Archives for posts with tag: William Zabka

August means many things:  I had better be finishing my summer reading (the Neil Armstrong bio won’t read itself) and the Redskins are back and better than ever!  And I mean better than ever!  Since 2010 they’ve made August their little fiefdom, going 18-6 entering last night’s preseason (don’t you dare call it an exhibition) game in Atlanta.  Thursday’s 23-17 was the team’s second consecutive defeat in “games that do not count towards playoff contention”.

Time for the return of the weekly look back at the game that was…with mind-numbing research, dubious conclusions and snarky thoughts.  First there is some offseason housecleaning as several features that were prominent in previous years no longer fit:

RG3VER- the former face of the franchise is now in Cleveland.  Last year’s best one-liner was that the Skins QB carousel resembled “Star Trek”: Kirk, McCoy and a guy in a red shirt who’s gone by the first commercial.  Good luck with the Browns…

Saved by the Ball- no more Mr. Morris to make the running game bell ding anymore.  One hopes that Matt Jones can at least go to the Max protect, or there will be multiple screeches in the backfield.

Cobra Kai Forbath- we got WAY too much mileage out of this one, from comparing the Skins kicker to everyone’s favorite movie bully.  We ranked the culpability of the other Cobra Kai during Mr. Miyagi’s famed “takedown of the skeletons”.  One likes think that after the disappointment of losing Ali (with an I) to Daniel LaRusso and coming in second during the Valley Tournament, Johnny turned things around (just like he said he was going to at the beach scene) and made us proud.  Dr. John Lawrence has been practicing thoracic surgery with the best of them and is celebrating his 50th birthday this month with his wife and four kids.  Daniel LaRusso still lives in his mother’s basement.  No mercy, indeed…

 

On to 2016–

The preseason loss to Atlanta?  Doesn’t matter!  The first dress rehearsal tells coaches and fans a few things but the regular season won’t begin for another month.  Please get off the ledge and worry about other things, like the Washington Kastles perilous playoff chances.

Captain Kirk-  beam this guy up after a 5-5 for 39 yard performance.  Number 8 converted 1 of 2 third down opportunities and looked solid in his lone drive with the team.  In his limited time on the field he was able to get passes out to DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.  Best thing-unlike previous first string QB’s there were no injuries or massive miscommunications.

The Real McCoy- he’s a backup, not a miracle worker!  After leading the Skins to a field goal on his first possession, Colt directed three drives that gained 26 yards on 12 plays.  He converted 2 of 6 third down chances, but four of the six were 3rd & 10+.  He likely won’t win a second straight Babe Laufenberg Trophy (his 72% completion and 115.2 passer rating still boggle the mind), but he was able to get some good work in…

The New Guy- do we even have to learn Nate Sudfeld’s name and number?  How did he get #7- was Joe Theismann properly approached?  The rookie from Indiana (where previous preseason hero Babe Laufenberg went as well) completed 10-15 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.  His 8.9 yards per completion is right in line with Cousins & McCoy.  The three sacks are less than ideal, but for his first NFL game-like experience this was not bad.

Runningback Rotation- Matt Jones gained 1 yard on 2 carries and had a third attempt (12 yard gain) wiped out with a holding penalty.  Will he be the guy this fall?  There are those who are Robert Kelley fans…and he definitely didn’t disappoint with 40 yards and a touchdown rushing plus two receptions.

The Stars of August- receivers Rashad Ross (4 catches for 49 yards) and Ryan Grant (3 grabs for 31 yards) made their impact against Atlanta…setting up the stage for when they’ll be special teamers who get limited looks on offense during the regular season.

Third and…hey, it’s August- the Skins converted 5-15 third downs…with 8 of those 15 attempts coming from 10 yards or more.  Every one of their 15 plays (even the 4 from third and 3 or fewer) was a called pass.  No turnovers and just one sack.  Again, it’s only August.

Grading the D- last year’s unit was ranked in the lower half of the league and many were saying, “once we get Junior Galette back-we’ll be set”.  As many learned in July, Galette’s not coming back thanks to another Achilles injury.  The defense held Atlanta to under 3 yards per carry and under 50% completion percentage…while also getting off the field on 8 of 10 third downs.  But they failed to notch a sack and allowed backbreaking completions of 48 and 68 yards.  It’s August and one thinks they’ll get it all figured out…but the seeds of confidence and concern both show up here.

Flying Flags- 14 penalties for 123 yards!  I give you Exhibit A for why the preseason lasts 4 games.  One looks with a little more concern towards Morgan Moses’ hold in the first half (turned what would have been a 1st & 10 at the 47 into a 1st & 20 at the 25) as well as Preston Smith’s offsides (turned a 4th & goal from the 11 into a 3rd & goal from the 6) at this time…but there’s a lot to be cleaned up in week one of the preseason.  Atlanta had 11 penalties.  And that’s why we watched the Olympics…

 

 

The scoreboard reads “Redskins 21, Detroit 17” but the first string stink is still somewhere above Fed Ex Field.  Thank goodness they go to Baltimore next week because it still might not dissipate by then.  Instead of August optimism the Skins emerge what feels like a Pyrrhic victory…with more questions than answers.  One thing is certain– this team is now 15-3 in the preseason since 2011.  August Banners, BABY!

RG3ver– Let’s begin with the hot mess that was the night of Robert Griffin III.  Four possessions that garnered just one first down and seven net yards.  The Face of the Franchise completed 2 of 5 passes for 8 yards while fumbling twice and getting sacked three times.  The final fumble and sack saw Griffin suffer a concussion.  He doesn’t look good.  And his offensive line gave him limited time to get comfortable against the Lions pass rush.  He got crushed in such a manner that reporters asked coach Jay Gruden why they sent him out for a fourth possession when the first three were unmitigated disasters.  He might be ready to go for next weekends game in Baltimore, but do you want him facing the Ravens pass rush?

McCoy and Kirk Beaming Up– both backups had big nights.  Colt McCoy promptly led the offense 80 yards on 10 plays the first time he set foot on the field…resulting in a 1-yard touchdown run by Matt Jones.  He had them on the 1-yard line with under 10 seconds to go in the half before losing a fumbled snap (cue the Benny Hill theme music) on the final play of the second quarter.  Colt’s lone possession of the third quarter resulted in an 8 play, 87-yard march that ended when he found Reggie Bell on a 19-yard TD strike.  All Kirk Cousins did as the third-stringer was direct the Skins 80 yards on 14 plays to paydirt.  Cousins and McCoy combined to complete 13 of 18 passes for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns–passer rating 138.9.  Or 90 points higher than the starter.

Running Back Rotation– Alfred Morris enjoyed a light night, gaining 10 yards on 3 carries (a sweet 10-yard run in the first quarter moved the chains) before taking a seat.  Trey Williams, Matt Jones and Chris Thompson each averaged over 5 yards a carry…which should be encouraging–even if they were going against backups.  It appears as though there’s solid depth behind Morris this year;  the question being how will they mix and match the backs over the flow of the game and in specialty situations.

Third and What Did You Expect?– the Skins converted 8 of 13 third down attempts.  We ask you to guess who fared well and who didn’t…stumped?  Robert Griffin III was unable to move the chains on all 4 of his chances:  two short incompletions and a 4-yard pass to Roberts on 3rd & 21 were the highlights.  The lowlight was a 3rd & 16 where RG3 fumbled, was sacked and suffered a concussion on the same play (the only saving grace is that he didn’t lose his shoe as well).  Colt McCoy converted both of his 3rd downs, both runs– Darrel Young’s one yard dive set up a first and goal on the drive that put the Skins on the board and Trey Williams 38 yard scamper put the team ahead for the first time.  Kirk Cousins faced the most 3rd downs of the trio, converting 6 of 7 (completing 6 of 6 passes).  Yardage breakdown:  3-4 short, 2-3 medium and 3-6 long distance.

Case for the Defense– what’s good for the RG3 defenders is also good for the defensive apologists.  The Skins allowed the majority of the points given up in the first half again this week…surrendering scores on two of the first four times the Lions had the football while giving up 12 completions in 15 first half pass attempts.  The tackling was less than ideal and the secondary appeared soft on multiple occasions.  But they got off of the field on 3rd down the majority of the time (7 stops on 12 attempts) and notched four sacks.  For a unit that didn’t get pressure on the quarterback last year that’s encouraging…but what’s discouraging is that for the second straight week the supposed first-stringers allowed points to their counterparts.

Special Situation– losing Adam Hayward for the season to a torn ACL is a major blow to the kicking game, especially one week after fellow special teams stalwart Niles Paul went down for the year with a broken ankle.  The kicking game has been woeful the last few years, and losing the best two coverage guys is not the way to go about trying to get better there.

Cobra Kai– when not sporting his new red leather jacket and minibike, Mr. Forbath nailed both of his extra point attempts.  The new NFL rules are hardly fazing the Valley champ…and Ty Long appears to be the newest incarnation of Daniel LaRusso.  He won’t even look at Elisabeth Shue, let alone talk to her.  Tress Way averaged 51 yards per punt.  No mercy…

Tis the season to be clinching!  December is when some NFL teams lock up playoff berths and division titles…while others are merely securing their spot in the cellar.  The Redskins 49-27 loss to Indianapolis secures the team’s sixth non-playoff season in seven years.  December for this franchise has changed from the “what are the potential postseason matchups?” to “where is the reset button?”.

 

If this team wants to be serious about becoming a contender, they need to get better on offensive line and in the secondary.  It’s great that they have two #1 wide receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, but if the quarterback of the moment is lying on his back how valuable are they? Keenan Robinson and Ryan Kerrigan are difference-makers at linebacker, but does that matter when opposing receivers either run free through the secondary or are just not tackled after the catch?  This should be an intriguing offseason– one that is in effect already underway.

 

Colt 47–  McCoy threw for 392 yards and 3 TD’s with no interceptions…and was able to keep more than a few plays alive in the pocket while also managing the gameplan better than in his previous outings. He did fumble 4 times (losing 1 that was returned for a Colts TD) and was sacked 6 times (one more than RG3 the week before).  Much like many a Trek Episode, McCoy is neither the key problem nor solution (City on the Edge of Forever an obvious exception) for this franchise.  He’s a quarterback, not a miracle worker.

 

Alfred the Insignificant– Mr. Morris gained 67 yards on 17 carries…but when you trail 21-3 the running game goes into the circular file.  He’s well within striking distance of 1000 yards (only Stephen Davis has reached the millenium mark three straight years for the Skins)…it’s just a shame his play isn’t as impactful as it would be with a better team around him.

 

DeSean and Garcon Show– DeSean Jackson tallies 5 catches for 84 yards and a TD while Pierre Garcon adds 3 grabs for 9 yards…3 for 9?  For a guy who broke Art Monk’s regular season record for receptions last fall?  Does it make sense to keep both alpha-wideouts in Ashburn when the line can’t protect them long enough to get the ball?

 

Third and Really, Freaking, Consistently Ridiculously Long– the Skins converted just 5 of 15 attempts…with 13 passes and 2 runs called (one was a Morris loss on 3rd and goal from the 1, the other a Morris draw on the final play of the game.  McCoy completed 8 of 12 passes for 4 conversions while being sacked once.  Yardage Breakdown:  1-3 on third and short, 2-3 on third and 4-6 yards needed, 2-9 on third and long (7+).  There aren’t many 3rd & 27 plays out there…

 

D earns an F– where to begin?  The defense notched just one sack but tallied two takeaways in the first quarter.  The secondary looked vulnerable while allowing TD passes of 30, 48, 73 and 79 yards.  The defensive backfield had the appearance of playing shorthanded on multiple occasions…while one never thought it would be a strength the fact that it is such a glaring weakness makes one wonder what steps will be made in the offseason regarding the back four.

 

Flying Flags– are you ready for 10 penalties and 68 yards?  Four were offensive (Trent Williams tagged twice–for a false start and a hold), three came against the defense (including two neutral zone infractions) and two came on special teams on an extra point attempt and ensuing kickoff.  The most costly?  DeSean Jackson’s hold wiped out an Alfred Morris TD (although the Skins would score on the next play) and the two special teams miscues truncated the Colts field by 20 yards (they started at their 44).  When you’re allowing 73 and 79 yard TD’s, does shortening the field for the other team really matter?

 

Cobra Kai– a quiet day for Mr. Lawrence– as everybody’s favorite 80’s movie bully connected on 25 and 29 yarders.  Dutch would’ve made those.  Forbath improves to 19 of 22 on the season…but the real story on special teams remains Tress Way: 6 punts for a 46.5 yard average.  This is the role Zabka had to play on “European Vacation” where as Jack he dated Audrey Griswold…and was never seen again after picking up one vote for family president.  Does this make Way Rusty or  Clark?

 

Dissecting the Division– Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day win over Dallas gives the Eagles the NFC East lead as well as the #3 seed in the conference…while the Cowboys drop to 7th in the NFC due to losing the conference record tiebreaker with Seattle and Detroit.  The NY Giants–despite wasting a 21-3 lead in Jacksonville–hang onto third place thanks to their September win over the Skins (they host Washington in week 15).  The Burgundy and Gold remain one spot behind the Giants in 15th place of the NFC– one game ahead of a Tampa Bay team that owns the head to head tiebreaker.  At least they own their pick this year…

 

 

Sunday’s 27-7 loss to Tampa Bay had a Groundhog Day feel about it.  You know, where if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow we get six more weeks of winter?  Well, Sunday at Fed Ex Field the Burgundy and Gold saw a team that was a shadow of a contender tell us there will definitely be six more weeks of another winter.  This was an underwhelming defeat along the lines of Kansas City last year or against Kansas City in 2009–losses that set in motion the ends of the Shanahan and Zorn regimes.  One can’t imagine Jay Gruden becoming a one-and-done in Ashburn, but it’s happened before.

 

RG3VER– the face of the franchise completed 23 of 32 passes and threw for the team’s only touchdown.  As we can’t cook the books any further, Griffin averaged under 9 yards per completion and was intercepted twice in the first quarter– the first set up the Buccaneers first points (a 32 yard field goal) while the second was returned for Tampa Bay’s first touchdown of the day.  RG3 was sacked six times…and coach Jay Gruden said Monday that Griffin was taking the wrong drops in the wrong situations.  It didn’t help that #10 compared himself to elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers while complaining he didn’t have great material around him.

 

Alfred the Almost– Mr. Morris was this close to reaching the century mark for the first time this season…gaining 96 yards on 20 carries in the loss.  The actually went to #46 on third and short!  Morris and Roy Helu Jr. provided RG3 with solid short options as they combined for 8 receptions–but when your QB checks down that much, there’s a problem.  Just like when it seemed Mr. Belding was a little too invested in Zack, Slater and the gang…I mean even Casey Kasem was doing double takes at the Max.

 

DeSean goes off…only not during the game– Jackson caught 4 passes for 35 yards but saved his burning speed for Monday morning, instagramming “You can’t do epic s#$t with basic people”.  Perhaps this was in response to RG3’S comments the day before?  It’s a shame Jackson was forced into signing the free agent deal with the Redskins, because I’m sure as a member of a team just 128 miles away he had no idea that this franchise wasn’t well-stocked with talent.  Especially since his Philadelphia Eagles played this team twice a year.  Glad you waited until after your visit to FOX’s pregame show to drop this deuce, DeSean.

 

Third and Aggravating– the Burgundy and Gold moved the chains on 4 of 13 attempts…with RG3 competing 6 of 8 passes while scrambling twice and getting sacked three times (one incompletion was wiped out by a TB penalty).  Problem was, four of those six completions were of the check-down variety.  Two of the three sacks gave Kai Forbath longer attempts (47 instead of 38, 50 instead of 44)–both of which he missed–while the third pushed the team completely out of field goal range.  Yardage breakdown:  2 for 4 on third and short, 2 for 4 on third and medium (4 to 6 yards needed) and 0 for 5 on third and long.  And I mean LOONNGG:  a third and goal from the 20 highlighted the first half, and the last four third down situations faced were by 13, 13, 24 and 10 yards.

 

Defensive Breakdown– coach Jay Gruden says the D played well for 50 plays Sunday…unfortunately the eight plays or so were back-breaking.  Second half touchdown passes allowed of 36 and 56 yards.  The secondary was already a patchwork– and Ryan Clark looks like he’s on his last legs at safety.  Poor communication and/or execution result in once again huge windows of opportunity for the opposition.  They did notch a pair of sacks and hold the Buccaneers to 3 of 10 third down conversions…but tallied just one takeaway as their interception total (3) remains tied for last in the league.  They didn’t play badly, but on a day when the defense needed to bail out an ineffective offense, the Skins came up short.

 

Flying Flags–  Nine penalties for 67 yards.  Not as bad as Tampa Bay’s tally (11-101)…but still damaging when you have issues on both sides of the ball.  Four of the seven offensive infractions were false starts while Tom Compton was flagged for both an illegal block above the waist and illegal formation in the third quarter.  Most costly flag?  Logan Paulsen’s false start pushed them back to their own 2 a few plays before RG3 threw his pick six…while Compton’s illegal formation helped move a 1st and goal from the 6 into an eventual 47 yard field goal attempt they’d miss.  But Perry Riley’s facemask in the fourth quarter allowed Tampa Bay to run off 3 and a half minutes of clock…effectively slamming the window of limited opportunity shut on the Skins.

 

Cobra Kai– every Billy Zabka character has his fatal flaw:  Johnny Lawrence couldn’t handle Ali’s rejection, Greg Tolan picked a fight with a cross-dresser  and Chas Osborne suffered a cramp on the high diving board.  He always gets his comeuppance, by crane kick or other means.  Sunday Mr. Forbath missed 47- and 50-yard field goals…his first misses since week three.  He’s far from the problem.

 

Dissecting the Division– Philadelphia despite its loss to Green Bay retains the NFC East lead thanks to a better division record than Dallas…the two teams play twice in the final six weeks of the season.  The Eagles own the NFC’s #3 seed while the Cowboys take the #6 spot (Green Bay has a better conference record).  The NY Giants despite being a grease-fire at 3-7 are in third place because of their 45-14 win over the Skins in September…meaning the Burgundy and Gold have a slight edge in the race for last place.  Last in the conference remains a possibility– they’re one game better than 16th place Tampa Bay but the Buccaneers own the tiebreaker.  Fantastic…

 

Division of Depression– Tampa Bay is actually in the thick of the NFC South race:  the NFL’s Sun Belt Conference boasts a composite record of 13-27-1 with all four teams boasting losing marks.  Atlanta leads at 4-6 because the Falcons are a perfect 4-0 against division rivals.  Yes, this means they’re 0-6 against everybody else.  The NFC West is percentage points better than the AFC North (25-15 to 25-15-1)–although the AFC North has four teams with winning records.  The NFC East?  Tied for fourth with the AFC West at 20-20.

 

The Burgundy and Gold may be back from Arizona, but the franchise remains wandering in a different kind of wasteland.  The Oasis of 2012 seems as distant as Oasis’ “Morning Glory” CD (still listenable but almost 20 years old).  Right now the team resides in a desert of desperation– with 25+ new players on the roster this year the rebuilding (nobody likes to say that word but it’s reality) is underway.  Thanks to a 30-20 loss to the Cardinals, the maiden voyage of the SS Gruden appears to be bound for a familiar port–last place in the division.  In the NFC East’s glory days (the 1986-95 stretch saw the division-winner take the Super Bowl 7 times with Philadelphia’s Randall Cunningham and Reggie White enjoying stretches as the most dynamic players at their positions) the St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals were the last place team everybody liked to face first.  Those Cardinals finished last 5 times in that span–a feat these Redskins have surpassed with 7 last place finishes (2004, 06, 08-11, 13) in a similar span.

 

Captain Kirk’s Crazy Eights– the 354 passing yards looks nice.  The 3 fourth quarter interceptions?  Not so much…and this is with his weapons available as Jordan Reed played a full game for the first time all year.  He’s growing and learning (just his 8th career start)…but he can’t continue to make multiple mistakes late in games while windows of opportunity begin to close.  EIGHT interceptions over 5+ games is close to Kenny Stabler 1978 stuff.  Perhaps it’s the fact he’s wearing #8–I thought we retired that for Turnoverasaurus Rex.  At the very least, they should have kept it out of rotation a year or two.

 

Minimal Morris– the good news is that for the first time all season, Alfred the underused didn’t gain fewer yards than he did the week before (an achievement like trying to fold a paper in half repeatedly–you can only do that six times).  The 13-41 effort represented the majority of a ground game abandoned after halftime– Morris gained 18 yards in the 1st quarter, 13 more in the 2nd, and just 10 after intermission.  Three carries after halftime in what was a one possession game for most of the contest.  Are they using the old Kyle Shanahan gameplans?   About as useful as “Our Miss Bliss” scripts.

 

DeSean & Garcon– the high-flying crime-fighting duo solved the occasional mystery of the Cardinal secondary…as both caught touchdown passes.  Jackson (3-115) posted his 3rd century game of the year (in the other three games combined he’s caught 10 passes for 89 yards) while Pierre averaged less than 8 yards per catch for the second time this fall.  Between the two, neither caught a pass on third down and only Jackson was targeted (3 times).

 

Three R’s:  Reed, Roberts and Receptions– Jordan Reed after being on the shelf with a hamstring injury for the first four and a half games of the season, caught 8 passes for 92 yards.  That’s progress.  Andre Roberts added 5 catches for 55 yards…motivated no doubt by facing his former team.  If Jackson and Garcon continue to receive prime attention, these two will continue to reap the benefits.

 

Third and Doubt– the Cardinals D ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in getting off the field…until the Redskins went 2-10 at moving the chains.  On all 11 plays Kirk Cousins passed (4-10=21 yards with 1 interception and another INC wiped out thanks to an AZ penalty).  He threw to 3 players:  Reed (5 targets, 1 catch and conversion), Jackson (3 targets, 1 defensive penalty) and Andre Roberts (3 targets, 1 catch and conversion).  Yardage breakdown:  1 for 4 on 1-3 yards needed, 1 for 3 on 4-6 yards necessary and 0 for 3 on 7+.  That means no Morris runs on third and short–and not even a draw play on third and medium.  Abandon the SS Ground Game!  To your passing game lifeboats!

 

Diminishing Defense– only 317 yards allowed…5.4 yards per pass…7-17 on third down…but no takeaways.  The oomph that helped sell the bill of goods on the shift to the 3-4 four years ago was the short fields and takeaways this team would tally…and they’ve yet to do so.  The four takeaways this fall?  Tied for fourth worst in the league.  While they didn’t allow a second half touchdown, the D surrendered 2 field goal marches of 7:23 and 4:50 to start the second half.  Is the pass rush just not good enough to mask a suspect secondary or is the patched up secondary not sharp enough to make an underwhelming front seven shine?  There’s definitely a hole in the bucket.

 

Flying Flags– after being ticketed only 3 times last week, the Skins still fared better than the opposition with only 6 infractions for 62 yards (yet they’re still the 7th most penalized team in the league).  Arizona did their best Seattle impression with 14 (!) flags for 108 yards.  Three were on offense (all false starts–the Skins now have 9 on the year, 3 short of the league lead)…two on defense (pass interference against Bashaud Breeland-his second PI and 5th flag of the year-and encroachment against Jason Hatcher) and one on special teams (holding on a punt return against Akeem Jordan).  Two penalties stunted drives while two others jumpstarted Cardinal scoring possessions.  Logan Paulsen’s false start dug a 2nd and 15 hole the team had to punt out of two plays later.  Chris Chester’s false start turned a 1st and goal from the 10 into an eventual field goal.  Breeland’s PI moved the Cardinals from their own 17 to midfield…and they’d reach the endzone six plays later.  Hatcher’s encroachment turned a 3rd and 8 into a 3rd and 3…one Arizona would convert before settling on a field goal eight plays later.

 

Cobra Kai– Mr. Forbath connected on attempts from 28 and 43 yards while his first three kickoffs reached the endzone for touchbacks (he chipped one to the Arizona 9 to end the first half and the other kick was onside).  Just like last year when he wasn’t missing and the team wasn’t winning.  Tress Way continues to be the Bobby to Forbath’s Johnny…averaging 47+ yards per punt in another lost cause.  With FOX going all prequel on “Gotham”, what’s to stop a “Karate Kid” origin story about the early days of Johnny Lawrence before the sensei turned him into a leather-jacket wearing bully?

 

Dissecting the Division– Philadelphia’s win keeps the Eagles atop the NFC East at 5-1 over Dallas thanks to a 2-0 division record…with the NY Giants at 3-3 all alone in third place.  Which means the Redskins are almost halfway home to another last place finish.  At least the NFC East is more SEC than SBC (Sun Belt) this year:  the composite 14-10 mark is a whisker behind the AFC North’s 13-8-1.  Worst division?  The NFC South (8-14-1) although the AFC South isn’t far behind at 9-15…thank goodness Tennessee comes to Fed Ex next Sunday.

 

It certainly didn’t feel like a ten point game.  The Redskins 27-17 loss to defending champ Seattle felt resembled that of a mouse being caught by a cat who proceeded to lose interest in completing the kill.  At one point the Seahawks had more penalty yards (45) than the Redskins offense total yardage (27 on the first 18 plays from scrimmage).  The team’s 1-4 start matches last year’s opening stumble before they “got hot” with 2 wins in 3 weeks before finishing the year with 8 straight losses.

 

Kirk Beams Up– after a rough first half where he was held to 7 of 17 passing, Captain Cousins completed his first six passes of the third quarter…finishing 14 of 19 after halftime.  Coach Jay Gruden says Cousins sometimes makes the tough throws look easy and the simple throws look difficult.  He looked sharp on 57 and 60-yard passes to DeSean Jackson…but looked suspect while misfiring or checking down repeatedly on third down.  Of the 11 possessions that mattered, 5 were three and out and 2 more saw punts after the fourth play.   He was sacked just once despite a furious pass rush by the Seahawks D…although he looked like he was going to be planted into the Fed Ex Field turf on more than one occasion.  Hopefully they can keep Kirk out of sick bay for the time being…

 

Mayday for Morris– remember when Jessie’s stepbrother moved in and blackmailed Zack for cutting school to go to a Dodger game while pleading Rosh Hashanah?  Just like that Alfred Morris was turned from actor to reactor Monday night– held to 29 yards on 13 carries (including a 2 yard loss and fumble that napalmed the team’s first possession).  Granted, Seattle came into the game ranking 2nd in the league at stopping the run and surrendered just 2.8 yards per carry–but if you don’t want Lisa Turtle to go see Casablanca you can’t expose yourself by fumbling or catching a foul ball.  What is concerning is that Morris’ yardage has decreased each week this year, from 91 to 85 to 77 to 63 to now 29 yards.  But don’t worry about the Seahawk D, much like Jessie’s stepbrother they won’t make another appearance on the Redskins viewing schedule this year.

 

Feast and Famine– DeSean Jackson caught 5 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown–GREAT!  Pierre Garcon caught 2 passes (one in super garbage time) for 23 yards and an evening of ire from Richard Sherman–NOT AWESOME! Jackson stretched the field with 57 and 60 yards catches to help keep the Skins in the game.  I’M FULL!  Garcon was accused of pulling Sherman’s hair.  I’M STARVING!  The Legion of Boom’s Big Mouth then said that Garcon “didn’t matter in the league”.  I guess if Jackson rips apart the rest of the secondary it’s okay to blab all you want…I know Sherman is one of the top cornerbacks in the game but I’d just as soon hear him say “scoreboard” and move about his business.  The Tight End presence to keep the secondary honest?  No standing pat– Paul & Paulsen will not be running for President on 3 catches for 17 yards.  The Seahawks didn’t even need to use their special “Smothers Brothers” coverage.

 

Third and Forgettable– after the 1-for-10 nightmare against the Giants, the 3-for-12 bad dream against the Seahawks saw Kirk Cousins complete 7 of 11 passes for 32 yards and three conversions–all three on short passes to Andre (two short right, the other short middle).  Two of the passes took place on the first drive and the other occured on the Skins final possession of the night.  Meaning that with the exception of an illegal use of the hands penalty against Seattle, the Skins came up empty on the money down.  Breaking down the yardage:  1-4 on 3rd & 1 to 3 yards needed, 2-4 on 3rd & 4 to 6 yards necessary, 0-4 on third & 7+.  Nice to see 3rd and long in the minority though…meaning they’re at least doing something on 1st and 2nd downs.  

 

Defense gets the runaround– Russell Wilson turned the Skins D inside-out with 122 yards rushing and a touchdown while the third year pro also passed for 201 yards and two more scores.  Positive points?  Three sacks and the fact that five of the six leading tacklers were by players in the front seven.   Negative nuances?  LB Perry Riley is a question mark after injuring his knee against Seattle– they’ll miss his solid play (10 tackles) if he can’t go at Arizona.

 

Flying Flags– only 3 penalties for the Redskins this time.  Major Burgundy and Gold Star for the fridge!  One came on Special Teams (hold on a punt return by EJ Biggers) that turned a 1st and 10 from the 20 into a 1st and 10 from the 10…before the Skins would go three and out.  The two defensive penalties both sparked 4th quarter scoring drives:  Perry Riley’s defensive hold turned a 3rd and 3 into a 1st and 10 from the Skins 41  and Seattle would reach the endzone 11 plays later;  Jarvis Jenkins facemask jumpstarted the Seahawks game-clinching field goal drive.  What got me Monday night were the 13 penalties called against Seattle– 3 wiping out Seahawk touchdowns and others either slowing down one of their drives or sparking a Skins’ possession.  That doesn’t give me confidence long-term as Seattle tries to repeat.

 

Cobra Kai– Forbath drilled his lone attempt…a 27 yard field goal early in the third quarter when the Skins opted not to go for it on 4th and 1 from the Seattle 9.  That’s like having Bobby jump into Daniel LaRusso’s knee…he could have beat him (!) just as a Skins offense that was heating up could have gotten that yard.  Instead they settle for three and we have to watch Mr. Miyagi “magically heal Daniel’s knee with his touch” (something out of an ABC afterschool special).  In reality, Bobby was probably the toughest matchup for LaRusso…he was the most deliberate and thoughtful of the Cobra Kai and would’ve smelled the crane kick coming from a mile away.  Tress Way averaged almost 50 yards per punt– which is good because he had to kick 8 times Monday evening.

 

Dissecting the Division– the loss places the Burgundy and Gold two full games in last place of the NFC East.  Philadelphia owns first place thanks to the division tiebreaker (1-0 vs 0-0) over Dallas–both are 4-1 to start the season.  The NY Giants (3-2) are all alone in third.  Good news for the quartet:  the NFC East’s 12-8 combined record is percentage points behind the AFC North (11-7) for best division honors, an award that doesn’t generate a trophy, banner or plaque.  Worst division?  The AFC South is 7-13...but 1-1 against the Skins.

The Prime Time Microscope often serves as an amplifier:  tiny blemishes are revealed to be major scars and minor deficiencies are shown to be major shortcomings.  For the Redskins, prime time has not been kind as of late:  the team went 0-5 under the lights last year…and looked lost in Thursday night’s 45-14 defeat to the New York Giants.  The game recalled for me a 2009 Monday Night meltdown against the Giants (45-12) that featured a swinging-gate fake field goal…but that loss marked the end of an error, I mean era for then-coach Jim Zorn’s regime.  This is game three for Jay Gruden.  The league is such a week-to-week thing (witness Tampa Bay getting blasted by 42 eleven days before winning at Pittsburgh)…but it’s tough to find any good spin in Thursday’s mess.  Next up?  A Monday Night Football game against- defending champ Seattle.  Should I add that the Seahawks are coming off a bye week?

 

Captain Kirk Crashes– from the high of the win over Jacksonville to the mixed review of the loss in Philadelphia…and now this.  Four interceptions and a lost fumble remind Skins fans of a different #8…and Turnoverasaurus Rex has long departed the Potomac River basin for the shores of Lake Erie.  Cousins went 6-14 with those four picks in the second half–his issues in the third and fourth quarters this year have to be somewhat of a concern as well.  Kirk before intermission: 74% completion rate with a 4-0 TD/INT ratio.  Kirk after the break:  48% and 2-5.  Is it a case of the opponents making sharp halftime adjustments?  Perhaps it’s a case of “Mirror, Mirror” when the other Kirk gets beamed into an alternate universe.

 

Saved by Underuse– Alfred Morris notched 12 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown…never getting into any sort of rhythm– three carries in the first and second quarters before getting five touches in the third.  All told the Skins ran the ball just 17 times in defeat.  Reminds me of the Bell episode where Zack wasn’t involved in the plot in a major way– hold on, that never happened.  Peter Engel knew what the Skins offensive braintrust hasn’t grasped yet– Morris has to be involved big-time for this whole thing to work.  There’s a reason there weren’t any Violet Bickerstaff-centric episodes.

 

Receiving Recall–  after shining in the loss at Philadelphia, the duo of Garcon & DeSean were held to a combined 3 catches for 37 yards by the Giants defense.  Less than ideal…as Jackson’s dancing and chest-thumping against his former team didn’t carry over to being shut down by his former and current division rival.  Roy Helu lading the team with 78 yards receiving is as wrong as Ryan Clark leading the team with 7 tackles…a runningback shouldn’t be this much of a main man in a passing game.

 

Tight End Troubles– Niles Paul was on his way to another solid game…catching 3 passes for 60 yards when he was greeted by what resembled the “Malachi Crunch”:  Antrelle Rolle and Quintin Demps bounced Paul out of the game with a concussion.  Already minus Jordan Reed (whose 2013 ended with a concussion), the Skins were forced to focus on Logan Paulsen– who caught 3 passes for 28 yards but lost a fumble in the red zone.  Paul will be tested over the next week to make sure there are no lingering effects–meaning Cousins’ security blanket (16 catches in 2 and a half games) may be a question mark.

 

Third and Abysmal– the Skins went 1-8 in moving the chains….getting another first down in the third quarter on a Neutral Zone Infraction by the Giants.  The offense gained a total of 8 net yards on those 8 third down plays:  Cousins set the tone for the night by fumbling while being sacked on the team’s first 3rd down of the night…before completing 1 of 6 passes for 7 yards with 2 interceptions.  The lone conversion?  A 9 yard scramble by Cousins on 3rd & 8.  Breaking things down by yardage:  0-1 when 1-3 yards were needed, 1-2 when 4-6 yards were necessary and 0-5 on 3rd and 7+.  After four weeks, the offense is 18-49 on the critical down (37%, ranking 24th in the league)…with 22 of their 49 attempts coming from 7 yards or more.

 

D gets an F– the problem with going 1-8 on 3rd down?  You have to punt and send this defense out on the field.  The Giants scored the last three times they had the ball in the first half and used the quick-throwing short passing game to negate the Skins pass rush (just one sack on the night).  The secondary looked undermanned and lost as Giants TE Larry Donnell caught 3 TD passes in the first half–on one play either Brandon Meriweather played the wrong coverage or Ryan Clark wasn’t in the right spot or quick enough to provide help.  David Amerson’s good at guarding the opposition’s #2 wideout–containing their #1 not so much.  Thank goodness coordinator Jim Haslett doesn’t have Mike Shanahan around to meddle in the D.

 

Flying Flags– 11 penalties for 88 yards gives the team 39 for 388 on the season (most in the league).  Two of the four offensive infractions were holds by an offensive line that wasn’t trying to cheat as much as trying to keep Kirk Cousins alive amidst a tepid Giant pass rush.  Two of the three defensive penalties set up Giant scores:  Bashaud Breeland’s pass interference kept a drive alive late in the first half that resulted in a field goal and Perry Riley’s illegal use of the hands gave NY a 1st & goal from the 1-yard line (they’d score on the very next play).  Four penalties came on special teams– with Clifton Geathers getting flagged twice (illegal use of the hands & unsportsmanlike conduct) and the other two violations  coming on a false start and a neutral zone infraction.  It’s a mess…

 

Cobra Kai Cameo– Mr. Forbath converted on both extra points and wasn’t called on for any field goal attempts…while Tress Way stole the kicking game show by averaging 58 yards a punt (including a 77-yarder).  Much like the bully in KK2…

 

Dissecting the Division– Philadelphia remains atop the NFC East despite their loss at San Francisco because the 3-1 Eagles own the division tiebreaker with 3-1 Dallas.  The Giants at 2-2 are all alone in third place while the Skins are inthe oh so familiar spot of last place in the division (eventual destination in 2008-11 and 2013).  Best division after four weeks?  The AFC North is 9-5 while the NFC West is 8-5…as the NFC East and North are tied for third at 9-7.  Both South divisions have gone south in September—each is 6-10.  While the Skins get the AFC South on their schedule this year– they also get the entire NFC West (ugh).

Does a win count if it’s against the Jacksonville Jaguars?  You know, the team with the two-tone helmets?  The one owned by a man who has the coolest mustache ever but one of the worst teams in recent memory?  A squad that had their reverse lights on for most of the game-gaining 1 yard on their first 12 plays from scrimmage, not posting their first 1st down until their fifth possession and not taking a snap on the Redskins side of the field until the fourth quarter?  While the Jags looked awful, the Redskins responded with a solid effort and put the game away early in a 41-10 rout of the future Los Angeles Lasers.

 

RG3ver– OUCH.  One can’t get on with the game without addressing the early departure of Griffin…dislocating his left ankle while scrambling for a first quarter throw.  There’s no fracture– meaning he could miss the next 6-8 weeks.  They’ll re-evaluate his status after it’s in a cast for a few weeks–but once again, the face and future of the franchise will miss time on the field.  He made 15 starts as a rookie, 13 last year and now he’ll be limited to 8 starts at most in year three.  

Cousins Comes Through– the understudy shines with a 22-33 for 250 yard passing performance while firing a pair of TD tosses.  Now the focus is can he sustain solid play over multiple weeks?  After throwing for 381 yards and 3 touchdowns last year against an Atlanta team that went 4-12, Cousins was not as good against non-playoff teams Dallas and the NY Giants–completing 47% of his passes for 366 yards (4.3 per attempt) for 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions (passer rating= 48.6).  He’ll be facing an Eagles team that’ll be ready for him from the start while potentially lacking WR DeSean Jackson, RB Roy Helu, FB Darrel Young and TE Jordan Reed.  The clipboard and ballcap never looked so good…

Alfred the Security Blanket–  Mr. Morris rumbled for 85 yards and 2 touchdowns– helping the Skins carve out a 34-7 lead before stepping aside for Silas Redd.  There was more of a commitment to the run this time (42-36 ratio)…and you’d think they’ll lean heavily on the ground game against Philadelphia in week three.

Wideout Woes–  DeSean Jackson is a question mark for his return against his former team after spraining an AC joint in his left shoulder after making one catch for 19 yards (at least he averaged more than 10 yards a reception this time).  With Santana Moss inactive for the second straight week and Pierre Garcon limited to 1 catch for 12 yards on 4 targets, rookie Ryan Grant (5 catches for 57 yards) and veteran Andre Roberts (4-57) filled the void to help the passing game.  Will Santana be a factor against Philly?

The Understudy you aren’t talking about– tight end Niles Paul grabbed 8 passes for 99 yards and a TD…a huge boost with Jordan Reed still on the sidelines battling hamstring issues and Logan Paulsen not being targeted at all in the win over the Jaguars.  Is this the start of something special like we saw with Reed’s emergence last year?  Or merely a one-game mirage?

Third and Quality instead of Quantity– the Burgundy and Gold converted 6 of 14 third downs…but more importantly 5 of 8 in Jaguars’ territory (with the team scoring on the play after one of the failed attempts on 4th down).  The run-pass breakdown was 11 passing plays to 3 runs.  Kirk Cousins completed 7 of 7 passes while getting sacked twice and scrambling for a 3 yard gain on 3rd & 4( RG3 was sacked on the other attempt).  Yardage breakdown:  2-3 on short-yardage (less than 4 yards needed) , 3-4 on intermediate and 1-7 on 3rd and 7+.  When half of your third downs are long-distance, you’re going to have a lot more passes...and a lot more punts.

D earns an A– where to begin?  I’ll start with holding the Jaguars to 1 net yard on their first four possessions.  Keeping the Jags from running a play in Redskin territory for the first three quarters was huge as well.  The TEN SACKS that ties a team record set in 1977 when they posted the same number against Tampa Bay (more on those bad, bad Bucs in a bit).   Credit a pass rush that allowed Ryan Kerrigan to tie a team record with 4 sacks…and while Jason Hatcher (1.5) helped draw double-teams and create space for others, Chris Baker playing well after moving from starting defensive end to nose tackle was pivotal.  Trenton Robinson tallied an interception...and despite Bacarri Rambo being unable to tackle the secondary did a nice job shutting down the Jaguars’ passing game.

One moment to look back at the Bad, Bad Bucs– as bad as this year’s Jaguars edition is…the ’77 Buccaneers were hall-of-fame bad offensively:  103 points scored (53 in the first 12 games) while getting shut out six times, a quarterback trio of Gary Huff, Randy Hedberg and Jeb Blount that completed 41% of their passes for 3 touchdowns and 30 interceptions en route to a passer rating of 22.5….22.5!  They extended the Bucs losing streak to a league record 26 games…before helping get two Hall of Fame coaches get fired:  Hank Stram was canned following Tampa Bay’s first ever win (in New Orleans) and Don Coryell was done after the Bucs beat St. Louis.  Somehow that Tampa Bay franchise hosted the NFC Championship Game two years later.  In 1977, the creamsicle uniforms were a necessary distraction.

Flying Flags– 11 penalties for 98 yards would hurt you against a real team.  Five came on kicking-return teams (still not using the S word, sorry)– with two going against Adam Hayward (offsides on a kickoff and illegal formation on a punt).  Four were on offense– with two going against Trent Williams (false start and an unsportsmanlike conduct).  Two were on defense (illegal use of hands and personal foul).  Were they costly flags?  Kory Lichtensteiger’s hold wiped out what would have been a first down by penalty (offsetting calls)…Aldrick Robinson’s hold while moving the offense back from the Jax 11 to the 21 didn’t prevent them from reaching the endzone.  Williams’ false start turned a 1st & 10 from the Jaguars 28 into a 1st & 15 from the 33…preventing a last-minute first half drive from generating a field goal.  Williams’ unsportsmanlike conduct foul moved a 1st and goal from the Jax 1 to the 16…and they wound up settling for a field goal.  This won’t hurt you against the Jaguars…but against a real team it might.

Cobra Kai Finding a Way– a groin injury prevented Mr. Forbath from kicking off… allowing him to concentrate and focus power:  hitting 36 and 42 yard field goals while connecting on all 5 extra point attempts.  The sensei would be proud– as the prize pupil hasn’t missed a field goal since last November 3rd (San Diego).  Punter Tress Way was pressed into kickoff duties and was solid… while hammering punts at an average of 49.8 yards.  It’s as if Bobby had been more of a positive influence on Johnny Lawrence (let the record show he tried) in KK1 and instead of focusing on terrorizing a hapless Daniel LaRusso, Lawrence became a better guy and won Elisabeth Shue back on his own merits.  Sweep the leg?  He would’ve swept Ali off her feet!

So the Skins won in preseason.  Again.  Yes, that’s eight straight August triumphs for the Burgundy and Gold…as they force an incomplete pass on Cleveland’s potential game-winning two point conversion attempt to hold off the Browns 24-23.  Kudos to Cleveland for not kicking the extra point and potentially sending a Monday night preseason game into overtime.  The big question is in mid-August, what can you really put your finger on in the second of four dress rehearsals?  Outside of Johnny Manziel’s digital extension, that is. 

 

Johnny might not be able read…but he can certainly SIGN– and we’re not talking about autographs for cash.  Cleveland’s latest first round draft pick quarterback completed less than half of his passes–but did connect in his only attempt to hurl an obscene gesture at the Redskins bench.  Naturally just about every camera was on Mr. Manziel, so now in addition to bad decisions in the pocket the face of their franchise (who can’t start at his position) has that to answer for.  Which may be easier than answering why he’s not going to win the starting job from a journeyman.

 

RG3VER– the face of the franchise completes 6 of 8 passes for 112 yards…but his first drive ended with a fumble, the second ended with an interception in the red zone, and the third possession ended with an unsuccessful attempt at 4th and goal from the one.  Zero points over three chances against a Browns defense not scheming for you is less than ideal.

 

C & C Factory– after shining against New England in week one, the Cousins and Colt Combination looked a little shakier against the Browns– each tossing an interception.  Cousins’ INT could have easily been run back for a score as well… but he looked much better than Colt who needed a 30-yard touchdown strike to stay in the conversation.  The biggest backup disappointment?  No Rex Grossman on the field in Turnoverasaurus Rex’s return to Fed Ex.

 

For Alfred, it’s only August;  for Lache it’s August Only– Mr. Morris ran the ball 11 times for 29 yards… and got stuffed on 3rd and 4th down on the goal line in the 2nd quarter.  But it’s only August…and the man who’s gained over 2,800 yards over his first two seasons should be ready to go September 7th.  Lache Seastrunk once again led the team in rushing and is making a case for a spot on a roster here or elsewhere (if he doesn’t wind up on the Skins practice squad).

 

The Rare Rookie Receiver– while everybody was looking forward to and pleased with Desean Jackson’s play (2 receptions for 34 yards) but Ryan Grant was the wideout who stood out– tallying 4 catches for 44 yards and a touchdown.  Two other receivers made in-game cases for sticking– Rashad Ross made a 43-yard catch while Nick Williams caught a 30-yard touchdown pass.

 

Third and a Work in Progress– the team went 5-11 in moving the chains:  Robert Griffin III went 0-3, Kirk Cousins 3-5, Colt McCoy 2-3.  Play selection: 9 runs and 3 passes.  Distance breakdown:  3-4 on third and short (1-3 yards needed), 1-2 on third and 4-6, 1-5 on third and long (7+ yards).  Let’s see how they fare after a short work-week preparing for the Ravens.

 

Defensive Differences–  Ryan Kerrigan shined with 2 sacks…while Will Compton made his case with 6 stops (1 for loss) and Bashaud Breeland added something to his file over and above his marijuana bust by notching 5 tackles and 2 passes defensed.  Yes, the D gave up 23 points–but had held the Browns to 3 and out on five of their first six possessions.

 

Flying Flags– another night with a heavy laundry load…11 penalties for 100 yards is not ideal…even though the last four infractions were made by players on the roster bubble.  Five penalties were against the offense–including two false starts against Robert Griffin III.  Two holds came against lineman likely squeezed out (Maurice Hurt and Josh LeRibeus) of the regular rotation…and Andre Roberts’ pass interference was negated by a Browns defensive hold on the next play.  Defensive flags came against Perry Riley (facemask after 4 yard Browns gain), EJ Biggers (holding), Trent Murphy (roughing the passer after a 3-yard run), Chase Minnifield (defensive holding after 2 flags the previous week) and Rob Jackson (illegal use of the hands–led to a late Browns TD).  The costliest penalty?  While Jackson’s illegal use of the hands contributed to a Browns touchdown drive (turning a Cleveland 3rd & 12 at the Washington 43 into a 1st &  10 on the 38), Hurt’s hold pushed the team back from 1st and 10 at the 22 to 1st and 20 at the 12– and on the next play Colt McCoy threw a pick six.

 

Cobra Kai-Zach Attack Round II– minimal opportunities for separation this week:  Kai Forbath nailing the lone field goal attempt (from 26 yards out) and both kickers converting all of their extra point attempts.  On the kickoff front:  Zach Hocker was 3 for 3 in reaching the endzone while Forbath was 1/2 in getting the ball past the goal line.  A far cry from getting the bodybag…

There’s always that magical week or weekend when the days get shorter…it gets chillier by the pool and football preview magazines begin to take precedence over the crossword/summer reading. While September 21st is almost two months away, late July marks the end of one season– and the beginning of the onramp to the marathon/sprint that is college and pro football. Is it really time- can’t I get just one more week?

The Redskins are in Richmond with a new regime; Jay Gruden sorts through a pretty decent cupboard left by Mike Shanahan. Say what you will about last year’s 3-13 descent from awesome expectations to awful execution…not all 3-13’s are created alike. And this team is one year removed from winning the NFC East. The major question is, which year was the outlier–2012 or 2013?

Prepare for the Positive– it’s almost fitting that training camp takes place when the skies are sunniest and the temperatures are highest. EVERYBODY is optimistic. Even teams that are in their 3rd “five year plan” since 2010. That’s the beauty of the NFL– worst to first is not an anomaly: you can almost guarantee that we’ll have 4-6 different playoff teams this winter. Last fall saw Kansas City go from 2-14 to the playoffs…so even a Houston that lost 14 straight can have hope. Or a Redskins team that crash-landed with 8 straight losses…

What to Watch For–OFFENSE:
Life begins with RG3–HOW healthy and ready will the face of the franchise be? How will the new Jay Gruden system maximize his strengths and limit his weaknesses? Will we see rookies Spencer Long or Morgan Moses push the starters on the offensive line or be routed into the “rookie year learning laboratory” that’s high on enrichment but low on game-snaps? And what’s the deal with Jerry Rice Junior? Is the undrafted rookie good enough to leapfrog Andre Roberts and Ryan Grant–or is he more Pete Rose Jr than Eduardo Perez? (if he were Griffey Jr he would have been taken first overall by Houston, set the world on fire, before eventually returning to San Francisco where he would’ve never been healthy)

What to Watch For–DEFENSE:
It’s Jim Haslett’s turn to shine. Year five of the 3-4 means execution and not excuses: of the projected week one starters only Kedric Golston and Bryan Orakpo pre-date his arrival– and if they didn’t fit his vision they’d be gone by now. Will Jason Hatcher recover from surgery in time to be a factor in September? Even healthy, Hatcher has to change from being a tackle in a 4-3 to a three-man front. How much will the linebackers miss the leadership of London Fletcher? Even at the end of his career, the John Carroll University product was averaging 7 tackles a game while holding together a unit under siege. The biggest questions aren’t necessarily about the 3-4…it’s the 4 behind them. Can Deangelo Hall, Ryan Clark and Brandon Merriweather still contribute as starters in this league? After losing his rookie season to injury, will Phillip Thomas be more rusty or ready? Can Bacarri Rambo live up to having the coolest name on the team? (sadly,
having an awesome name is almost a curse: Notre Dame’s Hiawatha Francisco, Baylor’s J.J. Joe and Nebraska’s I.M. Hipp never lived up to their names in the pros)

What to Watch For–SPECIAL TEAMS:
The kicking game can’t be the absolute disaster it was last year…right? From coughing up game-changing returns to allowing kicks blocked…2013 was a major nightmare for the Burgundy and Gold. Can they identify the right guys to be put in place on these units? Meanwhile, Saved by the Bell meets Karate Kid. Is there actually a kicking competition between Kai Forbath and seventh round pick Zach Hocker? Despite making 35 of 40 career attempts (numbers that would make Ali with an I swoon), the Johnny Lawrence of accuracy is Daniel LaRusso-like when it comes to kickoffs. Will Zach be accurate enough to make his kickoff length a factor in late August? (never count out a Zach–from fronting a band to a foiling diamond thieves to hitting on homeless girls at the mall)