Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Game Recap: Week 1: Cowboys @ Redskins (Victory 13-7; Dallas Beaten!)

(FedEx at full capacity and extremely loud; Photo-  The Mrs.)
Some have said that this game was won on the last play of the first half and the 2nd half. They have a point, but I think this game in a sense played out much like the weather at FedEx on Sunday night.

While getting ready for Sunday, we had heard that the weather was supposed to be good around mid-afternoon (our goal was to get there around 2PM, FedEx parking lot opened at noon). Instead we got a nasty amount of rain and drizzle that just made things a mess for those trying to tailgate early. The weather then let up around 4PM and the sun came out. Life in the parking lot was good and everybody was happy. By the end of the night, we had fog, a few confused drivers but over all everything worked out. Like I said just like during the game.
(Good times at the tailgate. Italian Sausage FedEx style; Photo- The Mrs.)

Going into the game you probably expected a "Clash of the Titans" epic scoring battle with Mike and Kyle Shanahan lighting it up against a high powered Jason Garrett offense. Dallas is heading to the Super Bowl and Washington is heading back to respectability. Of course almost everybody had picked Dallas to stomp the Redskins this week.

(Only Adam Schefter picked the Redskins, that's why he gets the Burger King crown)
But, if you know the NFC East and how the Redskins and Cowboys have played each other over the last few years, you know that these games are usually physical, low scoring games (of course I picked the Skins to win 27-24 go figure). This was another one of those games. Overall, the Skins had some ups and downs. The offense looked out of sync most of the night and with a few exceptions most of the series died out because of a key mistake (more on that later). The Cowboys equally had some serious problems. Their O-line isn't nearly good as it should be. Alex Barron held Brian Orakpo on 3 major plays (one being the final play of the game) and they weren't subtle. Barron does have a career with the WWE or TNA if he doesn't get any better-- those were some nice sleeper holds he had on Orakpo. I also seriously question the play calling and decision making in this game by the Dallas coaching staff. You have little to no chance to get the ball in a position to score with 4 seconds left in the 1st half, so why do you try to run a play that eventually costs you the game? I also wonder why Dallas chose to not run the ball more. They were averaging close to 4.7 yards/carry. The run blocking was working and setting up play action (so Romo could do what he does best, get the ball down field). Instead, the Cowboys kept trying to find ways to get the ball to Dez Bryant (bubble screens anybody?) and kept moving backwards b/c of holding calls and other penalties.

There is some silver lining to all of this and we saw it in the second half. Are you curious to see what the Redskins will look like when they get used to each other and the scheme? Look no further to than the first drive in the 3rd quarter. The Skins moved down field with relative ease going 52 yards in 5 minutes and 45 seconds. If Anthony Armstrong holds onto a fade, the Skins have their first offensive TD of the season. If Josh Bidwell holds onto a high but manageable Nick Sunberg snap, the Skins get three for the drive. McNabb seemed to have no trouble finding Chris Cooley or Santana Moss. In the fourth quarter, we finally got to see Mike Shanahan's run game take effect. On the last offensive drive for the Redskins, the Skins showed that they could execute zone blocking. Cutback lanes were forming and Clinton Portis looked like he had his zone blocking vision back. Take away a Sellers' dropped pass and two penalties (Cooley and T. Williams) and the Skins may have had a near perfect drive. The Skins know they left points off the board on Sunday and hopefully will do what it takes to correct those mistakes for next week.

Also, you have to like what you saw from the defense even with concerns about pressure and difficulties stopping the run. The Cowboys' only scored on a short field (starting at the Washington 34 after a lousy punt by Josh Bidwell). It was an interesting mix that Jim Haslett threw out on the field. At times the Skins only sent four. At times, he used corner blitzes (I noticed D. Hall on multiple occasions and Phillip Buchanon) to confuse the Cowboys. Sometimes the Redskins only had one down lineman, sometimes they had two OLBs come off the same side. It really was hard to determine who was coming and who wasn't and that was the point of the 3-4. I liked that the team focused on eliminating the underneath passes, thus limiting the effectiveness of Felix Jones in the flat and Jason Whitten underneath. I also liked how the secondary seemed intent on playing man with safety help. I also love how aggressive the Skins are at trying to strip the ball. On two plays prior to the Choice fumble, DeAngelo Hall was trying to punch out the ball being held by Dez Bryant. He didn't succeed there, but it was clear that if a player gets the ball, the Redskins will try to generate a fumble. It's refreshing and not luck, but an improved technique. Speaking of the key fumble that pretty much changed the dynamic of the game, let's look at the play and see what caused the fumble to occur.

Now before we even start we have to acknowledge that had the Cowboys played safe and kneeled the ball down, they would have headed into the locker room down only 3-0. The Cowboys instead tried to make a very low percentage play and failed miserably.
At pre-snap: The Redskins are sending four, but notice who they are:  DE Vonnie Holiday,  OLB Lorenzo Alexander, OLB Brian Orakpo and OLB Andre Carter. All four are standing and all four are going with the intent of rushing the QB.
At 0:05: Brian Orakpo smokes starting Guard Leonard Davis up the middle. Meanwhile Lorenzo Alexander beats Doug Free off the end. Thus, the pocket is collapsing and Romo is in trouble.
At 0:07: Tony Romo is able to avoid the rush and still move and step up into the pocket. At this point Romo has a few options: run (and eventually slide), throw the ball away, throw the ball down field or throw to his check down RB (Choice). Run wouldn't get much but is safe. Throwing the ball away is the same. Now, I can't see the coverage but I think the whole point of running this play is to throw a Hail Mary pass and hopefully get lucky on a tip or generate a penalty. Instead, Romo pitched it to his check down RB which proves to be a huge mistake.
At 0:08: Tashard Choice has the ball, now maybe he thinks he can beat DeAngelo Hall and instead of going out of bound he tries to juke him and then run through him. What he doesn't know is that Carter and Alexander are on their way towards the ball.
At 0:09: Choice is stopped, but the key is that he's stood up and the ball is vulnerable. His forward progress hasn't been stopped by Hall. Meanwhile, Carter and Alexander join the fray. That gives Hall full opportunity to again try and strip the ball.
At 0:10: Ball is out and right where Hall can scoop it up and score. Easy TD.

So as you can see, a good pass rush combined with good technique and a few poor decisions led to the game winning score. Let's finish up with The Good , The Bad and The Ugly.

The Good

- DeAngelo Hall ( 8 total tackles, 1 FF, 1TD, 1 deflected pass): Hall isn't known for his tackling prowess or his ability to generate fumbles. That said, he has radically improved in playing the run making tackles and ripping out balls. Yet, he still is a player who always is around the ball and makes big plays. Since becoming a Redskin, Hall has evolved from being a flashy corner who made big INTs but got burned to an all around solid player that can still make a game changing big play.

- LaRon Landry (17 tackles, 13 solo, no penalties): There was a point in Sean Taylor's career when he went from a very talented kid that could hit but took terribly bad angles and got stupid penalties to the legend that is in our hearts and minds to this day. I think LaRon Landry has finally started to get to that portion of his career. Landry still hits hard as ever, but not every hit is a "kill shot". Instead of trying to make a highlight reel and missing or bouncing off a player, he finishes the tackle. He doesn't hit guy blatantly out of bounds and his coverage was good. Landry has found his home where he should have been in the first place, strong safety causing havoc.

- Brian Orakpo (2 tackles, 1 solo): The stats don't say much, but it was clear that this team needs Orakpo on the field. He was getting the most pressure on Romo. He alone generated three key holding penalties that had significant effects on the game. The sacks will come.

- Rocky McIntosh (10 tackles, 8 solo, 1 sack): Is it just me or does Rocky look better as a 3-4 ILB than he ever did as a 4-3 WLB? That's not saying he was bad in the 4-3, it just seems that he gets to the ball better and looks more aggressive in what he's doing now.

- Devin Thomas ( 2 KRs, 38yd. AVG, 42yd. long): He wasn't on the field as a WR, but Thomas is making himself a name as a kick returner. He almost broke the first KO for a TD. I have a feeling we'll be seeing a TD at some point this year.

- Graham Gano ( 2/2 FG, 49yd. long; 1/1 XP): His kickoffs were a little short compared to normal (due to the moisture/humidity) but he was dead on his kicks. The 49yder was right down the middle. Would have been 3/3 on FGs if not for the penalty by Dallas.

- Santana Moss ( 6 catches, 77yds). It's Dallas week. I expect no less from the 'tana man. He has his best games against the Cowboys.

- Chris Cooley ( 6 catches, 80 yards) Same as above for Cooley. Blocking was better at times but still some room for improvement.

- Clinton Portis (18 carries, 63yds): The run game wasn't much, but Portis is clearly the best blocking RB in the league. I can count at least 5 times (more like 10) he saved Donovan McNabb from being crushed/sacked/tackled. He also made a great block on Bradie James that allowed McNabb to run for 17 yards.

- Trent Williams: Lots of focus on the rookie, especially when you take on one of the best in DeMarcus Ware. Yep, Williams got beat a few times. He gave up a sack on a very nice speed/bull move that got his hands slapped away from Ware. He also gave up a pressure/hit thanks to a nice inside move by Ware. That said, he played extremely well. On a screen to Cooley, he drove Terrence Newman about 20 yards off the ball. Overall, he contained Ware in many pass and rush downs (when he was blocking him) and dominated Anthony Spencer on a few plays. Good start for his career.

The Bad

- Josh Bidwell: Had a few lousy punts that gave Dallas some very good to great field position. He also fumbled a high but manageable snap that kept the Skins from going up 13-0 in the 3rd quarter.

- Mike Sellers: I'm a big fan of Mike and he looked great on special teams. He also is still a good blocker on straight ahead runs. Problem is that on stretch plays, he struggles with his blocking. DeMarcus Ware smoked him to keep Portis from breaking what looked like would have been a decent gain. Also, two dropped passes wasn't good.

- Casey Rabach: Another guy that I really like. He's proof that you can pick up valuable free agents without spending Haynesworth money. That said, he looked terrible out there. Jay Ratliff won most of their battles and the few he lost, Rabach had help. This was frustrating. Normally, he struggles against the huge NTs and DTs (think Shaun Rogers) but in this game he struggled against a more athletic NT in Ratliff.

D-line: Not much push in the middle in either run or pass. Also gave up an average of 4.7yds/carry against Dallas. I hope the Skins activate Anthony Bryant next week.

Run game: looked much better in the 4th quarter but overall very lackluster. It's a combination of poor blocking and poor vision. At times I think the RBs just tried to bulldoze their way for yardage instead of looking for cutbacks. The O-line isn't in sync yet. In zone blocking every guy must make their block, or the play will fail (on average).

Red Zone Scoring: The Skins need to find a way to score TDs. They can't rely the D to win every game with big stops and turnovers.

The Ugly

(Graham Gano in warmups; photo-WD)

- I loved the new (old) uniforms. Yeah, the pants were a nice touch from the George Allen era. But, I loved how the jerseys are a darker, more true burgundy. For example, the jerseys from the 70th anniversary were more maroon (just ask Jim Zorn) than burgundy. The modern jerseys were actually Cardinal Red (seriously) more than burgundy. The socks also looked cool (even better than when they used them with the 75th anniversary jerseys- see below).
(photo- WD 2007)

- The crowd was huge and insanely loud. I have never heard it that loud at FedEx before for a Redskins game. In the years since I've been going to games (2001) it has never gotten that loud. Not even close. The crowd contributed to some Dallas errors and 2-3 penalties including delay of game and false starts. According to ESPN the attendance was 90,670. The next closest team was the Jets with 78,127.

- People like to watch Redskins/Cowboys on TV.  This game generated the highest every rating for SNF according to PFT. It is also the highest rated prime-time game in the past 13 years.

- Albert Haynesworth, who cares? All the Haynesworth hype was for nothing. He played about 16 snaps. Ran down Marion Barber on one play and outside of that nothing spectacular. In defense of Haynesworth, after viewing the "pouting" episode on the side lines, it was clear that Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth got it wrong. He wasn't pouting. Matter of fact the defensive huddle only involved LBs and DBs. The other linemen were behind Haynesworth sitting on the bench. It's clear however, that the Skins have moved on from Haynesworth.

- Have you seen Joey Galloway? If he's our #2 where is he? Same could be said for Jammal Brown who was replaced a few time by Stephon Heyer. Brown probably isn't in football shape though coming off an injury.

It was a great win and a win that we wouldn't have seen last year. Mike Shanahan has made these guys buy into this team and they never seemed to give up despite a clear momentum shift towards Dallas at the end of the game. Houston will be a serious challenge, but at least we start off 2010 1-0.

Up Next: The Texans and their high powered offense and stout D-line.

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