Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Redskins Report Card: Week 4 vs. Dallas Cowboys

Redskins 26, Cowboys 24

Offense: B+

It's still not a dominant offense, but the more frequently you score enough points to win, the better it looks. And, the longer this win streak lasts, the more (justifiably) confident Jason Campbell will be. There's something special about knowing you can make a pass, as opposed to thinking you can make a pass. Knowers: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre. Thinkers: Jon Kitna, Derek Anderson, Gus Frerotte. To be fair, however, Tarvaris Jackson is also a knower, and Eli Manning is a thinker. But generally, I'd rather my quarterback were overconfident than a quivering mass of indecision. I'm looking your way, David Carr.

This marked the fourth game (out of four) in which the offense had no turnovers. I know, it's not like I expect to go all season without a fumble or interception, but Jacksonville showed us last year that if you hold onto the football and play good defense, you can put yourself into a position to win a lot of games. And Jacksonville didn't have any wide receiver play as well as Santana Moss is playing right now. So it's not unreasonable to be a little optimistic about how this season might go.

I probably owe an apology to Clinton Portis. I've been loathe to give him praise because I don't care for his attitude, and because he doesn't seem to have the breakaway ability we see in some of the elite backs around the league. But Portis is a workhorse, picking up 21+ carries in each game this season, and he dashed for 121 yards in the Cowboys game. He's still not an elite back, but he's plenty effective for what the 'Skins want to do on offense.

And good lord, Santana Moss is playing like he wants to smack me in the face for saying he wasn't a #1 receiver. He's getting open all over the place, snagging everything within his reach, and just generally playing like a superstar. Maybe I should start bashing Antwaan Randle El, see if we can get some legitimate production out of him.

By the way, the Skins' first touchdown, a pass to James Thrash, was one of the most entertaining plays I've seen in a while, and most of the action was before the snap. Thrash went in motion, followed by his man-to-man cover on the defense. Thrash tried to switch directions quickly but slipped, so the defender was able to stay with him. Then Thrash switched directions again and the defender slipped this time. Campbell hiked the ball and Thrash was wide open for a touchdown. It was beautiful.

The offense did get stifled four times inside the red zone and had to settle for field goals, which can be frustrating. But it really seems like this team accepts that field goals aren't exactly a failure, since you're still getting points, and this Washington group seems much less deflated than teams in the past had when they had to settle for 3. Points are points; you'd like more if you could get them, but adding any points to your total is always a good thing.

Defense: B+

Here's the deal. I'm giving the Redskins a bump on their defensive rating because they were able to keep the potent Cowboys offense in check for most of the game. However, I still have concerns. For some reason, Dallas only ran the ball 11 times, while passing the ball 47 times. The game was competitive throughout, but the Cowboys stayed predictably pass-heavy, and seemed to pay the price. It's not like the 'Skins have some crazy offense that forces opponents into constant passing situations. Someone is going to figure out that the run defense is suspect, and they'll be in for a fight.

Chris Horton picked up another interception, and this one wasn't a lucky bounce; he made a great read and jumped in front of the pattern to make a play. I like Reed Doughty as well, and I think instead of trying to make a thing about which one should start, they should both get plenty of snaps. With the cornerbacks constantly getting injured, working in a third safety instead of an extra corner might be the best way to have your top talent on the field. (I think the Redskins already do this, I believe it's called their "Cobra" package).

Special Teams: B

Shaun Suisham hit four field goals under 40 yards, which you could say is easy, but that's what he's supposed to do. He didn't miss any field goals, so he did all you can ask for. The return game was still unimpressive, but Randle El looked better this week than he's looked all season, so maybe there's reason to be optimistic. Kickoff coverage was very good, except for the one where they seemed to intentionally kick it high and short. But they seemed to learn from that mistake (which Troy Aikman happily pointed out multiple times; fuckin' Cowboys), and kicked it deep each time after that.

Overall: A-

How does the team get an A- when they didn't have any rankings that high in any of the different categories? Because they beat Dallas. The Redskins played well, definitely well enough to win, and although it was still a close game, they came out on top. They were 11.5 point underdogs, and they've historically had a lot of trouble in Texas Stadium. It was a huge victory, and for that they get bonus points.

I'm trying to temper my excitement, but the reality is that this Washington team is starting to look very good. They play a very good Philadelphia team next Sunday, but after that they've got St. Louis, Cleveland, and Detroit. A 6-2 start to the season is definitely reasonable, and 7-1 isn't out of the question. Things get tougher after that, but if you can win at Dallas, you can win anywhere, anytime.

Player of the Game: Jason Campbell, 20/31 for 231 yards, 2 TD, 0 turnovers (again)

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