Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It Wasn't the Fumble

Steven Jackson is a Pro Bowl back

31 points and still lost, that's really the story of the Redskins 37-31 overtime loss to the St. Louis Rams. Marc Bulger racked up 388 yards passing with 4 TDs and no INTs. Eight different Rams caught passes and Isaac Bruce was Ijacked up with 148 yards receiving on 9 catches. All told, the Rams put up 579 yards of offense, the most the Redskins have given up all season. By more than 100 yards. Only twice this season have the Redskins given up over 400 yards, at Colts (452) and at Giants (411). Those were both before the bye, in October.

But the headline was Steven Jackson. He is a beast and rumbled throught the Redskins for 150 yards on 33 carries, a 4.5 yards per carry average. Brian Westbrook was still robbed by getting passed over for the Pro Bowl, but the way Steven looked Sunday, he deserves to be there. His step through the hole is quick, he is fast for his size and he is completely unafraid of contact. He just beat down the Redskins again and again. Six times he moved the chains to first down, five of them from a second down play.

The Redskins opened the game by holding the Rams to a punt and then marching 78 yards down the field for a score. The teams traded punts and the Rams carried over a drive into the 2nd quarter and scored on a play that was called wrong but challenged into a score. The entire second quarter was a bloodbath with the teams combining for 4 touchdowns. Early in the 3rd quarter, Ladell Betts did not come out in the redzone and the Redskins scored, going up by TWO TOUCHDOWNS. All St. Louis did was score TDs on consecutive drives; drives that featured a lot of complete passes and a lot of good runs. The 4th quarter finally saw a field goal trade and at the end, the Redskins had nothing left in the tank and watched former Redskin Stephen Davis' fresh legs and Steven Jackson's tireless ones just run all over the place for the win.

What a near-perfect inversion of the Jacksonville game this was. In that game, the Redskins were at home, Jacksonville took an early lead, the teams traded scores and interceptions and the Redskins got the big play to close out with a TD in OT. In this game, the Rams were at home, played from behind most of the day, fumbles were traded and the Rams got the big play in OT. Fluky is as fluky does.

I'll take moment to talk about the Redskins offense: we'll take it. As predicted by the statistical matchup, it was a good day for Ladell Betts, 129 yards on 29 carries, for a 4.4 yards per carry average. Those are Pro Bowl numbers themselves and Ladell has now rushed for 100 yards or more in five straight games, with six 100 yard games on the season, on eight starts! I know there is no room with Frank Gore, Steven Jackson and Tiki Barber on the Pro Bowl roster, and I would not pull any of those guys, but Ladell and the offensive line run blockers are playing at an elite level in the league, and this with an inexperienced quarterback running the other half of the offense. Looking at the guys Frank, Steven and Tiki are supporting even Alex Smith is a second year starter, so Ladell is creating the conditions for quarterback maturation

No the fumble in the 4 quarter did not help things. Look at Ladell's player card: 5 fumbles on 225 carries + 47 receptions = 272 touches this season, never more than one a game, for an average of 1 fumble every 54 touches. By comparison, Steven Jackson is sitting on 1 fumble every 101 touches, Brian Westbrook is at 1 fumble every 158 touches and Tiki Barber is at 1 fumber every 119 touches, so yeah... maybe now that Tiki is retiring and Tom Coughlin is being fired Tom can come over and be Ladell's personal 'how to don't fumble' coach. Need to work on that Ladell.

Speaking of quarterback, Jason Campbell had a decent day, 13 for 26 for 160 yards and a TD. Basically a conservative and mistake-free game by Jason. Chris Cooley was the leading man, doing what he does best, catch 5 yard patterns ove the middle and take them long. The NFL play by play only lists three deep attempts, and none of them connected but I still get the sense the Jason is taking what the defense gives and not deliberately keeping it short the way Mark Brunell would. As long as Jason can keep turning in games like this, he can grow.

Curly R aside: man oh man Eli Manning is an average quarterback (sooo much more of this to come this week). And if Tony Romo (6-3 since replacing Drew Bledsoe) gets to make the Pro Bowl basically because of one game with five TD passes against a bottom-half passing defense in Tampa Bay, then Jeff Garcia (4-1 since replacing Donovan McNabb) gets to go because all he has done is carry his team in to the playoffs, and Tony, impressive though he has been, stewarded his team from first place in the division to needing a win and some help to get into the postseason. If Jeff Garcia's voice sounded like his play, he'd be Barry White.

But it was not the fumble that lost this game for the Redskins. It was weak defense, against the run and against the pass. Marcus Washington went on IR the day before the game. Shawn Springs has another injury, a broken shoulder. Carlos Rogers was tentative and Sean Taylor was downright in another world an a few plays, notably the 43 yard catch-and-run by Isaac Bruce. Sean seemed to back away from the play, not making a move to contain Steven. Among the defense, only Andre Carter (8 tackles , incl. four limiting the Rams to a yard or less, and a sack) and Rocky McIntosh had good games. The stat box says Vernon Fox led the team with 15 tackles, and good on ya Vern, but that's really a condemnation that Marc Bulger could have his way so easily as to need free safety support like that. All this when the game did not even sell out, thus plunging St. Louis and a 75-mile radius into video blackout. Crowd noise was never a factor.

The Redskins defense is just bad. Just bad. Just. Bad.

Since we publish game previews the day before the game, we were unable to link to the WaPo's keys to the game. They were all right on and the Redskins nailed 1.5 of them. See if you can figure out which. And the WaPo's gameday take on the Rams.

Duckett Watch: once again, he went into the game when the Redskins got into the redzone. I simply think this is mismanagement of this position. Joe Gibbs has an agreement with Clinton Portis where Clinton takes himself out and Ladell goes right in. It's obvious Ladell does not have this arrangement with Joe, and I think he should. TJ is slower and hesitates going into the hole. I have not yet seen his size consistently benefit his play. Oh well. He got 5 carries for 18 yards, including his first TD. Season now projecting to 37 carries for 145 yards and 1.07 TDs.

B-Lloyd Blues: for the third straight game since freaking out on the sidelines, two closed doors with Joe Gibbs and a public nonpology, Brandon Lloyd did not start. This time he did not have a catch and does not appear in the box score or in the play by play, and I cannot recall Jason ever throwing to him. He may be done here.

Being Mark Brunell: it must have been weird for Mark to come back to St. Louis, where he led the Redskins to a 24-9 victory over Harvard dude Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Rams last season. Or maybe Mark is so effed up on goofballs and amyl nitrate that he's barely there.

Arch Deluxe: I do not recall seeing him on defense, but the statbox credits him with one tackle. Perhaps this was on special teams. The Washington Post says he did not play on defense. Some homecoming for Adam Archuleta. Anyone else starting to get the feeling Adam is a scapegoat here?

Box. Full play by play. Other reviews and recaps: The Redskin Report, Redskins Fanhouse, Covering the Redskins

Steven Jackson getting ready to bowl over Sean Taylor and looking not a bit afraid: Washington Post