Have Some Fruitcake

It turns out with the Burgundy and Gold’s season in the bag, they have become very difficult to follow. It’s not because Rex is the QB; they would have the same lack of sex appeal if Ole Number 5 were quarterbacking. All the new guys, who are playing as well as they can, aren’t really getting me revved up. The problem lies in the fact that with one game to play, no one knows where this team stands. They can’t travel; they have no I.D. and they appear to have no idea. This Rex Grossman nonsense is exactly that.
My suspicious mind is caused by what I saw last night in Atlanta. What a difference a QB makes. I’m not going to get all gooey, gooey like Gruden did when he referenced Drew Brees as  a “rare cowboy”, or Steve Young by saying he’s among maybe two other people in the world, who can do what he does. But those guys throwing passes last night are elite players, and their sublime play take their respective teams to their particular levels of excellence. 
Without Mr. Big Time QB, there is no system that turns sow’s ears into silk purses. Does Kyle know this? And, this in turn shows how far back the Burgundy and Gold really are in relationship to their competitors. Kyle Shanahan is the mastermind of an offense that has accomplished nothing in the big leagues, and yet his father sings the praises of his “system.”
I thought it’s the sorcerer, not the apprentice, that knows how to summon the magic. My gentle suggestion to Mike, “ Fire Kyle!” between the three of you, and this includes  Number 5.  This was botched so badly, two of you have to leave. We really don’t need the “soap opera” that comes with the father, son, head coach, offensive coordinator relationship. When I think of the machinations the two have cooked up this fall, I don’t feel particularly “Zestfully clean”.
I think Mike was let go in Denver partially because he forgot how to play defense. Didn’t he go through four or five defensive coordinators there, in the last five years or so?  If he starts right now, I’m not sure the fans will get their fruitcake by next Christmas.. 


Need Blasting Caps

A slight melancholy came over me after the defeat at Dallas. It was like both barrels discharging simultaneously, a real jolt! I came to the conclusion that it’s possible, Coach Shanahan had come to the conclusion he should have come to when he signed on -- that it was going to take time. When I took that in, I realized we’re all headed into a type of therapy --- the long and painful way back to recovery.
I recall him saying something like this back in January. But that was the last mention until recently. “When he stood that day with a hope that was dead in the glare of the truth at last. He had failed, he had failed; he’d just done things by half. The season had been a jolly good joke on him, and now was the time to laugh.” (paraphrasing of Robert Service, The Men Who Don’t Fit In)
Shanahan should have figured out early on this was a raze site not a fixer-upper. For reasons unknown, he called off the wrecking ball. Instead, he defied the sagging main timber in the foundation that would be Old Number 92, and then decided to make the whole construct top heavy by expanding with a superfluous addition that would be Old Number 5. Not typical know-how for someone in-the-know. 
Ironically, with the crash that was heard last week, when the facade was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, he has turned into a right jolly old elf.  As odd as it sounds, this is the first time Shanahan was probably ever okay with missing the playoffs, because the specter of having Old Number 5 take them there, would have caused catatonia.
If they actually do bring in the H.E.O’s (heavy equipment operators), and we’re looking to 2012 as the earliest for significant improvement, then I have to drink a stern toast to Shanahan and simply say ‘here, here.’ Like they say, all things must come to an end and be careful what you ask for. I’ve been pointing in this direction for so long, now that they may actually take it, seems to take my bully pulpit away. Kind of like that movie Kirk Douglas was in, “There Was A Crooked Man,” in the end after struggling to get back to where he’d left the loot, he opens the box only to have a rattlesnake bite him in the neck. Kirk’s last words, as only Kirk could say it , “Aahh, Sheet”!
So now, when the coach talks about it taking time, and building it the right way, what are we to believe the right way is? Do we believe he still knows how to build, based on what we’ve seen so far? Or the all encompassing question, CAN HE GET A PERMIT?


Go Young, Old Man

There’s not much left to say about the Burgundy and Gold’s season at this point; we all know the same thing. Mike Shanahan’s return to head coaching status in the NFL has not gone particularly well or as planned. What’s the saying? “Same old Jets”?

But at least the drama is gone, for now anyway. I’m not sure if the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will become a loss that becomes an omen; the kind that sinks a team into a morass. They are "game" almost every week, and particularly after a monstrous outing. So there’s no reason to think they’re going to come unglued, but I haven't seen anything that makes me optimistic, based on the current "business model."

According to the product that Shanahan and Co. have put on the field, one could argue, they could have a worse record. And, one could argue, their record could have been better, but regardless, whether they won a few more close ones or lost them; they would not be a different team. They are a slow moving dinosaur that still has cunning and a will to survive, but one that has too few teeth to be taken seriously by it’s foes.

So, perhaps it’s better, even though more painful, this team lost this week. Because, with the quick-fix direction Shanahan and Allen have chosen, each win corroborates the misdirection that is their heading. In the new NFL, ineptitude and futility are the friends of the aged; Ashburn needs to get younger ASAP. I can only see the fortunes of Ashburn changing, when the methodology changes.

When you look at New York, Philadelphia, and Dallas, you realize pretty quickly, how far behind this franchise is to their divisional rivals. Vick, Manning, and Romo are quarterbacks that are entering their prime years, that fact alone keeps Washington in a precarious position. Unfortunately, for the Burgundy and Gold the mountain that Donavan McNabb must climb continues to grow. The question you have to ask; can McNabb get ahead of the tectonic movement? I’m not overly confident next year’s expedition that apparently will be led by McNabb will be able to get out of base camp.


Big Al, Everybody's Friend

In the end, we all do what’s best for us. Some of us have no problem cutting in line and taking our chunk straight off the top in plain view of the entire world, then sleep like a baby full of mother’s milk. Some of us take our sliver from an edge on the bottom, obscure to everyone and everything, but an electron microscope, and then suffer guilt for days. It’s pretty obvious Albert Haynesworth belongs in the first category, but usually,  the obvious, me-first type people are not particularly well liked by the folks their attitude affects the most --- their peers.
Big Al is an anomaly in this regard. I’ve yet to hear a person in his workplace disparage him. They all agree; he didn’t work hard enough, didn’t buy into his role, was inconsistent with his play etc. etc. But nary a player or coach has lashed out at him personally. In fact they all have gone out of their way to say they actually like him, and this includes Jim Hasslett, the defensive coordinator. Some have said they wish they could still be playing with him.
The fact Haynesworth can pull off this feat, defies human reasoning. If you put yourself on that team in general and the defense specifically, whether as a coach or a player; and consider Big Al’s contributions on the field and how they’ve been described in practice, wouldn’t you be frustrated and resentful of him? As a player, I would be resentful, because after last year and the perceived culture at Ashburn, his way of doing things would be a continuation of the angst and heartache. He would be preventing me from trying to gain some respectability and relevance by winning!
When a coach says, “We’ve got to do what’s best for the team,” he’s actually saying, ”We’ve got to do what’s best for me,” of which I have no problem.  But, to constantly segregate a player from his teammates as Shanahan did with Big Al, yet, force that player upon them, is counter-intuitive. It seems the very authority Shanahan tried to instill, he unwittingly undermined. By keeping Haynesworth in close proximity to his other players, could they have become victims to a reverse stockholm syndrome if you will, and started identifying with the captive?  In the end, the players were ultimately left unhinged and confused.  
To be this long into a coaching career and not know what’s best for you, and therefore the team, says a lot about how the future may unfold.


The Last Crusade

There has to be a sense of hopelessness in Ashburn right now. Shanahan must be reeling; he has coached up a poorly performing football team. With seven minutes to go in yesterday’s game the shot of him on the sidelines indicated a guy who had lost his will to resist, and I think he’s in trouble.  I also think the team knows he has no answers, just platitudes: “Keep on working......doesn’t happen overnight..... we will get there, it’s going to take some time, but we will get there.....I promise you that.”  It is Christmas, and in that spirit, let me toss out this wreath.  No one is outwardly insubordinate yet, save Old Unfaithful.
For Shanahan the offseason cannot come soon enough. His first year in Washington will go down as a boondoggle. Between Bruce Allen and himself they have delivered this franchise into yet a different level of incompetence. At this point, it’s hard for me to see the Burgundy and Gold as a better team than last year, or even as a better organization.
How much of this is Shanahan’s fault is debatable. He wanted the thirty four defense, and he did hire his son to become the offensive coordinator. I don’t think it’s any secret this offense is as bad as last year’s version, the only difference is they don’t have the obvious bungling and intrusion of ownership. But, because it’s not obvious does not mean it doesn’t exist. Unfortunately for the Shanster, just like in every law enforcement bust, they’re always wanting the next guy up the ladder. Until Bruce Allen or he decides to roll over on someone, Shanahan shall remain the fall guy.
I’m not sure if Shanahan knows the depth of his responsibility to the thousands and thousands of fans. If he does not deliver and the slide continues, his misguided stewardship will not only stain his legacy and his son’s advancement in this league, but it will reignite the rebellion that was doused with his hiring. These are tense times in Ashburn and regardless of how handicapped Shanahan might be with the albatross that hangs from his neck, it’s not unlike Indiana Jones in the movie “The Last Crusade”; he must choose wisely. He is definitely in an undesirable position. 


"Please Don't Keep Me Wonderin' No Longer"

No one knows why the Burgundy and Gold continue to play this maddening type of football, and I’m tired of pretending I do.  I would contend, the facts indicate they have not improved as much as most of the teams they have played so far this season. From what I’ve seen so far, they will not become a playoff team this year.
Seven clubs, Dallas, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Detroit have gotten better over the course of this season. Houston, Tennessee, and Minnesota are on par with Washington, and only if they were to play Tennessee again would I feel comfortable predicting a victory. How has Shanahan perfected the unusual ability to appear to be in a lot of these games, yet end up losing, or perhaps more frustrating, winning on the last play to make everybody believe they have finally put it all together? Are they on the cusp of the long awaited resurgence, or is this the same  irritating charade? 
There is no palpable offense, and although the defense has played well at times, when it positively, absolutely has to get there, they falter. The special teams are the only unit of this team that plays reasonably well. If it weren’t for Brandon Banks, what would their record be? After looking at Bank’s 77 yard punt return in slow motion, it was apparent Byron Westbrook had a hold that would have affected Banks return; it obviously was not called.
The attitude and energy they have  played with seems to be adequate most of the time. I do believe the coaches are putting in the effort, as well. What it comes down to is Shanahan. He’s in a new environment after a year layoff. He has imported his son’s offense, as well as changing the defensive front to a thirty four. He also brought in a lot of aging players, and then we hear how long it takes to perfect his brand of football on both sides of the ball. By the time they get it, won’t they be too old to contribute at the level that’s needed in the NFL?
We’re seeing more of an infusion of youth. That is good. But isn’t the only reason we’re seeing them because the older players have either been injured or just not able to play at an acceptable pace? 
Shanahan, like all of us, is not beyond self doubt; the longer his offense stays mired in ineptitude; eventually he will begin to ask himself, “Can I still coach at this level?”  His team’s play cannot be what he imagined it would be at this point of the season. There are so many questions to be asked, and we’re not the only ones with inquiring minds. Right now, he too, only has questions. It is reminiscent of Steve Spurrier after his  5-11 season, ”Not too good.”


You've Got to Feel It

Washington showed up yesterday and won a game off Tennessee that was not necessarily a step in the right direction, but more importantly a step. After last week’s demoralizing loss to Philadelphia, nobody was sure they would be able to get out of bed, and nobody would have been surprised, if they had kept swirling in the maelstrom created by the Eagles.
For the time being, it seems they are still willing to play for Shanahan. Thanks in large part yesterday to the ineptitude of the Titans, the determination of the offensive line, and perhaps the season changing strip for a fumble six plays into the game by Lorenzo Alexander.
Defensively, they had a good plan and executed it very well. They did not allow Chris Johnson to get behind them and they frustrated Vince Young the entire afternoon. However, this was not a well played game by Washington’s offense; they played their usual underwhelming game. As well as the line played, they could not get McNabb to step up to their level of play, and this is going to be problematic into the foreseeable future. 
As this game went down to the wire and eventually into overtime, McNabb’s comportment never rose above the Alfred E. Newman, “What me worry”, and it’s not that he needs to worry as much as he has to be in the immediacy of the moment. If he does not possess this simple but elemental quarterbacking characteristic by now, do you really think Santa’s going to bring it this year for Christmas?
After ten games he is, who, I thought, he would be, sporadic and under involved with the offense. His growth as an NFL quarterback has been stunted, and he is inchoate. One could opine he is an unwitting Trojan Horse, sent to Washington with malice and prejudice by the Eagles organization. I did say opine.
Of course everybody is going to resurrect all the platitudes, when talking about Donavon McNabb. Is it possible three weeks ago in Detroit, Shanahan knew after eight weeks what it took Andy Reid eleven years to admit; McNabb isn’t as edgy a quarterback as a lot of people would like to think. 
I shouldn’t be too critical though, as it doesn’t look like the “Gunslinger” will be back in the Twin Cities next year, and considering the way they like to promote and market in Ashburn; I’m feelin’ a whole lot better about Number 5’s extention. In fact I take back everything I just said. Kinda!


ISO: Men with the Hearts of Vikings

There are a lot of prize fights that are stopped by the referee, because one fighter is “out on his feet” as the saying goes. This isn’t the fight game and the match cannot be stopped, but this fighter (the Burgundy and Gold) is “out on it’s feet”. Are they ready for the coup de grace? Sunday will tell the tale. This team has been on the edge of mediocrity  all season, and I have to believe it has not unfolded the way Mike Shanahan had hoped. 
They were flirting with disaster early on, and then came Detroit, where Shanahan could not wait for catastrophe to find him; he beckoned with the benching of McNabb. Did he unwittingly undermine his command in the locker room with this decision? It’s difficult to tell, but if Monday night was any indication, you have to allow it’s possible.
This is why Sunday’s game is so important. Everyone who’s been following this team, must realize by now; they are not a playoff team, but this does not mean they have to capitulate the rest of the season. Philadelphia’s internet efficiency highlighted the shortcomings of a struggling football team. But the big question, after two pitiful performances, is how will they respond in Tennessee?
Another big question, why is Albert Haynesworth still on this team? As an ex-player, what he did on Monday night is hard to overlook. It would be difficult to have him in the locker room and pretend that he wasn’t the only one that didn’t get the job done on that particular play. Jim Hasslett and Mike Shanahan know the difference between flagrant loafing and ineptitude, and Big Al is not a first time offender when it comes to quitting. What message is being sent to the other players and fans by allowing him free rein. There is something unseemly about his presence on this team after all the apparent heartburn he has caused and his latest escapade Monday night.
There is no place for Shanahan and his team to find shelter; they have been exposed for the last two games, but luckily in sports you are only one game away from relief. The Titan’s game is an opportunity for redemption -- for themselves and their fans. This is another uncertain hour for the Burgundy and Gold; McNabb has been anointed the leader, again here is another opportunity to brand yourself as ‘that guy.’ Now is the time, as Robert Service said in a poem for “men with the hearts of Vikings, and the simple faith of a child” to come to the fore.


Upon Further Review

Going into tonight’s NFL game between Washington and Philadelphia, the league is showing that this is the year of sporadic performances. There are no teams or units, including the officiating that are consistently getting it done week in and week out. How can New England be beaten so soundly last week by Cleveland, and then be so dominate on the road in Pittsburg last night? What about the Giants? At home against the Cowboys they allowed themselves to be treated very rudely after five straight compelling wins.
It occurs to me, perhaps we shouldn’t even care. After all, in the big scheme, having a couple of Goliaths in the NFL isn’t going to solve unemployment or heat up our economy. But a lot of us don’t see the big picture all the time and we want to identify with a powerful and dynamic force, because maybe we don’t feel like we’re getting it done week in and week out.
I would ask if a team such as the Cowboys, who have two wins and seven losses, were to make it to the playoffs, and then manage to win the Super Bowl, would they be considered a worthy team? In reality if that were to happen, we would first have to  sweep up all our mental shavings and filings from having our gears sheared. Then after numerous sessions with the therapist of our choice, we’d all have to agree it was quite an accomplishment. 
Let’s not forget the perfect season handed in by New England several years ago. As dominating as they were throughout the regular season and playoffs; they suffered the ignominy of a second place finish in the Big Game. And were forever cast into Super Bowl Loser Hell with all of us formless, featureless souls that will always be trying to score that winning touchdown.
You know the more I think about parity; the more I’m inclined to like it. Without delving into Dante’s Inferno, isn’t the measure of a team, basically the measure of a man or woman. Don’t all the above share the same characteristics, with all having their particular virtues and imperfections. And in the end don’t they all strive for some kind of redemption. Ahh! Enlightenment! This calls for a celebration!
Oh, by the way, I’m itching to see what kind of effort and performance these two teams hand in tonight. Philly is riding high with Vick and would appear to be too much for a team, that appears to be fractured and irresolute. This could be the turning point for the team’s season as well as the careers of a couple of main men. Shanahan and McNabb, how did they become joined at the hip and why did Shanny treat his Siamese brother so harshly? Some of those answers will be unveiled tonight.


Smiling Faces

Shanny Ball, oh that Shanny, is he a rascal? Who knew McNabb was on such thin ice? How do we contemplate the depth and breadth of the Decision. Forget Labron, this was the blockbuster.  It’s almost comical Shanny thinks Rex gives him any chance to win anything at anytime, anywhere, on any day. That Rex’s first play turned into a game, set, match should have come as a surprise to no one. There are all kinds of possibilities as to why the Decision was made, but “Rex gave us a better chance to win the game” was not one of  them. This will play out behind closed doors and we’ll not be privy to the real reason. However.........
If this was Shanny’s rookie head coaching year, what would everybody be thinking right now? Even with Shanny’s two Lombardis, if you think about the Decision long enough, it doesn’t take much to get queazy. The Decision makes Shanny’s body of work so far at Ashburn murky; it had that feel of desperation and panic. Is he as overwound as he appears to be at times?
Everyone has wanted to believe in the changes. They’ve wanted to believe in the new leadership. It appears with one fell swoop, Shanny has cast a cloud of doubt over the entire operation. It’s abundantly clear he’s in charge, but his presence -- is it one of a figurative “sound mind”? What is his real agenda? Most importantly, how has the Decision impacted the team and McNabb? He was the player with the leadership that was so desperately needed on offense. In the big moment of the game and the season yesterday; it was ignored and had zero gravitas.
The outlying question, of course is, can the Decision be shaped into something positive? It’s probably a good thing there are two weeks before the next game, time does indeed heal wounds. I’d hate to have to put money on the side of the bet that says everything is going to be okay, and that it will be better than before. From the time we take our first breath our lives are built on trust. It will take some very special people to overcome yesterday’s breach. Shanny cooly told the world, when he made the Decision, “I don’t trust Donavan McNabb in the big spot.” It seems only human nature for McNabb to have difficulty trusting Shanny from this point going forward. If I recall from a couple of years ago in Philly with Andy at the helm, hell hath no fury like a quarterback scorned. When Philly shows up in two weeks at The Warehouse, Donovan won’t know which way to turn. He’ll be playing that song in his mind, “Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes they don’t tell the truth, smiling faces, smiling faces......”


Shanny Ball

Last week’s big win in Chicago keeps this juggernaut of a team steaming toward the playoffs and beyond. They are now starting to understand all the systems that Coach Shanahan is employing, both offensively and defensively, and we are seeing the impressive results. Haters and non believers stand back; this team is bound for glory. Hip, hip hoorah! Hip, hip, hoorah! Heed not the stat sheet, stats are for losers. Focus only on the win column.
With the game in Detroit approximately 48 hours away. I feel a total calm coming over me, because I now understand Shanny’s Way. He is the master of deception; while we're focusing on Big Al, Shanny is sliding a Ryan Torain through waivers unnoticed by the public and his competition. We think he’s got some holes in his offensive line; he platoons them, an ingenius first. We think Big Al and him have a game of one-upmanship going; he’s merely creating a diversion, so it goes unnoticed that they’re not really playing a 34 defense, but rather a 43. The clincher for me was the INT for a TD last week that Donnie Mac threw, a game changer, but to have so subtly went for the delay of game penalty. Wow! That crushed the Bears spirit.  How does he do it? I don’t know. What makes him so good?
He ain’t got no distractions
Can’t hear our shouts and yells
Don’t see the cameras flashin”
Coaches by sense of smell
Always saves the day 
Never panics at all
That short, black-haired, mad guy
Sure plays a mean football.
Forget what good football looks like, it’s actually an endangered species this year in the NFL, but rather focus on Shanny Ball. He’s a world-class illusionist, and I can hardly wait for Sunday’s show to begin.


Fool's Gold, Gold, or a Load?

I don’t know if they’re good guys or bad guys, because they won’t take off their masks. It’s almost half way through the season, and there are no distinguishable characteristics about this team. There are some individuals distinguishing themselves, but collectively they are somewhat featureless.
I hear everybody talk about how much better the team is this year than last, and I’m not denying that’s so; however, if you want to do a true litmus test, forget last year and take a look at 2008. Last year was an abomination, precipitated by maniacal forces, but ’08 is a truer test, because it was Zorn’s first  year and the withering influence of his boss had not been applied.
If I recall, Clinton Portis was an MVP candidate midway through the season, and the defense was crushing everybody they faced up until the half way point. And, in fact, most people thought Jim Zorn was going to be the next Joe Gibbs, based on who and how they played. 
It started with a humiliating loss in NY, then came the unlikely victory over the Saints, and everybody thought the bomb to Moss had finally ignited the dormant Jason Campbell.  A squeaky win over Arizona set the stage for what everyone thought would be a tough loss in Dallas. But, instead Washington dominated, as Portis ran for 121 yards. Philly was next, and after they jumped to an early lead it was all Washington as they won 23 to 17, and again it was Portis for 145 yards.  They had dominated the Eagles, too. St. Louis came to town and walked away with a victory that went down to the wire. They beat Cleveland in a game they could have lost and the same was true for Detroit.
Detroit is next week, game number eight same as two years ago, and when I think about the 2008 season, it seems it was eerily similar to what we’ve witnessed so far this season. This season has the same feel with the close calls and down to the gun endings. And, there’s the inconsistent quarterback play, and an offense that can’t score. Actually, in the early part of the ’08 season, unlike now, the team seemed to have an identity; it was Portis and a hard nosed defense. And until they got to the back half of the schedule, it was “Zippity do dah, Zippity aye, My oh my what a wonderful day.”
The main difference between these two teams is the coaching. In ’08 it was a promising rookie that was upbeat and talkative, but not a recognizable brand. Now you have a  taciturn big brand coach who for whatever reason had gone stale in Denver and was terminated.
Are we dealing with iron pyrite or fool’s gold, or are we looking at a Sutter’s Creek in 1849. It would probably be a good idea to let this team be assayed before anyone goes yelling that the Burgundy and Gold have hit a rich vein of ore. It could be the Mother Lode, of course, it could be Another Load.


Hey Mike, That's Opportunity at the Door

It's a winnable game this week in Chicago, and opportunity beckons. This is the exact kind of game, where it's possible to get out the yardstick. Win and momentum builds as the season moves forward; lose and, depending what everybody in your division did, you go to the back of the line. There are some compelling match ups going into this game.
Jamal Brown will earn his keep this weekend if he stones Julius Peppers at the gate. Peppers had a so so game last week against Seattle; he should be more motivated this weekend, which will give Brown a good idea where he is with his contributions to the team. The Shanahans will have to figure out a way to help him if Peppers starts to get out of control. Keep in mind, when Washington rolls the pocket to the edge, it goes to Brown's side. I'm afraid I'd give the edge to Orange Julius.
The best help Brown could get, would be a Herculean workload from Rhino Ryno. He demonstrated last week against the Colts, he can take some lead and still punish his antagonists. He needs around 30 carries to level the playing field of the pass rush.
Defensively, this should be a laugher, when the Bears try to pass. They have shown consistently that they don't have the remotest idea how to protect Cutler. Not only is their personel's talent in question, but they also lack a fundamental ability to comprehend the scheme. Haslett should call in the mortar strikes early and keep the rounds coming, Cutler will only be able to handle so much. Washington's defense will have to be cautious not to venture into the DMZ, when pursuing Cutler or one of his targets.
Danny Smith's guys will also get to measure how effective they are versus Devin Hester. Conventional thinking says kick away from him, but that old saying "to be the best, you have to beat the best" rings in my ears. I say go after him, but then again I'll be observing through heavy lenses, so it's easy for me to say.


Nuffs Enough

It seems like everybody is starting to scratch their heads over the fact Albert Haynesworth was not in the line up at some point on Sunday night. After hearing Shanahan’s explanation during Monday’s press conference, he did little to explain why this was so. It felt more like the Shakespearean verse: “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” 
I strive to observe Shanahan’s decisions regarding Haynesworth, with logic and compassion, but his thought processes are increasingly perplexing, as they relate to Haynesworth’s contributions to the team and the team itself.
I haven’t done an in depth study on the coach, but some good articles have been written that give insight into how he became the decision maker he is. His upbringing indicates he was not privileged. He went to work in his early years to help support his family. As this process was taking place, he was thinking of a better life through education. He was a runt and wore the chip proudly on his shoulder; turned a negative into a positive, which is quite noble.
While going to college and participating in sports, he was seriously injured in a football game. His kidney was concussed. It almost killed him later that evening, but he refused to come out of the game. And, if he had been on a battlefield this too would be seen as a noble act, but on a football field it becomes self-sacrifice not concomitant with the endeavor.  After all it was a college football game that has been forgotten except for the fact that a player’s pride almost killed him. But, perhaps this is what true grit looks like.
Shanahan eventually became a gofer for Barry Switzer at Oklahoma in the mid 70s and started on the coaches carousel, until he landed the head job at Denver in the mid 90s. He has a code by which he lives and expects others do the same. This is reasonable and admirable; he no doubt credits his success to the constitution he’s adapted over the  years written in his own blood and perspiration, (Mike doesn’t look like a guy that’s shed many tears). And now we arrive at the intersection, where the chilling effects of one’s personal laws go in one direction and the benevolence of logic and compassion in another.
The first question that must be asked: is the Haynesworth dilemma solely at the feet of Shanahan? He seems too intelligent to let a personal feud boil over onto his team. Or is someone prompting him from back stage? The second question is: as he explained how difficult it is to determine week in and week out, who the best 45 players are, surely there are some players that routinely make the cut without having to prove anything in practice, i.e. #5, #30, #98 etc., ... #92 isn’t one of those players? How can you ignore #92’s body of work in the NFL when it comes to doing what’s best for this team as a unit?
This conditioning thing is off-putting. From where I sit as a former player, I see inconsistency, not strict adherence to the rules. It’s one thing to single Haynesworth out, but you can’t continue to contradict your policy.  Has it occurred to anyone that actually playing the game is the best way to get in shape for it? 
Haynesworth is coached arbitrarily; there is one set of rules for him and another for the rest of the players. I understand that nothing was given to Mike Shanahan; he did it the old fashioned way; he earned it. Some people that achieve success by earning it, rise above the petty. Others get boxed into tunnel vision and can only see in black and white missing out on the joy of Technicolor. 
Haynesworth challenged the immutable laws of his coach. As this novella plays out, they both appear to be two hubris-drunk cowboys, standing at the bar, trading punches. It was entertaining for all of us in the beginning; then it became monotonous, and now it has gotten somewhat pathological, and eventually management is going to ask someone to leave.
The cowpoke that’ll be leavin’ the saloon is tall, dark and handsome. The guy that’s short, dark and handsome, why doggone, that's the new sheriff! What's he doin' here at the bar with that big galoot? 


Is this an Unfinished Symphony?

It’s pretty obvious by now to most NFL fans this is morphing into a “leap” year in the league. With several divisions in both conferences knotted extremely even, now is the time for the Burgundy and Gold to make their statement. They have eked out three victories; they have also eked out two losses. Could Sunday night be the night, they actually begin the march back to prominence? Why not?
Indianapolis has the same record as Washington, which doesn’t really tell a tale, other than to indicate they are not the juggernaut most people thought they would be. Last week Kansas City pushed them to a tie through three quarters at nine a piece. The Colts went on to score ten in the fourth to win it 19-9.
There were several interesting factors about this game. One, the Chiefs had a back that ran for 87 yards, not three digits, but something worth noting. Washington should be able to get a similar amount of rushing yardage out of Ryan Torain or perhaps a break out game by him. The good news is; Trent Williams looks like he’s a go along with Jamal Brown. I know the Chiefs have a dominant O-line, but Indy is soft against the run.

With the Chiefs and Matt Cassel in their second year with Todd Haley’s offense, they still did not give up any sacks against the Colts. Will Washington be able to duplicate that? Probably not, that’s why it’s so important for Torain to get seriously involved in this game.
Offensively, we all know what Indianapolis is capable of doing, but once again the Chiefs held the Colts offense to one TD, and it was a rushing TD; Indianapolis had to kick four field goals against KC, all the while the Colts were play at home. Jim Hasslett has been doing an excellent job of camouflaging his coverages and blitzes; he now faces the master of intrigue. This could be good.
Now will the team get an emotional boost? Perhaps? Russ Grimm will be getting his Hall of Fame ring presented to him by Joe Bugel at half time. There will, also, be an introduction of former players prior to kick off. Will the presence of Grimm and his band of merry Hogs, not to mention the other Old Timers, inspire the guys wearing the silks? Maybe, maybe not, but they shall surely inspire some people, and that very well could be the VIPs at the game, the fans.
After this week will this team remain a mirage, or will the followers of the Burgundy and Gold start to see the incarnation of the future? It seems to me there’s more going on here than another football game and it’s important for the players to go into this game, not hoping to play well, but expecting to win. 


Too Much of a Good Thing

We’re five weeks in and it seems beyond odd that there are no undefeated teams left; the teams that were supposed to have serious firepower have yet to detonate. The landscape is bland and without form; there is a void, there is PARITY!!! Thanks Pete!(Rozelle) 
So,where does this leave the Burgundy and Gold? It was another unlikely win, another right up to the wire day. They did some good; they did some bad; it was an uneven outing. There will not be a lot of improvement with this year’s club, just because they are  too thin on the offensive side of things. 
Starting with McNabb, there’s just not a lot of clout, when Washington has the ball. Through 5 games, he has not shown himself to be the chosen one. What we’re seeing, is a player that was afflicted with erratic play from the beginning of his career, the QB that can go from the ridiculous to the sublime and back to the ridiculous in one series.  In a word, he is inconsistent, and that is the way he will remain. The team is showing self-restraint in not giving him an extension, and Shanahan now knows McNabb is not Elway.
Defensively, they are a group of guys that are sticking with their assignments and staying cohesive for sixty minutes. Yesterday they shoved Green Bay’s arrogance back in their face. They were relentless, and eventually wore the Packers down. This unit may have some up side to it; they also have a couple of young stars that are leading them.
So far, they are a TEAM; they have the evanescent “IT”, they won’t be a powerhouse anytime soon, but I’m not sure we’ll see one anytime soon. What I’m seeing, (as was mentioned in the blog on Friday) are the contributions from some of the guys that were not deemed ready early in the season. This is encouraging, though unorthodox, because it’s the kids leading the goats. That doesn’t happen in too many cultures, but I’m not a sociologist or an anthropologist. Well, now that I think of it, didn’t  monarchies of old operate that way? 


"Age considers; youth ventures."

Unless the Dallas Cowboys catch the lightening they were supposed to start the season with, the NFC East will be a tight race for the division lead right up to the end of the season. If that is the plight of these four teams, it speaks well for where the Burgundy and Gold find themselves. This team is trying to get younger, during the season, which is a little unorthodox, usually they push the plunger to the TNT in the off season.
But, as of this past weekend we all saw strong contributions from several players that were around at the beginning of the season, but were not prominently displayed. The players that had their “net worth” appreciate are Ryan Torain, Brandy Banks, Lorenzo Alexander, and Kory Lichtensteigher.
Now that Portis is out indefinitely, Ryan Torain will get an opportunity to “own” the running back spot. Keiland Williams will be brought up as an alternate as well as Chad Simpson. Mike Sellars is the only “old goat” left in the backfield, and he is one bad game away from being loaded into the “possum belly” (semi-trailer used for hauling livestock). 
On the offensive line Derrick Dockery has been beaten out by Korey Lichtensteiger. And, when Artis Hicks got sick last week, Will Montgomery was getting reps with the A-team. I have no idea how he graded out, but if it’s close expect to see him in the line-up presently.
Keep an eye on the receiver position. At some point in time Anthony Armstrong is going to get the nod over Galloway. Galloway can still make plays, but he’s a spot player at his age and Washington needs somebody to do the plebeian every down work.
Defensively, Lorenzo Alexander got his first start in Philly and I believe lived up to the expectations his coaches had for him before the game. He’ll only continue to improve as he starts to get acclimated to every down work.
The unique thing about this team is they have the rare opportunity to stay competitive in their division, while upgrading their talent levels with the infusion of younger players.This just may enable them to get a balloon payment at the end of the season, when the fun begins. Just between you and me, I’m wondering if this was by design, or does that other adage apply, “sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good”?


The Men Who Don't Fit In

I’ve got a couple of scenarios in mind for this week’s big game in Philly. They’re not particularly sexy, but I’ve narrowed the possibilities to a couple of options. One is the Eagles winning big, and two would be the Burgundy and Gold nipping the Eagles in a close one.
Scenario one seems like such an easy choice, as they used to say in those old oaters, “It’s quiet, it’s too quiet.” And of course no sooner after someone said this, a flaming arrow would fly into the fort and it would soon be overrun. For this reason I don’t think the first choice is the right choice. 
Scenario two seems much more likely to happen. Washington is coming off a humiliating loss.  Shanahan’s medicine seemed weak against a weak opponent.  My perception is his command of his team’s future took a hit, at the same time, Sunday by the Eagles, his grip will become more tenuous, as people start getting apprehensive.
This in turn gets us to the outcome of the game. Shanahan’s team cannot afford to get drilled at the hands of Philadephia; he knows this. His team will be in playoff mode; they shall be focused and ready to play. This will be a close game and it could go either way, but at least this week the fans won’t have to worry about the decision that brought Shanny here. And if I may borrow a stanza from Robert Service’s-- “The Men Who Don’t Fit In.” 
If they just went straight, they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they are always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say “if I could find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move,
Is only a fresh mistake.
Of course, keep in mind, the first scenario is not an impossibility!


Coffee's For Closers

Say what you want about whether Haynesworth has earned his paycheck so far this season, but, there’s a guy yesterday that will definitely need rear view mirrors to pick up his paycheck this week. The sad part is he never set foot on the field in St. Louis.  He was on the sidelines, monitoring the debacle. I’m hard pressed to believe that Mike Shanahan is not accountable for how the B and G played against St. Louis. When a team is dispirited and loses energy, particularly to a team, they were superior over, it reflects poorly on the person charged with their preparation.
As can happen, Washington started poorly, but from the outset I could see St. Louis was waiting for that moment of “here we go again”.  And, it happened right before the half with Washington blocking a field goal after St. Louis held the ball for seven minutes. So, how did Washington allow the Rams to overcome them in the second half without the Ram’s best player on the field? Washington was not properly prepared to play, and that job falls on the head guy.
I watched Coach Shanahan’s press conference immediately following the game; he seemed delusional. He referenced how his team fought back to take control of the game. No, St. Louis was a lame duck team waiting for its opponent to set the pecking order, instead the Rams dictated to Washington. He did not want to acknowledge the fact that his team played with no energy, when it counted, or that they lost focus in the crucial moments of the second half. Washington players seemed fatigued, both mentally and physically.
I don’t think the saga of Albert Haynesworth is all on Shanahan; I think there are external forces at work that Shanahan is powerless to control. But, this lingering malady has to have some affect on this team’s ability to prepare, if only in its collective subconscious. Shanahan should know better, and after this monumental loss now is the time to embrace Haynesworth or send him on his way.
The scary part of this is Shanahan appeared after the game to be someone that had had an omen, and this vision did not please him. It’s as if his last year in Denver was revisiting him, when the team collapsed and lost the last three games to finish 8-8. He seemed to be a man reconciling the truth that only he knew. That, as a coach, he might have lost it. 
They are only three games into the season, and in a weak division this year, but as this team corrects the mistakes of yesterday and looks forward to the Eagles, it’s not just the players that have to reenergize themselves. Now is when a coach earns his keep. Coach Shanahan has a vast field of opportunity in front of him. But, Coach; you know the rules, the Glengarry leads are only for closers.


"Yo Braylon, Been There; Done That"

It wasn’t so much the poor judgement Braylon Edwards demonstrated this week, when D’Brickishaw Ferguson, V. Gholston and he apparently  decided to drive under the influence of alcohol that made me wince. It was the reckless vanity. When I read the account of how his arrest went down, I was fixated with what most people would probably say was an insignificant fact, and that is above his Michigan license plate in two-inch chrome letters were his name and number.
That ‘look at me’ license plate is perplexing. Is he trying to make sure everyone on the road knows who’s inside, even law enforcement? And if they do, is he untouchable? Unfortunately it’s probably a trait that affects many more in professional sports than just Edwards. It feels pretentious. But maybe I’m jealous and projecting what’s really lurking deep inside me. I hope not. 
I was taught early in my career the power and burden of public awareness. In 1973 I grew the Mohawk haircut which could be construed as putting my name and number above my license plate. The truth was, I was rebelling against a perceived lifetime of restraint of self-expression, i.e. conformity.  But after a couple of back page photos of me in the New York Post and Daily News I was stupefied by the sudden rise in my recognizability. I had grown up in a town of 500 people or so, and not surprisingly everyone knew my name there. But, now I was in New York City, population 14 million, and it seemed many knew my name just like the people of Centralia, Kansas. 
This was a sobering moment for me (I appreciate the play on words here by the way), that made me realize notoriety wasn’t necessarily my friend.  Fame, like alcohol, intoxicates. And, again like alcohol is best, when used in moderate ways and for social purposes.
If Edwards has found contrition, we’ll see it immediately, by the way he comports himself  on and off the field. I know from my indiscretions, I felt intensely stupid and small, because we all think we’re better than that, and it stings when we find out we’re not. The same thing can be said for his two accomplices, because from my vantage point they are as guilty as he is, when it comes to poor judgement.  Even though Edwards was the wheel man, his teammates showed the same disregard for the public’s and their own safety and should share in the accountability.
It has occurred to me, drinking can be a team sport, as it may or may not have been in New York City early this past Tuesday morning. But at the very least, his teammates owed it to Edwards and themselves to not let him drive, and find another way home.
We’re all responsible for each other, when it comes to the insidious nature of driving under the influence, and we should start thinking of it that way.   Bar owners and bartenders are being held responsible, why shouldn’t passengers? It’s time to raise the ante.  To paraphrase a Willie Nelson lyric, “Braylon needs your prayers it’s true, but save a few for D’Brick and Vernon too, they only did what they had to do.” 


"Round and round and round they road ... Oh, what an episode!"

I’ll spotlight the Washington/ Houston game in just a second, but before I get to that let’s get an arial view of some other teams in the NFL. The season is still in it’s infancy, but there are teams that may be sinking and teams that may be rising, and if I may steal a lyric from the late Waylon Jennings, “I don’t think Hank done it that way”.
Minnesota, ah yes, Minnesota, now here’s where the jack-knifed semi is sprawled across all lanes on I-35 cutting the Twin Cities off from the rest of the NFL. And, of course the driver of that Viking’s semi was none other than Brett Favre aka Kid Shelleen, (the old fart gunslinger in the movie Cat Ballou). As he was being interrogated, he had blood shot eyes, and there was the strong odor of narcissism on his breath. They towed the truck to Chilly’s chop shop (the only place, where Chilly’s in charge), and he’s got all hands on deck, but it’s too early to tell how quick a turn around they can do.
Down in Dallas a lesson was learned the old fashioned way. Chicago came to play, and Dallas came to lay --- down on the job --- an egg ---- or out. They are disorganized at this juncture of the season, and they now have to go to Houston next week. Houston knows the same thing the Cowboys know: Houston is the better team. Dallas will need luck to win this game and if they don’t get it they will be 0-3 and in free-fall with a bye- week ahead. If I’m Wade Phillips as far as my office goes, I’d be getting all my personal items located.
Houston is a legitimate team; they were on the cusp last year, and were a legitimate turn-key team when this season started two weeks ago. Washington just does not have the ponies to play with the Texans; Houston has too much talent and fire power. Same can be said about Green Bay.  We all know Aaron Rodgers can play, but that defense looked dominate yesterday, albeit against the Bills. Got to mention the Jets. I thought they were a lovable bunch of blowhards with a Cowardly Lion for a quarterback --- not this week!
Alright let’s take a look at what happened yesterday at the Warehouse in Landover. I thought going into this game Houston would stomp a mud hole in the Burgundy and Gold’s derriere. Washington was on the Texans as a cat jumps a mouse, but they must have known early on; they were not engaged with a defenseless rodent.
The first half Washington played close to a flawless game, sans a running game. McNabb was getting the ball to receivers, that many times were running with no defenders close to them. He was getting no good protection and they were not making mistakes.
The defense sacked Schaub 5 times with numerous hits, but in the end they did not have any dominate defensive linemen. They are going to have trouble stopping the run and unless Hasslett continues to confuse the offenses with ingenuity, the pass rush will be spotty. The reason Houston did not run the ball more was not the dominance of Washington, but the circumstances of the game.
The Washington defense has some dominate players; the problem is they have few. Brian Orakpo, LaRon Landry, and London Fletcher are those players, and these guys are as good as anybody in the league at their respective positions. After that, Rocky McIntosh gets an honorable mention and then poof, it’s the end of the line. On offense it’s even more tenuous, who are the playmakers? Moss, Cooley, and McNabb are those guys, but in all fairness they are not among the league elite. 
The players did not choose this roster --- that distinction lies with Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan. Regardless of who’s on the roster or who’s not on the roster, it appears to me, Shanahan and his other mad scientists are working overtime in the laboratory to give Igor life.


Coachin' 'em Up -- Don't Horse 'em and Don't Force 'em

Game two in the NFL is upon us already, not to mention the Maryland deer bow season. As quickly as the everything seems to be moving, I think I’ll head to the garage and grab my snow shovel, by the time I get there and get outside; there’ll be something waiting for me. 
I haven’t checked the weather report, but I’ve got a hunch it’s going to be a fair weekend weather-wise. Therefore, I’ll have to figure out, what I will do tomorrow. As of now there are two options, take Badger (my Cesky Foucek dog) fishing on the Potomac (he doesn’t fish, but sure enjoys chasing the fish away for me) or take Badger out to a  local farm and let him hunt. Now he doesn’t know it, but I’d be surprised if we bumped into any upland or forest birds that would make the hair stand up on the back of his neck. 
I’d be so grateful if he pointed a covey of quail, locked up on a lone grouse or woodcock. Of course the season isn’t in and I couldn’t shoot anything, but he needs to get on with his hunting training after all that is what he was bred to do. Which, now that I think of it, makes me the coach. And unfortunately, this is not a kind happenstance for Badger, because he instinctively knows more about what we are trying to do than his coach.
But, as his coach, even though I may not be an expert, when it comes to training a bird dog, I shall always keep two things in mind. First, to make sure it’s what he wants to do, and, having been bred for hunting since the 13th century, I feel pretty confident; it’s what he wants to do. When he sees me put my boots on, he is almost uncontrollable, because he knows we’re heading into the timber. Second, I don’t ever want the sport to not be fun. If he’s had enough, it’s time to pack it up.
When we project our aspirations and dreams onto someone else, we rob that person of their life and their ability to choose for themselves the pursuits that interest them. And also, when we force anyone, who is learning something for the first time, to continue on task after they have lost interest or are exhausted, a negative experience will be what is gained.
There will be a lot of us doing some coaching this fall, so let’s all keep a couple things in mind, when our “rookies” struggle, let’s cut them some slack, and leave the fire and brimstone for the Baptist preachers. Yo, Badger “Tally Ho the fox”!