Archives for posts with tag: ESPN

Somewhere on paper this seemed like a great idea…especially with that “grow the footprint” guy in the conference office.  What better way for the Big Ten to grow its brand than to plant the flag at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden?  Forget that New York City is within 300 miles of just three of the 14 Big Ten schools (for those counting, Maryland is actually closer to the Big Apple than Penn State by about 14 miles).  Never mind that instead of waiting for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to open up or choosing to play in the usually available Prudential Center in Newark, they had to move the tournament a week early because the Big East has MSG locked up through 2025.  That’s why we had conference games played the first weekend of December.  And that’s why there will be teams potentially working on a two-week layoff going into the NCAA Tournament.  And let’s not realize the residual effect of the men’s tournament sucking all of the oxygen out of the room while the women’s tournament takes place in Indianapolis at the same time (the league should have considered moving the women’s tournament to next weekend to give it maximum exposure).  Of course, if the conference lands an extra at-large team than expected and if the Big Ten dominates the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament this will turn out to be the stroke of genius.  Thank goodness the tournament returns to Chicago next March.

Fun Fact- while the top seed has won the tournament eight times, don’t sleep on the #6 seed which is 29-19 over the years with one title and three finals appearances.  More recently, the #8 seed has more tournament wins (7) than the regular season champ (6) over the last five years.

Teams to Beat-  Michigan State won its last 12 games to earn the #1 seed for the first time since 2012.  The Spartans led the conference in scoring, shooting and rebounding–the only thing they don’t do well is take care of the ball (last in the league in turnover margin).  Purdue was in first place for most of the season before some late hiccups and there’s no better team in the Big Ten at shooting the three.  They’re also a year older than the team that went one and done as the #1 seed last March.  Ohio State under Coach of the Year Chris Holtmann beat both the Spartans and Boilermakers but somehow got swept by Penn State.

Players to Watch- the Buckeyes’ Keita Bates-Diop was a big reason for OSU’s resurgence;  the junior ranked second in the conference in scoring and rebounding on the way to being named Big Ten Player of the Year.  Myles Bridges may not have the numbers, but the Michigan State Sophomore is arguably the most talented player in the league and is the most productive one when necessary.  Purdue forwards Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas are the typical skilled but gritty big men Midwest teams seem to run off of the assembly line each winter (perhaps we can get a few shipped to College Park).

Bubble and Bench Watch- Nebraska is in an odd spot as the #4 seed.  Despite winning 8 of 9 down the stretch the Cornhuskers don’t have a great at-large profile: credit a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 297th in the nation as one reason why ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has them one of the “first four out” in his latest field.  They’re likely going to face #15 Michigan in the quarterfinals, and the Wolverines bring a five-game winning streak into Madison Square Garden while looking beyond awesome in their dismembering last Saturday of Maryland.  An early exit from MSG for coach Tim Miles’ team could mean banishment to the NIT.  Meanwhile, the Nebraska bench has become a lightning rod for their antics that depending on your age and mentality could be called “creative” or “obnoxious”.  It’s cute the guys at the end of the pine pantomimed Olympic bobsledding after a big bucket…but beware:  the last team to pull such shenanigans was Monmouth and they were left out of the field despite a 27-7 mark that included wins over UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown.

Wednesday’s “First Round”-  one of the costs of doing business in a 14-team league is the unfortunate bracket where the first day features a doubleheader of despair:  unlike a 12-team format where you potentially have bubble teams battling and at worst a 5 vs 12 game where one of the schools is headed somewhere we get the “dreaded first round”.  (I’m checking with legal on the rumor that we have to refer to it as “dreaded” at all times, like “Lowly Rutgers”).  Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and “Lowly Rutgers” went a combined 15-57 in league play and these four schools will square off in a doubleheader of depression:  two of those schools’ fan bases get 40 more minutes of watching their sub-500 squads fumble around on the court (although 6th seed Indiana isn’t much to talk about).  The ACC, SEC and Atlantic 10 subject us to this as well; it’s commonly referred to by the media as “the day we pick up our credentials and test the phone lines while watching as little actual hoops as possible”.

 

Thursday’s Second Round-

Maryland (19-12, 8-10 Big Ten) vs Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11), noon.  The Terps won the lone regular season meeting between the two schools 68-63 on Super Bowl Sunday in a game where they blew a ten point halftime lead.  Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 23 points in 39 minutes that afternoon–and for the record, the sophomore has played in 234 of 240 possible minutes since.  In a season where injuries and last-minute losses have all but dashed the Terps’ NCAA hopes (a bid is coming only if they cut down the nets at MSG Sunday), Cowan has been the major bright spot–ranking in the top three of the Big Ten in assists and steals while leading the conference in minutes played.  His play along with Kevin Huerter (the two combined for 14 of the team’s 23 baskets in the win over the Badgers) will be paramount if the Terrapins want to be playing in the quarterfinals Friday.

Wisconsin has endured a winter of discontent as well:  instead of thinking about a potential third straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen under coach Greg Gard, the team that received votes in both preseason polls is likely going to finish with a losing record for the first time since 1998.  But they did conclude the regular season with four wins in six games (and their two losses were against Michigan and Michigan State).  The Badgers’ bright spot is junior Ethan Happ;  the 6-foot-10 forward scored 18 points in College Park earlier this month and paces leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks (but is a 9% shooter from three-point range-slacker).  Freshman guard Brad Davison has given them feast (30 points against Michigan State) and famine (5 on 1-4 shooting earlier in the week at Northwestern) in varying doses but is their number two option.  At the beginning of February it appeared as though Wisconsin was a year away from being a factor;  there’s no reason not to expect they’ll be a handful Thursday.

 

 

Maryland is in its fourth Big Ten season, meaning every fourth-year senior attending the school (I know not everybody gets out in four–aka “seven years of college down the drain”) has known no other conference.  But there’s still an ACC feel to the university on gamedays–as the men’s and women’s crowds are robust and the football crowds are lacking.   Instead of a “blackout”, whiteout” or a “gold rush” it appears as there have been “gray ghost” games–where the fans are disguised as stadium seats.

Attendance this fall has averaged 37,636–which ranks 13th in the Big Ten, just ahead of Northwestern.  One could point to the small stadium size as Maryland Stadium is the third-smallest in the conference, but when grading for percentage of capacity the Terps’ 72.7% is only ahead of Illinois.  Since its inaugural season of 2014, the school has gone from 10th to 12th to 13th in putting people in the seats.   No longer having ACC rivals like Virginia on the slate can’t help as there’s a generation of fans who now feel a disconnect and can’t really get motivated for the likes of Northwestern and Purdue.  And for the opponents with big fan bases like Ohio State and Michigan, College Park becomes “Ann Arbor South” or “Columbus East”.  Last Saturday against the Wolverines there was a flood of Maize and Blue in the stands.  One could even hear UCF fans shout “Knight” during the National Anthem when they came to College Park in September.  Brace yourselves, because Penn State fans will likely be holding a “white-out” of their own at Maryland Stadium next Saturday.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange need a win over Louisville to stay in contention for a bowl game.  Yes, the Cardinals that are currently carving their way through the back end of a schedule after early stumbles.  Last year Lamar Jackson led Louisville to 62 points at the Carrier Dome–and he’s found that groove again this fall.  Meanwhile, there’s basketball.

 

Virginia (6-4, 3-3 ACC) at #2 Miami (9-0, 6-0), noon (ABC).  The Cavaliers November gauntlet continues with the resurrected Hurricanes:  how will their 11th best in the ACC run defense hold up against Travis Homer (146 yards rushing against Notre Dame and a 6.7 yards per carry average for the season)?  UVa quarterback Kurt Benkert has thrown an interception in four straight games- he’ll be facing a Hurricane secondary that leads the conference with 16 picks.  Kippy & Buffy pick a red blend for the tailgate, and against the “Convicts” school of the Catholics & Convicts what better to enjoy than a 2016 bottle of The Prisoner: “enticing aromas of Bing cherry, dark chocolate, clove, and roasted fig. Persistent flavors of ripe raspberry, boysenberry, pomegranate, and vanilla linger harmoniously.”  Cavaliers win the tailgate but lose the game, 38-15.

 

Virginia Tech (7-3, 3-3 ACC) vs Pitt (4-6, 2-4), 12:20 p.m. (ACC Network).  The Hokies need to get right before their annual Commonwealth clash with Virginia.  Quarterback Josh Jackson hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since before Halloween-he’ll face a rather accommodating Panthers defense that allows the most passing yards in the ACC.   Despite allowing 28 points in each of the last two weeks, the Hokies defense remains first against the pass and in points allowed as well as in getting off of the field on third down.  They’ll be tested on the ground as Darrin Hall is averaging 162 yards over his last three games.  Hokies make it happen, 28-16.

 

Navy (6-3) at #9 Notre Dame (8-2), 3:30 p.m. (NBC).  This isn’t the walkover it used to be:  The Mids have won four of the last ten meetings and came within a touchdown on two other occasions.  The Fighting Irish can still secure a New Year’s Day bowl berth with wins this weekend and at Stanford, while Navy appears to be bound for the Military Bowl in Annapolis–leave it the USNA to save the government money in travel expenses.  Navy’s had a pair of quarterbacks run for over 200 yards this fall, but both Zach Abey (shoulder) and Malcolm Perry (ankle) are questionable for Saturday–potentially placing Garret Lewis in the driver’s seat of the option offense.  The junior has 46 total yards rushing this fall.  Midshipmen come up short, 44-17.

 

Maryland (4-6, 2-5) at Michigan State (7-3, 5-2), 4 p.m., (FOX).  The Terps need a win to keep their bowl hopes alive, while the Spartans are smarting after a 48-3 loss to Ohio State.  MSU’s offense may be middle of the road (seventh in the 14-school Big Ten in rushing, passing and total yardage), but Maryland’s defense has been roadkill over the last two months-allowing 31+ points in six league games while coughing up 38+ twice in non-conference play.  Quarterback Max Bortenschlager (still not specified if it’s a shoulder, head or hangnail injury) remains a question mark for the Terps;  and while Ryan Brand played better as the Michigan game progressed there’s something to be said about instability (even injury-induced) at the game’s most important position.  Terrapins tumble, 31-17.

Howard makes Mike London the MEAC Coach of the year with a victory at Hampton, Georgetown ends its autumn by falling to Colgate, Richmond edges William & Mary, Towson tops Rhode Island, James Madison escapes upset at Elon…and enters the FCS Playoffs as the #1 seed.
Last Week: 6-2.

Overall: 64-23.

Monday Night Football is a four-letter word around the district, beltway, commonwealth and select Maryland counties.  MNF could almost be transposed to “MF!” (kids under a certain age, that stands for “Massive Failings!”).  The Redskins had a chance to hold on to the #6 playoff spot handed to them last night when Tampa Bay lost to Dallas.  Instead, they coughed up a 26-15 clunker loss to Carolina and slid back into the NFC wildcard swamp.  

Much like Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by three ghosts, the Burgundy and Gold was haunted by three visitors:  the Ghost of MNF Past (the team is now 2-16 in Landover on Monday night), the Ghost of Playoff Picture Present (Skins need to win out plus get help from multiple teams to make the postseason) and the Ghost of Kirk Cousins Contract Conversations Yet to Come (that’ll be a nice thing to focus on this offseason).  God bless us, everyone!

For Starters- the worst-kept secret around the league is how the Redskins are slow to get in gear.  Over the last four games they’ve been outscored  53-28 in the first half and 27-3 in the first quarter.  This means the team has had to abandon the run during the second half as they’re playing catch-up.  Monday three of their first six possessions failed to yield a first down…and a fourth saw an interception. If they get outscored in the first half by the Bears…watch out.

Captain Kirk- the face of the franchise threw for 315 yards…but tossed a first-quarter interception that set up a Carolina field goal and lost a third-quarter fumble that set up the Panthers lone touchdown after intermission.  Third down was a nightmare again…as the red zone was more maroon and black than burgundy and gold.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent- “That Which Survives”, an episode that gets off to a confusing start and meanders for sixty minutes while producing drama yet not delivering greatness.

Tragedy of Robert III- well, the House of Griffin continues to attempt to re-establish itself as a pretender to the thrown in the Bailiwick of Brown.  RG3 threw for 196 yards while running for 48 more and the team’s lone touchdown in a 33-13 loss to Buffalo.  Meaning he gets to start in week sixteen against San Diego.

Running in Place- 13 carries for 29 yards…and running the ball on fewer than 20% of their plays from scrimmage.  Robert Kelley had his lowest output since a 15 yard effort against Detroit.  As it gets colder, the ground game becomes more important…and since the win over Green Bay it’s become much less productive.

DeSean and Garcon- the duo combined for 14 catches and 189 yards but nary a touchdown.  Two of Jackson’s grabs were of the sweet-scraping-both-feet-in-bounds variety, while Garcon was the usual tough customer.  Makes up for Jordan Reed tallying as many punches reaching opponents helmets (he was ejected in the second half) as receptions.

Third Down and Really Down- the Skins moved the chains on 2 of 12 attempts…and were 0-for-6 after halftime.  Robert Kelley was stuffed on 3rd & 2 in a run up the middle on the Skins’ lone run.  Kirk Cousins completed 3 of 11 passes on the money down, moving the chains twice.  The top target?  A tie between…guess who?  DeSean & Garcon each were thrown to four times…each reaching the marker once.  Cousins was 2-for-6 with one conversion throwing short to his right…and 1-for-4 with one conversion throwing short to his left.  Yardage breakdown? An ugly 0-for-3 on short-yardage, 1-3 on 3rd & 4-6 yards needed, and 1-6 on 3rd and long.  That 50% of the team’s third downs needed 7+ yards was a symptom of an ineffective offense on first and second down.

Defense, for Starters- Martell Spright notched 15 tackles in his first NFL start.  Mason Foster adds 13 stops.  They also held the Panthers to 4 of 15 on third down…forcing field goals to prevent the game from getting out of hand.  The defense bent but did not break…although in a game where the 2nd ranked offense produces just 15 points, bending was bad enough.

Semi-Special Teams- Tress Way after six punts the previous three weeks had to kick six times against the Panthers, averaging 47.7 yards per attempt.  Kicker Dustin Hopkins made field goal attempts of 26, 34 and 43 yards but missed an extra point.  The return game saw Will Blackmon bring the second half kickoff out of the endzone and get stopped at the 14…preceding the possession that ended on Kirk Cousins’ fumble that set up a short field for Carolina.

Flying Flags- the Skins were penalized seven times for 70 yards.  Four on offense (two holds, illegal hands and an unnecessary roughness), one on defense (facemask on Greg Toler), and two on special teams (illegal block and illegal formation).  While Josh Norman avoided dirty laundry this week his 12 penalties remain the most on the team.  Brandon Scherff’s hold gives him four of those calls this year and seven penalties on the season, good enough for a tie for second with Vernon Davis and Bashaud Breeland.  Worst penalty?  Jordan Reed’s punch/unnecessary roughness that turned a 2nd & goal from the 12 into a 2nd and 27.  Down two scores they had to settle for a field goal.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas  (12-2) topped Tampa Bay 26-20 to move within one win or one Giants loss away from locking up the NFC East.  One victory or one New York Giants loss delivers the division.  The Giants 17-6 triumph over Detroit clinches at least second place in the division and puts Eli Manning and company on the threshold of the Wildcard.  The third place Skins’ loss means they’re 7-6-1, 9th place in the conference and needing to finish 2-0 plus get help from orators.  Philadelphia’s 27-26 loss at Baltimore means the Eagles are officially eliminated from playoff contention and assured of last place in the NFC East.

East is the Beast- even with the Monday night loss, the NFC East remains the gold standard (34-21-1) while the AFC West is one half game back at 34-22.  The AFC North remains the division of depression.

Path to the Playoffs-in order for the Redskins to make the playoffs as a wildcard, they need to finish 2-0 (I’m not going the 1-0-1 route, even though an 8-6-2 season would be divine).  They then need to have Green Bay or Tampa Bay each lose once…or one of those teams plus Detroit go 1-1.

 

The big video of the weekend was Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart shoving a fan behind the basket at Texas Tech.  The self-titled “Super-fan” shouted at Smart as the Cowboys were on their way to another defeat in a disappointing season…and many were surprised that these altercations don’t happen more often.  Back when I started covering college athletics–the media had a row of seats courtside.  But in the last 15 years or so, schools have turned those seats into revenue-generators.  And it’s their right to do so…but in doing so it transforms a group of fans who feel entitled not as an observer but as a semi-participant.  The absence of a solid border between competitors and spectators creates quite a bit of gray area…and one where the ticket-buyer often feels they’ve paid for the right to interact with the player.  Should Smart have shown restraint?  Certainly.  But “Super-Fans” need to be a little more super when dealing with kids half their age, too….

Georgetown (15-9, 6-6 Big East) used its fourth straight win to move in position to be in position…Monday’s 83-71 win over Providence avenged a January loss to the Friars thanks to 22 points from D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (22 points and 2-4 from 3 pt range after going 0-16 in his previous four starts).  This puts the Hoyas in prime position for a late-season run:  St. John’s and Seton Hall both have losing conference records…and the Hoyas were in position to beat both Marquette and Xavier.  The season of streaks continues.

Alma Mater Update– and the other shoe drops when?  The Orange (23-0, 10-0 ACC) handcuff Clemson 57-44 to continue the best start in school history.  CJ Fair bounced back from a 2-13 performance against Notre Dame to notch 19 points against the Tigers.  Five of the last eight regular season games are on the road…and unlike the first four ACC road trips (VT, Mia, BC & Wake a combined 10-33 in the league) Pitt, Duke, Virginia, Maryland and Florida State are a combined 38-20).  Extra bleu cheese will be necessary with the wings from here on out.

Maryland (14-11, 6-6 ACC) hears the “ACC” chants again…this time in Charlottesville.  Much more understandable than at Pitt a few weeks ago.  There was a brief window of opportunity against the Cavaliers– after a 9 to 2 run closed the gap to 4 points with a little over a minute left.  Instead of a decent shot Evan Smotrycz misses a 3-pointer with 17 seconds on the shot clock.  Seven UVa points and another missed Smotrycz three later, the ACC chants emerged.  This was a chance to lock down a signature road win…and it slipped away.  Get ready for more “ACC” chants in Durham Saturday.

Cruising the Commonwealth– one team finds ways to win…the other finds ways to lose.  Virginia (20-5, 11-1 ACC) avoided upset at home against Maryland but also put Georgia Tech away on the road with a 27-4 finishing kick…allowing one field goal in the game’s last 14 minutes.  This is a team that does not beat itself (6 turnovers against Maryland and Boston College).  Right now UVa is a #4 seed on ESPN’s Bracketology page.  Virginia Tech (8-15, 1-10 ACC) had multiple times to pull of what would have been a season-redeeming upset of Pitt…but couldn’t make a shot in overtime (0-4) or double OT (0-10) against the Panthers.  It was a nice change of pace from the 20+ point drubbings the Hokies had learned to deal with over the last few weeks. 

George Washington (19-4, 7-2 Atlantic 10)– the Colonials avoided any trap-game complications with Fordham…not only routing the Rams 93-57 but taking a 56-33 halftime lead that made the final 20 minutes mop-up time.  GW geared up for a midweek matchup at VCU by hitting 59% of their shots and coach Mike Lonergan basically slowing things to a halt with four minutes remaining.  Can they beat the Rams in Richmond?  They won the January14th matchup in Foggy Bottom despite turning the ball over 21 times.  But that game saw Kevin Larsen score a career high 22 points–and starting with that night he’s been making 58% of his shots.  Whoever wins remains chasing #12 Saint Louis for the top spot in the A-10.

George Mason (8-15, 1-8 Atlantic 10) FINALLY got its first conference win since joining the league… a 74-68 win over Duquesne that saw Sherrod Wright score 23 points.  They outshot and outrebounded the Dukes…and they get to play them again in March.  After the Patriots’ trip to UMass… four of their last six games are in Fairfax.

Maryland Womens Window– the Terps (19-4, 7-3 ACC) responded to a three game losing streak by winning three straight by 25 points or more.  Brionna Jones’ insertion into the starting lineup alters the rotation a tiny bit and allows Alyssa Thomas to play more minutes on the perimeter.  Alicia DeVaughn has always been an athletic big–so the move doesn’t hurt her at all.  A huge stretch has the team playing four of five away from Comcast… including a Monday night matchup against #3 Duke.  Bet you they’ll still be chanting “ACC” from Saturday.

American (14-9, 10-2 Patriot League)– we knew going unbeaten in the Patriot League was unlikely…but back to back losses?  Including one to Colgate where the Eagles shot over 50% ?  Unfortunately the Raiders made their three’s count (8-15)…outrebounded AU and turned the Eagles over 14 times in a game where they turned American scoring droughts into a double-digit lead that they’d have until the 8:55 mark.  While Lehigh and Lafayette both have under .500 conference records, so did Colgate.

Howard (6-19, 4-6 MEAC) back to back double-digit defeats for the Bison…where the team was held to under 50 points in both games.  Who are they playing, Virginia?  James Daniel scored 25 points and the rest of the team shot 7 for 31.  Who does he think he is, Erick Green?  Thankfully Maryland-Eastern Shore is next on the docket.

Now that is how you enter the NFL.  Week one against New Orleans is what fans were hoping for when Heath Shuler, Patrick Ramsey and Jason Campbell were drafted.  This is the combination of field stretching offense and big play defense Burgundy and Gold Nation was looking for when Mike Shanahan took over in 2010.  Are we saying 11-5 and a division title?  No, but a fifth straight last place finish in the NFC East looks a lot less likely.

RG3ver– The rookie completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards and 2 touchdowns with no interceptions.  He was the only one of five rookie quarterbacks starting yesterday to deliver victory… and had a higher passer rating (139.9) than Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden COMBINED.  Griffin began the game by completing his first seven passes… and unlike Mark Brunell’s “record” completion streak there were actually attempts downfield.  The rookie also used his feet as well to create opportunities downfield without getting smacked around.

NFL… NFL…NFL–  Something magical about the first week of the season.  The midweek matchup involving the Super Bowl Champ… that USA Today on the first Friday… and Sunday’s pregame buffet.  FOX adds Erin Andrews, keeping Pam Oliver on the sidelines…while subbing in a new picks guy for Frank Caliendo.  He’s going to be an acquired taste.  CBS adds former Washington Post reporter Jason LaConfora as their “information guy”… as opposed to James Brown and the rest of the bunch who by contrast I guess don’t offer any information.  I’m hoping ESPN eventually has Adam Schefter dress like Bert and Chris Mortensen dress like Ernie.

Morris the Quick Cat– the incredible August of Alfred Morris evidently wasn’t a mirage.  Named the starting running back the rookie rushed for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns… as the ground game gains momentum: 63 yards on 21 carries in the first half before rolling for 90 yards on 23 tries after intermission.  Will #46 be the #1 back for the whole season?  At least the Skins have options.

Paul McCartney says reports of the Redskins Offensive Line Depth premature– so much for saying preseason injuries to Jammal Brown, Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester would make the Skins’ OL swiss cheese.  Maybe swiss cheese that had sat outside for a week, but nothing like previous disastrous lines of memory.  The running game after a slow start notched 153 yards and the OL allowed just one sack.  I’m not calling these guys the Hogs II… but they’re much better than the mess many had feared.

What time is it?– the NFL moving doubleheader games to 4:25 is no big thing… although there was the excitement of  “we’re bringing in viewers from Green Bay-Minnesota” during the first fifteen minutes of most broadcasts.  I’d even be fine with making it 4:30.  Allows all the early game watchers to exhale.  I’m not ready for the Albert-Moose-Goose trio though… Tony Siragusa is one step away from a T-shirt and sweatpants while carrying a bag of chips. 

Sharing the Wealth– Pierre Garcon’s injury limited #88 to just 4 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown… but the rest of the receiving corps stepped up as RG3 completed passes to seven other receivers.  Aldrick Robinson (4-52-1TD) picked up where his productive August left off… Santana Moss (3-47) provided quality play from the slot… and four other receivers caught at least one 20+ yard pass.  Stretching the field is a good thing.

Third Up and Down– The Skins began with a bang… converting 4 of their first 6 chances to move the chains.  But somewhere in there they lost themselves… finishing 4-15 on the day.  Griffin’s line on 3rd down: 5-8-49 (converting 3) along with 2 rushes for 5 yards (no conversions).  Breaking down the third downs:  1 of 5 on 3rd and short (1-3 yards), 3 of 6 on 3rd and intermediate (4-6 yards) and 0 for 4 on 3rd and long (7+).  The fact that a big chunk of third downs are now short yardage is a good sign.

Dissecting the Division–  After one week Dallas finds itself atop the NFC East thanks to their 1-0 division record… the Redskins are in second because they’re 1-0 in the conference… and Philadelphia currently holds down third place not because the Eagles win at Cleveland was ugly (and it was uncomfortably hideous), but because the Browns are a non-conference opponent.  While the NY Giants are in last– remember they were in last place last year after one week.  And the Skins have been in first place after one week the last two years only to finish in last place after week 17.

D earns a B– Coordinator Jim Haslett’s unit wasn’t perfect:  allowing 358 total yards and more than a few times one felt that Drew Brees was about to go through the banged up secondary like a blowtorch through butter*.  But they held New Orleans to 2 of 11 on third down:  four of the Saints first six possessions were three and outs.  They held Drew Brees to under 50% passing and made the running game an afterthought (32 yards… and no carries after the third quarter).  And when it looked like New Orleans had momentum, DeJon Gomes made a game changing interception that set up what would eventually be the difference-making score.   Moving forward, an injury and suspension riddled secondary will be a primary concern.

East the Beast Again?– After one week the NFC East and North own the best records as each is 3-1…while the AFC North and South will both likely be 1-3 after Monday night (a Ravens-Cincinnati tie would be awesome and result in an 0-2-2 start).  How important is this?  Last year the AFC North finished 37-27 but 1-3 in the playoffs.  The NFC North went 36-28 and 0-2 in the postseason.  The division competition is a fun parlor game but nothing more.  Unless it means something.

No Longer Special–  I will now refer to the non-offensive and defensive units as the “kicking teams”… as a blocked punt near the end of the first half almost robbed the Redskins of whatever momentum they had built.  After last year’s blocked field goal attempts and 2010’s mishandled snaps… “Special Teams” is currently on hiatus.  On the bright side, Billy Cundiff connected on all four attempts… twice from 37 yards out while legging 41 and 45 yard makes.

Next Up– a St. Louis team that somehow over the years seems to play the Redskins rather well.

*One of my favorite lines from Goldfinger— when Connery tells Pussy Galore not to fire a gun on an airplane.