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19 Dec 2006

Any Given Sunday: Redskins over Saints

by Ned Macey

A week ago, after the New Orleans Saints demolished Dallas on Sunday night, fans began to ask: Is New Orleans the best team in the NFC? Finally, the Saints were getting the respect they craved all season. Bolstered by this respect, they promptly dumped a home game to the 5-9 Washington Redskins.

The true quality of the 2006 New Orleans Saints lies somewhere between these two performances. They have earned their NFC South title, but probably do not have enough to make the Super Bowl.

The Redskins, meanwhile, have pulled out of their season-long death spiral and returned to something resembling normalcy. Their porous defense has improved since mid-season, and they can see their future in Jason Campbell. Five starts into his career, definitive judgments about Campbell's career are very premature. One thing clear after Sunday is that Campbell brings a dimension to the offense that Mark Brunell was incapable of providing.

The game was marked by a sound defensive game plan from Gregg Williams. The well-respected coordinator has overseen one of the worst defenses of his coaching career. The Redskins pass defense has been shredded repeatedly throughout the season, proving that the best coaching in the world does not overcome poor talent.

A season ago, Washington ranked fourth in the league in DVOA defense, and third against the pass. Before Sunday's win, they ranked 26th overall and 32nd against the pass. Shawn Springs, their top cornerback, missed the first five games. At safety, the ill-advised decision to bring in free agent Adam Archuleta completely backfired. They tried veteran Troy Vincent, but his best days are behind him. The Redskins have now turned to journeyman Vernon Fox, whose primary responsibility is simply making sure no receiver gets behind him. The pass defense has improved markedly since Fox entered the lineup.

Washington's defense was successful by keeping plays in front of them and getting pressure from their front seven. Drew Brees has rarely been sacked all season. The Redskins only got to him twice, but they applied constant pressure. By all accounts, left tackle Jammal Brown has played well all season. On Sunday, he was consistently harassed by Andre Carter, who played most downs at right defensive end. Meanwhile, linebacker Marcus Washington applied outside pressure from the other side on a series of linebacker blitzes. The Saints often empty their backfield, and Washington came untouched on a number of occasions.

The Saints passing offense has been amazing this year. Drew Brees is deservedly in the MVP discussion for a remarkable season. Surrounded by Joe Horn and a group of unknown receivers, Brees has been among the most effective quarterbacks this season. Big plays have been crucial to the Saints' success. Brees has 17 completions of 40 or more yards, the same number as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers combined. Washington rarely played their receivers tight, instead giving a comfortable cushion and staying in a zone. One of the few times they did play up close, Devery Henderson burst free but was unable to hold on to a potential 40-yard reception.

Without the big play, the Saints had to march patiently up and down the field. That proved impossible without Horn to run the underneath routes. Henderson has been a revelation, but his primary strength is the deep route. The Saints hit a number of passes to the amazing Marques Colston, but Washington was able to limit his yards after the catch. The absence of Horn had not been felt since he was originally injured at the end of October. On Sunday, however, the first option was often taken away, the deep pass was gone, and Brees was holding the ball too long. If Washington's strategy is copied, the Saints will have to work on developing a consistent mid-range game to their other receivers.

The other counterbalance to Washington's strategy is to run the ball effectively, but the Redskins were able to stop the run with only seven defenders. The Saints' two-headed backfield of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush combined for only 62 yards on 22 carries. These struggles in the run game are nothing new for Bush, but McAllister has been solid all season.

You do not need advanced statistics to see the difference between McAllister and Bush. McAllister, the less explosive back, averages 4.4 per carry, while Bush averages 3.2. Success rate measures successful runs based on down and distance. McAllister ranks fourth in the league in success rate; Bush ranks 44th. The big play potential is not even there for Bush in the run game, where he has yet to gain more than 18 yards. A poor rookie campaign does not foreclose the possibility he will develop into a consistent runner, but he is contributing nothing on the ground this year.

Of course, Bush has been a difference-maker the past two weeks in the passing game. Bush has been a key part of the passing attack all season, leading the team with 84 receptions. Other than the past two weeks, however, the receptions have been for minimal gain. He had a 74-yard reception against San Francisco and 61-yard reception against Dallas. His other 82 catches have averaged 6.9 yards per catch.

Does Bush attract the defense's attention? Certainly, but if you keep players deep and play zone, you limit the opportunity for Bush to be a difference-maker. Washington added a second piece by having their linebackers play him physically.

The Saints certainly have the talent at the skill positions to march patiently down the field, but on Sunday, it did not look like they had the offensive line. The offensive line has been a key to their offensive resurgence, but this group was unknown before the season for a reason. Only Brown returns from a year ago, and the only other players with experience are Jeff Faine and Jamar Nesbit. Faine anchored the "powerful" Cleveland offensive line last year. Nesbit started for the Chris Weinke and Rodney Peete Panthers.

For the season, this group has given up very few sacks, but that is largely a function of Brees' willingness to get rid of the ball. The two sacks on Sunday were a small percentage of the overall pressure. The Saints rank in the middle of the pack in Adjusted Line Yards. Bush dances too much in the backfield, but often he is dancing because there are no holes. This writer has not seen enough of the Saints to know if this mediocre play is a trend or one bad game, but the situation bears watching as the Saints head into the playoffs.

Washington will not be returning to the playoffs this year, but when they do return, it will be with Jason Campbell at quarterback. The second-year player definitely has a strong arm. His beautiful touchdown to Santana Moss was effortless. In fact, if you watch just the first ten yards after the ball is released, Campbell looks like an amazing quarterback. The problem, for now, is that the ball does not necessarily go towards his intended target. To say that accuracy is Campbell's primary is a problem is to say that Mark Brunell's arm was not particularly strong. Campbell is completing only 50.7 percent of his passes.

His low completion percentage on Sunday was in part due to an enormous number of deep throws. The Saints were down safety Omar Stoutmire, but they have been prone to giving up the big play all season. The Saints have given up 21 passes of 30 or more yards, tied for most in the league with Green Bay.

Washington scored their only touchdown on a deep pass play, but they controlled the game on the ground with Ladell Betts. The fifth-year player has been a solid back-up for a number of years, and now he is taking full advantage of his opportunity to start. Clinton Portis is one of the elite backs in the game, but Betts has matched his production. Portis ranks 12th in DVOA for 2006, Betts 11th. Betts gave up his opportunity to be this year's Chester Taylor, signing an extension to stay with Washington. He and Portis should form a potent one-two punch for the next several years. And yes, Betts' performance does make the T.J. Duckett trade even more ridiculous.

Betts has played well, but one cannot ignore the overall success of little-known running backs in the Al Saunders system. He also made a productive performer out of Derrick Blaylock. The offensive mastermind has been criticized because of the low point totals the Redskins have had this year. They rank 26th in the league in points scored. In DVOA, they are a much more respectable 12th. One major reason for the discrepancy is atrocious play in the red zone. They rank 30th in the NFL in red zone DVOA at -44.2%. That is Oakland Raiders bad. The ability to gain first downs in the middle of the field is important, but at some point, they need to start scoring touchdowns.

The dual problems of big play passes and consistent run gains could cripple any playoff hopes for the Saints. The big plays are nothing new, but the run defense has generally been solid if unspectacular. Defensive tackle Hollis Thomas was suspended two weeks ago for, according to him, using his asthma medication. His presence was missed on Sunday. With Thomas out, Washington gashed New Orleans when they ran up the middle. Betts gained 62 yards on seven carries up the middle. Thomas returns for the playoffs, and, he will be welcomed back with open arms. Remember, in the NFL, steroid abusers are not the scourge of the earth they are in other sports.

The Saints have a fighting chance in the playoffs because of their impressive offense. They have the best quarterback in the conference. The overall talent in the NFC playoffs, however, is tightly bunched. After Week 15, our weighted total DVOA stats have Dallas, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and the New York Giants bunched up between seventh and tenth. The Saints have as good a shot as making the NFC Championship as anyone else. One problem is their defense, which has been substantially worse than any likely NFC playoff team besides Seattle. Brees can call Peyton Manning to ask how entering the playoffs with a great quarterback and a below-average defense works out.

In no way does this detract from an amazing season in New Orleans. The Saints have shocked the world and are comfortably the best team in their division. The return of Horn, Stoutmire, and Thomas will make them much stronger. Sunday's game aside, they are capable of putting up points on any team in the league. But, having watched Washington win with a deep zone and active front four, it is hard to see the Saints going into Chicago and scoring enough points against the Bears' Cover-2.

As for the Redskins, their future is extremely dependent on the development of Campbell. Gregg Williams' track record with defenses makes it a reasonable assumption that the defensive unit will be substantially better a year from now. Offensively, Washington will be able to run the ball, but they need a consistent passing offense to return to the playoffs. Football Outsiders' quarterback projection system loves Campbell. A large part of that projection system is based on college completion percentage. That college success has not translated early in his NFL career. If the accuracy improves next year, the Redskins will make the NFC East even more competitive.

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.

(Ed. note: Many people were curious why Ned did not do last week's Any Given Sunday on the Saints' win over Dallas. That was my call, as he would have duplicated most of my comments about New Orleans from last week's DVOA commentary. So, to New Orleans fans, sorry that Ned didn't write about your team until it lost -- that's my fault, not his. -- Aaron Schatz)

Posted by: Ned Macey on 19 Dec 2006

50 comments, Last at 20 Dec 2006, 12:39pm by Pat

Comments

1
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 1:29pm

First? Maybe?

Anyway, Aaron, thanks for the apology. Hopefully it will prevent the FOMBC from striking again. That is, if some of my fellow Saints fans prove to be literate.

2
by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 1:36pm

The Saints clearly lost because the didn't give the ball to Mike Karney!

I didn't seen this one, but we've seen the Saint half a dozen or so times in the UK this year, and Hollis Thomas has played well in each game. I'm not suprised they missed him. How did Charles Grant go? He's impressed me this year.

3
by Crowley (Philly) (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 2:09pm

Unfortunately I have to disagree with regards to the Redskins making the NFC East more competitive. Watching skins games in 05 I generally got the feeling "Geez, this is gonna be a close one, I hope we can hang on/don't blow it in the final 2 minutes". Watching games THIS year I have usually gotten the feeling "Wow Team X could throw a 70 yard TD pass anytime they wanted to. I hope they decide to run out the clock so we only lose by 10."

I am deathly afraid of what Washington's secondary will look like after the departure of Springs (who still looks like the man, but has to lose a step at some point). Taylor is a liability in pass defense. The front four (and usually Carter) is brutal.

In a best case scenario I can see Washington beginning to vaguely resemble a team like the Vikings - able to stop the run, but ineffective against good passing teams (hello Dallas and Philadelphia!), able to control some games when they get the lead, but not able to come from behind, and able to be decent and take home 6-7 Ws, but not really able to contend.

4
by Joseph (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 2:14pm

The bittersweetness of being in AGS--if you are the winner, you beat a good team you prob. shouldn't have beaten on paper. If you are the loser, you are a good team that lost. For us Saints fans, it's nice to be considered a good team that shouldn't be beat by teams out of the playoff picture, as in our history we have been the spoiler team many years. Hence the bittersweet article. We won the division even with a loss, but bottom line we still lost to a team we should have beaten.

Side note: two weeks ago I predicted that the Saints would beat Dallas and ride this to the #2 playoff seed. Now lets see if the second half of this prediction comes true. (I thought I posted it in the recent EPC on the Cowboys Defense, but can't find it now.)

GEAUX SAINTS!!!

5
by B (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 2:16pm

For the NFC this year, I think we have a rock/paper/scissors situation. The Saints beat the Cowboys but lose to the Bears because Good Rex shows up against bad defenses. The Bears beat the Saints but lose to the Cowboys. So the Saints best chance is to get the #2 seed and hope Dallas will take care of the Bears for them.

6
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 2:19pm

By the way, I did want to add one thing regarding Sean Taylor that I noticed over the past week: of all the safeties in the league, the only one that has forced fumbles anywhere near as frequently as Brian Dawkins (1 FF per 28 tackles) is Sean Taylor (1 FF per 34 tackles). That's really impressive. For Taylor, it's small sample size, still, but that's pretty impressive overall.

Of course, in coverage, Taylor's worse than Dawkins, which makes me think that Taylor should be playing closer to the line.

7
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 2:20pm

That RPC comment may well hold true, but that's just part of the reason that I want the Eagles to win out so that it's easier for the Saints to win the #2 seed.

Also, I should add that the biggest loss to the Saints' secondary was the reason that Stoutmire was there in the first place: Roman Harper.

8
by Mikey (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 2:25pm

I thought the Saints really needed to call more blitzes. Line versus line, they were overmatched. On the few occasions where they did sell out, they forced Campbell into bad throws. Facing a rookie QB at home I felt they could have been more aggressive.

I also thought the Redskins were very, very well prepared for the Saints extensive use of screens and quick outs to the flat. In several cases they chose to cut off the passing lane to the flat rather than go all out to the QB.

Ned writes that the Skins did a good job pressuring Brees, but in my viewing of the Saints, pressuring Brees is practically the worst thing you can do (yeah, I'm exaggerating a bit). The Saints will kill super-aggressive defenses. In the Dallas game they destroyed DeMarcus Ware by using his strengths - speed and aggressive rushing - against him by repeatedly lobbing balls over him into the wide-open flat.

9
by theory (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 2:28pm

Anyone have any idea what happened to Archuleta? The FO guys thought he'd be an upgrade, at least in the Redskins section of PFP2006.

10
by Marko (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 2:46pm

"For the NFC this year, I think we have a rock/paper/scissors situation. The Saints beat the Cowboys but lose to the Bears because Good Rex shows up against bad defenses. The Bears beat the Saints but lose to the Cowboys. So the Saints best chance is to get the #2 seed and hope Dallas will take care of the Bears for them."

As it stands now, that scenario doesn't work. The Cowboys currently are the #3 seed, and the Saints are the #2 seed. If those seeds hold (or even if the Cowboys pass the Saints and end up #2, with the Saints #3), the Cowboys and Saints would play in the divisional round (assuming the #3 seed beats the #6 seed). The Bears first playoff game will be against the #4, #5 or #6 seed. They can't play the #3 seed in the divisional round.

Your scenario therefore requires that the Cowboys end up #4, #5 or #6, which doesn't seem likely.

11
by Carlos (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 2:56pm

Of course, in coverage, Taylor’s worse than Dawkins, which makes me think that Taylor should be playing closer to the line.

That's 2006 phenomenon -- at least Taylor's being bad in pass coverage (no idea about a comparison to Dawkins). Prior, he was fine and occasionally amazing (for a safety). Lot's of speculation that he's being asked to "think too much" instead of being allowed to ballhawk.

The Redskins secondary has just looked abysmal all year, in a way they haven't the past few years. The WaPo beat writer blames it on the loss of Ryan Clark and that the CBs and Safeties meet separately (and have their own coaches, who don't get along). The Skins coaching staff laughed off the notion that it was unusual for CBs and Safeties to meet separately. I have absolutely no idea if that's unusual or not, but I wouldn't be surprised if internecine battles among the enormous coaching staff isn't undermining the team... especially on offense.

Anyone have any idea what happened to Archuleta?

No one outside the coaching staff.

They rank 30th in the NFL in red zone DVOA at -44.2%.

Nice to know my eyes aren't deceiving me. They are atrocious in the red zone. At this point, I now expect, multiple pre-snap penalties and horrible play calling (three straight passes are common from first and goal to go inside the 5 yard line).

At least 200 pages of Saunders 700 page playbook appears to be plays that have no chance of being successful, like that ridiculous three back formation on third down that led directly to a sack. I wish you guys had pointed that out. Campbell got sacked before a single one of those players even got out of the backfield!

12
by ABW (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 2:58pm

Re: 10

If Philly beats Dallas and Atlanta, then Dallas has a very good chance of ending up the 5 seed.

13
by Sean (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 3:07pm

Re 5: I would be very surprised if the Saints beat Dallas in a rematch. The Cowboys simply had a bad day on the same Sunday when the Saints had their best day. But Dallas is the stronger team.

14
by dbt (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 3:08pm

#12: Yep. Dallas is unlikely to slip to 6th and is really unlikely to end up 4th but they could easily be 3rd or 5th.

15
by Lee Gibbons (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 3:18pm

Re #3

Trying to figure out what the Redskins will look like next year is foolish. They'll spend a ton o'cash again this offseason. For us Skins fans we have to hope the spree is more like Gibbs' 1st year (Springs, Washington, Griffin) and less like this past year (Carter, Archuleta, Randle-El).

16
by NedNederlander (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 3:25pm

OK, while we're discussing playoff seeding ... For PIT to make the playoffs, they have to win out (obviously) AND TEN (over BUF), NE (over JAX), DEN (over CIN) and MIA (over NYJ)have to win in Week 16. Then KC needs to beat JAX in Week 17. If BUF beats TEN, PIT still gets in if BAL beats BUF in Week 17. PIT beats NYJ for final wild card based on a 3-2 record against common foes vs. NYJ's 2-3 record. Could happen, right?
Damn, that Oakland loss really hurt ...

17
by Marko (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 3:43pm

#12: Agreed. However, I don't think Philly will beat Dallas. And if Dallas beats Philly, Dallas wins the East and almost certainly will end up no lower than the #3 seed. If Dallas beats Philly, the only way that the Cowboys can fall to #4 is if they lose to Detroit (at Dallas) in their finale, and Seattle wins out (at home vs. San Diego, at Tampa Bay).

18
by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 3:55pm

Marko #10:

Your scenario therefore requires that the Cowboys end up #4, #5 or #6, which doesn’t seem likely.

If the Cowboys lose on Monday to the Eagles (possible), and the Eagles then go on to beat the Falcons (very likely) and the Cowboys the Lions (mortal lock), the Eagles are the 3rd seed, and the Cowboys the 5th seed.

Cowboys then get a road trip to Seattle (or much more unlikely San Francisco), while the Eagles get to toy with either the Falcons, Giants, Packers, Rams, or Vikings in Philly. If the NFC plays out with the Cowboys and Eagles winning their first game in this scenario (very likely in my view), Eagles play Saints in a rematch in New Oreleans, while the Cowboys go to Chicago. If the Cowboys win that game (possible), they then get a road trip to either New Orleans or Philly to take on a team that has already beaten them convincingly this year.

Cowboys need to win out and try to avoid this scenario, because I don't think they make it past the Divisionals if they are a Wild Card.

19
by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 3:58pm

Sean #13:

I would be very surprised if the Saints beat Dallas in a rematch. The Cowboys simply had a bad day on the same Sunday when the Saints had their best day. But Dallas is the stronger team.

Stronger team, but very bad match-up. The Saints, a similar team to the Eagles, employed essentially the same game plan the Eagles did in Week 5. Box-up Glenn and Owens on the outside in double coverage, and throw deep against the safeties. Same plan, same result. 4-5 offensive TD's for Saints/Eagles, 2 for Cowboys.

20
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:08pm

#17/#18: Of course, you're assuming that Dallas wants the #3 seed over the #4 seed. If they beat Philly (winning the East) the Detroit game could decide the 3rd/4th seed, and so they might toss it depending on who the likely #5 seed would be. Or they might rest starters regardless if they can't get a first round bye and have the division sewn up, and let the chips fall where they will.

21
by Marko (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:11pm

Andrew: Yes, it's possible that the Cowboys end up the #5 seed. But as I said in my original post, it doesn't seem likely. If they beat the Eagles, the Cowboys won't be the #5 seed.

22
by JonL (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:19pm

"This writer has not seen enough of the Saints to know if this mediocre play is a trend or one bad game..."

That sentence (fragment) alone is why I like reading FO.

#9

He started out okay in run support, but his pass defense has been atrocious all year. Sean Taylor is the team's designated "blitzing safety," so having a bad coverage guy beside him is borderline inexcusable.

Bottom line: he's gotten old, he's gotten slow, and maybe he doesn't care anymore.

23
by Marko (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:26pm

Pat: Do you really think that Bill Parcells would try to lose a game on purpose to get a worse seed? Especially when there is uncertainty about who his team would play? And considering that down the road in the playoffs, having a lower seed could mean a road game instead of a home game in a possible NFC Championship Game?

Also, if Dallas beats Philly, Dallas could still end up the #2 seed, so they would have every incentive to try to win against Detroit. And honestly, to lose to Detroit at home, they would really have to give the game away, especially when you consider that Detroit would most likely be playing to lose and secure the #1 overall pick (not that having it will do them any good).

On top of all that, if Dallas beats Philly, and Seattle loses to San Diego this week (which is likely), then Dallas can't fall to the #4 seed.

24
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:31pm

I'm really curious to see what the Redskins do regarding Archuleta. If they cut him (which... given that he sucks would seem like the right thing to do) they take a *big* freaking hit in cap space in 2007/2008, as Archuleta has a poison pill in his contract if the Redskins don't exercise a $5M option next year. And the Redskins, uh, don't have a ton of cap space available next year - yeah, they can still spend with very creative contracts, but a multi-million dollar direct cap hit will hurt quite a bit.

I'm surprised they extended Betts and didn't cut Patten, too. Makes me wonder if they're going to seriously curtail their spending next year in hopes of making a big run in 2008.

25
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:34pm

Re: 21

When your entire arguement for "it doesn't seem likely" hinges on the outcome of a single game between two teams separated by only a single game and less than 6% WDVOA, your arguement isn't very strong. You may not think it will happen, but that's not the same thing as not very likely.

26
by Jim (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:35pm

The Saints, a similar team to the Eagles, employed essentially the same game plan the Eagles did in Week 5. Box-up Glenn and Owens on the outside in double coverage, and throw deep against the safeties. Same plan, same result. 4-5 offensive TD’s for Saints/Eagles, 2 for Cowboys.

This is right, but you forgot the other component: screens and other passes to RBs in the flats. The Eagles and Saints are good at this, and they kill Dallas.

27
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:39pm

Pat: Do you really think that Bill Parcells would try to lose a game on purpose to get a worse seed? Especially when there is uncertainty about who his team would play?

That's not entirely what I was suggesting. If they know who #5 and #6 will be (remember, this is the last week of the year, and Giants/Washington is a Saturday game - that could lock one of the seeds), then they might do it to select the team they want to play.

Otherwise, they might also do it just to avoid injury, considering the difference between #3 and #4 is essentially none.

I mean, Belichick did it last year, so it's not completely unheard of.

28
by Jim (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:39pm

In week 17, the Cowboys will either be playing with a chance for the division title (if they lose to the Eagles next week) or playing with a chance for the #2 seed (if they beat the Eagles next week). The Cowboys, Eagles and Saints all play at the same time in week 17. There's absolutely no way the Cowboys don't go all out to try to win that game.

29
by Jim (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:39pm

In week 17, the Cowboys will either be playing with a chance for the division title (if they lose to the Eagles next week) or playing with a chance for the #2 seed (if they beat the Eagles next week). The Cowboys, Eagles and Saints all play at the same time in week 17. There's absolutely no way the Cowboys don't go all out to try to win that game.

30
by Ferg (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:41pm

24: Makes me wonder if they’re going to seriously curtail their spending next year in hopes of making a big run in 2008.

Interesting theory. Except for the two tackles and Mike Sellers, the offense is really young, so it should be peaking in 2008 if they can keep the core guys together. But they would have to overhaul the defense in a really short time, because key guys like Griffin, Daniels, Salave'a, Springs, Washington, etc, are not getting any younger.

(Of course, *this* year was supposed be their big run..)

31
by Travis (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:46pm

The Cowboys, Eagles and Saints all play at the same time in week 17.

It's likely that Eagles-Falcons will be pushed back to 4:15 that week, with a decent chance that it becomes the prime time game.

32
by Jim (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 4:52pm

It’s likely that Eagles-Falcons will be pushed back to 4:15 that week, with a decent chance that it becomes the prime time game.

As long as the Cowboys don't play after the Eagles or Saints, they will not be tanking their game.

33
by DGL (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 5:15pm

#27: Yeah, but would Parcells have Matt Baker come in to drop kick a PAT?

34
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 5:22pm

or playing with a chance for the #2 seed (if they beat the Eagles next week).

Good point - I forgot there's no way for the Saints to clinch the #2 seed before Week 17 if Dallas wins next week.

35
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 5:24pm

But they would have to overhaul the defense in a really short time, because key guys like Griffin, Daniels, Salave’a, Springs, Washington, etc, are not getting any younger.

That's kindof my point, Ferg. There's no way, with the players they have now, to have a playoff defense in 2008. They're going to have to overhaul it. I think they might be choosing next year to do that.

36
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 5:28pm

Oh, and while playoff seedings are being discussed (and with the TMQ "ditch the conferences!" extra point) - I'm surprised no one has suggested the most obvious, simple change to the playoffs that would get rid of the stuff like tossing a game to select a team: the top seeded team chooses the team it wants to play from the bottom two, and the second seeded team plays the remaining one.

37
by Marko (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 5:35pm

If that change occurred, just imagine the teams playing the disrespect card for being chosen as the opponent by the #1 seeds. Oh wait, everybody already plays that card.

38
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 5:36pm

Why not just ditch the playoffs and have a BCS type system determine who plays in the Super Bowl? Oh, wait, that would be an absurd way to decide a champion...

39
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 6:00pm

If that change occurred, just imagine the teams playing the disrespect card for being chosen as the opponent by the #1 seeds. Oh wait, everybody already plays that card.

I know. It'd be awesome. Could you imagine if the Patriots got chosen by, say, the Colts? I think Rodney Harrison would explode.

That, and you would have teams fighting over #3 vs #4. Being able to choose your opponent is much bigger than "you might get home field. Three games into the playoffs. Maybe. And maybe you would've gotten it anyway."

40
by Jeremy Billones (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 6:51pm

>the Detroit game could decide the 3rd/4th seed, and so they might toss it depending on who the likely #5 seed would be

You're assuming they can lose the Lions, even on purpose :)

41
by MFurtek (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 9:10pm

Re: Redskins defense and beyond...
Trade down, trade down, trade down. I don't know how has extra 1st/2nd round picks, but I think the 'Skins draft strategy should be to pimp that pick for anything they can get and then pimp whatever pick they get for anything.

They're smart enough to do it (see 2003)... although other draft day moves prove they aren't smart enough to manage draft picks.

I never-underestimate Dan Snyder's ability to use his deep pockets to convince key players to re-negotiate... so I'm betting on them getting Clements and perhaps cutting Archuleta. That still leaves a big hole at the safety position... unless Vernon Fox is all they need with "Pray-low" back.

I'm not saying Clements is what the defense needs, but servicable DBs seem to be the key. I like the idea of using Taylor more as a SS than FS... although I think this offseason really hurt his play. Everyone is forgetting about those gun charges cutting into his training camp and preparation and concentration before the year.

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by Carlos (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 9:31pm

Trade down, trade down, trade down.

Given the unbelievably high cost (and the certainty of that cost) vs. the uncertainty of the payback w/r/t high draft picks, it's hard to understand why this isn't every team's strategy... until a new equilibrium is created where high draft picks are paid more in line with what an expected value calculation would suggest their worth is.

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by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 9:50pm

I really doubt they'll cut Archuleta before the season next year. They have no bargaining power with him to renegotiate. None. Zero. Zilch. He's got a $5M option bonus next year, and if it isn't picked up, his next three years' salaries jump up to compensate and become guaranteed. One way or another, he's getting $5M from the Redskins next year. Cutting him at any point in the year will be a cap hit of at least $2M (and a $7M hit the next year), and while that doesn't sound like a lot, uh, the Redskins don't have a ton of space to work with. I'll bet that they keep him, don't pick up the option, and see if he helps at all during the year next year - and if not, cut him during the year.

Still, though, I'm really fairly eager to see what the Redskins do. They have so little space and quite a few needs, so it'll be a minor miracle if they can be big players in free agency again.

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by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 9:53pm

Given the unbelievably high cost

Only the first 10 picks or so. Everything after that is pretty reasonably priced, and the risk isn't that bad. Bottom of the first round/top of the second is liquid gold: Under $2M/year for a player that's got a pretty good chance of being a starter. Whiffing on a player like that is absolutely no big deal.

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by MFurtek (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 11:59pm

Anyone know why that wasn't a safety on Reggie Bush at the end of the 2nd quarter (1 minute)?

It looked like he bobbled the ball and then after getting knocked back he kept trying to advance the ball. If players are allowed to spin out of tackles by backing up then they lose that yardage. Also, I'm not sure he had possession until he was firmly in the end zone... looked like he bobbled that catch and Springs had his arm in there.

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by MFurtek (not verified) :: Wed, 12/20/2006 - 12:21am

The officiating was pretty one-sided in this game too.
1) On their TD drive Brees snapped the ball with 00 on the clock, and it wasn't one of those nano-second ones.
2) During a drive 8 minutes left in 2nd quarter Andre Carter is rushing at Brees at the goal-line and blatently held by Brown.
3) On the same drive, Brees threw a pass beyond the LOS and none of the officials seemed to care.
4) Next drive there's a pretty baltent pick play to allow Copper to catch a pass when he was covered by Taylor (knocked down by #83).

Payton did a nice job on gettin some of those "WR in a LB zone" or "WR covered by LB" missmatches... ugh Williams... do you not want Archuleta out there THAT bad?

I loved the fact that the Redskins broke out some semblance of East Coast offense. Can't wait to see what happens when the game speeds up for him. Of course next year if things do click like that the defense will be in shambles.

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by Carlos (not verified) :: Wed, 12/20/2006 - 1:48am

Only the first 10 picks or so.

great, those are the very picks i'm talking about.

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by Carlos (not verified) :: Wed, 12/20/2006 - 1:52am

46

I thought the same, although I think they did eventually correct the pass beyond the LOS... after the challenge.

I was wondering whether the obvious delay of game was reviewable. I kept waiting for the whistle... and waiting and waiting.

Carter was tackled on that play. Hilarious.

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by hector (not verified) :: Wed, 12/20/2006 - 3:26am

The play-clock expiring was very blatant on the Deuce catch on the scoring drive, as MF alludes.

I think Ned overrates Horn's absence - not grossly so, but mildly. Horn has been at limited speed or out for much of the year and the team hasn't seemed to miss him much. Remember the tap dance these guys did in Dallas (I read somewhere their defense was the real story or something) sans Horn?

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by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 12/20/2006 - 12:39pm

great, those are the very picks i’m talking about.

Which the Redskins will have a grand total of 'one' of. The Redskins should trade down like mad - out of the first round entirely - because they really need to find a few diamonds in the later rounds to help their cap/aging situation.

There's a difference between trading down in the first round and trading down through the whole draft. The first is sane for every team. The second makes sense just for an aging team.