Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Redskins Report Card: Week 15 vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals 20, Redskins 13

If you were to write a script for how Jim Zorn could be on the hot seat after that 6-2 start, it might go exactly like the past 6 games have gone. Seriously, this is bad, and it seems like the Washington Redskins are only getting worse. I want to offer some objective analysis, and I'm going to try to, but understand that with each passing week, it's become more and more difficult to separate my disappointment from my evaluations. Still, I'm in the business of trying and failing, rather than not trying, so here we go.

Offense: D+

I went all the way back to Week 1 against the Giants to find out what I had rated this offense in that game, and felt comfortable giving this performance a similar ranking. The running game was stifled throughout, and Campbell had a wholly unimpressive game. To be fair, he had the kind of game that he had several times during wins earlier in the season, but without the powerhouse running game to complement it, it's not nearly enough production.

This is the part of the analysis where you're expecting me to try to explain why giving the ball to Mike Sellers twice on the one yard line was a good idea, even though he was stuffed and then fumbled. Well, how's this for a shocker: it wasn't. Sellers' greatest asset is his ability to blast through arm tackles, and power forward for extra yardage on dump off passes. We saw him do just that on his only reception of the game, a 14-yard check-down. But the reality is that, while Sellers is technically a "fullback," he's best suited as a 3rd down back. Swing passes, screens, draws, that's where Sellers can be most effective. Running him up the gut at the goal line makes almost as little sense as if the Skins' had done it with Larry Centers back in the day.

One last thing. On my favorite local radio show, The Sports Reporters, co-host Steve Czaban made a comment regarding Santana Moss's ill-conceived celebration and Clinton Portis's mouthing off during the week. The connection between the two players, of course, is the University of Miami. His quote (roughly, I was in the car), "There is an absurd clique of entitlement and jack-assery from that university, and I just wish the Redskins would take their business elsewhere." He's got a good point; Portis seems to constantly be undermining his coaches and teammates, and Moss acts like a #1 wide receiver but plays like a #2. Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson were elite players when they took heat for celebrating too much. Moss is what, the 10th best receiver in the conference? Give me a break.

Defense: C+

The Redskins played F defense for one quarter, and A- defense for the rest of the game. Thus, C+ defense. Cincinnati and Ryan freaking Fitzpatrick picked apart the Skins to the tune of 14 first-quarter points, and gained over 180 yards on their four drives that started in the first quarter. Perhaps the most disappointing part of the Bengals' stat line is that Fitzpatrick had 11 carries. Why is that disappointing? Because that means that the Skins flushed him from the pocket at least a half-dozen times, and weren't able to put him on the ground before he passed the line of scrimmage. That's a symptom of a defense that doesn't disrupt the passer, and can't even generate coverage sacks when they lock down receivers.

Also, I don't want to beat a dead horse, but when your team doesn't have an explosive offense, you need to keep the turnover differential squared up. I think it's fair to say that, if the Redskins could've generated two takeaways to counter the two fumbles the offense lost, we might be talking about a hard-fought and troublesome win (like the one against Detroit), rather than a deflating loss.

Special Teams: B

If I were only evaluating the way they played, the special teams would get an A or A-. But unfortunately, the punt return game, finally showing some promise, was marred by constant penalties. On three different punt returns, the Redskins were called for penalties, including one penalty that negated a 28-yard return by Santana Moss. So they finally made something happen in the return game, where they've had trouble all year, and they draw a penalty to kill it.

Rock Cartwright is a beast, though. He had an 87 yard return late in the game that would've set up a touchdown for a good offensive team, and set up a field goal for the anemic Redskins offense. And while Ryan Plackemeier isn't an elite punter, he certainly had a good game, and got two great punts early in the game when the offense was stalled out. Unfortunately, the defense couldn't hold tough, and the lowly Bengals looked like mighty tigers.

Overall: C-

The only consolation after watching this game is that I know for certain that the Redskins aren't a playoff caliber team. Yes, they had a chance at making the playoffs if they had won, but anybody who saw the debacle on Sunday knows full well that Washington has no business in the playoffs. Now is the time to get Fred Davis, Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, and all the other youngsters into the lineup, and give them a chance to get a feel for the offense. I expect Jim Zorn to be back next season, and if the young guys, specifically Thomas, can start to get comfortable with the scheme, you never know, maybe one of them explodes for a great sophomore season.

PS: I decided to nix the evaluation of playoff scenarios that I talked about last week. It felt too early to start going into them, with so many teams still in the mix, and it also felt like the Redskins were going to lose this game. Now, fortunately or unfortunately, we don't have to delve into that topic, and we can focus on other things...like baseball. Expect a baseball-related article this week. See you soon.

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