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Sept. 14, 2006

The greatest show on paper, but not turf

by Andrew Kung, Online Sports Editor and Copy Editor
If championships were awarded for off-season speculation, the Washington Redskins would have already won the Lombardi trophy. Sadly, what happens between the months of February and September has once more proved to be meaningless, as the revamped Redskins fell to the Minnesota Vikings 19-16 on Monday Night Football.

An umpteenth off-season filled with lavish signings and hopes of a deep run into the playoffs has consumed fans with dreams of a confetti ceremony and a certain Mr. Snyder in tears, kissing a sterling silver football. After seven months of optimism and light, the season begins, and if the first game is any indication, the outlook is far from bright for the Washington Redskins.

This past off-season once again yielded marquee personnel acquisitions, this time in wide receivers Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El, brought in to ease the pressure off of aging quarterback Mark Brunell and draw coverage off of last year's star receiver Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley. On national television against the Vikings, Randle El had a mere 34 yards while Lloyd was held without a single catch, quite a return on their multi-million dollar off-season investments. Now the front office may start to see why no other team was willing to spend $27 million on a Randle El, whose only real value may lie in his trick play potential. It was also not a good sign that the 49ers, one of the worst teams in football and desperate for talent and targets for young quarterback Alex Smith, were so willing to ship off Lloyd. Sadly, dubious signings in the off-season is nothing new for this franchise (see Steve Spurrier, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Laveranues Coles). The Redskins have yet to prove that they can match a successful off-season with a corresponding regular season effort.

Perhaps the biggest off-season move was the addition of offensive coordinator Al Saunders, the mastermind that produced a bona fide offensive juggernaut in Kansas City. Since the NFL has yet to instate a coaching staff salary cap, Dan Snyder dished out a Steinbrenner-esque salary of $2 million-plus a year for the guru's services. With veteran quarterback Mark Brunell in tow as well as considerable talent at the skill positions, Saunders looked poised to work his magic in the nation's capital and live up to his offensive genius moniker.

Monday night's showing was far from genius though, as the offense looked confused and ineffective, producing a meek 163 passing yards and a soft 103 rushing yards. It is obvious so far that Brunell has not been able to execute in the system as Trent Green did and the offensive line lacks Kansas City's collection of Pro Bowlers. During a miserable preseason in which the offense could be considered "vanilla" at best, Saunders claimed to have only utilized two percent of his hefty playbook, choosing instead to save his trickery for the regular season. If Monday night was the offense in full throttle, a long season is in store as an NFC East packed with top-notch defenses look to feast on the ineptitude.

The defense offered little reason for optimism either Monday night, as 38 year-old Brad Johnson was able to pick apart Gregg Williams' schemes time and again, completing an ungodly 10 for 15 passes on third down. The defense created zero turnovers and produced just one sack against an overpowering Vikings offensive line. Key acquisitions Andre Carter and Adam Archuleta contributed nothing more than a handful of routine plays, not the continuous pass rush and interceptions they were given big paychecks for.

The defense did look sharp on a few series, forcing four straight Minnesota punts on four consecutive series during one point in the first half. Nevertheless, the unit failed to produce when the chips were down, giving up yards and points in crunch time.

Although the Vikings were aided late in the game by boneheaded penalties from enigmatic safety Sean Taylor including a face mask on the game-winning drive, no excuses can be made for their porous play down the stretch. If it weren't for a couple lucky drops on the part of Minnesota's receivers, this game could have gotten even uglier. The Vikings have a solid offense, but such a lackluster performance from what was supposed to be one of the NFL's top defensive units is unacceptable. The seemingly leaky unit must step up if they hope to maintain respectability.

Despite such Monday night misery, there were bright spots for Washington. Clinton Portis, in his first action since separating his shoulder in the preseason, had a solid effort, leading the Redskins in rushing yards and adding a gutsy touchdown run. Despite his nagging injury, Portis was able to step up and produce, showing needed leadership on a team lacking intensity. The defense held Minnesota running back Chester Taylor to a miniscule 2.8 yards per carry and managed to stop a botched extra-point attempt from becoming a two-point conversion. Brunell produced a fairly error-free game with zero picks and zero sacks.

Granted, this was just one game, the first of the season at that. With an impressive showing against the rival Dallas Cowboys next week, all this cynicism will be for naught and the Washington bandwagon will resume rolling. Still, one can't help but to worry about the Redskins' prospects. Week one's showing left many a reason to do so.



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  • Tom Cruise on September 16, 2006 at 9:03 AM
    What about me? I'm important to this team too
  • Rex jarrett (View Email) on September 16, 2006 at 11:28 AM
    aight they lost but this ariticle is 2 one sided it just one game da skins still got it. AND JUS LIKE LAST SEASON WHEN DA START RUNNIN DA BOARD YALL GONNA JUMP RIGHT BACK ON THE BANDWAGON
  • bethany cady (View Email) on September 16, 2006 at 5:19 PM
    This is only one game, and not to mention the new aquisitions are at new, learning the defense and offense. With that being said, also they are components to an enitre team, not just one side, and everyone new or old needs to do thier part. People need to chill and wait. thank you
  • mark on September 20, 2006 at 9:02 PM
    al saunders is a tool. say what you want about brunell but the real fault lies with saunders and the skins o-line. al saunders is the "genius" calling the plays and the offensive line are the ones letting brunell get sacked. so far, saunders has done nothing but call bad plays for us and the o-lineman haven't layed a good block yet.
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