Do Da Dirty Bird: Previewing Week Nine, Falcons v. Redskins
For a 2-5 team, the Washington Redskins sure are making a whole lotta noise. Even the occasional ESPN viewer is familiar with the faces of owner Dan Snyder, head coach Jim Zorn, and offensive "consultant" Sherman Lewis at this point, if for all the wrong reasons.
In regards to bossman's words from this past week, I know he didn't make the perfect vocab choices, but shouldn't he feel bad about losses? I mean, do we expect him to be just singin' in the rain over this clueless offense?
Of course, we've gotten a chance to see now what a shift in playcalling duties amounted to (um, nothing in terms of additional point production or cohesion), so this could all just be due to a particularly slow-building chemistry or off-kilter personnel.
But anyway, no matter what's up in the capital, it's pretty safe to say the 'Skins come into my hometown in some degree of turmoil. Not that we're looking completely solid...
Coming off two consecutive losses, both of them frustrating and puzzling considering how well the offense worked early, my Atlanta Falcons want a win badly to get right back in the Wild Card discussion.
Meanwhile, the Redskins want a win (or at least a close game) just as much, as they hope to put anything in the mouths of the pundits besides all the criticisms they're spouting at the moment.
In short, you can wave goodbye to the relatively relaxed demeanors of these teams in the first half of the season. Stuff gets serious, man.
Washington Rush Offense v. Atlanta Rush Defense
I've always liked Clinton Portis, for his running style, his production, and his outfits (dude, where do you buy your clothes?). No matter how much I feel for the guy, though, I can't lie: The magic is missing to this point in '09.
A lot of blame can and should go the line's way, as they seem to like to play only about 50 percent of the time, but the numbers don't lie. Portis is on pace to barely top 1,000 yards for the season at this point, and while that's not the end of the world in itself, it is when the next most productive rusher on the team has...wait for it...103 yards.
This is not the frighteningly diversified attack we saw on Monday in New Orleans, y'all.
Add in the fact that Washington ballcarriers (that'd be more or less only Clinton and quarterback Jason Campbell) have five fumbles to two touchdowns, and I think our ground D will get a decent confidence boost tomorrow.
I'd expect Jamaal Anderson to be at tackle again, hopefully in less of a rotation with Trey Lewis and more just playing every down. People frequently criticize him for overextending on plays and thereby letting a guy get by, but I'd prefer that over Lewis' half-motoring any day.
Jonathan Babineaux is going to be able to plug the center well considering the blockers he'll face. I don't see him needing to engage two guys at the line for long; the way pulls have been going so far for Washington, he made need only take a step back to collect Portis' momentum and bring him to the ground.
Of course, Clinton is always a threat on the outside or the edge, but we're strong there, even if we rely almost entirely on the linebackers to get runners when they bounce. It's a good sign to me that Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson are actually picking up speed as we progress this year.
I just can't see a team ranked 31st in rushing touchdowns and 26th in rushing yards per game doing much on the ground. Besides that, the Redskins have made it clear that when they get behind, which has been often, they're going to go to the pass pretty much exclusively: They're now 28th in total rush attempts.
Atlanta Rush Offense v. Washington Rush Defense
Michael Turner's production last week was like a cool, refreshing can of Diet Mountain Dew Ultraviolet after a long afternoon of sportswriting. And if you don't live like me, then just assume I was talking about a drink of water after crossing some desert.
The point is, the Burner (or is that "the Churner"? Thanks, Ron Jaworski) going for 151 yards with an average of 7.6 per carry was the brightest spot on an offense that was actually generally bright despite the loss to the Saints. The fact that there was no one sharing carries with him actually makes it better, in my eyes; he remained effective despite the defense being able to key in on him.
Of course, the N.O. defense, while vastly improved from the past two seasons, had no Albert Haynesworth in the middle and no London Fletcher with 71 (holy crap!) total tackles in the second level. Going to the outside is probably our best bet, but young 'backers Rocky McIntosh and Brian Orakpo aren't the worst lateral movers in the world, either.
The praise may be mostly directed at Washington's second-ranked pass defense (you know I'm gettin' to it), but the stuffage is nearly as good. Sure, they're ranked 26th on the ground, but their 118 yards allowed per game puts them considerably closer to league leader Pittsburgh (about 77 per) than doormat Buffalo (dear Lord, 174!).
They've also allowed just three rushing touchdowns and forced six fumbles so I think the front seven are holding up their end of the deal just fine.
One of the secrets to our rushing success on Monday was that the receivers sacrificed and blocked in the flat, as I had implored them to do. We'll need even more of it if we're going to deal with a linebacking group just as active as ours and a pretty rock-steady line.
Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White, you know I wouldn't ask you to put yourselves in harms' way if it wasn't really important.
Washington Pass Offense v. Atlanta Pass Defense
Once again I must admit to another of my man-crushes: Jason "Pretty Eyes" Campbell has always been a fave of mine. He comes from the SEC, he's a humble kid, and though he's been hated on for a couple years now, he keeps on tickin'.
I'd have to be completely lovedrunk to not recognize how poorly '09 is going for him, of course. It's very, very far from entirely his fault, as this line is letting rushers through like they're hot chicks trying to get into the club (they're tied for fifth-worst with 23 sacks allowed), but a quarterback of elite talent would be able to overcome that.
Not saying every team needs a QB of elite talent, but I digress. The point is that a touchdown-to-interception ratio of eight-to-seven isn't going to cut it when your run game is as stymied as this.
Part of that is Jason not having a ton of big-time playmakers around him, while another part is Jason just not having the greatest field vision on Earth to find any playmaker. The man is darn accurate though, clocking in at 66 percent despite how often he's hurried.
On the other side, the Falcons secondary actually played a little better against the Saints than they did in their previous week. Not every day a team can claim that they locked down Drew Brees better than they did some other quarterback, but to answer your question:
Yes, we are proud to have held that bad man to just over 300 and to have picked him off once. We're an inconsistent bunch, but we didn't let anyone in particular go crazy on us, despite a massive size advantage for the Nawlins receivers.
And the Redskins' receivers are a considerable step back in size from the boys we just faced: Both Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle-El are just 5'10" (hooray, Brent Grimes!) and Chris Cooley isn't quite the giant Jeremy Shockey is.
In terms of our rush, it seems like every week I'm counting on Kroy Biermann and just crossing my fingers John Abraham wakes up. It's time to mix it up a little bit, Brian VanGorder, and send Stephen Nicholas after Campbell. Once we get him a little scared, he'll play young as he has to this point.
Atlanta Pass Offense v. Washington Pass Defense
What I hate to see is the upcoming opponent's pass defense ranked No. 2 in the league, but what I love to see is that same unit having pulled in only three interceptions.
Because that's what's been Matt Ryan's true enemy recently. In case you weren't watching, when Ice was still freezing cold (in the good way) at the beginning of the past two games, we moved the ball downfield with conviction and scored on our opening possessions.
Later in the game, however, Matty started to melt a little bit, and, well, you saw the critical picks on Monday unless you were watching baseball. And by the way, what were you thinking if you were?!
Ole DeAngelo Hall is the one and only INT-machine for the Redskins, and while he's a defensive back to be feared (I never doubted the man's skill, just his attitude and contract), when no one else is going to hawk the way he does, I'm much more at ease.
Of course, the high pass ranking must mean something, specifically that we'll be picking up much fewer yards after the catch than we're used to. Gonzo will still truck forward a little bit, but LaRon Landry has the size to stop Tony G. His 34 solo tackles impress me personally, considering he's gone up against some dang fast receivers to this point (Dwayne Bowe, Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith, DeSean Jackson).
Also "pretty OK" at hitting are Reed Doughty and Carlos Rogers. The good news is that neither of those fellas can handle Roddy White one-on-one, meaning that open-field tackles will be their only option.
I'd like to see Jason Snelling involved in the offense again, not to mention Roddy catch more than four of 13 targets, but if we can make up for lost yards after the catch with smart playcalling and otherwise replicate Monday's showing with two fewer interceptions, I feel fine about the O in general.
Prediction: Falcons 31, Redskins 14
We're no elite defense, but Washington has just been struggling as of late, and on the road against a Falcons team looking for redemption is not where they get back on track.
For what it's worth, 'Skins fans, I actually like your team a good bit and would personally give both Zorn and Campbell a vote of confidence until the end of this season. Of course, should they still not deliver with this, something like their 9,000th chance, I might just be left saying "sorry" like Snyder.
Go Birds, beat Hogs; we need this one just a bit more than you.
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