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!