Saturday, December 19, 2009
Redskins-Giants game has whole new feel
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
Redskins coach Jim Zorn, left, has remained gracious despite the changes Daniel Snyder has made.
Surely Redskins owner Dan Snyder wouldn't make a stunning move on the Thursday before the Giants come to FedEx to provide "Monday Night Football" with a compelling storyline. Oh wait, you think he would?
It's pretty obvious that Snyder didn't simply wake up Thursday morning and decide to can his longtime pal Vinny Cerrato. But the timing of Cerrato's "resignation" followed closely by the hiring of Bruce Allen as general manager certainly gives Monday's game a little more pop.
Hard as it is to believe, the Giants (7-6) still have a decent shot at a wild-card playoff spot and several Redskins players now have a three-week audition to try to grab Allen's attention before he overhauls this roster. Make no mistake, that's what it will take to make the Redskins competitive again. Cerrato made the humorous statement a few weeks ago that he handed coach Jim Zorn the keys to a playoff team this season, but we all know that's not true.
Even before season-ending injuries to starting offensive linemen Randy Thomas and Chris Samuels, this wasn't a roster that was built to compete for an NFC East title. It was dotted with big names, some of whom (Santana Moss, Clinton Portis) appear to be on the downside of their careers. Some Redskins fans had given up on the Snyder-Cerrato partnership ever ending. But behind closed doors, the seemingly happy relationship had cooled. Yes, they still made the rounds on the field before games, but Cerrato finally started to lose Snyder's ear.
Now, a new era begins in Washington with a general manager tied to the Redskins' past. Allen's father, George, coached the Redskins from 1971-77 and was one of the most beloved figures in the history of the franchise. But Bruce has forged his own reputation during stops in Oakland and Tampa Bay. His love of the franchise is a quaint sidebar but it doesn't shed any light on whether or not he'll succeed with the Redskins. The only way this works is if Snyder actually sticks to the business side and allows Allen and whichever head coach (possibly Mike Shanahan) to take care of the football operation. Like his mentor and friend, Jerry Jones, Snyder is enamored with the splashy move. He doesn't sweat the small stuff, such as drafting and developing players along the offensive and defensive lines.
Why make a commitment via the draft when you can set the market in free agency? If this latest plan is to work, the organization needs to move past the embarrassing pre-draft trips during which Snyder lands in a college town for one last look at the hottest prospect. For all his business acumen, you still get the feeling that Snyder is playing dress-up when it comes to football decisions. Maybe Snyder is doing what Jones did in 2003 when he hired Bill Parcells to coach his team and make most of the personnel decisions. That move didn't pay off with a playoff win but Parcells rebuilt the team and put it in position to win 13 games in 2007.
I don't know how closely Allen has watched the Redskins this season but my guess is that he has had an eye on them for the past few weeks. He's publicly said that he plans to evaluate Zorn over the final three games, but we all know the score. Zorn was effectively fired the day his play-calling duties were stripped by Cerrato, but the Skins weren't able to coax him into quitting, which would have saved them some cash. In what has been an embarrassing situation all the way around, Zorn has somehow managed to remain gracious -- and his team keeps showing up and competing against superior opponents. He was asked Friday about reports that the Redskins are already in talks with Shanahan to replace him as head coach.
"I'm not aware of that, and I wouldn't even try to go there," said Zorn. "Because I'm not looking towards what is going to happen this offseason or next season yet. We're right in the middle of it. For us, I'm kind of excited about where we're heading."
The Redskins are likely headed for an offseason of upheaval, but first, they get a crack at the Giants, a team that has owned them lately. I think this will be the most competitive game between the two teams since the 2007 season, in part, because the Redskins excel in an area where the Giants have been awful. The Giants actually have a decent overall defense but they're one of the worst units in the league in the red zone.
And with the rise of second-year tight end Fred Davis, the Redskins are actually solid in that area. Since Chris Cooley suffered a season-ending injury against the Eagles on Oct. 26, Davis has five touchdowns in seven games. He's a big target for Campbell and he's elusive enough to catch the ball inside the 10 and then find the end zone.
On offense, the Giants have immense respect for Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Left guard Rich Seubert actually had a nice game against Haynesworth in the season-opener but Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride is not taking any chances.
"The guy is a freak of nature," Gilbride told reporters Thursday. "He is a huge man who has some explosiveness to him. We tried to slide and help. We tried to keep a guy inside or a guy outside and help. More often than not, he was on his own and Richie just hung in there. The guy is incredible. He plays with such heart and determination. It really is inspiring to watch him. I don’t know how he does it with some of the injuries he is battling through, but he does."
The Giants obviously have something on the line in this game. And with recent developments in Washington, there's also a renewed sense of urgency from the Redskins. On Thursday, this became a much more attractive matchup.