Washington Redskins Search for Identity in Clash with Arizona Cardinals

Shaun AhmadSenior Analyst ISeptember 18, 2008

As the Washington Redskins prepare for an early season match up that could have playoff implications down the road with the Arizona Cardinals, fans across the DC area are curious to see which Skins’ team shows up Sunday.

Will it be the confused and utterly lost squad that debuted the NFL season with a 16-7 loss at the hands of the New York Giants? Or will it be the calmer and collective team that showed resilience and persistence down the stretch in a thrilling fourth quarter comeback against a Saints team that many have predicted to be the sleeper pick of the NFC.

If there were any one word that can describe the Washington Redskins thus far, that word would be inconsistent. Inconsistency early in the season is not necessarily a bad thing or unusual. After all, there have only been two games to judge the Skins by. On the road against New York in a hostile environment, the Washington offense never found a rhythm or comfort level.  

Quarterback Jason Campbell was blitzed early and often while the wide receivers failed to get separation from New York’s defensive backs. Though Clinton Portis amassed 84 yards on the ground, he spent much of the game avoiding hits in the backfield. The defense did shine through in the second half, not allowing the Giants to score a single point after giving up 16 in the first half.

However, with a lack of offensive firepower, the Redskins were unable to score more than a touchdown and suffered the first loss of the season. The week followed by many, radio DJs questioning whether Head Coach Jim Zorn’s offense would work, if Jason Campbell was the right quarterback, and was this going to be the same old Redskins.

Week two could not come soon enough and fortunately for the Redskins, it silenced many of the early morning critics. The Washington offense put up 29 points capped by a 14 point fourth quarter. They moved the ball much more consistently and had success in the vertical passing game.  

Clinton Portis was also able to find the end zone twice as Washington had New Orleans’ defense guessing for most of the game. Going into week three against the pass happy 2-0 Arizona Cardinals, there are a number of areas the Redskins need to address, beginning with their third down efficiency.  

The Redskins have struggled to convert third downs, most notably when in the red zone. They have settled for too many field goals by throwing either incomplete or short of the first down dump offs. If the Skins hope to have any success against the elite of the NFC, they will need to turn their third downs into first downs and their field goals into touchdowns.

Secondly, they will need to continue to control the clock much like they did against the Saints. Keeping Kurt Warner and his array of Pro Bowl receivers off of the field will be important for the Redskins to generate any sort of success. Consistent running from Portis along with timely and efficient passing by Campbell should keep the Cardinals’ defense on their heels much like the Saints.

Finally, Washington needs to blitz early and often. If there is one weakness Kurt Warner has shown throughout his career, it is his inability to react with efficiency when faced with a heavy blitz. The fumble prone quarterback does not face blitzing safeties and linebackers well.  

Not allowing Warner to become comfortable will keep him from finding Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, both of whom have had superb starts to the 2008 season. It is too early to tell how any team in the NFC East matches up against its rivals, simply because we don’t have enough film to look at.
However, after week three’s match ups, we should have a better idea about where exactly each team stands in the ultra competitive division. A dominant performance against the undefeated Cardinals could gain the Redskins some early season notoriety while giving the young team the confidence necessary to battle Dallas and Philadelphia on the road.
On the flip side, a sloppy and uninspired performance could give the indication that this Washington team is not ready to battle with the big boys of the NFC East. Washington fans will have a much better idea of what they have by Sunday evening. Stay tuned.