I recently had the chance to speak with Ben about the upcoming game. You can read my questions and his answers over on his Redksins blog. His answers to my questions are below.
1. What went wrong for the Redskin this season? Was it a lack of
talent and will we see that lack of talent cost the Redskins the game
against the Giants?
Tough question. To put it all together, this was a coaching staff that too much power and got inappropriately involved in player acquisition. To hear Joe Gibbs say it over an over, these high-priced free agents, Brandon Lloyd, Adam Archuleta, Andre Carter, et al, are not guys that were brought in by GM-like professional talent evaluators, they were requested directly by the coaches, and the management, with no one smarter in the way to say, hold up, went along with it. The result is guys that don’t fit.
It’s not that there is no talent, it’s that the new talent was never as good as their paychecks and because of that pay structure, there was no money left over for depth. In the secondary, you have a first round pick (Carlos Rogers), a top-shelf free agent (Shawn Springs), another first round pick (Sean Taylor) and the richest safety of all time (Adam Archuleta). When Shawn was hurt, Carlos was not ready to be a premier guy and Adam was benched, the backups were all journeymen who got beat in coverage like Tom Coughlin’s dog.
The way the Redskins can get out of this tightening downward spiral is to fire the Redskins’ Don Rumsfeld Vinny Cerrato, bring in a professional football guy and let him work witrh Joe Gibbs and keep Dan Snyder the hell out of the way.
No these public and well-documented problems will not stop the Redskins from pummeling a reeling Giants team looking at a Tiki-less future and led by what is at best an average quarterback who gets paid too much.
2. What’s going right for the Redskins? What should we look for in
this game that will be a positive for them in 2007?
The offensive line has been the real story of 2006. These guys loooove to run block and a starter did not miss a game until last week. Ladell Betts has 1000 yards rushing, including 6 100 yard games, and that’s only on 8 starts! That kind of play supports a quarterback getting comfortable in a starting role. Of the starting offensive line, only Derrick Dockery is a free agent after this season. Age is a consideration for these guys, but 2007 should be another good year for the O-line.
Dovetailing right from the offensive line is the quarterback. Jason Campbell is cemented as the starter and the Redskins will succeed or fail in 2007 with him under center. So far, I like what I see.
3. The Redskins ran like crazy of the Eagles. The Eagles then stopped
the Giants running attack. Can you explain that to me? What did
Washington do right that New York couldn’t do?
The December 10 Washington game was the first of a three-game road stretch for the Eagles, all against division rivals, and the Eagles won all three. That has not happened since the Redskins won three straight division road games in 1971. That first game, against Washington was Jeff Garcia’s third start after Donovan McNabb went down, a make or break game, and I think the team was focused on offense and getting Garcia settled, and the Redskins just ran it all over the place. The Eagles were playing not to lose and it worked.
When it came time the next week for the Giants game, I think the Eagles were more confident that the whole Jeff Garcia thing could work and were playing to win. They made a decision that Eli Manning was going to have to do what he did in week 2 in order for the Giants to win, and the Eagles did not believe he had another game like that in him, and they were right. They contained the run and let Eli be Eli. He had a good day passing but never scored the big play.
4. Are you happy about the Redskins QB situation now and for 2007?
What will we see (positive and negative) this game?
There was a whole to-do about Jason Campbell amongst Redskins fans which played out in the Redskins blogs as well. It comes down to this: Redskins fans are all confident Jason Campbell has the skills to be a good NFL QB, and 2007 will be all about Jason. Where the quibbling begins is what could the team have done to have a better 2006? If Mark Brunell was not the answer, should the team have known that in preseason and made Jason the starter now, reducing expectations for a 2006 playoff run and giving Jason eight more games to get better? Or was the preseason assessment that if the Redskins were going to win 11 games and go to the playoffs it was going to be on Mark? The debate is really about when the Redskins decided they were not a great team, because benching a veteran in favor of a practical rookie is not a decision a playoff team makes.
In this game we will see more of the Redskins same: a conservative passing attack designed to minimize mistakes, high-percentage passes, a lot of Chris Cooley and a few deep balls to keep the Giants honest. The passing game is not altogether different now that Mark has been replaced by Jason, it’s just that, well, Jason can throw it more than 20 yards in the air, so they let him do that six or seven times a game.
5. Are you happy with the Redskins coaching staff? Have they done the
best possible work with a flawed team put together by an owner who
doesn’t think longterm or did the coaches help squander the chance
for a playoff appearance with a talented bunch of players?
That’s a trick question because it’s Joe Gibbs. To the extent that Redskins fans revere anyone, Joe is the living embodiment of Redskins football, and so like the pope there is a tendency to think he is infallible, and that the team’s problems all result from the world around Joe and not from Joe himself.
The reality is that there are too many cooks, too many coaches calling too many meetings and all sucking the air out of the room. Like any company with too much management, the team has spent too much time managing and not enough footballing. The team wants all these rich athletes to be inspired from within and have the coaches just there to direct that energy but even these guys, all grown men, still need daily motivation, supervision and personal encouragement to deliver the best product. The coaching staff needs to get leaner, the org chart needs to be flatter and the players need to understand the guy yelling at them after a loss is not going to be some young position coach or some ‘quality control’ guy, but rather the top guys, the head coach and the coordinators, the guys they are really playing for.
Bonus: Sean Taylor. Best safety in the NFL? Worth the #5 pick in the
draft? Is he easy to root for despite the spitting and off-field
If not the best safety then damn close. Roy Williams would have been my pick a month ago, but even Cowboys fans are concerned that Roy is riding his rep from three years ago and missing tackles and taking bad angles. Looking at the Pro Bowl rosters, any of those guys, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, John Lynch, Brian Dawkins, all those guys force opposing offenses to tailor their gameplan around them and all would be welcome on any team.
The thing about Sean Taylor is that he’s not human. He’s a linebacker in a safety’s body, he’s the fastest guy on the field and he has an uncanny ability to direct the entire force of a hit right into the runner’s forward motion. Because he plays a little wild, opposing receivers and anyone in the open field is looking around for him because no one wants to be on the business end of a Sean Taylor Signature Hit. He makes receivers go back into the huddle and tell the QB, hey how bout you don’t string me over the middle one time.
The facemasks, the late hits, the spitting, the lying about the spitting, the gunplay, the legal problems, the ignoring the coach, all that stuff, is part of the package. If he keeps that up, the Redskins won’t re-sign because he’ll be a top-drawer free agent when the time comes anyway and his upside is tempered by his downside. No one want him to join the monastery, just to lay off stupid stuff. But yeah, he’s fun to watch. You never know what’s going to happen next.
That’s it. Head over to Ben’s blog for more of the thoughtful football talk you see here.