Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Skins Better Off Good Than Lucky

The Washington Redskins' luck turned in a big way the first three games of this NFL season as they defeated Chicago, Dallas, and Seattle by a total of six points. But luck is a shaky foundation for rebuilding a football dynasty. The sputtering offense, retooled in the offseason by Joe Gibbs and his staff, produced a total of just 43 points in the first three games--nine less than Green Bay dropped on soggy New Orleans last Sunday. Worse, last year's sterling defensive unit looked a bit tarnished after losing several key starters in the offseason and giving up big yardage to Dallas and Seattle.

I expected the bubble to burst resoundingly at Mile-High stadium last Sunday, especially after watching Denver shred Kansas City two weeks ago on Monday night. The Broncos repeatedly gashed the Chiefs' defense for big gains on the ground, and the Chiefs once-great offensive line barely slowed the Broncos' pass rush as Denver cruised to a 30-10 win. So as hard as it was to watch the Redskins' last-second rally fail on a missed two-point conversion (I didn't actually watch it thanks to the NFL's byzantine TV market rules*), I'm feeling better about their chances for a playoff berth after the 21-19 defeat.

The game was one that leaves you scratching your head in disbelief after comparing the stat sheet and the score. The Redskins outgained the Broncos by nearly 200 yards, had 25 more plays, a seven minute time-of-possession advantage, nearly three times as many first downs, gave up no sacks, had just one turnover and still lost (Denver had a slight edge in penalties and rushing yards). The Redskins' luck did run out in Denver as they had a safety overturned on an arguably invalid invocation of the infamous "Tuck Rule"; a 54-yard field goal wiped off the board by a false start penalty (special teamers around the league seem especially fond of the yellow hankies this year); a 38-yard field goal blocked; and a two-point conversion pass to a wide-open receiver tipped away near the line of scrimmage. Any one of those plays could have turned the game into a win.

Here's the encouraging part: They've just been through a second four-game preseason with Mark Brunell as the starting quarterback and the offense has improved each week. The Redskins have two new receivers, a reworked offensive line, and are still tweaking their offseason improvements. Because Patrick Ramsey was the starting quarterback through the entire preseason, Brunell had very few game-condition reps with the starting offense. But the offense has already improved dramatically over last season, even though the points have been slow coming.

Despite playing the 3rd, 10th, 17th, and 18th ranked defensive teams the Redskins offense has improved in the following areas from 2004 to 2005 (league rankings in parentheses):
  • Yards per game - from 275 to 367 (30th to 8th)
  • Yards per play - from 4.3 to 5.1 (31st to 18th)
  • 3rd down conversion rate - from 32% to 47% (28th to 2nd!)
  • Rushing yards per carry - from 3.7 to 4.1 (29th to 11th)
So far this has led to just a half-point improvement in scoring per game from 15 to 15.5, perhaps due to a turnover differential that's slighly worse this year. Blame the defense for that--the unit has forced just two turnovers in four games. The defense has also allowed more yards than last year, but is still ranked 5th in the league. A postseason appearance seems very likely!

(Aren't fan delusions sad?)

* I can best sum up the NFL's TV market rules like this: If the local team is playing at home, any other game you're interested in won't be on TV. I believe I once briefly grasped the formula completely, but immediately fell unconscious for 30 minutes and woke up confused again. In this instance, those of us in the Atlanta market were treated by FOX to every excruciating minute of the Philadelphia Eagles' 33-10 disassembly by the Dallas Cowboys. To. The. Very. End.

Here's how ridiculous it got at one point (remember, the local affiliates can show highlights of the banned games, but no live action): The Eagles-Cowboys game is winding down just as the Redskins begin driving for their final score. Surely they'll switch to the game now! I'm rushing back and forth from the TV to the computer to refresh the NFL.com live game stats. The Eagles-Cowboys game ends and FOX returns to the studio where James Brown drones on-and-on and shows highlights of the blowout that just ended! Back to NFL.com: Oh, my gosh! The Redskins just scored to pull within a two-point conversion of tying the game! Back to FOX: Brown's still blathering. Wait! They're switching to the game! Nope, they're showing a highlight of the Redskins' touchdown and refusing to cut to the game even for the two-point conversion try! Back to NFL.com: Oh, no! The conversion failed! Back to FOX: Still in studio. Going to a commercial. Ok, now they're showing a highlight of the failed conversion. Sheesh!

And don't tell me to buy DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket. I've tried that twice since we moved to Atlanta and both times the Redskins stunk and appeared on regular TV something like eight or nine times to boot!

Current Washington Post stories on the Redskins: The Broncos game. Skins need turnovers. Sally Jenkins. Tony Kornheiser. Kornheiser on Lavar. Michael Wilbon. Arrington in the doghouse.

1 comment:

Kate said...

Very Nice.
Hail to the Redskins.
Hail Victory.
Braves on the WARPATH...