Out of the box: band two of the Redskins 2008 schedule comes to a smashing conclusion as the best AFC team on Washington's schedule comes to Redskins Stadium for a little Monday Night Football, 8:30pm ET on ESPN. This Redskins team is walking wounded, tired and heading into the bye. Can they push through the fatigue, the pain, to keep pace with the NFC Beast and put down a possible Super Bowl contender?
The story so far: no hip hip hooray after last week's frustrating win over the hapless Detroit Lions, no one associated with the Redskins except Jason Campbell (ibid.) seems to be happy with state of play even as they are all happy with the team's progress, winning 75% of their games so far, under a new head coach and with a new offense in place. After four years of anonymity under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, we have learned current defensive coordinator Greg Blache can turn a phrase, expecially when he is talking about how bad the Redskins defense is.
We have also learned here at the midpoint of the season that Jim Zorn seeks balance, is old school/a whippersnapper, has a plan/can freewheel and relies on his coaches/calls all the shots. All that's left to hear is that he supports John McCain/Barack Obama (just kidding, I think Jim Zorn is a hard right wing Republican, more on that story from Curly R on our election day special).
Looking at what is behind and in front of this team, eight games into the regular season the Redskins are tired and looking forward to a break. Jim Zorn even had to give the rookies a pep talk about pushing through the wall of exhaustion (op. cit.), it's only halfway through the NFL season and the rooks have already played more football than any of them ever did in college. With only safety Chris Horton standing out in this class, this team needs more from this rookie class.
But the season rolls on and waits for no team.
The last time these two teams met was game two of the 2007 preseason. In the first quarter of that game Steelers right defensive end Brett Keisel blew past undrafted rookie left tackle Stephon Heyer, hit starting quarterback Jason Campbell with a dirty low hit that knocked Jason out of the game and the next game. Tonight Stephon Heyer will agaiun be lining up across from Brett Keisel.
Curly R aside: Election Day is tomorrow, Tuesday 4 November, and the Redskins are tied to the history of presidential politics. So goes the tradition, the outcome of the final Redskins home game before the election determines the outcome of the election. When the Redskins win that home game, the party of the current president retains the White House, when the Redskins lose that game the party out of power gains the office. Over the past 18 presidential elections this trend has played out correctly 17 times, with the only time wrong being in 2004 when the Redskins lost a home game in Joe Gibbs' first year back to Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers, a game they should have won were it not for a bad call by the officials. John Kerry went on to lose the next day. That was not the first nor the last time George W. Bush would defy conventional wisdom. Take into consideration how Pittsburgh and Washington both play on Monday Night and John McCain supporters may have foud their final hope on to which they will cling.
Curly R aside continues: how cool would it be to bring Jason Campbell to show and tell? One of my three kids is an aspiring quarterback and would love to toss a few with Jason, as would I.
Oppo research: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gets hit. A lot. So far through seven games, Big Ben has been sacked 23 times, compared to 16 sacks of Jason Campbell, and the Redskins have had problems at both tackle spots. Problem for Washington is, they are not a pressure team, with Greg Blache preferring to put his resources into coverage, hoping to force the quarterback into a bad decision. Do not be surprised this game if the Redskins work harder to get to the QB, because when Ben can avoid that early rush he makes great throws.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Steelers have the best defense in the league by total yards, and the best run defense. Clinton Portis leads the league in rushing yards and Washington's offensive line seems to have fun run blocking so expect coach Jim Zorn to stick with the run game even if there is not much there early.
In other Steelers news, receiver Santonio Holmes was arrested in a bizarre traffic stop last week after leaving practice. Police, on the lookout for a quote SUV with out of state plates carrying a large amount of narcotics unquote pulled Santonio over in his black SUV. Officers detected the pungent aroma of the herb and Santonio offered that he had pot and that he had smoked it the day before. The team deactivated Santonio for last week's loss to the Giants, he addressed the team and apologized and will play tonight. Seems a bit sketchy to me, close to DWB but I only know what I have read. I assume the league with all its efforts to root out violators of the drug and personal conduct policies tested Santonio immediately and that a suspension will be coming down soon?
Also, tailback Willie Parker is back after missing last week's game, he has been out five weeks with a sprained knee. Will he be ready to go?
Trainer's table: cornerback Shawn Springs will miss another game, his fourth since injuring his calf in game four against the Cowboys. Defensive end Jason Taylor will miss tonight's game as well, his wound from his emergency leg surgery after game three against the Cardinals is infected (op. cit.) and team doctors have been sucking the pus out of it all week. The team swears it is not a staph infection. Tailback Ladell Betts is also out another game (ibid.) after tweaking his knee in game five against the Rams, thus giving Shaun Alexander another chance to take Ladell's job.
Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, who has a sore knee and initially said he planned to play (op. cit.), a sentiment echoed by coach Jim Zorn on Wednesday, is very questionable for tonight, he was a late scratch this week and the team needs him down the stretch so he will sit and be replaced by Stephon Heyer who had a tough week last week against the Lions. In order to survive tonight's onslaught Stephon will have to play with his ass lower (ibid.) or Brett Keisel is going to throw him out of the way on a path to Jason Campbell.
Receiver Santana Moss has a tender hamstring, early in the week he said he would be fine and could play through it, and whom coach Zorn also said should be fine (op. cit.), by yesterday Santana had become a game time decision. If the shuffle puts James Thrash in Santana's spot, well, that's bad news for the Redskins, Santana is an indispensible player right now.
The bell is starting to toll for Malcolm Kelly. His knee is not improving, he will not play tonight and likely will go onto injured reserve during the bye if he does not improve dramatically (ibid.). Bussssst.
Gameplan: not much else to do at this point, stick to what works. This Redskins team is a west coast offense in name only, Washington will live and die by the run and with Pittsburgh's stout run defense, this is a Joe Gibbs moment for the Redskins: Clinton Portis is coming with the ball, the Steelers know it, the Redskins know the Steelers know it and the Steelers know the Redskins know the Steelers know it.
If the chains and the clock cannot be controlled with the run game then coach Zorn is going to have to go back and get up some of that cagey new guy vibe from early in the season, keep Pittsburgh's passing defense off balance. With Santana hobbled look for a shorter passing game with a healthy does of Chris Cooley.
On defense the story is the same, stick with pass coverage, confusing zones and hope Carlos Rogers can continue his run of shutting down the opponent's top receiver. If that doesn't work we will have to hope Santonio Holmes gets so baked before the game that he forgets what he was doing and fumbles. Hope Willie Parker is not 100%. Sack somebody.
My take in 60 words or less: all week I was feeling good about this game, now I have a sense of unease. Washington has played 13 straight weeks of football, they are tired, injured and I think deep down this team may not think a loss that big a deal. The Steelers are a solid team and this game will be a hell of a challenge.
Washington Post / AP preview, Redskins Gameday (PDF), keys to the
game rest of the season, Zorn Watch, Redskins injury report, projected starters. Broadcast coverage is national it's Monday Night Football baby, SkinsCast weather, it is going to be cool, cloudy and dry tonight.
Other previews: Rich Tandler at RealRedskins writes that this game is strength on strength versus weakness on weakness and predicts a Steelers victory. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Om has three keys to this game,
I will be with all my neighbors on Swarthmore Drive, watching on the big screen.
This is a gameday open thread.
NFL helmets from here.
Monday, November 03, 2008