Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Game Recap: Body Bag Game Redux (Skins @ Titans)

This was an enjoyable game on both sides of the ball. No, it wasn't a pretty game with balls flying all over the place and the final score in the eighty point range but really that never has been Redskins football. To me, Redskins football has been pounding the ball, staying on the field and finding ways to get drives continued despite the team's struggles. This game should be the game that defines Mike Shanahan's tenure here and it should be a game that the Redskins hope to duplicate from here on out. Not the final score mind you (because most of us couldn't take 16 overtime games that requires 48 yard FGs to win) but the effort and the message that teams win when all 53 (45 active on game day) play together.....they can't lose.

Wait didn't our current GM's father say that? You bet he did!

There was a lot of little details that made this game work. It's stuff that we don't see in the highlights. Guys stepped up when others went down and players you thought were disappointing so far showed that they can do something and more. In all, the Redskins lost many players during the game and already had three starters out prior to the start of the game. Let's look at the players inactivated before the game and were lost during the game.

Carlos Rogers (inactive)*
LaRon Landry (inactive)*
Artis Hicks (inactive)*
Ryan Torain (inactive)**
Chad Simpson (foot- during pre-game)
Casey Rabach (knee)*
Derrick Dockery (knee)
Anderson Russell (knee)**
Lorenzo Alexander (hamstring)*
Clinton Portis (groin)*
Rocky McIntosh (groin)*
*starter, ** would/has seen significant playing time.

That's seven starters. And I'm not even counting the times when Santana Moss, DeAngelo Hall, Keiland Williams (we had FB Darrel Young take carries at one point as a RB/HB), Brian Orakpo and Kedric Golston had to leave for a series because of a minor injury. Yet, the Redskins endured and other players stepped up to fill the void. It didn't work as well for the Titans.

Vince Young was knocked out of the game with a torn tendon in his throwing hand midway through the third quarter. Unlike the Redskins depth, the Titans had little at the QB position. Kerry Collins was the 3rd QB because he had a calf injury and the announcers on FOX said that if the Titans used him, it could only be in shotgun formation because he can hardly move. That meant the Titans had to use rookie Rusty Smith at quarterback. It was funny, as soon as I heard his name all I could think of was a recent Venture Bros. episode with Dr. ("Rusty") Venture writing a musical about himself (with a title track called "I'm Rusty!"- view the entire post to watch the video).

So, every time he came out on the field I could hear "I'm Rusty!" blare in the back of my head. Rusty didn't fare well as he threw one of the worst interceptions I've ever saw right to Phillip Buchanon. The one nice pass he threw was to Randy Moss for a TD....that was called back on account of offensive pass interference. The Titans looked like they couldn't handle the pressure and the Skins stepped up to the plate.

Case in point, the final drive of the game. After what initially appeared to be a Donovan McNabb interception, Titans DE  Jason Babin gets called for an unsportsman like conduct (by ripping Kory Lichtensteiger's helmet off his head). The interception was overturned and the Redskins got 15 yards and an automatic 1st down on what should have became 3rd and 22. Then on the next play, the Titans get called for another 15 yard penalty for a roughing the passer call on Will Witherspoon (helmet to helmet hit). Those two penalties helped give the Redskins the opportunity to get into position for Graham Gano to kick the game winning FG.

The lone Titan score came off a punt return, that only happened because the Redskins had to re-punt after off setting penalties occurred and the Redskins main contain player on one side of the field (Anderson Russell) was injured opening a gaping hole for the returner.

To me this game was the best game I have seen all season. It could be the early defining game of Mike Shanahan's tenure here in DC. The Redskins were coming off a short week after being disgraced at home by the Eagles, going into a rather tough stadium in LP Field and facing one of the best RBs in the league and a strong pass rushing D. It would have been understandable to see the Redskins lose this game. It would have been even more understandable to see this team lose with so many injures. Yet, this team came to play. The back ups played strong and the team kept its composure despite starting poorly, facing adversity throughout and seeing what could be a game winning FG fall just short. As much as I faulted some on the Skins team and the coaches for coming up short and not being ready, they stepped up this week and showed what this team might be able to do down the stretch.

That's just the nature of this team I suppose, sometimes you see flashes of greatness and sometimes flashes of mediocrity. Let's do some The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Good

- O-line. Remember the names here: Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Stephon Heyer and Jammal Brown. They did an amazing job blocking. Yes, the team did give up three sacks. However, the team had a combined 107 yards on the ground and there was minimal amount of hits and pressure on QB Donovan McNabb (the tape shows that many of his 50 pass attempts that he was never touched or even pressured). Heyer had never played in the NFL as a guard (not sure if he ever played the position in college either). Pretty amazing job by this crew. Arguably, the best blocking performance of the year by any version of this unit.

- Donovan McNabb (30/50, 376 yards; 1 TD 1 INT). With some time to throw the ball and move around in the pocket, McNabb looked like the McNabb of old. He took some hits (example: getting sandwiched on a great screen to Fred Davis) but was able to avoid many. McNabb's passing looked very accurate and he led the team down the field multiple times late in the game to set up last minute FG attempts.

- Keiland Williams (23 carries, 68 yards; 6 catches 27 yards). This is more or less the third straight game where Williams has had to be the guy because everybody else is out. Chad Simpson was knocked out of the game in warm ups and Clinton Portis re-aggravated his groin injury early in the 1sr quarter. What also stood out was Williams' improved pass blocking. He's not on the Clinton Portis level of pass blocking (who really is?), but he picked up blitzers with ease and looked good out there. Much improved from the beginning of the season.

- Mike Sellers. I've been very critical of his blocking all season long. This game he dominated. A hole opened and Sellers flushed it out when a defender tried to fill the gap. Excellent down field blocks as well.

- Santana Moss (6 catches, 106 yards; 1 TD). The Skins looked to Moss early and often. It was surprising to see how open Moss got on a few plays. It was also nice to see Moss' speed used in this game with a few attempts to go deep with one attempt (48 yards) being successful.

- Chris Cooley (7 catches, 91 yards). When the Titans started to cover Moss, the Skins started to target Cooley who was key in converting third downs late in the game.

- Fred Davis (2 catches, 44 yards). Nice to see Davis being used. Nice to see a strong run after the catch. The Skins should use the TE screens more often.

- Joey Galloway (3 catches, 32 yards). Finally caught some balls. Still didn't like that Galloway was the target on the sole McNabb INT though.

- Phillip Buchanon (6 tackles, 1 INT). filled in well for the injured Carlos Rogers. Held onto 1 INT, almost had a 2nd.

- HB Blades (4 tackles, 3 solo). filled in well for Rocky McIntosh. Had one nice TD saving tackle near the goal line.

- London Fletcher (7 tackles, 5 solo). He always tackles well, but made an amazing play on TE Bo Scaife that broke up a pass in the end zone. Not sure if he had caught the ball, it would have been a TD but Fletcher made sure it wouldn't come down to a ref's judgement call.

- DeAngelo Hall (2 tackles, 1 solo). Made a nice tackle on Chris Johnson to save a TD. Shutdown Randy Moss (with safety help) the entire game.

- Lorenzo Alexander. Left the game after pulling/straining his hamstring. However, before then he saved the game when he forced a fumble on Vince Young after the Titans had gained a short field thanks to a Skins 3 and out and a terrible Hunter Smith punt.

- Kyle Shanahan. Found ways to help the depleted O-line and protect the quarterback through the use of screens. Loved the way he used Fred Davis on 2 TE screens. Also, I've never seen a shovel pass to a WR (Moss) like that before. It seemed that both he and McNabb were on the same page this week and they figured how to break down the Titans D.

- Jim Haslett. After last week, he re-grouped his defense and found a way to contain the Titans. No offensive TDs in this game. Also kept the 3-4 base out on the field to slow and hinder Chris Johnson proved to be a key in winning.

- Mike Shanahan. Last week I didn't think he a prepared his team well enough despite a bye week. This week, he seemed to do an excellent job of getting the team ready to play on a short week. This was the first game of the year where his team played a full 60+ minutes, weren't sloppy and made a minimum amount of mistakes despite injuries.

The Bad

-Injuries. See above

- LP Field. Horrible turf conditions that had both of the Skins and Titans slipping the entire game. Could this have contributed to some of the Skins injuries?

-  Too few scores. Ironically, the Skins are a better team when they score less than 20 point per game this season (see stat in The Ugly). That said, it would be nice to see the Skins put a game away now and then.

The Ugly

- Prior to this game the Skins were one of the worst teams in 3rd down percentage (22%). Against the Titans, they were 8/16 (50%) which allowed them to continue long drives and keep the very dangerous Chris Johnson off the field.

- Speaking of statistics, the Skins dominated the Titans in TOP (40 minutes to 26.5 minutes), 1st downs (32 to 15) total offensive plays (86 to 51) and turnovers (2 to1). It's hard to win a game when you lose most of those stats.

- The Skins did something no other NFCE team has done this year....beat the Titans! Titans are 3-1 vs. the NFCE in 2010.

- Skins go to 1-2 vs. the AFCS, with an away game remaining against the Jaguars.

- Could this be Clinton Portis' last game as a Redskin? After tearing an abdominal muscle in this game, it's been pretty much confirmed that CP is headed to the IR. Portis is still a little less than 1,000 yards away from becoming the Redskins all time leading rusher. More than likely Portis will be released after this season based on the $8 million base salary on his contract for 2011.

- Are the Skins a better road team than a home team? At FedEx they are 2-3 this season. 3-2 on the road. Doesn't make much sense to me.

- Crazy stat. You probably already read this somewhere else or heard this on Redskins Post Game Live, but the Redskins are 5-1 when they've scored less than 20 points in a game this season. They are 0-4 when they've scored more than 20 points in a game.

- Skins have played in overtime (the Mrs. hates overtime) 3 times already this season and are 2-1 in the overtime sessions. This week was their first overtime game on the road.

- Is Stephon Heyer meant to be a guard? 2010 he has looked better at times filling in for the still banged up Jammal Brown at RT and has filled in decently for Trent Williams at LT. That said, most Redskin fans breathe a sigh of relief when he's not at tackle. This week however, Heyer dominated as a RG, looking more sound at times than Artis Hicks. The big question might be for 2011 and beyond: could Stephon Heyer be the Redskins future starting RG? You can't say that's impossible. Mike Williams was heading that way before his health condition put him on IR. Heyer is a nice asset since it looks like he can play at least three positions on the line.

- Donovan McNabb in the 2 minute offense this week: 3 drives (1 starts at the 3:37 mark in the 2nd qtr., but goes well into a 2 minute drill)  10/14, 95 yards; 1 INT. And note that 2 of the 4 incompletions were due towards McNabb spiking the ball to stop the clock. 2 of the three drives gave the Redskins opportunities to try long field goals. The only bad thing of note was the INT, which could be blamed more on Joey Galloway for not coming back to the ball (which allowed the DB to jump the route and snatch it away from Galloway, although you can also blame McNabb for throwing the ball late).

Next Sunday......vs. the Vikings. See the Skins face Favre for the final time.

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