Monday, September 15, 2008

Redskins Report Card - Week 2 vs. New Orleans Saints

Redskins 29, Saints 24

Offense: B+

What a difference a a game makes. A week after the Redskins almost went an entire half without completing a pass, Washington puts together three scoring drives in the first half, and scores three touchdowns in the second half to come from behind and pick up Jim Zorn's first win as a head coach. Shaun Suisham also missed two field goals, so they managed to have 8 scoring opportunities, far beyond the sort of offensive output anybody expected from them.

The first half still had Redskins fans worried, as the team had five field goal attempts, but couldn't punch it in. We also learned in this game that Jason Campbell is simply not mobile at all. He was sacked twice and two other times was cut off on a scrambling attempt and tackled at or behind the line. Many quarterbacks can pick up crucial yardage on a run when the middle of the field opens up, but it doesn't look like Campbell has the instincts or running ability to offer that. Still, can't complain too much about his performance. He had his third career 300 yard passing game, and the first one in which the Skins were able to pick up a victory. He looked poised, his throws were generally on the mark, and he managed to avoid any turnovers.

The real superstar of this game, though, was Santana Moss (7 catches, 164 yards, TD). He seemed to take the criticisms of last week and play like a man possessed. He caught everything thrown his way, made the first guy miss every time, and altogether played like a number 1 receiver, despite the analysis of many Washington area commentators (including myself). The Redskins still didn't get much production out of the rest of their receiving corps, but they got Cooley involved to the tune of five catches for 72 yards.

It's worth pointing out that most of Washington's big plays came after the injury to substitute starter Aaron Glenn, when rookie cornerback Tracy Porter was forced into action. Washington consistently exploited Porter, and you can say that sullies the victory, but my feeling is that you're supposed to beat who you're supposed to beat. I'd venture to say the Redskins of 2007 wouldn't have been able to take advantage of that matchup, so they've progressed a little bit.

The running game was effective again, but seemed to move better this week with a legitimate complement in the passing game. Maybe Clinton Portis will keep his mouth shut this week and accept that football is imprecise, and complaining about the blocking when you pick up 80+ yards (as he did in week 1) seems whiny. And is whiny.

Defense: B

The defense looked as good in week 2 as they did in week 1, but against a better opposing offense. Additionally, rookie Chris Horton picked up three turnovers (a fumble and two interceptions) on his way to inevitably bumping injured starter Reed Doughty down on the depth chart. None of the plays were tremendous athletic feats by Horton; both interceptions resulted from batted balls. Still, being in the right place at the right time is something, and when you get three turnovers, you're doing something right. Jason Taylor also picked up his first sack as a Redskin.

If Deuce McAllister were fully healthy and productive, I think this game might've gone the other way, because the Skins' rush defense is still suspect. But Reggie Bush isn't a premier running back, Pierre Thomas is inexperienced, and Deuce is still recovering from last year's season-ending knee surgery, so the Saints had to rely more heavily on the passing game. And with Shawn Springs healthy for this week's game, the Skins were up to the task on the pass defense. With Arizona on the schedule next week, they'd better not let up, or Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin will embarrass another group of defensive backs.

Special Teams: C+

The special teams grade slips this week, but it's no fault of Rock Cartwright's. He had three good kickoff returns and another solid tackle on a return. No, the first culprit here is "return specialist" Antwaan Randle El, who fumbled a punt return and was unable to make anything happen on his other three returns. Additionally, a bad snap and hold cost the 'Skins three points, and the team gave up a punt return for a touchdown to Reggie Bush.

The one saving grace for the special teams unit was that kicker Shaun Suisham seems to have a hammer for a foot, forcing touchbacks on several kickoffs. After a few years of John Hall giving opponents the ball at the 35 every time, this is a welcome upgrade.

Overall: B

It was a great game, lots of back and forth with a number of big plays. I remember thinking in the first half that, even if Washington lost (and as a fatalist Redskins fan, I assumed they would), the game would serve as a reason to be hopeful going forward this season. Getting the win, though, makes me think maybe, just maybe, the Skins can play their way into playoff contention. As long as they're playing relevant games in December, I'll be happy.

Player of the Game: Chris Horton, 2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 2 interceptions, 2 pass deflections

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