Just what in the heck is going on around here? A Maryland NFL team breaks out the dollars for the start of free agency and it’s not the Washington Redskins? Nope, guess again. The Redskins I-95 north neighbor, the Baltimore Ravens, pulled off the headline move of the weekend when they snagged disgruntled Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin for a couple of mid-round draft picks and a handshake. The Ravens, never ones shy to make a move, don’t usually play the monopoly game of the NFL offseason but when they do take a gamble, it’s usually a big one.
From Shannon Sharpe to Willis McGahee to the late Steve McNair, Baltimore has shown it will spend, but wisely. It’s that same method that has allowed the Ravens to stay ultra-competitive amongst the Indianapolis’s, San Diegos, New Englands and Pittsburghs of the AFC.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has made some brilliant moves during his tenure with Baltimore and whenever he senses his team is a piece or two from seriously competing, he adds some more ice to his veins, twists his cap back and rolls the dice with no hesitation. The Ravens have been ousted in the playoffs the last two years by the eventual AFC Super Bowl representative. With a blossoming offense and still stingy enough defense, Newsome patched up the one sore spot he felt was holding his club back, the receiver position.
That’s Newsome for you. He builds his team from the draft up then patches his weak positions with proven veterans who can still bring it on gameday. The only thing that’s stood between Newsome and a few more Super Bowl titles was a problematic quarterback position the city of Baltimore believes he’s since rectified.
The likes of Boldin and the newly acquired Donte Stallworth may not be enough to get Baltimore back to the promise land, but it’s enough to put Joe Flacco and company back in the position of Super Bowl favorites again. Baltimore’s team building formula may not be ideal but it’s certainly one that Washington has to take a look at.
If they were to ever make a music video of NFL owners “making it rain” at a club, the guy in the tank top, khakis and cash falling out his pocket would be none other then Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Snyder’s ‘spend or die’ approach in recent seasons has netted him no trophies or titles just losing seasons, ridicule and mockery with critics and fans.
His $100 million pickup of Albert Haynesworth at the start of free agency last year was lauded more for the acquisition’s price tag than its judiciousness. Instead of bolstering an aging and depleted offensive line, Snyder added $100 million to a defense that finished 4th in the league the previous season. But that’s Snyder for you. It doesn’t matter what the team’s needs are, just reel in the best free agent on the market, make a PR splash and sell some tickets.
Operating at times with no blueprint or direction, Snyder’s hiring of head coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen may be arguably the best set of moves he’s ever made in his career as an owner. The team is now run by Allen and Shanahan and it’s showing already.
Washington didn’t ring the dinner bell when free agency started this year, they simply signed versatile offensive lineman Artis Hicks to a quiet three-year deal to man a line position on the right side. Washington’s interest in linemen Tony Pashos and Chad Clifton didn’t end in lucrative big dollar deals –both men signed with other teams– but it showed the Redskins are recommitted to building a winner with solid acquisitions at troubled positions instead of free wheel spending on flashy players.
It may be a different approach from what Redskin fans are used to but if Snyder and Washingtonians are looking for the formula of how to get back to being competitive, they don’t need to look far. A trip up I-95 is all that’s needed to show them how it’s done.
16-12 on the year but I feel good about this week though. This weeked isn’t as appetizing as the recent weeks have been but nevertheless; it’s still a good one. It’s rivalry week around the league with some old friends reacquainting themselves with one another. Rivalry games is what football is made out of and teams get to flex their muscle this week. Rivalry games are usually close so viewers should be treated to some competitive games. But of course, anything can happen but when it comes to what I think… here goes nothing.
Washington Redskins (3-6) vs. Dallas Cowboys (6-3)
Normally I don’t highlight games featuring a below .500 team but the Redskins/Cowboys rivalry is a game where you wipe the records off the plate. The Redskins have struggled all season but showed some signs of life last week in their 27-17 win over the Denver Broncos. Dallas was hot before last Sunday’s 17-7 loss at Green Bay but both teams will be refocused when they resume their long time rivalry this week.
Washington will enter the game with Ladell Betts starting over the injured Clinton Portis at running back. Betts led the team with 114 rushing yards last week and added a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. He gives the Redskins some fresh legs and returns the spunk the Washington running game. Betts’ performance will be critical against Dallas because Washington still hasn’t found a consistent passing attack. If Betts gets going, maligned quarterback Jason Campbell won’t be forced to carry the load which is a recipe for disaster for the Redskins.
Establishing Betts will be hard to do against the Cowboys however. Dallas hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season and will undoubtedly stack the line and dare Campbell to beat them. The Dallas defense has been playing extremely well over the last few weeks and will pose a major problem for Washington with their speed and quickness. Washington already doesn’t pass protect well and that’s exciting news for guys like DeMarcus Ware and Bradie James.
Tony Romo and the Dallas offense will try to bounce back from last week’s one touchdown performance and Washington could be the perfect opponent. In their last three games, Washington has allowed scores of 40, 75, 30, 58, 67 and 57 yards. For big-play specialists like Felix Jones and Miles Austin, a rebound could definitely be in the cards. Dallas is a team known for two things: big plays and pressuring the passer. In the last few weeks, Washington has been known for several things but mostly: allowing big plays and failing to protect the passer. Washington will be up for the game but with so many gaps in their play the last few weeks, Dallas will bounce back and chop down the Skins. Cowboys 27-17
Atlanta Falcons (5-4) vs. New York Giants (5-4)
The Giants’ backs are against the wall. They’ve lost four straight and Minnesota and New Orleans continue to pile up victories, making winning the NFC East or at least finishing strong a must if they want to get into the playoffs. Their bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. They had a week off to clear their heads and refocus on how they want to attack their remaining seven games.
They could start with the run game. New York has gotten away from their bread and butter this year and has let QB Eli Manning air it out. With Manning nursing a foot injury and a group of inconsistent wideouts, getting back to the ground would probably be best for all parties involved. The collapse of the once feared Giant defense has been the most troubling throughout their skid but they’ll get an Atlanta team coming to town that’s been struggling offensively as of late.
While the Falcons have been running the ball with some serious authority in the last few weeks, QB Matt Ryan has slumped considerably. Ryan has thrown three touchdowns and six interceptions in his last three games as Atlanta has dropped to 1-3 in its last four. While his running mate Michael Turner has been on a tear recently, he’ll miss Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle, putting even more pressure on the sophomore signal caller.
Atlanta will need to attack New York’s secondary if they want to win. New York has allowed eleven touchdown passes over the course of their four game losing streak. Without Turner though, Atlanta loses the threat of play-action and the Giants will be allowed to tee off on Ryan. Atlanta isn’t the strongest defense but they aren’t the worse. Against New York however, the Falcons will have to be prepared to stop the run because the Giants will be sure to reinforce the run coming off four consecutive losses and a bye. This is a game New York has to win and a team in desperation mode coming off a bye week shouldn’t be picked against. Giants 34-16
Indianapolis Colts (9-0) vs. Baltimore Ravens (5-4)
Bill Belichik personally let the Colts off the hook last week by going for it on fourth-and-2 within his own 30. New England was inches away from handing Indy their first loss of the season but Baltimore will try to be the first opponent to break the Colts’ 18-game regular season winning streak. Peyton Manning is having another MVP-type season and is carrying an offense with no running game. The Colts’ defense has been losing bodies but packaged together a nice game plan late in the game to overtake the Patriots last week.
Baltimore is entering a rough patch in their schedule. Over the next three weeks the Ravens will see Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Beating Indy would be a huge confidence booster for a team that’s somewhat unsure of themselves at this point. Baltimore’s 5-4 record has several around the league questioning if Baltimore is a serious contender this year but upending Manning would restore a lot of confidence.
The Ravens will have to turn the heat up on Manning to get him out of his comfort zone but that’s easier said than done. Baltimore loss premier pass rusher Terrell Suggs last Monday to an errant block from Cleveland QB Brady Quinn. With Haloti Ngata nursing an ankle injury and his status questionable, the Ravens could be without two key members from their front seven.
Baltimore’s best chance to win may come down to a shootout between Manning and sophomore QB Joe Flacco. The Ravens’ offense has been struggling recently, averaging 11.5 points per game in the last two weeks. The Colts’ secondary is depleted however, and behind the backing of a raucous crowd that despises everything associated with Indianapolis, the Baltimore offense could undergo a revival. But even if they do get into a shootout, Manning has the moxie and weapons to win that battle. Regardless of how depleted Indianapolis’ secondary is, Manning is going to keep them in the game and just like he’s shown all season, if you keep him around enough, he’ll get you in the end. Colts 28-24
San Diego Charges (6-3) vs. Denver Broncos (6-3)
San Diego has to be going into this game ready to punch Denver square in the mouth. The Broncos handed San Diego an embarrassing Monday night loss a few weeks ago when Eddie Royal returned two kicks in a 34-23 win that left the Chargers reeling at 2-3. San Diego has won four straight since then while the Broncos have lost three straight.
With both teams 6-3 the division is on the line. Denver’s QB Kyle Orton sustained an ankle injury last week against the Redskins and his status is up in the air for this week’s game. If Orton is unable to play, it would be a huge blow for Denver. His backup, Chris Simms, has proven that he’s no more than an adequate player in the league and he’ll struggle to match Chargers’ QB Philip Rivers throw for throw.
This game will be on the Broncos defense to win and if the last three weeks has been any indication, they’ll struggle to contain San Diego’s high-profile passing attack. Teams have averaged 28.3 points per game against Denver’s vaunted defense over the last few weeks and San Diego scores four touchdowns in a game on a bad day. Regardless if Orton plays or not, Denver’s offense is going to be hampered with either a healthy Simms or a hobbled Orton. The Broncos will have to hold San Diego below 20 points if they expect to win.
The winners of four straight, San Diego is on the up and up. Motivation from an earlier loss will be extra motivation for the Chargers, knowing the game is on the line. San Diego is catching the Broncos at the perfect time with Orton’s status questionable and their defense second guessing what they’re doing. Trying to contain the Chargers’ offense is close to impossible right now, especially with LaDainian Tomlinson starting to come on. Rivers and a running game is the recipe for the victory and San Diego will be ready to take advantage of now suspect Bronco team. Chargers 28-16
Late July, early August is typically the time when the cookouts start revving up and the back to school shopping gets started for the average citizen. For the average NFL player however, the time period is all about the job game: it’s either your job to win or your job to lose.
When training camp opens July 30 at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Virginia, the Washington Redskins could be considered fortunate to not be in dire need of a host of new starters. While the open positions are few, the importance of the spots up for grabs have the potential to define the season for last year’s last place finishers in the NFC East.
With spots open at right tackle, wide receiver and strong side linebacker, the Redskins already have some frontrunners listed at the top of the depth charts for those respected positions. But if a fresh face or two can step up to claim a starting title, Washington wouldn’t mind at all.
Stephon Heyer became the obvious choice for Jon Jansen’s replacement at right tackle when the long-time veteran was released in May. Although Heyer is expected to be the starter, the Redskins aren’t taking anything for granted, bringing in Mike Williams and Jeremy Bridges to push Heyer. All three options have severe questions with them, meaning that the Redskins are taking a big gamble on one of their most important positions in a run orientated offense.
Heyer is an undrafted experiment who desperately needs to improve his run blocking if the team expects Clinton Portis to have a semblance of a successful season. Starting 12 games over the last two seasons puts him as the favorite but that’s more by default than strong and encouraging play.
Williams hasn’t been in the league in three seasons and is only a few months removed from the 450 weight mark he was hovering around back in February. Down to a respectable (I guess) 381 pounds, the former No. 4 overall draft pick will have a long ways to go to even resemble the man he was before he stepped away from the league and even that former gentleman wasn’t all too impressive in his disappointing stint with the Buffalo Bills.
Ironically, Jeremy Bridges is probably the safest choice out of all three. The former Carolina Panther is a serviceable big body who can alternate between guard and tackle with 39 starts over the last six seasons. Of course there has to be a question mark surrounding Bridges and his two misdemeanor assault charges with one currently pending provide the answers to those question marks.
Bridges may have to fall out of the running for right tackle in order to compensate as interior depth thanks to starting guard Randy Thomas’ offseason arthroscopic knee surgery.
Although Thomas is expected to be ready to start the season, any mishap in his rehab would mean two new starters on the strong side of the Redskins offensive line. Should the replacements falter, the consequences could be too much for Washington to overcome on short notice.
Right tackle aside, the Redskins aren’t that far away from having a high-profile offense. With a top flight tight end in Chris Cooley, a top ten back in Portis, a serviceable offensive line, one of the better receivers in the league in Santana Moss, a strong armed signal caller in Jason Campbell and a supposed offensive guru calling the shots, the Redskins are a premier receiver away from being highly explosive.
Since signing a seven-year deal with the Redskins back in 2006, Antwaan Randle El has been everything the Redskins didn’t expect when they dangled a luxurious $31 million deal in front of the former Pittsburgh Steeler. With a dismal eight touchdowns in three seasons as a Redskin, the team is badly in need of an upgrade at his position.
Enter Last year’s second round draft picks Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. Both youngsters possess the size, hands and skill set to take Washington’s offense from mild-flavored to extra spicy. With game breaking athleticism and respectable speed, either of the two stand a good chance to win the starting job or significant playing time opposite Moss over the incumbent Randle El.
Selecting two potential number one receivers in the second round of 2007 provided Washington with room for error should one of their prospects not pan out. While either would probably need a monster training camp and preseason to overtake Randle El, a solid showing out of either or both should still be enough to guarantee more playing time in the 2009 season.
With Rocky McIntosh and London Fletcher-Baker firmly entrenched at the weakside and middle linebacker positions, Washington has two athletic and productive backers who can run the field and deliver a couple of crushing blows on demand.
Going into the offseason, Washington knew if they could find a third productive backer to line up beside the duo, it would essentially make the unit one of the strengths on the team, and so our story begins.
When the Washington Redskins stumbled upon Brian Orakpo still sitting in the Green Room at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City waiting to be drafted, they jumped on the chance to select the premier pass rusher they had long been lacking quicker than a New York minute with the 13th pick. Once they got the 6-3, 263-pound Orakpo back to D.C., they started tinkering with the idea of moving the college defensive end off the ground and in the air.
The idea wasn’t too foreign. A few scouts were predicting that Orakpo could make the transition to a pass rushing outside linebacker in a traditional 3-4 scheme. How successful Orakpo could be in a 4-3 alignment might be a different story however. Playing in space might not necessarily be the former Lombari Award winner’s strong suit, but Orakpo possesses the elite athleticism to pull off such a switch.
Which is why the Redskins were playing their top selection at the SAM linebacker position in OTAs, giving him a chance to get adjusted to his new home before the season kicks off. Orakpo is expected to remain in the role and move to his natural strongside defensive end position on third downs, where he can focus on attacking the passer as opposed to dropping back in coverage.
Should the move work, Orakpo will give Washington blue chip athleticism at two of their weaker areas on defense, should the move backfire, expect the team to limit Orakpo to mainly rushing the quarterback as a pass rush specialist.
No real camp battle here, the Redskins traditionally get their first-rounders on the field so the job is Orakpo’s to have, the only way he’s not the starter opening day would be due to injury.
Washington’s defense was already top notch last season, playing lights out football for a good portion of the year. That defense is expected to only improve with the acquisition of newly signed Albert Haynesworth and Orakpo.
If Washington really wants to make noise this season, it’s absolutely vital that someone step up and claim the right tackle position and at least one of last year’s draft prospects at wideout have a breakout year.
With the mega talent flowing heavily throughout the NFC East, the Redskins aren’t in the position to just have one of the two critical spots on offense produce.
It’s absolutely vital that a consistent second receiver emerges and the right side of the offensive line is solidified and ready to produce if Washington is to make any kind of noise in a strong division.