I hope everyone is having a good Thursday. This week, CSNWashington had the great idea of a little back and forth Q&A about the upcoming Redskins game. I spoke to Rich Tandler over at CSN and asked him some questions, to which the answers are below. My answers to his questions will be up on CSN soon, and I'll provide the link below when it goes up.
1. Looking just at paper, the Redskins have started the season pretty well with a win over preseason ‘SB favorite’ Dallas and a close 3 point OT loss to a good Houston team. How has Mike Shanahan whipped this team into shape and what’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed in the Skins’ play?
Off the field, there is a more professional atmosphere at Redskins Park. The inmates ran the asylum under Jim Zorn and ex-GM Vinny Cerrato. If a select group of favored players didn’t like what the coach said they could go over his head to Dan Snyder and have the owner settle the issue. Snyder’s open door has been slammed shut. Rule number one is that Shanahan is in charge. Rule number two is if there are any questions, see rule number one. This has led to a more disciplined, team-oriented group.
On the field, the team has a more aggressive mindset. After playing a vanilla 4-3 defense under defensive coordinator Greg Blache for the past couple of years, Jim Haslett’s blitzing 3-4 is fun to watch. The big difference offensively is the big play. Last year it took the Redskins until the 16th game of the season to pull off a pass play that traveled more than 51 yards. Against Houston they had two passes for 62 yards in the first half alone. Donovan McNabb, unlike Jason Campbell, will launch it deep.
2. The Rams defense looks improved, albeit inconsistent. Donovan McNabb is coming off a 400 yard game and the Rams defense is coming off a game where they made Raiders RB McFadden look like Chris Johnson. What is the key to the Redskins success on offense against the Rams?
Against the Texans the Redskins rushed for 19 yards on 18 carries. Shanahan’s zone blocking ground game has yet to develop and that hurt them as they were unable to take much time off the clock while Houston rallied from a 17-point deficit late in the third quarter. And getting a ground game going won’t be easy if left tackle Trent Williams, the team’s top draft pick and star in the making, isn’t able to go due to a bruised knee and sprained toe he suffered late in the game. But, going against the Rams, a team that doesn’t possess the offensive firepower that Houston has, McNabb’s arm might be enough to get the Redskins through on this one.
3. The Rams have had some glimpses of an actual offense attack, but it’s mostly been inconsistent. If the Rams should be looking out for one particular player on the Redskins defense, who do you think it will be and why?
Strong safety LaRon Landry leads the NFL in tackles and in "remember me" hits. As a rookie in 2007 he looked like he was on his way to stardom. Then in November they lost Sean Taylor and Landry was moved to free safety. That worked OK in the short term but eventually Landry’s aggressive instincts made him unsuitable to being the last line of defense. After two full seasons playing out of position, Landry has moved back to his natural position at strong and he is thriving. Landry makes plays on all three levels of the defense—pass pressure, run defense, and pass defense.
4. It’s been a few weeks, but let’s talk about the elephant (literally) in your locker room: Albert Haynesworth. Has he improved at all with the scheme since the season started and can he redeem himself, or is he destined for a reunion with the Titans by next year?
In Washington DC, there is no inefficient bureaucracy, no Bridge to Nowhere, that has been a greater waste of money than Haynesworth. Last year in the 4-3 he played fairly well and his presence helped the two ends, Brian Orakpo and Andre Carter, get 11 sacks apiece. With the switch to the 3-4, Haynesworth is a fish—or, actually, a whale—out of water. Haynesworth’s game is using his size and strength to crash into the backfield, wreaking havoc, and making plays. In this scheme, a defensive linemen, whether he is an end or the nose tackle, is supposed to control the line and eat up blockers so that the linebackers can make the plays.
Although he’s not a fit for the scheme, Shanahan is not going to give him away to the Titans or any other team. They cut him a check for $21 million in April and they’re not going to accept a mid-round pick for that investment. Right now there is an uneasy truce between Albert and Shanny but that could change at any time.
5. Speaking of Defensive Lineman, how does Adam Carriker look? If I’m not mistaken, he had a sack last week. I know there are a lot of people on TST that didn’t believe he could do that. Does he seem like a good pickup?
No, he hasn't been a good pickup - he's been a great pickup. In contrast to Haynesworth, Carriker is the ideal lineman for Haslett's scheme. He does the dirty work and is as solid fundamentally as they come. Certainly we have to be wary of his injury history, but so far, so good. (Note: Look for Carriker to have a chip on his shoulder on Sunday. Asked on Thursday if he felt he had anything to prove to the Rams, he said, "They traded me for donuts and a cup of coffee")
6. Will it feel deflating to lose to a 0-2 Rams team? I wouldn’t be a true Rams fan if I didn’t joke around a bit, but how shocked would you be if the Rams won this game?
While it would be surprising for the Redskins to lose, the disappointment of struggling against a Rams team that the Skins should handle would be familiar. In 2008, the 0-4 Rams came to FedEx Field under newly-named interim coach Jim Haslett and beat the 4-1 Redskins 19-17. That was the beginning of the end of the Jim Zorn era. Last year the end of the end of the Zorn era came when the Redskins were booed as they left the field after an ugly 9-7 win over St. Louis. Although Zorn did coach the remaining 14 games, he was a dead man walking from that point on. The bottom line is that at this point, after all of that, no loss would be truly shocking to Redskins fans, even though things seem to be headed in the right direction under Shanahan.
Hopefully it'll be a good enough game that both Redskins and Rams fans will enjoy it!
Thanks to CSNWashington and Rich Tandler for his time.