Monday, October 12, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 5 vs. Carolina Panthers

Panthers 20, Redskins 17

The general sentiment of the whole group of Redskins fans I watch football with was, "Wait, what the hell just happened?" The Redskins had the Panthers on the ropes, up 10-2 at halftime and 17-2 in the third quarter. A couple of bad bounces, and suddenly the Redskins have lost another game to an unimpressive team. Oh brother.

Offense: D

The only thing that saved Washington from an F rating on offense is the fact that they were finally able to punch the ball in (twice) from inside the red zone. Clinton Portis put 14 points on the board; 12 from his two touchdowns, and 2 when he took a safety in the second quarter.

Outside of those scores, the offense was pretty close to dismal. Their 198 yards of total offense was Raider-esque (and just to be clear, we're not talking about the Tecmo Bowl, Bo Jackson Raiders). The Redskins averaged a measly 4.4 yards per pass play, and while Jason Campbell's passer rating was a very good 104.4, it didn't translate into points. We can talk day and night about how awful Derek Anderson was on Sunday (2/17 for 23 yards and an interception), but the Browns did win, so us Redskins fans can't make much fun of him.

The running game seems to long for a change-of-pace back, someone with breakaway ability who's also a good blocker; a guy who would fit into 3rd down situations. If next year goes as an uncapped year, as anticipated, I'd be pretty surprised if Darren Sproles didn't make his way to the nation's capital.

I was a little surprised that the Redskins elected to punt on a 4th and 5 from midfield when they were down a field goal with just over five minutes to go. Washington had used all of their timeouts already, so the clock would only stop at the two-minute warning. That time goes by more quickly than I think people realize. Furthermore, the Panthers had scored on their past three drives. Asking the defense to come out and prevent two first downs might have been naive.

But perhaps most importantly, and cause for concern, is that Jim Zorn's attitude all year had been aggressive. He's had confidence in his offense's ability to make a play all year, even when empirical data didn't support that confidence. The logic in that situation says, if your team can pick up a first down there, you only need a few more yards and you can try a field goal. When your team is down, and has squandered a 15-point lead, it's time to feel some desperation. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, so now it seems obvious that the Redskins should've at least tried for it. But I can only hope that Zorn hasn't lost his gusto, because that's really all he's got.

Defense: C+

The defense did enough to not be blamed for this loss. They picked up two big turnovers to put the offense deep in Panther territory, and the Redskins scored off of both turnovers. Perhaps as importantly, the two turnovers were picked up by the two big signings of the offseason: Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall. So maybe the local blowhards will lay off them for a week (not likely).

They did, however, falter in the second half. Three scoring drives of 38+ yards each generated 18 second-half points, enough to steal the game away from Washington. The Redskins defense has generally been built on a "bend, don't break" philosophy, but they snapped into several pieces against a fairly vanilla Carolina offense on those three drives.

Perhaps the epitome of this collapse happened on the last relevant play of the game. Jake Delhomme faked a handoff and peeled out for a naked bootleg run. Hall had a play on him, but couldn't figure out how to stop a quarterback from gaining five more yards and the first down. Ballgame. The coaches need to take the whole secondary aside in practice this week and remind them of how to tackle people, especially how to contain runners while you're waiting for help.

Special Teams: D

Well, I think we were all pretty sure at some point the special teams were going to let us down. A 55 yard return by the Panthers put them in great field position to go in for their first offensive score of the game. Glenn Pakulak performed decently as a temporary replacement punter, but they need Hunter Smith back; he was a rare bright spot for this team every week.

The huge punt return gaffe by Byron Westbrook and another week of complete ineffectiveness by Antwaan Randle El needs to be a harbinger of things to come; that is, some kind of changes in the return game or return schemes. Somebody has to accept that the Redskins have the worst return game in the NFL, and to try to do something to fix that.

Overall: D

The Redskins have played five games, and they've played five lousy games. They've played five games against five winless teams (the Giants were 0-0), and three of those five teams got their first victory of the season against our hometown 'Skins.

Prediction: Change. Most likely in the bye week, but it wouldn't be unrealistic to think a change could come sooner.

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