GAME 9: PANTHERS PREVIEW

Photo © Brian Murphy/Homermcfanboy.com

For the first time in 2012, the Washington Redskins are coming off a game in which they were never really in the game. The Steelers handed the Redskins their largest defeat of the season with a decisive 27-12 victory. With the assistance of 10 dropped passes, the Steelers defense was able to limit the Redskins’ running game to under 100-yards (for the first time all season), and were able to limit the Redskins’ offensive output to only 255 yards and one- touchdown. This week’s game is Redskins Homecoming and is the last game for the Redskins before their bye week next week.

Head Coach Mike Shanahan said that this week’s game against the Carolina Panthers is “a must win.” The players echoed the same sentiment this week in the locker room, explaining how important it is to head into the bye week with a win and not another disappointing loss. Standing in their way, will be the Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have really disappointed this season starting out 1-6, including five straight losses.
The game on Sunday will be of two teams in desperate need of a win. The Panthers’ season could be all but over after last week’s heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears. The Redskins on the other hand are facing a reeling Carolina team, get to head into the bye week and still have five of its six divisional games remaining. Five of their eight remaining games are at home. While the Redskins have not experienced much of a home-field advantage under Shanahan, the Redskins’ fan base has been extremely supportive of this year’s Robert Griffin-led team. In order to stay in any type of playoff contention, the Redskins (as the Head Coach stated) MUST win this week. Heading into the bye week 4-5 and having two weeks to prepare for a home game versus the dysfunctional Philadelphia Eagles could keep open the small window of opportunity the Redskins have to stay in the playoff hunt.

The Redskins are in “bounce-back” mode this Sunday after being man-handled by the Steelers. At no point of last week’s game were they “in the game.” They quickly fell behind 10-0, and while they were able to score a touchdown on the next possession to make it 10-6 (the extra-point was blocked), the Redskins could not slow down the Steelers as they trailed 20-6 at halftime. Facing a 27-9 deficit after three quarters, the Redskins were all but finished as nothing seemed to work on offense. The Redskins’ defense, specifically the secondary, is a mess, they are one of the most-penalized teams in the NFL, and their season will be on the line against Carolina. How the Redskins respond this week will ultimately determine how the 2012 season shapes up.

Here is a look at the match-ups that will determine the outcome of Sunday’s game:

Redskins’ Offensive line vs. Panthers’ Front-7
A surprising bright spot for the Redskins this season has been the play of their offensive line. Let by Trent Williams, who is playing at an All-Pro level, the offensive line has continued to protect Robert Griffin III and open up running lanes for Alfred Morris. The Redskins only rushed for 86-yards as a team against the Steelers and are no longer the NFL’s rushing leader falling to #2 behind the San Francisco 49ers. With that being said, the Redskins need to get back to running the ball effectively. This needs to start with their first drive of the game. The offensive line will have their hands full with an aggressive front-7 led by Defensive End Charles Johnson and rookie Linebacker (and front runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year) Luke Kuechly.

The Panthers got six 1st half sacks last week against the Bears and forced two fumbles by Jay Cutler. Their “attack” game plan will remain the same this week. Defensive End Greg Hardy gave some insight on the Panthers’ defensive plans, “if you put him on the ground, you hit him in the face, I feel like he’s going to go into his shell a little bit, and he’ll have to this about it. He’s a quarterback, that’s what they do.” So while the Panthers’ feel that they can beat up Robert Griffin III and “shake” his confidence, the play of the Redskins offensive line will be the perfect counter plan. The Redskins have only allowed 14-sacks so far in 8 games, and after allowing 41 in 2011, this has been a marked improvement. The improved play of the offensive line needs to continue this Sunday in order for the Redskins to get a win.

Smith, LaFell and Greg Olson vs Redskins’ Secondary
In 2012, the Redskins secondary has had the innate ability to make average passing attacks look superb. Their defense ranks worst in the NFL, allowing over 314 passing yards per game. The Panthers do not possess one of the NFL’s most dynamic passing attacks. However, they are led by veteran Steve Smith who has enjoyed a resurgence in his career last season during Cam Newton’s rookie campaign, and has continued this into 2012. Although, he has yet to score a receiving touchdown, Smith is still capable of scoring at any time, at any point on the field.

The trio of Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Tight End Greg Olson are consistently among Cam Newton’s favorite targets. Those three have accounted for 84 of Newton’s 121 completions and 1306 of Newton’s 1701 yards. The Redskins have struggled all season with explosive Wide Receivers (see Julio Jones, AJ Green, Victor Cruz, Danny Amendola) and big play Tight Ends (see Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, Jermaine Gresham, Heath Miller). This Sunday will be just another test for the Redskins’ pass defense, but will provide a new opportunity for them to step-up.

Panthers’ Running Game vs. the Redskins’ Front-7
The Panthers are no slack when it comes to rushing the ball. They average over 114-yards per game and have a trio of more-than-capable ball carriers. The combination of Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart has proven to be effective and capable of dominating a football game. The Redskins do not have to look far to find an example of this. In last season’s week-7 loss in Carolina, the Redskins surrendered 175 rushing yards and 2-rushing touchdowns.

There should be no surprises in this Sunday’s match-up. The Panthers offensive has been relatively the same ever since they drafted Cam Newton last season. 2012 has been a different story for Newton and the Panthers offense. They have struggled to score points and the offense seems to be reeling. Everyone could see the frustration in Cam Newton two weeks ago after their embarrassing loss to the Chicago Bears. It was in that post-game press conference that Newton said, “the past couple of games have been the same script, by the same director. It’s kind of getting boring. This taste, this vibe—I’m not buying it man. And I don’t know what it is, but something’s going to have to change…I’m going to leave this room and I’m going to bring in a suggestion box and I want your suggestions to be in that suggestion box because I sure don’t know.” This is not the words of the confident Cam Newton that burst onto the NFL scene in 2011. Instead, it reveals an extremely immature and frustrated quarterback who would love to break out this Sunday against the Redskins.

Redskins’ Wr’s and TE’s vs. the Panthers’ pass defense
The Redskins’ receivers dropped 10 potential receptions in last week’s loss to the Steelers. They had only 7 total in the first seven games of the season. Regardless of the cause (weather, lack of concentration, etc), the Redskins playmakers must put last week’s game behind them and step-up against the Panthers. With the absence of Pierre Garcon, the Redskins are looking for anybody to step up and fill his void. All have shown flashes of –play- making ability, but all have shown their issues with consistency.

The bottom-line is that whoever is on the other end of a Robert Griffin pass needs to catch the ball first and foremost. Then worry about making a play or getting yards after the catch. The Redskins cannot afford to not convert a 3rd down or to miss out on “gimme yards” while on offense. Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson all need to step up and help fill the void left behind by the injured Garcon.

Prediction: If there was ever a must win in a week 9 of an NFL season, this is it for the Redskins. A loss would send a disappointed, deflated team into their bye week with a 3-6 record and plenty of unanswered questions to contemplate over two weeks. A win on the other hand, will give a much needed confidence-boost to a team that is looking for any type of positive things to build on for the rest of the season. It will make the 2-week preparation for the Philadelphia Eagles in week 11 much easier. Here is how the Redskins can win this Sunday.

What a difference a year makes: Almost one year ago to the day, Washington visited the Panthers with John Beck as the starting quarterback. In that game, the Redskins gave up 407 yards (including 175 rushing) and had 4 turnovers. This season, the revamped Redskins’ offense features this season’s dynamic rookie quarterback, a surprisingly productive 6th-round running back, and an offensive line that has protected the quarterback and opened up running lanes. While the defense has given up yards and points at a historically torrid pace, the offense is night-and-day from the 2011 version. In order for the Redskins to win on Sunday, that revamped offensive needs to be on full display. They must get back to “pre-Steelers” production and efficiency.

Where is the D?: Regarding that porous Redskins’ defense, they remain dead-last in the NFL in passing yards allowed. They are the 5th worst defense in the NFL in points allowed, giving up over 28 points a game. The defense CANNOT keep relying on the offense to “save the day” for the Redskins. While the offense is ranked 7th in the NFL averaging over 26 points a game, the defense must do everything possible to get off the field and give the offense more opportunities to score.

3rd down defense: 3rd down defense has been something that has continued to plague the 2012 Redskins. They are tied for 4th-worst in the NFL in 3rd down conversion percentage allowed, allowing 44% of 3rd downs to be converted. This is a sign of a “bend, but don’t break” defense. The only problem with this is that the Redskins defense is also breaking, giving up way too many points. The defense is overmatched almost every single week, especially in the secondary, and getting off the field on 3rd down giving the offense the ball would be beneficial to both sides of the ball.

Run the Football: The Redskins’ running game has been the most surprising aspect of 2012’s offensive revival. Surprisingly, they are ranked 2nd in the NFL in team rushing yards per game (falling behind the 49ers after last week’s game). Alfred Morris has been a pleasant surprise as a 6th-round running back selection and currently ranks 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards with 717. A 1000-yard season seems inevitable, but adding another 100-yard rushing efford

Discipline: Uncharacteristically for a Mike Shanahan-coached football team, the Redskins are the 3rd most penalized team in the NFL. Teams that commit penalties usually end up on the losing side of games, and in order to get a win, the Redskins will need to minimize their penalties. This is something that has been brought up week after week, and if it continues, it will haunt the Redskins’ 2012 season.

GAME 8: Steelers Preview

Photo © Brian Murphy/homermcfanboy.com

The Redskins are looking to get back to the .500 mark, and they must do so in a place that has not been very friendly to visiting NFC teams. Since Heinz Field opened in 2001, the Steelers have played 23 home games against NFC teams. In those games, they are an astounding 20-2-1. That does not bode well for a Redskins team that is trying to stay afloat this season and get back to .500.
The Redskins must quickly recover from last week’s devastating loss to the New York Giants. After leading the offense on a 7-play, 77-yard drive for what seemed to be the game winning touchdown, Robert Griffin III could only stand on the sidelines and watch Eli Manning snatch away the victory. On the Giants’ 2nd play on the next drive, Manning connected with Victor Cruz for a 77-yard touchdown pass for a 27-23 victory. That loss should serve as a lesson learned for Robert Griffin III and the Redskins that no lead is ever safe until the clock reads all zeroes. One other major takeaway that I think the Redskins and its entire fan base came away with is that as long as #10 is the quarterback, the Redskins can win any game they play. In every game this season, the Redskins have had the ball in the 4th quarter either with the lead, tied, or down only one possession. Griffin III has brought stability to the Redskins offense and his playmaking ability will keep them in every game. Now, about those 4th quarters…
What separates the good teams from the bad, the playoff teams and the non-playoff teams is the 4th quarter. The good teams find a way in the final quarter to make a play or two more than their opponent and find a way to pull out the win. This is an area that the Redskins have not been very good at and it has cost them in all 4 of their losses. Simple coverage breakdowns, mental mistakes, penalties are all examples of miscues the Redskins have done at the most inopportune time. In order to win this Sunday, and to stay in the playoff hunt for the rest of the season, the Redskins will need to play better in the 4th quarter, be mentally sharp and execute the plays that are called.

Here is a look at the match-ups that will determine the outcome of Sunday’s game:

The Steelers’ passing game vs. the Redskins’ secondary
If there is one area of consistency for the Redskins’ defense this season, it has been the secondary’s inconsistency. The pass defense is ranked dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed giving up an average of 328 yards per game. That’s over 20-yards more than the next worst team.

The Steelers will not make it any easier for the porous Redskins’ secondary. Historically known as a run-first offense, the Steelers have evolved into a Ben Roethlisberger offense. While the running game remains effective (no matter who is running the ball), Roethlisberger has become one of the NFL’s “elite” quarterbacks. He is able to avoid sacks, extend plays and has a very powerful arm, capable of making any throw on the field. And he has plenty of weapons at all of the skill positions.

Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown lead a group of receivers that are FAST and can turn a 5-yard reception into a long touchdown. Along with these two explosive receivers, the Steelers also have another speedster in Emmanuel Sanders, veteran Jerricho Cotchery, and All-Pro tight end Heath Miller. Miller could have a big day on Sunday as the Redskins have struggled this season against tight ends. Jimmy Graham had over 80-yards and a touchdown, Jermaine Gresham had over 60-yards and a touchdown, and Tony Gonzales had a monster game with 13-receptions for 123-yards and a touchdown. Heath Miller has to be licking his chops for this week’s game.

Robert Griffin III vs. Steelers’ 3-4 Defense
Robert Griffin III has experienced a massive amount of personal success over the first seven weeks of the season. He has surpassed all expectations by becoming one of the most dynamic players at the quarterback position, and maybe even in the entire NFL. But one test he has yet to face is against a 3-4 defense. And this week’s opponent brings “The Godfather” of the 3-4, Steelers’ Defensive Coordinator, Dick Lebeau.
The Steelers have been known for a ball-hawking, play-making defense. This year, age and injuries have caught up to them and they have struggled to regain their old form. They will be without their leader, Troy Polamalu, as he sits out his 2nd straight game with a nagging calf injury. However, the Steelers’ still have productive main-stays throughout the defense. The d-line is anchored by former All-Pro nose-tackle Casey Hampton. Their starting defensive-ends, Ziggy Hood and Brent Keisel, are veterans who have played at high-levels in their career and are very capable of getting after the quarterback. Their linebacker corp. is as good as it gets in the NFL. While James Harrison is playing through injury, he and Lamar Woodley claim the right to be called the best outside linebacker tandem in the NFL. In the middle, Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons can both fly to the football and make things difficult for Griffin III and the Redskins. In the secondary, the Steelers will be led by cornerback Ike Taylor and safety (and former Redskin) Ryan Clark.

This Sunday will be a great mid-season test for Robert Griffin III and the offense.

Redskins’ rushing offense vs. the Steelers’ rush defense
Surprising to most, the Washington Redskins are leading the NFL in rushing offense. With an average of 177-yards per game, the rookie combination of Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris has been a nightmare for defenses to contend with. Morris has been a pleasant surprise and a steal in the 6th round of this year’s draft. After 7 games, Morris has 658-yards and 5-touchdowns, and trails the NFL-rushing leader, Arian Foster, by only 1-yard. If you, couple that with Griffin III’s 468-yards and 6-touchdowns, and the Redskins have a dual threat that is very difficult to defend.
The Steelers’ defense is ranked 9th in the NFL against the run. They have only allowed 100-team rushing yards once this season, against the Oakland Raiders in a 34-31 loss in week-3.

The Redskins use the running game to open up the rest of their offense. So much is done when they show the shotgun or pistol option look. The Redskins have proven that they can effectively run AND throw out of this formation and it will keep the Steelers’ linebackers busy all game.

Prediction: Week 7’s loss to the Giants was a disheartening and a missed opportunity for the Redskins. A win would have made them 4-3 and sitting alone atop the NFC East. Instead, they are 3-4 and in dire need against a tough Steelers team who simply do not lose very often at home. A win this Sunday against the Steelers will put the Redskins back on track for what could be a season to remember. Here is how the Redskins can win this Sunday.

Pressure, pressure, pressure: The Redskins have not been able to generate much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and Ben Roethlisberger is as good as it gets in the league at avoiding sacks. The double-edged sword for the Redskins is that they the NFL’s worst in pass defense. So how many blitzes will Jim Haslett call, how will he generate pressure without over-exposing his secondary.

Stop the run: The Redskins defense is ranked 7th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. This must continue on Sunday in order to have a chance to win. Whether it’s Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer running for Pittsburgh, the Redskins defense must limit the yardage and finish tackles. Forcing the Steelers into obvious passing downs could go a long way in helping the slumping secondary.

3rd down defense: This has been an area of concern all season for the Redskins. Getting off the field on 3rd down would be crucial for the defense. Not only will it limit how many points the Steelers’ offense scores, but it will also give Robert Griffin III and the offense more opportunities to put points on the board. The Redskins have the 7th worst defense on 3rd down conversions, while the Steelers are 1st in the NFL at converting 3rd downs. If the Redskins’ defense cannot correct this on Sunday and limit the Steelers’ conversions, then it will be a long day for the Redskins.

Bend, but don’t break: It is no secret that the Redskins are struggling on defense this year, especially in the passing game. They are last in the NFL having given up 7 pass plays over 40-yards. On Sunday, the Redskins are going up against a Super Bowl winning quarterback and a group of explosive pass-catchers. Big plays will hurt the Redskins this Sunday, and it would be in there best interest to make sure they do not give up any quick strikes for touchdowns. The game plan should be to keep everything in front of them and to always have a safety playing DEEP. If they can succeed at keeping things in front, even if the Steelers continuously move the football up and down the field, the Redskins’ defense can tighten up in the red zone and force the Steelers to kick field goals.

Run the Football: The running game has been the most important factor in the offense’s early season success. Not only has it alleviated some of the pressure from Robert Griffin III, but with an average of 5.4 yards per attempt (2nd in the NFL); the rushing attack has been a major part of the offense. The option threat the offense has leaned on and Griffin III’s ability to ride the play action keeps the defenders guessing. Credit has to be given to the much-maligned Redskins’ offensive line. Trent Williams is playing at a Pro Bowl level, Tyler Polumbus has surprised everyone with his consistent play and the interior of the line has been able to get to the 2nd level and create running lanes for both Morris and Griffin III.

Convert scoring opportunities: Whenever a team in the NFL plays on the road, scoring opportunities come at a premium. This is especially true in Pittsburgh where the Steelers have been dominant at home. The Redskins offense has had no problem moving the ball up and down the field on any opposing defense. They must turn their drives into points. Kai Forbath seems to have solidified the kicker position and is a perfect 4-4 in two games. When at all possible, they need to refrain from settling for field goals and get into the end zone. The Redskins have been among the league’s best in Red Zone touchdown percentage and need to continue this trend on Sunday.

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: Winning the turnover battle will usually give a team a chance to win the game. Last week the Redskins turned the ball over four times, on four straight possessions and it cost them. They are tied for 5th in the NFL in turnover differential with a +7 mark. The offense has protected the football all season and last week’s four turnover game should prove to be an anomaly. Pittsburgh’s defense is known to be turnover-aggressive, so while on offense, Washington needs to continue to protecting the ball. When on defense, the Redskins need to continue being aggressive and try to force the Steelers into turnovers. Turnovers for the defense equal more scoring opportunities for Robert Griffin III and the offense.

Robert Griffin III leads the Redskins back to .500 in 38-26 victory over the Vikings

Photo by Brian Murphy/homermcfanboy.com

Victory Mondays are the best, especially when it follows the Redskins’ first home victory in 9 games. Before Sunday’s victory, the Redskins had not won at FedEx field since last season’s week-2 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Before a raucous crowd, the Redskins were able to hold off the then 4-1 Minnesota Vikings 38-26. After falling behind 9-0 in the 1st quarter, the Redskins scored on their next four possessions and stormed out to a 24-9 lead.

After a early-4th quarter interception return for a touchdown by Free Safety Madieu Williams, the Redskins seemed to be in full control of the game with a 31-12 lead. However, the Vikings would not let it happen so easily, as they marched up and down the field to score on two straight possessions to narrow the gap to 31-26.

The Redskins would then get the ball with a little over 3 and a half minutes remaining in the game with a chance to secure a couple of 1st downs and a victory. After a tackle for loss on 1st down and a nominal 8-yard gain on 2nd down, the Redskins were faced with a deciding 3rd and 6 from the 24-yard line with just under 3 minutes to play.

It was on that crucial 3rd down play that Robert Griffin III dropped back, quickly read a “double-A gap” blitz, got through the line, made a move to the sideline and darted downfield for an electric 76-yard touchdown run. The play would all be cement the Redskins’ victory and sent the 78,000-plus home crowd into a frenzy with loud chants of “R-G-3” that could be heard from the stadium’s parking lots.

Let’s take a quick look at a few players who helped the Redskins capture their 3rd victory of the season.

Robert Griffin III: Arguably the most dynamic player the Redskins franchise has ever had, Griffin III has proven that he is worth the offseason draft trade that brought him to the Nation’s Capital. Leading the Redskins to the 2nd highest scoring team in the NFL, Griffin III has already set franchise records for the longest single rush by a quarterback, rushing yards by a quarterback, and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. His 138-yard, 2 rushing td performance would have been good enough for any of the NFL’s elite running backs. Add that 17-22 passing, 185 yards and another touchdown, and Griffin III has proven that as long as he can stay healthy, the Redskins are capable of winning any game they play.

Trent Williams: The former 1st-round pick has used the 2012 season as an opportunity to establish himself as one of the most dominant left tackles in the entire NFL. He anchors an underrated, but cohesive offensive-line that allowed only one sack to a Vikings team ranked in the top-10 in the League in quarterback sacks. The only sack allowed was to All-Pro Jared Allen late in the 3rd-quarter for a mere 4-yards. Williams continually corralled Allen, creating plenty of room for Griffin III to step-up in the pocket and deliver decisive, accurate passes.

Lorenzo Alexander: “The One Man Gang” again proved how he is the example of Versatility. After being asked to move to inside linebacker in the offseason, Alexander was asked to line-up at outside linebacker against the Vikings. With the absence of the injured Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker, the coaching staff turned to Alexander to give them a pass-rushing boost. For the game, Alexander was credited with 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 quarterback pressures and a fumble recovery. His performance will force the coaches to give him an increased workload.

Madieu Williams: Going against his former team, Williams did all he could to show why he still has some quality football left in his career. Along with his diving interception that he returned 24-yards for a touchdown, Williams racked up 12 total tackles and had his best overall game as a Washington Redskin.

Kai Forbath: In his Redskins’ debut, Forbath drilled his 1st and only field goal attempt from 50 yards out. After his signing, there was some concern surrounding the length of his kick-offs. Forbath seemed to handle the duty by kicking touchbacks on 4 of his 7 kick-offs, limiting the Vikings’ dangerous kick returner, Percy Harvin, to only three returns. Maybe the most important aspect of Forbath was the confidence he showed prior to kicking the 50-yard field goal. Hopefully, the Redskins have resolved their early-season kicking woes.

GAME 3: BENGALS PREVIEW

Photo © Brian Murphy/homermcfanboy.com

Two weeks into this young NFL season, the Washington Redskins have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. After shocking the entire NFL by going into New Orleans and beating the Saints in week 1, the Redskins went to St. Louis and wasted a golden opportunity to begin the season with a 2-0 record. After leading the Rams for much of the game, the Redskins ultimately relinquished their lead and allowed a more physical Rams team to pull out a 31-28 victory. The game was very physical and at times, was chippy back-and-forth between the two teams. There was a lot of hard-hitting by both teams and plenty of after-the-whistle activity. The Rams’ strategy was evident throughout the game, be more physical and try to intimidate the Redskins. Their plan worked. Overcoming a 21-6 early deficit, the Rams gained over 450 yards of total offense and took advantage of 11 Redskins’ penalties (none more costly than Joshua Morgan’s unsportsmanlike penalty at the end of the game.

The Redskins must quickly turn the page on week 2 as the Cincinnati Bengals head to FedEx field this Sunday. Fresh off a victory over the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals are coming in on a high note. They scored 34 points and racked up over 400 yards of offense in the win. The Bengals were a surprise playoff team in 2011, and came in this year with even higher aspirations. Led by Redskins’ former defensive coordinator, Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are hoping to build off 2011’s playoff campaign and push deeper into the playoffs this season.

Their defense was ranked 7th in overall defense last season, but this year has been quite the contrary. So far in two games, the Bengals have given up 434.5 yards per game and a league’s worst 7.2 yards per play! Good thing for the Bengals, their offense can be explosive. With 3 young Pro Bowlers, (quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham) the Bengals’ offense are capable of moving the football on any defense. Add to Pro Bowl nucleus, former New England Patriots’ running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and wide receivers Brandon Tate, Andrew Hawkins, and Armon Binns, and the Redskins’ defense could have their hands full this Sunday.

Here is a look at the match-ups that will determine the outcome of Sunday’s game:

The Bengals’ offense vs. the Redskins’ secondary

The Bengals are capable of explosive plays and have shown the ability to move the ball against any team. Quarterback Andy Dalton has plenty of weapons at his disposal and has the ability to take advantage of match-ups that favor the Bengals. This Sunday, the Redskins defense must execute a game plan that will limit the Bengals’ big play ability.

After being scorched by Sam Bradford, Danny Amendola and the Rams last week, Redskins’ defensive coordinator Jim Haslett knows that his defense will be under a lot of scrutiny if history repeats itself this Sunday. In week 1, the Redskins were able to limit big plays from the Saints by playing aggressive man-to-man coverage. But in week 2, the strategy against the Rams was different. Instead, the secondary sat back in a zone defense and allowed the Rams’ smaller, faster wide receivers to run freely through the zone and to produce big plays after the catch. In order for the Redskins to win on Sunday, this must change. They cannot afford to fall behind early nor see a lead of their own vanish with a big play. There will be a lot of pressure on the defense in general this Sunday, but even more so, on the secondary.

Redskins’ pass rush vs. Bengals’ offensive line

Last week, the Redskins’ defensive lost two of their key defensive-contributors for the entire season. Brian Orakpo tore his pectoral muscle (different area from last year’s injury) and Adam Carriker suffered a torn tendon in his quad. There is no question that their leadership and production will be extremely difficult to replace, but they will try to with a handful of guys. Opportunities to step in and produce have opened up for reserve linebackers Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson, and defensive linemen Jarvis Jenkins and Chris Baker. They will see their playing time increase dramatically and they must take advantage of it.

Every player on the defense will need to elevate their game in an attempt to make up for the lost production. The Bengals’ offensive line could make that attempt a little easier. In two games, Bengals’ opponents have sacked Andy Dalton 10 times, including 6 last week by the Browns. To win this game, the Redskins defense must generate enough pressure to make Dalton uncomfortable and get him moving around/outside the pocket, where he is less effective. Forcing a couple of turnovers, as they have all season, will go a long way for the Redskins who would love to put last week’s embarrassing loss behind them.

Redskins’ offensive vs. the Bengals’ defense

Believe it or not, the Redskins’ offensive is ranked 4th overall and 2nd in scoring in the NFL. Take a second, read that line again because it’s true. The affect Robert Griffin III has had on the Redskins’ offense is blatantly obvious. His ability to be a running threat, avoid pressure and sacks, and extend plays has kept opposing defense off-balance during this young season.
The Bengals defense is ranked 30th in the NFL and has given up an average of 35 points per game. Last week against the Browns, the Bengals allowed rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden to go 26-37 for 322-yards and 2-touchdowns. The Bengals’ secondary is already without 1st round pick, Dre Kirkpatrick, but could also be without stand-out cornerback Leon Hall (sore calf), who was limited in practice on Wednesday and missed practice Thursday and Friday.

The Redskins will need to take advantage of the Bengals’ porous defense and continue making the big plays they have all season. With Pierre Garcon likely to miss his 2nd straight game, look for Leonard Hankerson to play a much bigger role and also for a motivated Joshua Morgan to get some targets. Also, it would be nice to see Fred Davis get involved in the offense. The Bengals give up 9.4 yards per pass attempt. This is an area where Griffin III and the offense should look to take advantage.

Prediction: Week 2’s loss to the Rams was a huge disappointment for the Redskins. A win this Sunday against the Bengals will all but erase what happened in St. Louis. Here is how the Redskins can win this Sunday.

• 3rd down defense: This is one of the most underrated stats in all of football. Third-down conversions have a vast influence on which team is able to win the battle for time of possession and ultimately, which team is able to control the game. In week 1, the Redskins defense held the Saints to an uncharacteristic 2-11 on 3rd-down. However, in week 2, the Rams were 7-12 on 3rd downs. In order for the Redskins to win on Sunday, the defense needs to “get off the field” and give Griffin III and the offense as many chances to score as possible. This does not necessarily mean turnovers, but it does mean forcing punts. Through 2 weeks, the Redskins’ offense has proven that they can score. Increased opportunities will be welcomed with open arms.

• Eliminate the penalties: The Redskins currently lead the NFL in total penalties with 23. This is NOT a stat they should want to lead the League in and this must stop. The replacement refs may be the cause for an increase in penalties, but not enough to lead the league. The Redskins must be more disciplined and eliminate any penalty that can have a major impact on the game, i.e. last week’s unsportsmanlike penalty on Joshua Morgan.

• Special Teams: For the 2nd week in a row, the Redskins have allowed a punt to be blocked. To put this in perspective, there were 9 total blocked punts during the entire season in 2011. Of those 9 blocks, all were done by different teams, none by the same team. So what the Redskins have been able to do is unordinary, but quite frankly, intolerable. They MUST not allow this to happen again. Know your assignment, make sure your man is blocked until the ball is kicked, then go down field and cover. With that being said, the Bengals have dynamic kick and punt returners in Adam “PacMan” Jones and Brandon Tate. This is not the game to allow a big, game-changing return.

• Let’s get Physical: It was evident from the opening kickoff against the Rams that the game plan was to be more physical and impose their will on the Redskins. And it worked. The Redskins need to learn from last week’s loss and return the favor this week to the Bengals. From the opening kickoff, the Redskins need to establish the tone for the game. The effort needs to stay at a high level, tackles need to be finished, and the Redskins need to protect their own. Do not let the Bengals out-physical them.

• Protect the home field: Home field advantage has been lacking for the Redskins. In two seasons under Mike Shanahan, the Redskins are 4-12 at FedEx field. Without sugar coating it, this is pathetic. Redskins’ fans have been quick to claim that with Robert Griffin III comes a “new era” in Washington Redskins football. This Sunday could be the start of that “era” by protecting the home field and establishing dominance at FedEx field. There is one thing for sure; the crowd will be extremely loud and raucous. The Redskins need to feed off of that energy and give the fans a reason to be even louder. The Redskins need to make it a difficult challenge for visiting teams to come into Washington and win.

• Effective running game: During the offseason, one of the biggest concerns for Washington Redskins was the offensive line and the running game. Through two games, the Redskins rank 4th in the NFL with an average of 164.5 yards per contest. Alfred Morris has been a pleasant surprise and Robert Griffin III’s ability to run has been the reasons for the unexpected production. Whatever the offensive line has been doing, they need to continue doing it against the Bengals.

• Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: Uncharacteristically, the Redskins rank 2nd in the NFL in turnover margin with a +2.5 margin. While this did not work last week, winning the turnover battle is usually part of the winning formula. The Redskins need to continue this trend by protecting the football on offense, and doing everything possible to take away the football on defense. If the Redskins remain among the league leaders in turnover margin, the results should be positive.

GAME 2: RAMS PREVIEW

St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson. Photo © Eric Espada/HailMagazine.com

By Shaahin Bahmani
@shaahin_hailmag
shaahin@hailmagazine.com

Back in early-March, the Washington Redskins surprised the NFL world with the announcement that there was an agreement in place with the St. Louis Rams for the Redskins to acquire the #2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. The trade (a swap of 1st round picks, the Redskins’ 2012 2nd round pick, and both 2013 & 2014’s 1st round picks) would lay the path for the Redskins to solve their quarterback conundrum and ultimately draft Robert Griffin III. While the Rams landed what seems to be the largest “package” of picks for their 2nd overall pick, the Redskins can look back on that day and say that it was all worth it.

The Washington Redskins will look to follow up their shocking win over the Saints with a week 2 visit to St. Louis to take on the Rams. Robert Griffin III had an historic performance in the Redskins’ 40-32 upset victory over the Saints. His 139.9 QB Rating was the highest ever posted in the NFL by a rookie. Griffin III was also the first player in NFL history to compile 300-plus passing yards, two or more passing touchdowns and no interceptions in an NFL debut.

Week 1 was not as kind to the Rams, as they suffered a dramatic loss on the road at Detroit. Their defense had dominated the Lions during the 1st half, intercepting Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford three times, including one that was returned 31-yards for a touchdown by Cortland Finnegan. In the 2nd half, the teams exchanged scores but the Rams found themselves holding on to a slim 3-point lead with just under 2-minutes remaining in the game. However, the Rams were not able to hold on as Stafford connected with running back Kevin Jones for a 5-yard touchdown pass with only 10 seconds remaining. The Lions would go on to win 27-23 and handed the Rams a loss in week 1.

Week 1’s effort by the Rams is the perfect example of the toughness and fight new head coach Jeff Fisher hopes to instill in his young team. With 10 new draft picks, including a league-high 6 of the 1st 96 selections, the Rams have quickly reshaped their roster. Of the 53 players to make the Rams’ roster, 33 are new compared to the 2011 roster.

The Rams have one of the NFL’s most productive running backs, Steven Jackson. Jackson, who is coming off his 7th straight 1000+ yard season, sets the pace for the Rams offense. When he gets going, the rest of the offense seems to play better. This will go a long way for 3rd-year quarterback, Sam Bradford as he tries to erase last year’s 17-10 loss versus the Redskins from his mind. In last season’s week 4 match-up, the Redskins’ defense intercepted Bradford twice, sacked him seven times and forced pressure on him throughout the game. After seeing last week’s performance against the Saints, Bradford is well aware of the ferocious defense he will be facing this Sunday.

Here is a look at the match-ups that will determine the outcome of Sunday’s game:

Robert Griffin III and the passing game vs. the Rams’ defense
The element of surprise is something that the Redskins obviously took advantage of against the Saints. The Saints’ defense had no idea what was coming at them on the next play. It will be interesting to see what changes in the offensive game plan this Sunday. Now that there is “tape” on Griffin III, teams will not be able to better prepare on how to stop the Redskins offense. This could be both a positive and a negative for defensive coordinators. While there is now tape, there are also the distractions of all that Griffin III is capable of.

Game plans change from week to week. Mike and Kyle Shanahan will be able to keep teams off balance with different formations and unique personnel packages. This week will be a test against an improved and underrated Rams’ defense. They spent a lot of money to bring in free agent cornerback Cortland Finnegan and also used their 2nd draft pick on cornerback, Janoris Jenkins. With an improved secondary, the Rams intercepted Pro Bowl quarterback, Matthew Stafford, three times last week. The Rams have an aggressive defense. This could work in their favor like last week, or against them when facing a dynamic quarterback like Griffin III.

Steven Jackson vs. the Redskins’ front-7
Steven Jackson is looking for his eighth-consecutive 1000-yard rushing season this year. He is one of the NFL’s most versatile and productive running backs. Jackson can be viewed as the motor of the Rams’ offense. His rushing ability forces defenses to bring extra men in “the box” and ultimately, opens up things for Sam Bradford and the passing game. If the Redskins defense can slow him down, they should be able to put pressure on Bradford.

Redskins’ offensive line vs. the Ram’s front-7
The Redskins’ offensive line played extremely well in week 1. A duplicate performance will go a long way in order for the Redskins to start the season 2-0. The Rams have a formidable pass rush with defensive ends Chris Long and last year’s 1st round pick, Robert Quinn. Couple this with middle-linebacker, James Laurinaitis, and the Rams’ front-7 can put pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback.

Last week against the Lions, the Rams only sacked Matthew Stafford one time, but did force him into three 1st-half interceptions. Their offseason commitment to improving the secondary seems to have paid off with Cortland Finnegan (10 tackles, 1 interception returned for a touchdown) and rookie Janoris Jenkins (6 tackles, 1 interception).

The Rams also gave up only 83-yards rushing to the Lions. The Redskins know that they need to run the ball successfully in order to be productive. It will alleviate some of the pressure on the passing game. Opening up running lanes for the backs and protecting Robert Griffin III be keys for Sunday’s game plan.

Prediction: After week 1’s shocking win over the Saints, the Redskins now have a large majority of the “experts” selecting them to win in week 2 against the Rams. The league and the national media have been abuzz this week over Griffin and the Redskins, quickly changing the team’s outlook for the season. But the Redskins pay no attention to that, instead, they go game-by-game and focus on the week’s new opponent. Here is how the Redskins can win this Sunday.

1)  The Redskins MUST coral Steven Jackson: Steven Jackson is a brute force in the running game with the skills to run by you or through you. As Jackson goes, so does the Rams offense. He only averaged 2.5 yards per carry on 21 rushes for 53 yards, which led to the Rams’ having only 250 yards of total offense. Tackling Jackson one-on-one is difficult, so when a defender makes contact, the rest of the defense needs to join in and gang-tackle Jackson. Hitting him in the backfield and slowing him down will be a great place to start. Forcing the Rams into must-pass situations, will allow the Redskins defense to “pin their ears back” and get after Bradford. This leads me too…

2)  Pressure Sam Bradford: The Rams placed starting Center Scott Wells on IR this week after breaking a bone in his left foot against the Lions. Starting Left Tackle, Roger Saffold was taken off on a stretcher during the Lions’ game with a neck injury, and while he returned to practice on Thursday, the likelihood of him playing on Sunday is doubtful. Also, starting Left Guard, Rokevious Watkins has spent the week on crutches, and is also doubtful to play this Sunday. How does this impact Sunday’s game? Well, last season, the Redskins defense was able to harass Sam Bradford, sacked him seven times and forced him into two interceptions. This Sunday should be no different for the Redskins defense as they play to take the next step and become one of the NFL’s elite defenses. This Sunday against the Rams will provide the perfect opportunity for them to do so and they must get after Bradford for the 2nd straight season.

3)  Protect Robert Griffin III: The Redskins’ offensive line gave up only two sacks against the Saints, one of which came when Griffin III tripped and fell to the ground and a defender jumped on top of him. The Rams have a very underrated defense and will look to create pressure with defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn and also stud middle linebacker, James Laurinaitis. The secondary has been upgraded with Finnegan and Jenkins. The improved secondary will allow the Rams defense to dial up some pressure packages to try and get Griffin III off of his game.

4)  The Surprise Factor: The Redskins seemed to have the Saints’ defense on their heels for the entire game in week 1. Whether this was an anomaly or some foreshadowing, the “element of surprise” will be a weapon for the Redskins all season. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan called a brilliant game and will have an opportunity this Sunday to prove that the victory over the Saints was no fluke. Last week, we saw a shotgun spread-look that the Redskins were in the majority of the game. There was some pistol formations, 3 tight-end looks, designed-quarterback runs, speed options; you name it, they ran it. Mike and Kyle Shanahan need to continue to take advantage of this surprise factor for as long as possible.

5)  Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: The Redskins won the turnover margin 3-0 in last week’s win against the Saints. The Rams also won their turnover margin against the Lions 3-0, but they lost. Last week, was only the 3rd time the Redskins have not committed a turnover in a game under coach Shanahan. In fact, Sunday against the Saints, was the 1st time they had zero turnovers in 31 games. With a rookie quarterback and a border-line elite defense, limiting turnovers will be a season-long goal for the Redskins.

6)  Minimize penalties: Last week against the Saints, the Redskins committed 12 penalties for 127 yards. While this would normally make it extremely difficult for teams to win, there was never that single penalty that overturned a touchdown, a turnover, or another big play. I’m sure the coaching staff has made it a focus to eliminate these penalties, because teams cannot win week after week AND commit double-digit penalties.

7)  Special Teams: This week, the Redskins placed long snapper Nick Sundberg on the new conditional Injured Reserve. Sundburg broke his arm in the 1st half of last week’s game, and although he finished the game, he will not be able to play for at least the next six weeks. To replace him, the team signed former Indianapolis Colt, Justin Snow. Not only will the Redskins have a new long snapper, but they must resolve their blocking assignment issues. They cannot afford to give up another punt-block, even more-so if it goes for a touchdown. Billy Cundiff proved his worth as he went 4-4 on his field goals against the Saints, but he must continue to do so. Throughout the season, points will be at a premium and Cundiff will need to make sure that points are never “left on the field.”

GAME 1: SAINTS PREVIEW

Photo © Mel Arroyo/HailMagazine.com

 

By Shaahin Bahmani
@shaahin_hailmag
shaahin@hailmagazine.com

The Washington Redskins will open their 2012 NFL season on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints in one of the most difficult places to play in all of sports. Drew Brees and Company are waiting to welcome Robert Griffin III to the NFL and one thing is for certain, the Saints’ fans in the Louisiana Super Dome will be amped up and ready to go. It is no secret that the noise will be deafening.  The Redskins coaching staff knows this and they have prepared the team for what’s in store. This week the team has been practicing inside the newly built indoor facility and practiced with extremely loud noise in an effort to simulate what they will hear on Sunday.

Due to the “Bounty Gate” suspensions, the Saints will be without head coach Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Joe Vitt. Interim head coach Aaron Kromer (the team’s offensive line coach) will try to lead the Saints to an opening day victory. His challenge?  Robert Griffin III and the new-look Washington Redskins. The Redskins have spent the entire offseason revamping their offense with a new starting quarterback, a deeper, more explosive wide receiver group, zone-scheme running backs and an offensive line that looks to continue their cohesion as a unit.

The task of taking on the Saints in New Orleans is not an easy one, but it is something head coach Mike Shanahan and the rest of the team have been preparing for since the regular season schedule came out in mid-April. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is assigned the duty of slowing down Drew Brees and the Saints’ high-octane offense. They have weapons at their disposal, with 6’7” tight end Jimmy Graham, 6’5” wide receiver Marques Colston, a stable of running backs that includes the all-purpose Darren Sproles, and an offensive line that includes 3 Pro Bowl starters.

Here is a look at the match-ups that will determine the outcome of Sunday’s game:

 

Drew Brees and the Saints’ passing game vs. the Redskins’ defense

2011 was a banner year for Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees. He broke Dan Marino’s 27-year old record for most single-season passing yards with 5,476 yards, single-season record for highest completion percentage (71.2%), most 300+ yard passing games (13), and most completions in a season (468). If there’s one thing for certain, it is that the New Orleans Saints offensive is potent and can score points on any defense.

While daunting, the Saints offensive players are not immortal, they can be stopped, or at least, slowed down enough to win. The Redskins’ defense, particularly the front-7, must contain the running and short-passing games of the Saints. They have to force the Saints into obvious passing down and distances and be able to put pressure on Brees. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the league at getting the ball out of his hands before the pressure gets to him. The best way for the Redskins’ defense can put pressure on him will be up the middle with their 3 down-linemen. Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Adam Carriker, and reserve Jarvis Jenkins have to win the battle in the trenches in order to get Brees out of his comfort zone. Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, and reserves Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson will have to force pressure onto Brees from the outside linebacker positions. Getting 3+ combined sacks out of this unit will be a huge plus.

Another important facet will be how the Redskins’ secondary will do in this matchup. They will be without both projected starters at safety; Tanard Jackson was suspended by the league for violating the substance abuse policy and Brandon Merriweather is out 2-4 weeks in a mild knee sprain. Replacing them will be free agent acquisition Madieu Williams and 2nd year man Dejon Gomes. Reed Doughty will also figure to get some playing time. On Thursday, D-coordinator Jim Haslett gave a vote of confidence to the guys that will be in uniform on Sunday, “We’re not concerned. We have good players on the back end. The guys that are going to play for Brandon will fill in and do a good job. Last year they did a nice job for us and they are more experienced.”

 

Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham vs. the Redskins’ linebackers

Sproles is arguably one of the most dynamic offensive players in the entire league. Last year, he combined for over 1300 yards from scrimmage and 9 touchdowns, and had a total of 86 receptions, which ranked 7th in all the NFL. He has the ability to turn a small gain into a huge play and the speed to score from any distance on the field. Whether it’s London Fletcher spying or Orakpo and Kerrigan in the flats, the Redskins linebackers have to limit Sproles ability to make big plays.

Adding to the linebackers concern is 6’7” Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham. Graham burst onto the scene in 2011 with 99 receptions (3rd in league), 1310 yards and 11 touchdowns. His huge frame and deceptive speed poses an extremely difficult task for any defense. Fletcher and Perry Riley will have their hands full with Graham, especially in the redzone. They must find a way to be “in his hip pocket” and eliminate the separation Graham can easily create.

 

Robert Griffin III and the offense vs. the Saints’ defense

If there is one thing Coach Shanahan did NOT do this preseason, it was putting his new toy on full display. Griffin ranked 75th of all NFL quarterbacks this preseason with only 31 pass attempts. While running a vanilla offense with little-to-no game planning, Griffin did display his ability to read defenses, go through progressions and avoid pressure within the pocket.

Since there is no real “tape” on Griffin in the NFL, Shanahan can go with a “shock and awe” approach on Sunday. We know that the Redskins will run their zone running scheme with stretch runs to the outside, zone reads by the backs, play-action bootlegs, and even some naked bootlegs. But what else will Griffin be doing? His ability to throw the ball down the fields with ease and accuracy opens up a dimension in the offense that the Redskins have not had in a long time. Add to that Olympic-caliber speed and there’s really no telling what Mike and Kyle Shanahan have installed for this week’s game plan.

Saints’ coaches have already admitted to using a spy during portions of the game. Griffin’s speed has already altered the opposing team’s game plan. By using one guy on the defense to spy Griffin, there should be a lot more space for guys like Fred Davis, Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss, Joshua Morgan and Leonard Hankerson to make plays. As previously mentioned, the Saints will be without defensive end Will Smith (2nd on the team in sacks in 2011). Their ability to put pressure on Griffin will depend solely on whether or not the Redskins’ offensive line can win that match-up. One other key factor will be the ability of the Redskins’ young running backs to perform in pass protection.

 

 

Prediction: There are not many people out there that are predicting the Redskins to go to a hostile environment in New Orleans and beat them (actually I have yet to see a single one). But one thing that I’ve learned about the NFL is that it truly is “any given Sunday.” Any team can win any game they play. The NFL is about match-ups and how coaches adjust and exploit those match-ups. With that being said, my prediction for week 1 (and for all games) will be one that talks about how the Redskins can win.

 

1. Minimize impactful penalties: The Redskins cannot afford to have costly penalties that overturn or reverse big plays. For any visiting team to the Superdome, momentum is vital and the Redskins will need to capitalize off all their big plays. With the replacement referees in place for week 1, the Redskins cannot afford to have a penalty overturning a sack-fumble, an interception, a kick/punt return or a big play on offense.

2. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: The Redskins must strive for ZERO turnovers and force the Saints into a few turnovers. The perfect equation for an “upset” win in a hostile environment. Yes, I know Robert Griffin III is making is professional debut in one of the loudest stadiums in all of sports, but they must do everything possible to protect the football. Incompletions are better than interceptions, punts are better than turnovers. If the offense can limit their turnovers, and the defense can force the Saints’ offense into a couple/few turnovers, then an upset could begin to brew in the “Big Easy.” In 3 of their 4 losses last season (@ TB, @ STL, @ SF), the Saints had a total of 11 turnovers. While their offense is as explosive as any other in the league, the Saints do tend to turn the ball over. The Redskins defense must force the issue and take advantage of every single opportunity they get.

3. The Redskins MUST run the ball effectively: This will not only control the time of possession, but putting the offense in 2nd and 5, 2nd and 6, 3rd and shorts will help alleviate some of the pressure on the offense. In those same 3 losses that I previously mentioned, the Saints gave up 183 yards against the Rams, 117 against the Bucs, and 143 against the 49ers. The Saints will be without their defensive Captain, Jonathan Vilma, and the team’s best defensive lineman, Will Smith. It is imperative for the Redskins’ offensive line to open up running lines for the stable of running backs they have.

4. Score Points: I know what you’re thinking, “of course they have to score points, duh!”  What I’m specifically referring to is the ability for the offense to take advantage of opportunities they are on the Saints’ side of the 50-yard line. When they get inside the 40-yard line, they must come away with at least three; when they get into the redzone, they need to score touchdowns.  However, a barrage of field goals will not go a long way in pulling off the upset, the Redskins must score touchdowns and not squander any opportunity to score.

5. Coaching: The fact that the New Orleans Saints will be without head coach Sean Payton, and even offensive coordinator Joe Vitt, CANNOT be discounted. No matter how experienced the team is and how much of a leader Drew Brees is, coaches are needed for a reason and this will be the perfect opportunity for the Redskins’ coaching staff to show it. Mike and Kyle Shanahan must put Griffin III in situations that he can succeed, they have to “call the perfect game” in regards to the play-calling. Jim Haslett must devise a game plan that will be able to prevent big plays by the Saints offense all while staying true to the attacking philosophy of his 3-4 defense. Haslett would also benefit from leaning on new defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, who last season was the head coach of the Tampa Buccaneers. Last season, in two games against the Saints, Tampa Bay went toe-to-toe with the Saints splitting the two match-ups a game apiece. They managed Brees to only 3 touchdowns combined for the two games and forced him to throw a total of 4 interceptions. Morris’ expertise will be counted on greatly this Sunday.

6. Special Teams: It is said that in order to win a football game you must win 2 of the 3 “phases” of football. One area that I think the Redskins will have an advantage in all season will be on Special Teams. Newly acquired kicker Billy Cundiff must deliver on his opportunities when kicking field goals. The Redskins cannot afford to have any drives end in a missed field goal and in essence, a missed opportunity to put points on the scoreboard. Cundiff must also display his powerful leg with touchbacks, on every kickoff. Do NOT give Darren Sproles an opportunity to give the Saints ANY momentum in the return game. The same goes for punter Sav Rocca. He must use his powerful leg to try to pin the Saints deep into their own territory. Rocca must do this all while being cognizant of Sproles, who will look to give the high octane Saints’ offense good field position every time he touches the ball. Also, Brandon Banks needs to make his presence felt on this game. Providing the Redskins’ offense with good field position will be a huge bonus. Banks has big play ability and, like Sproles, is capable of scoring every time he touches the ball. A couple of big returns and possibly a touchdown would go a LONG way in helping the Redskins pull of this upset.

Lorenzo Alexander Exemplifies “Versatility”

Photo © Mel Arroyo/Hailmagazine.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since joining the Redskins in October of 2007, Lorenzo Alexander has played a multitude of positions, on both sides of the ball. He started out as a defensive tackle and played situational defensive end. Shortly thereafter, Alexander was moved to the offensive side of the ball where he played on the offensive line, fullback and he even lined up at tight end. Head Coach Joe Gibbs and the coaching staff then decided that it was best for the team for Alexander to play on the defensive line. The back-and-forth movement of Alexander did not go unnoticed by his teammates. One day in the team’s cafeteria, outspoken cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Shawn Springs dubbed Alexander as the “One Man Gang.” This became Alexander’s favorite nickname, so much so, that he has trademarked the name. Needless to say, the nickname has stuck.

Alexander made his professional debut in week 5 of the 2007 season at home against the Detroit Lions. Although he only played a couple of snaps on defense, it didn’t take long for Alexander to find a home on the special teams units.

“I started out in the wedge and played only a couple of snaps on defense. I remember being back in that wedge, back when we could have a 4-man wedge; I was just hitting anybody that was moving. Guys that weren’t even my responsibility, I just hit them because I was so excited to be out there.”

By the time the 2009 season had ended, Alexander had settled into his role on the team, a reserve defensive lineman and a stand-out special teams player. Known for his punishing hits covering kickoffs and punts, Alexander credits teammates and coaching for his ability to succeed.

“Working hard every day, having great coaches like Danny Smith and Richie Hightower really helped me develop into the special teams’ player I am today. Having guys like Rock Cartwright, James Thrash and Mike Sellers help teach me what it took to play special teams…Playing special teams takes a unique individual. You have to have a strong attitude, a killer instinct, and a want-to to want to run down the field at full speed and collide with another grown man. Attitude and mindset is what helps me excel.”

In 2010, the Redskins hired new Head Coach, Mike Shanahan, who brought along with him Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslet and his aggressive, attacking 3-4 defensive scheme. Along with a new coaching staff and defensive scheme, came a new opportunity for Alexander. This time the position switch would be from the defensive line to outside linebacker in Haslet’s new 3-4 defense. 2010 was a mixed bag of results for Alexander. He began the season as Andre Carter’s back-up but became the starter after only 4 games. Alexander went on to start in the teams’ remaining 12 games, registering 57 tackles and 1.5 sacks. 2011 came and the Redskins had drafted defensive end Ryan Kerrigan with the team’s 1st round draft pick. Alexander knew he would again revert to being the back-up. A team player first and foremost, Alexander never complained but was there in case the team needed him. He continued to excel on special teams and even pushed to be voted to the Pro Bowl. Although he fell just short, his play on the field did not go unnoticed by his Head Coach, Mike Shanahan.

“I think if the coaches voted–just coaches, because they study the tapes–he’d be No. 1. That’s how dominating a player he is. I haven’t seen a guy get consistently double-teamed, triple-teamed and go down there and make tackles. That just doesn’t happen at this level. People aren’t that physical, and he makes those plays every year, or at least the last two years that I’ve been around him. It’s truly a credit to his preparation and how hard he works and the type of football player he is… You don’t find many guys like Lorenzo. From top to bottom, he’s the best special-teams player that I’ve been around of the guys that make plays consistently, both kickoff, kickoff return, special teams in general.” Alexander said that he was honored and humbled to hear his 2-time Super Bowl winning Head Coach speak those words of him.

Photo © Mel Arroyo/Hailmagazine.com

Changing positions has been something that Lorenzo Alexander has grown accustomed to. This off-season was no different as the Redskins’ coaching staff asked Alexander to get leaner to be able to make another position change, this time to inside linebacker in the team’s 3-4 defense. Alexander, who at one point of his career weight upwards of 315 lbs in order to play on the defensive and offensive lines, came into this year’s training camp looking visibly leaner. His weight is down to 245 lbs, lightest he has weighed since high school. While his weight loss is noticeable to any passerby, Alexander’s strength and physical play has actually increased and was on full display in training camp and during the preseason games. When I asked Alexander about what he attributed his weight loss too, nutrition and eating better was number. I asked him if his weight loss affected his strength:

“I wish I had some secret that I could share, but it really comes down to training smarter and being more productive when you train. The biggest thing to keep my strength was palates. My core is the strongest it has ever been in my career, and it has helped me remain explosive. My functional strength is better; I’m just as strong if not stronger.”

The biggest challenge for Alexander switching to the inside will be having to “see the whole field and running with guys downfield. As an outside linebacker, your role is to set the edge and rush the passer; it’s much more of a physical position. But in the inside, especially at the MIKE, its mentally more demanding, have to make calls, have to be on the same page with the db’s and the d-linemen.” Alexander is part of one of the deepest linebacker corps in the league. Although he is a reserve to the iron man of football, London Fletcher, Alexander knows that he will be relied on heavily as a 3rd year special teams captain. His only personal goals for the season are to have 30 tackles and to make the Pro Bowl as a special teams’ player. His logic? “If I’m going to the pro bowl, I know we are winning games.” In this, Coach Shanahan’s 3rd season, Alexander is hoping that continuity and cohesion with the team will help make 2012 a success.

“For the first time in a long time, we don’t have to learn a new system. So some of the returning guys can actually help and teach the new guys…honestly we can be as good as we want to be. I know its cliché, but it truly is ‘any given Sunday.’ We have the talent to win; we just need to eliminate some of our turnovers, force more turnovers on defense, and find a way to finish in the 4th quarter where most games are won and lost. We are not that far off from being a playoff-competing team.”

After Final Preseason Game, Roster Questions Still Linger

By Shaahin Bahmani
@shaahin_hailmag
shaahin@hailmagazine.com

Roy Helu – Photo by Eric Espada/HAIL! Magazine

The Washington Redskins’ 2012 53-man roster is beginning to come together. After an eventful week with the first round of cuts, an unexpected trade, a couple of surprising roster moves and the team’s final preseason game, the coaching staff has a few decisions to make.

This week started off fast paced with Monday’s trade of Kevin Barnes to Detroit (for a conditional late-round draft pick) and the designation of Jamal Brown to the PUP list. Monday also brought the team’s first group of cuts which brought the team to the league’s required 75 players. Then Tuesday came and the shocking news that the team had signed recently-released Billy Cundiff and released the incumbent, Graham Gano. And if that was not enough, Tuesday afternoon brought the stunning news that Chris Cooley was being released.

The news of swapping Cundiff for Gano was a surprise only because it was only on Monday that Neil Rackers was cut and Gano was (by default) given a boost of confidence that the kicking job was now his. Cooley’s release was such a big shock to everyone in the DC area because the general thought was that if the team was going to cut ties with long stay Chris Cooley, they would have done so at the beginning of training camp (not the day before the final preseason game).

After this flurry of roster moves, and last night’s game against Tampa Bay, here is who I think will be on the Redskins’ final 53-man roster. I would like to preface this attempt at cracking the roster with the notion that obviously none of us outside of the Redskins’ brass truly know who will make the team, but why not try.

Quarterbacks (3): Robert Giffin III, Rex Grossman, Kirk Cousins

Notes: No surprises here. All those screaming for Rex to be cut do not understand the value he has to the team, as well as to the team’s new prized possession.

Running Backs (5): Tim Hightower, Roy Helu, Evan Royster, Alfred Morris, Darrel Young

Notes: The coaches are feeling very comfortable with the four guys they have. They all bring something unique and have shown the ability to produce. Morris has been a pleasant surprise, so much so that he did not even dress for the final preseason game.

Wide Receivers (7): Pierre Garcon, Joshua Morgan, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Dezmon Briscoe, Anthony Armstrong, Brandon Banks

Notes: This is the most debated position group amongst everyone following the Redskins. After an extremely productive game against the Bears in preseason game #2, Aldrick Robinson did not play in Game 3 and did not get a single target in last night’s game. Could this be the team’s way of trying to hide him and sneak him onto the Practice Squad? I think so, and that is where I think Robinson ends up. Briscoe is a big target and a playmaker, one that in previous years, the team has been lacking. Armstrong is rumored to be the fastest player on the team and seems to do everything well, including play Special Teams. Brandon Banks may be one of the most debated players in recent memory. He is one of the rare players that can score a touchdown anytime he has the ball, and at the end of the day, this may be too strong of reason to keep him on the roster rather than cut him.

Tight Ends (3): Fred Davis, Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen

Notes: With the release of Chris Cooley, this position seems to be the easiest of the position groups.

Offensive Linemen (9): Trent Williams, Kory Lichetnsteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester, Tyler Polumbus, Maurice Hurt, Josh LeRibeus, Adam Gettis, Willie Smith.

Notes: The starting five and reserve Maurice Hurt were easy. With the rest, difficult decisions remain. LeRibeus and Gettis were 3rd and 4th round picks respectively in this year’s draft and seem to fit perfectly in the Zone Blocking Scheme. So I doubt the team would risk losing either by trying to pass them onto the Practice Squad. The last spot came between Smith and Jordan Black. At the end of the day, Black will be available if the team wants to bring him back, Smith could likely intrigue another team. Tom Compton, the team’s 7th round pick will start the season on the Practice Squad.

Defensive Linemen (6): Adam Carriker, Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield, Jarvis Jenkins, Chris Baker, Kedrick Golston

Notes: The first 5 positions were easy to fill, but there was a battle for the 6th and final spot. Golston was very active and at times, dominant during camp and the preseason games. He serves as an experienced player who excels on all units of Special Teams.

Linebackers (8): Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, London Fletcher, Perry Riley, Lorenzo Alexander, Rob Jackson, Chris Wilson, Keenan Robinson

Notes: While Bryan Kehl played extremely well last night, this is one of the deepest positions on the team. He needed to blow people away with his play for all of camp to claim a spot in this group. I just do not think he did enough. On the other hand, Wilson did, playing unbelievable in each preseason game and in practices. Robinson looks to be everything the coaches though he was when they drafted him, including excelling on Special Teams. Although Markus White played very well throughout camp, I think he ends up on the teams’ Practice Squad to further develop his skills.

Defensive Backs (9): DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, Cedrick Griffin, Richard Crawford, Brandyn Thompson, Tanard Jackson, Brandon Merriweather, Madieu Williams, DeJon Gomes

Notes: In this scenario, the hardest cut the Redskins will make is Reed Doughty. He plays hard on special teams, tackles well but is a liability in coverage. If the team wants to keep 7 wide receivers and 9 offensive lineman, a difficult cut will have to be made. If the team only keeps 6 wide receivers or 8 offensive linemen, then Doughty should hang onto his spot.

Special Teams (3): Nick Sundberg, Sav Rocca, Billy Cundiff

Notes: All off-season the only spot up for grabs was whether Neil Rackers was going to beat Graham Gano to be the team’s place kicker. Well, the only change is that it will be Billy Cundiff.

Practice Squad (8): Tom Compton, Markus White, Doug Worthington, Aldrick Robinson, David Jones, Travon Bellamy, Jordan Bernstine, Marlon Favorite

The team must submit their final 53-man roster to the League by Friday, August 31, 2012 at 9:00 pm.

Players Making Impact to Make Final Roster

Shaahin Bahmani/HAIL! Magazine
shaahin@hailmagazine.com

Dezmon Briscoe – Photo by Brian Murphy

The third game of the preseason is usually considered the “final tune-up” for the first teamers to get their final reps in before the games really count. But for some young players who are fighting to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster, it is an opportunity to solidify their position on the team’s roster. Here’s a look at four players who made a loud statement for why they should be one of the chosen 53:

Alfred Morris – If there was ever a player who stamped his name on the 53-man roster after a preseason game, it was Morris. Consider him to be etched in stone for the Redskins’ roster going into the regular season. Just two weeks ago, we were discussing whether he could find his place in the already-crowded backfield. After his 14 carry, 107 yard and 1 rushing td performance, the conversation has quickly turned into, will he be the starting running back Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints. Coach Shanahan’s insistence that “the best player will play” has to be a positive sign for Morris, but one thing is for certain, only the amount of his playing time is a question, not whether or not he’ll make the team. If he continues to improve his blocking, as he did in the 1st quarter when he crushed the blitzing linebacker, Morris will be pushing the coaches for more playing time.

Alfred Morris – Photo by Ned Dishman/Washington Redskins

Dezmon Briscoe – A cast-off in Tampa Bay under newly hired head coach Greg Schiano, Briscoe quickly found himself out of favor with the new, disciplined approach in Tampa. That seems to be a blessing in disguise for Briscoe who almost immediately signed with the Redskins. With ties to his former head coach, Raheem Morris, Briscoe seems to have landed in the perfect scenario, on a team in dire need of young playmakers at the wide receiver position. He led the Buccaneers with 6 touchdown receptions last year, so he has already proven his big play ability. His skills have been on full display the past two-preseason games. Following up his 2-touchdown performance in Chicago in Week 2, Briscoe again displayed his big play ability with an acrobatic 37-yard reception on a severely underthrown ball and another 12-yard touchdown reception. At 6’3” and 210 lbs, Briscoe has the physical ability the Redskins need and are looking for. But in order to solidify his position on the team as the 5th wide receiver, Briscoe MUST show that he is willing and able to perform on special teams. Coach Shanahan has already came out and said that Briscoe will get his opportunity to do so in the teams final preseason game against Tampa. A good showing on Wednesday night could stamp Briscoe’s place onto the 53-man roster.

Dezmon Briscoe – Photo by Ned Dishman/Washington Redskins

Chris Wilson – A former Washington Redskin, Wilson spent most of 2010 and all of 2011 out of football. Back this year, Wilson has seemed to rededicate his life back to football. After a consistently positive training camp, Wilson’s abilities were on full display in place of the injured starter, Brian Orakpo. About midway through the 1st quarter, he completely blew passed the left tackle and forced Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to step-up right into the hands of London Fletcher and Ryan Kerrigan. Early on in the third quarter, Wilson was again able to get to the quarterback, this time sacking him 2 yards deep in the end zone for a safety. Wilson consistently pressured the quarterback all night and was credited with 3 quarterback hits. Along with pressuring the opposing team’s quarterback, Wilson also showed the ability to play in coverage. Already a standout on special teams, Wilson made a strong push for his spot on the roster.

Chris Wilson – Photo by Ned Dishman/Washington Redskins

Markus White – Coincidentally White could be competing with the aforementioned Chris Wilson for a roster spot. On Saturday, White did everything he could to make the decision has difficult as possible for the Redskins’ coaches. Leading the team with 7 tackles, White seemed to end up everywhere the football was. He has already shown the ability to play special teams and on Saturday flashed the ability to pressure the quarterback with 1 official pressure. On one play in the 4th quarter, he ran straight into the backfield and knocked down the pass attempt.

The 4th and final preseason game on Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will decide who makes the final 53-man roster. We will have our final 53 man roster after tonights game.

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