This season has been a far more fruitful one than the last for the Washington Redskins. It has also been more stressful--so many close calls and almost. But unlike last year, its become clear that, if nothing else, if you allow the Washington Redskins to hang around for long enough, they can pull off a win. While none of their wins have been impressive, it's clear that a new, winning mentality has settled over the organization.
A new franchise quarterback, a new head coach, and a new regime have done much to turn this organization around, from a team that hopes it can win, to an organization that knows it can win.
Things get no easier for the Washington Redskins this week, as Donovan McNabb and his team face off against Peyton Manning and his team, the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts have had a rocky start to their season; not quite looking like the all star aerial assault, a rash of injuries seems to have hurt the team. Still, this is Peyton Manning, and after not throwing a touchdown pass in week 5, you can count on him looking to take revenge with a dominating win at FedEx Field.
That said, all is not lost for the Redskins. There is a possibility they can win this game. There is also a chance they can make a statement; that they are a for real team, and that the NFC East will not be easily won by anyone.
Here are they keys to a Washington Redskins win, that's more doable than one would think.
Running essentially the same scheme as we do, the Houston Texans unleashed Arian Foster, the leagues leading rusher onto the world. The Colts have had trouble containing the run all season--even in their week 2 thrashing of the New York Giants, the Giants still rushed for over 100 yards. In fact, in 4 out of 5 of their contest this season, teams have gained at least 100 yards rushing.
Ryan Torain is quickly establishing himself as the Washington Redskins go to back. After coming off the practice squad, Torain has gained 156 yards in his three games as a starter. His best performance came in week 4 versus the eagles, where he rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown. Torain has displayed good vision, burst, and power, but the offensive line seems to be having trouble creating holes for him.
That said, the most trouble the run game has had has been against 3-4 defenses. The Colts run a much friendlier 4-3 that teams have had luck exploiting.
If the Redskins can get any sort of run game gong, that will give them the best possible chance of beating the Colts and a game that would truly be a statement for them. Ryan Torain is looking like the running back of future for the 'Skins. Mike Shanahan has compared him to Terrell Davis in the past.
If the offensive line can open up holes big enough for him, this might be the game where he lives up to that expectation.
This goes hand in hand with the running game; the best way to win a game against Peyton Manning is to make sure Peyton Manning never gets in the game to begin with.
This is the strategy that every team this season has used to beat the surefire Hall of Famer. The Texans and Jags did this to and came up with big time wins. The Chiefs almost had the same luck--when's the last time Peyton Manning threw no touchdowns in a game?
Putting together long drives and winning the time of possession battle is absolutely imperative to a Redskins win. The team has seemingly shot itself time and time again, having successful drives that are killed with penalties and dropped passes. Third down conversions have been hard to come by--they can't be in this game.
The longer Peyton is on the sidelines, the better the teams chances of coming out with a W are, period.
Field goals are not going cut it in this game. The Washington Redskins don't seem to have too much trouble getting to the red zone when they have to, but scoring in the red zone is another story.
Look at the Chiefs game--they had a run game going. They got lengthy drives going. Their defense did a great job of confusing Peyton Manning and forcing mistakes. All the Colts could do was score field goals. But their inability to score touchdowns is what cost them the game--dropped passes and missed opportunities sealed their fate. A touchdown or two could've handed the Colts their third loss and the Chiefs could've extended their undefeated streak. Arguably, the Chiefs should've won that game.
A score of 16-13 isn't likely. The team can't count on a missed field goal or overtime. Every time they get on the field, they have to try their damndest to score seven points. The more opportunities they miss, the more opportunities Peyton Manning has to come back into the game and do what Peyton Manning does better than anybody.
Part of the surprise of Week 2 was the Colts busting out a surprisingly effective run game against a normally stout Giants defense. But for the most part, the Colts have been one dimensional in their attack.
The Redskins typically do good against the run, but getting gashed on one or two plays is all Peyton needs to get into the end zone. From the first Indianapolis snap, it has to be known that the Colts can not run the ball at all.
It's not that Peyton can't beat a team all by himself through the air. He's got the weapons to do so. But forcing Peyton to throw on every down without a running game to support him makes him a lot easier to defend. It's no coincidence that the Giants, Broncos and Chiefs all lost when Peyton had Joseph Addai to rely on.
The defense is going to have a pretty big task on it's hands Sunday night. Stopping the run game will be part of that.
A lot of noise has been made about the Redskins being the last in the league in yards allowed. I don't put a lot of stock in the stats--while the amount of yards given up is somewhat troubling, the defense have given up very few big plays. Most of the yardage has come from either getting occasionally gashed on the run (and then tightening up later), or with teams throwing lots of three step, quick release passes underneath. Every team has utilized that tactic.
For their part, DeAngelo Hall and Carlos Rodgers have done well in coverage. Every once in a while someone gets a pass for a good gain, but they've held their own against the leagues best. Suffice it to say, if Carlos Rodgers or DeAngelo hall had been covering Andre Johnson, the Redskins could possible be 4-1 right now.
This has to continue if the Redskins want to beat the Colts. Peyton's receiving core is no joke and is amongst the best in the league. Reggie Wayne is always reliable, Austin Collie has emerged as a dangerous number 2, and Dallas Clark presents a match up nightmare. They're all big play, big time receivers--if the Skins can eliminate any sort of deep threat, that will force the Colts to dink and dunk their way up and down the field. The Redskins have been doing well at creating turnovers--Free Safety Kareem Moore has three straight in three consecutive games--and LaRon Landry is establishing himself as a Pro Bowl caliber safety that has receivers looking for him.
The defense has been good at creating pressure--Brian Orakpo seems to starting to get some momentum going, and Albert Haynesworth will be back in this game, after having two solid outings against the Rams and Eagles--but getting to the quarterback will be even better. While Peyton Manning isn't easily rattled, he can be hurried. A few sacks will have Peyton getting a little antsy, perhaps, and definitely hurting--the defense have knocked out two quarterbacks in two weeks.
While I don't like seeing players get hurt, a dinged up Peyton Manning is a slightly less effective Peyton Manning. And one would be hard pressed to complain if somehow Curtis Painter had to come into the game.
Talk about a trial by fire for rookie left tackle Trent Williams.
In the three weeks he's been active, "Silverback" had to face DeMarcus Ware, Mario Williams, and a relentless pass rush from Green Bay that included Clay Matthews. It gets no easier as Trent Williams will likely have to contend with Dwight Freeney in this game on top of everything else.
The offensive line is better than it's been in recent years, but it still has a ways to go. Donovan McNabb was obliterated by the Green Bay pass rush, and they couldn't seem to open enough holes for Torain to run through. McNabb has to stay upright in this game--any negative yardage would just make it harder for the 'Skins to pull out the victory.
The offensive line seemed to gel and come together in weeks 3 and 4 against 4-3 defenses and teams who's run D has been suspect. Hopefully that continues in week 6. Meanwhile, protecting McNabb in passing and third down situations is paramount. In the second half of the Green Bay game (after Clay Matthews left), the offense held up well. I wouldn't be surprised if, after watching they tape, they send Dwight Freeney to the right side of the line to take on a dinged up Jammal Brown.
Meanwhile, Ryan Torain, Fred Davis and Chris Cooley are going to have to help them out. With Clinton Portis (the best pound for pound blocking back in the league) out for an extended period of time, those guys have to step up. Torain had a good block on Donovan McNabb's 42-yard touchdown bomb to Anthony Armstrong. Let's hope he can keep it up after learning from one of the best.
The Redskins seemed to only be capable of playing one half of football at times. In the Texans, it was the fading in the second half that sealed it's face. Versus the Rams and Eagles, the first half of the game was solid, only to taper out, resulting in a loss and another nail biting win. The Redskins did next to nothing on offense in the first half of the game versus the Green Bay Packers, only to surge back in the second half to win the game.
(Didn't Philly use to always complain about how Donovan McNabb wasn't a clutch QB? He sure looked it on Sunday. Thank God.)
When the Redskins finally put it all together on both sides of the ball, they will be a dangerous team in the NFL. The Redskins offense has shown hints of explosiveness. The defense has been physical as all get out and has successfully created more turnovers, and will only get better as the season goes on. Regardless of what NFL analyst say about the stats and how old the team is and how few weapons it's had, the hints and glimpses of greatness are all right there.
What better time to put it all together than against the Super Bowl runner-ups? They're going to have to do it if they want they're third straight win, to move to 4-2, and to stake a real life claim to the NFC East.
Make no mistake--this is a statement game for the Washington Redskins. If no one has told them it is, someone needs to remind them. The Redskins seem to play their best football when they're the underdogs. Damn if they aren't underdogs in this game.
A blowout loss here would start up that "Same Ol' Redskins" talk. A close loss, no matter the score, just makes the 'Skins look average. A win by a field goal will be blown off as lucky.
The Redskins have all the pieces in place to have an impressive game. An impressive game here would go a long way towards proving the Redskins success aren't a fluke, but a product of better coaching, a better quarterback and a better environment.
The Redskins can win this game. They're good enough.
But if this game comes down to a final play again, I don't think I'll have anymore nails left.