RB is forgotten within a few weeks.

WAS released some of their CBs who had overperformed last season (Morten and Jimoh)

Jimoh is still here.

34
by Adam, VA (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 4:38pm

Cartwright is a posterboy of FO. Free Rock Cartwright has been chanted here time and time again.

35
by joe (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 4:58pm

Jimoh is still here.

He's MIA then. I don't think I have seen him once this season, and I watch them religiously. Thanks for correcting me.

And Rock Cartwright is the man. He'll lay down a hundred yard kick return, then he'll flatten the other team's return man on the kickoff. He is an absolute gem of a player.

36
by joe (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 5:00pm

But Cartwright's problem is he is prone to fumble when he runs between the tackles. If he works on his carrying, he would be a Betts' calibre RB.

37
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Wed, 10/04/2006 - 5:23pm

Jimoh has played special teams in all four games, although he's recorded only one tackle so far.

38
by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 2:39am

Why does every Redskin's discussion end up with Pat/Andrew harping on the Skins cap space or lack of depth?

39
by Paralis (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 6:52am

Because, for what it's worth, there isn't much else to say about the Redskins right now. I rewatched the Dallas game last night, and I still don't think Portis is the difference. They got decent yardage with Betts and Duckett, and could likely continue to.

Part of the problem looks like it was just poor protection schemes. There was a lot of slide left, leave a back to pick up the LOLB. I don't have any idea how Portis would have fared, but Betts and Duckett were pretty awful on single assignments against Ware and Ellis. There was simply awful play by the tackles, including a sack in which Dallas lined up nickel, with Ellis and Ware as DEs, and both beat Samuels and Jansen 1-on-1.

There were a lot of stupid penalties, and Brunell didn't get a lot of help. Cooley, in particular, isn't very good at adjusting to the ball in the air. Two deep passes were directed at him; one bounced off of his shoulder and one was intercepted.

And then there's just Brunell. I'm still convinced he's the problem with the team--or was, the way he was playing in week 2. There's some question about which of his throws which were wildly off the mark were the result of the new playbook, but until the 4th quarter when DAL went into prevent, he showed some of the weakest arm strength I've ever seen on the NFL level. He consistently released the ball downward, and skipped balls a few yards short on at least three occasions. Marcus Spears was credited with a pass defense that hit him in either the shoulder or the face. And when he threw long, he wasn't much better. The redzone interception which effectively sealed the loss might have been playable if the ball hadn't hung in the air long enough for Roy Williams to make a play. And most of this happened even when he wasn't under significant pressure.

There's a lot you can't see on the tape, so I don't know how much of it was playcalling, and how much of it was receivers not getting open. But when receivers were open, Brunell couldn't hit them.

I don't know what's happened to him in the last two weeks. It's worrying that maybe it's just that he was held out of practice last week--that he's not afraid of the pressure, can make all the reads, but is just too old, too tired to make all of the throws on any but an occasional basis.

Collins got all the practice reps last week, so nobody seems to have any idea what's going on with Campbell (although redskins homers seem to think this is entirely normal and to be expected). This looks bad if Brunell gets injured. But we'll see how this looks going forward.

40
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 10:44am

Collins got all the practice reps last week, so nobody seems to have any idea what’s going on with Campbell (although redskins homers seem to think this is entirely normal and to be expected).

I don't konw if it's "entirely normal and to be expected," but it's consistent with what Gibbs said would happen. Brunell was the projected starter, and under that circumstance, Collins was slated to be the primary backup.

I rewatched the Dallas game last night, and I still don’t think Portis is the difference.

I agree. He's the Skins' best RB, but he's not the primary reason for the improved play of the offense. You can tell because the offense has moved the ball fine the last couple of games even when Portis hasn't been on the field. Now, he may have been the catalyst in some sense, since things sorta looked like they changed after the 74-yard shovel pass reception, but that's a different statement.

I don’t know what’s happened to him in the last two weeks. It’s worrying that maybe it’s just that he was held out of practice last week–that he’s not afraid of the pressure, can make all the reads, but is just too old, too tired to make all of the throws on any but an occasional basis.

That wouldn't make sense. Why would he be so tired one week that he can't make plays at all, and the next week be totally rejuvenated? It's not like he was worked particularly hard prior to the Dallas game.

The quality of Brunell's play seems to be very sensitive to the quality of play by the rest of the offense. Of course, every QB exhibits this trait, but Brunell is extreme. When the rest of the O is comfortable with the scheme, is physically competitive with the opposition, and is reasonably healthy, Brunell looks like he belongs in the Pro Bowl, or close to it. When the rest of the O is uncomfortable with the scheme, is physically outclassed by the opponent, or is not healthy enough, Brunell looks like he's 50. This may be due to how he perceives his role--as a game manager who avoids mistakes, or at least does his best to avoid them. If the rest of the O shapes up well and is functioning smoothly, Brunell is willing to throw the ball where it needs to be thrown and take the risks he needs to take, with the expectation that his teammates will come through for him. The moment he detects weakness around him, though, he goes into safety mode.

In the first couple games of the season, the entire offense looked confused, and Brunell's play reflected that. Against the Texans, the Skins got the chance to limit their options and focus on only short passes and the running game, without seriously risking a loss. From that point on, the O appears to have found its timing, and with his teammates around him doing what they're supposed to be doing, Brunell has opened up his game.

For the record, I don't mean to imply that the Redskins' offense is now entirely comfortable with Saunders's system and will sail through the rest of the season. In fact, I expect a bumpy ride, with maybe a signficant scoring drought or two.

41
by INT (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 10:45am

Jags fan here, and I agree with the whole jist of the read. Like #8 said, Matt Jones re-aggravated or had another injury and did not come into the game much at all. And I do disagree about the Fred Taylor point. He's a regressing running back, but he's not bad. He still has qualities that you would want in your starting running back. #10 was right in saying that you don't just start a rookie out of the blue. He may be the proverbial heir-to-the-RB-throne in Jacksonville, but the old king is still sitting in it.

I again agree with another poster, this time #12. Brian Williams didn't play so hot, but it didn't help that Deon Grant had a disgustingly bad game. He mis-timed himself when he went for the pick in overtime, and we know the rest. He also had a pretty dumb personal foul for celebration after he recovered that fumble, too.

42
by feeshta (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 11:49am

Pass Defense: The injury to Springs has been a killer, as has the one to Prioleau. It has forced several new players into situations where their coaches don't yet trust them to make the right decisions. This resulted in extemely conservative defensive play calling in the early games, with no preassure on the QB to speak of. Now that the players are gaining their coaches confidence things are opening up a bit. I didn't think their performance against the Jags was all that poor, more that the Jags made a few exceptional plays when they needed to, despite solid play from the D for most of the game. the do need to tackle a little better in space though.

Defensive line: Anyone who has watched the line closely this year can see a few things starting to become clear. Depth is actually very good, with Golston looking good and Montgomery actually looking better than anyone but opposing offensive lines cares to notice. He has been unblockable one on one, and has started to draw a double-team which frees up others. Carter plays better when he is lined up next to Montgomery, and that says a lot. He's not flashy, but he's an exceptionally good space eater and run stopper. Don;t forget he played Nose Tackle in a 3-4 in college. Griffin is injured again, and has not looked like himself so far this year. The depth at DT has allowed the coaches to rest him a bit more than usual though, which hopefully will allow him to heal up. Last year he was a beast near the end of the season when he finally got healthy, and was a strong force in the defensive improvement late in the season. I see the same thing happpening again this year.

43
by Paralis (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 11:58am

I don’t konw if it’s “entirely normal and to be expected,� but it’s consistent with what Gibbs said would happen. Brunell was the projected starter, and under that circumstance, Collins was slated to be the primary backup.

I've already argued this out elsewhere without much satisfaction, so hopefully it won't go on too long here. It just doesn't make any sense to me. If Campbell's good enough to start with a week to prepare, shouldn't he be good enough to be the gameday backup (with that same week to prepare)?

That wouldn’t make sense. Why would he be so tired one week that he can’t make plays at all, and the next week be totally rejuvenated? It’s not like he was worked particularly hard prior to the Dallas game.

Like I said, I don't get it. Brunell looked simply awful against the Cowboys, and not just in the "couldn't find receivers off-screen who might possibly have been open" sense. The Roy Williams interception was on an iffy read (even without safety help, Cooley was covered), but it was a terrible throw in a way that's pretty consistent with Brunell. How many times can you remember him overthrowing a receiver?

I don't have a good explanation for why Brunell looked so much better this week than he'd ever looked as a Redskin. Maybe I'm putting too much stock in his throwaway press conference joke that the coaching staff should hold him out of practice more often. But I can't for the life of me think of any other explanation for why Brunell's individual play can occasionally be so flat-out horrible, in the ways that it is, than that it's his arm.

For the record, I don’t mean to imply that the Redskins’ offense is now entirely comfortable with Saunders’s system and will sail through the rest of the season. In fact, I expect a bumpy ride, with maybe a signficant scoring drought or two.

FWIW, I don't put a lot of stock into the new playbook explanation of the early-season struggles. Aside from the shared Air Coryell heritage, are the Skins this year really trying to do so much different from what they did two years ago, just without the ineptness at game management that meant so many plays came out as "motion, motion, delay of game" or "formation shift, false start"? I mean, for all that it is a new playbook, is there anybody in the NFL, under contract or not, whom Gibbs could have hired to run his offense that would've been a tighter fit than Saunders?

44
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 12:28pm

I’ve already argued this out elsewhere without much satisfaction, so hopefully it won’t go on too long here. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. If Campbell’s good enough to start with a week to prepare, shouldn’t he be good enough to be the gameday backup (with that same week to prepare)?

The truth is that I agree with you in this case. While what transpired was technically consistent with what Gibbs said would happen, I think this was an opportunity to give Campbell the work and the chance to play if Brunell couldn't go. It's not like letting Campbell act as the primary QB during practice would have changed Collins's status by comparison with a more typical week, when Brunell would be getting most of the work. Anyway, whatever. We'll see what happens.

45
by joe (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 2:04pm

I rewatched the Dallas game last night, and I still don’t think Portis is the difference.

Portis gives them the chance to move the ball on the ground 30+ times a game (Gibbs has a colossal win percentage when they pound the ball 30+ times per game). He also runs to the outside and finds holes better than Betts or Cartwright. With Portis in the game the linebackers have to compensate for his capabilities and so Portis siphons off the tighter pass coverage and opens up the air game for Brunell, Moss, et al.

Not to mention that Portis brings about an emotional lift, an unpredictable factor. You could tell how deflated they looked when he was hurt against Cincy.

Portis is the lynch-pin for the Saunders offense. This is how its supposed to work. In KC Trent Green could put up big numbers with mediocre recievers thanks to one of the most intimidating backfields in the NFL.

46
by Carlos (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 3:17pm

39 is a great post. By that I mean I agree with it pretty much in it's entirety (although I have to guess that Portis is a pretty big part of it, see below).

Brunell is just tough to figure. My guess is that the rest was a huge factor, and I'd like to think Gibbs is smart and flexible enough to take advantage of that (IIRC, Riggo didn't practice much in his last 2 years with the Skins... of course that was usually because he was in traction from Mon-Wed).

For at least half his starts with the Skins, Brunell has looked completely washed up, with the weakest arm I've ever seen from an NFL QB -- heck, even his throwaways were ugly ducks that sometimes barely made it out of bounds! But then in something slightly less than half the starts, he's looked quite good -- still relatively weak-armed, but able to hit the open receiver and, as always, avoid the costly turnovers by INT and fumble. (I wouldn't say, as someone else above did, that he's ever looked like a true Pro Bowl QB.)

I just don't get it. Maybe he's just inconsistent by nature. Maybe he gets hammered some nights before games but not on others. Maybe he's taking drugs, legal or otherwise. Maybe it's the rest. Maybe it's mental -- he only seems to perform well when all the fans have given up on him, like he can't take the pressure of high expectations, but he can outperform when folks have written him off. I've really never seen QB play like it, b/c I don't think the difference in the games is a matter of what I'd call random chance -- like Eli Manning throwing only a few picks early last year and a ton late in the year... he was QB'ing the same in all those games, it just didn't show up until you aggregated all the games. Brunell really looks like a totally different QB week to week, and I think he's basically the difference b/t this team missing the playoffs vs. having a shot at the NFC title game.

Now for Portis. As I've posted before, Portis has a great rep for picking up the blitz, and he sure seems good when I've happened to notice him. So that's gotta help. But is he really the difference. I've been a real Portis skeptic, and I always hated that trade. I thought he was a product of Denver's system, and since he's been in washington I still haven't seen him break as many tackles as Jones-Drew did in one run against the steelers. He just does not break tackles, period. I say this for context, b/c I've never been impressed with him. That said, after these four games, I'm starting to rethink things. I'm not sure what it is, b/c watching on TV his skills just aren't the obvious (good: he doesn't fumble; bad: he doesn't break tackles). But watching on TV you really can't tell if he's just a little faster or quicker with the cut than your average back... and in a way that "scares" defenses into playing worse (or actually makes him harder to contain). If that's the case, then that would explain a lot, including better blocking performance by the O-Line -- it's easier for them to get fired up and really blast a hole b/c Portis can take it to the house, so the difference in O-Line performance is all mental (which is likely the case).

Finally:
so many plays came out as “motion, motion, delay of game� or “formation shift, false start�

Great line. Cracked me up.

That Todd Collins practiced with the first team not Jason Campbell is both (1) completely contra to what Gibbs said the plan would be, and hence (2) a pretty sure sign that Campbell is a long, long way from winning Gibbs' confidence.

47
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 4:56pm

That Todd Collins practiced with the first team not Jason Campbell is both (1) completely contra to what Gibbs said the plan would be

No. Like I said, it's precisely what Gibbs said would happen. Gibbs said that if Brunell was going to start the next Sunday, Collins would be the #2. Brunell was projected to start last Sunday, so Collins was the #2 and Campbell was the #3. Because Collins was higher on the depth chart, he got the bulk of the snaps in practice.

48
by Carlos (not verified) :: Thu, 10/05/2006 - 8:31pm

Loose, I think that's wishful interpretation. When Collins was practicing, Brunell's status was unknown.

49
by Loose On the Lead (not verified) :: Fri, 10/06/2006 - 12:57pm

Loose, I think that’s wishful interpretation. When Collins was practicing, Brunell’s status was unknown.

Brunell was listed as probable on the injury reports.