NFC East: Greg Blache

Camp Confidential: Washington Redskins

August, 10, 2010
8/10/10
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 20

ASHBURN, Va. -- It’s 7:15 on a Friday evening at Redskins Park and coach Mike Shanahan has taken a short break from watching film of the morning's practice. The man who always appears to be five minutes removed from a tanning session is discussing a philosophy that’s served him well over the years, but came into question when he was fired in Denver after 14 seasons and two Super Bowl titles.

Now Shanahan and his hand-picked quarterback, Donovan McNabb, want to prove that both of their previous employers made a mistake. We’re talking about two of the most prideful men in the league, and in two separate conversations with the NFC East blog last Friday, they essentially said the same thing.

“Yeah, both of us are here to win a Super Bowl,” Shanahan said. “If you’re not in it to win a Super Bowl, then you need to find something else to do. I’m not ever going to comment on how things were done here before, but we had a philosophy that worked in Denver, and that’s what we’re going to follow.”

It’s worth noting that two years ago, players were hailing the unorthodox approach of Jim Zorn. He played music during practice and delivered lectures on designer jeans. He was sort of the lovable hippie -- right up until the team started losing. In ’09, the Redskins became the most dysfunctional organization in professional sports. Zorn couldn’t be shamed into resigning, so the Redskins simply stripped him of his dignity (and play-calling duties).

Dan Snyder hired Bruce Allen and Shanahan because he has lost so much credibility with Skins fans. Allen and Shanahan immediately began changing the culture at Redskins Park. This was a team crying out for some form of discipline, and Shanahan has delivered in spades. If a player doesn’t hustle between drills in practice, Shanahan will call their names after practice and tell them to run extra sprints. He also makes sure that every player keeps his shirttail in during those sessions. Shanahan can get away with this because of those two rings.

With one hire, the Redskins are once again relevant in the NFC East. Now, let’s take a closer look at their chances of making the playoffs:

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeDonovan McNabb
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesQuarterback Donovan McNabb is working on building a rapport with his new group of receivers.
1. Can Donovan McNabb elevate this pedestrian group of receivers to new heights? There’s a reason that Santana Moss seems to have a perpetual smile on his face these days. He didn’t even have time to complete routes last season because of the Redskins’ woeful offensive line. Now, coaches are showing him film of the Texans’ Andre Johnson and saying he could do similar things. McNabb invited Moss and the rest of the receivers to work out with him in Phoenix early last month, and you can already see the benefits on the playing field.

“I told them to bring their wives and girlfriends because I wanted it to be a family affair,” McNabb told me. “When you’re around the facility, you always feel like you’re being watched. I thought it was a great opportunity for us to bond away from everyone else and start developing some chemistry.”

But Moss is the only thing close to a sure thing. We're still waiting for former second-round draft picks Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly to show some consistency. For now, they're listed on Shanahan's depth chart as third-stringers. McNabb may have to rely on the 38-year-old Joey Galloway to play a significant role in the offense. The good news for Skins fans is that McNabb once took receivers such as Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston to NFC title games on a regular basis.

2. When will Albert Haynesworth crack the starting lineup? Shanahan bristled when I asked him if Haynesworth was causing a "circus," but the coach must realize that the defensive lineman has dominated the headlines. I think the players were watching closely to see how Shanahan dealt with the brooding star. Now that he's finally passed the infamous conditioning test, Haynesworth will work as a backup defensive tackle. He'll eventually start at right defensive end, but it's not going to happen overnight.

Haynesworth could be a huge part of Jim Haslett's defense if he buys into what the coach is doing. I am eager to see whether this knee issue goes away in the preseason. Haynesworth needs more game repetitions than usual because of all the time he missed. If the knee prevents him from getting on the field, it will become another distraction.

[+] EnlargeTrent Williams
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIRookie tackle Trent Williams has drawn rave reviews from coaches and teammates.
3. Have the Redskins solved their issues on the offensive line? I think a lot of this season hinges on whether three new additions to the line play well. Jammal Brown was a Pro Bowl player for the Saints at one point, but he hasn't played since '08. He'll have to knock off some rust while learning how to play right tackle. Rookie Trent Williams has a ton of ability, but he's working with a much thicker playbook now. There were questions about his work ethic at the University of Oklahoma. So far, he's said and done all the right things in Washington.

And we'll see how Artis Hicks performs at right guard. I always thought he was a better option than Mike Williams (out for the year), but this unit needs a lot of work in the preseason. McNabb will bring a lot to this team, but he can't win a lot of games if he's constantly on his back. Ask Jason Campbell about that.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

I was thoroughly impressed with free safety Kareem Moore. He was a sixth-round pick in '08 who didn't make much of an impact in his first two seasons. Now, it looks like he'll lock down a starting spot. He's had an excellent camp. He plays with a lot of confidence and he'll allow LaRon Landry to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

You knew that one of the veteran running backs would probably be out of the mix, but I didn't expect it to happen so early in the proceedings. Willie Parker is officially listed at the Skins' fourth-string running back. Hard to imagine him making the final roster unless there are injuries.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIAfter recording 581 yards last season, Larry Johnson is turning in a solid camp in Washington.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • I talked to one longtime Redskins observer who actually thinks Larry Johnson will have more carries than Clinton Portis this season. I don't see that happening unless Portis suffers an injury, but it's obvious that Johnson's in excellent shape. He's finishing off every run and he actually has shown a burst at times.
  • Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter have a nice little battle going on at left outside linebacker. Alexander has been running a lot with the first team, but Carter, 31, will get plenty of playing time. You knew Carter would have a little trouble in coverage, but he's actually been step for step with running backs on a couple of occasions.
  • Haslett is the best thing that could've happened to Carlos Rogers' career. The cornerback thought his career in Washington was over, but now Haslett believes he can turn him into an Antoine Winfield-type player. Haslett will take advantage of Rogers' size and he'll let him blitz more than in the past. (Adam Schefter has more on Haslett.)
  • Brian Orakpo told me after practice Friday that Haslett's playbook has at least 20 more blitzes than Greg Blache's old version. He said it was a little overwhelming at first, but now he's not thinking as much. Orakpo had a nice rookie season, but he's about to become a breakout star. It's pretty amazing to have this many elite pass-rushers in the same division.
  • Kedric Golston and Adam Carriker were running with the first-team defense Friday. It looked like the Redskins were working on their dime package, which features two down linemen. I think Haslett will be very creative with his fronts. He'll have some of the same concepts that we've seen from Dick LeBeau and the Steelers.
  • Cornerback Justin Tryon made a nice recovery on a fly pattern to Roydell Williams on Friday. But Tryon hasn't done a lot in this camp to move up the depth chart. I think he's behind Kevin Barnes and maybe even Ramzee Robinson at this point.
  • If you need a "Rudy" type of player to root for, let me point you in the direction of former Kansas State receiver Brandon Banks. At 5-foot-7, Banks isn't exactly a red zone target, but he's quick and appears to have good hands.
  • John Beck rolled right and fired a bullet to tight end Lee Vickers in team drills. Former TCU linebacker Robert Henson reacted with some loud expletives because he came close to breaking up the pass. Beck had too many balls batted down when he was with the Dolphins. His arm angle's been too low in the pros, so we'll see if Kyle Shanahan can fix that problem.

Dan Snyder's worst free-agent signing

June, 23, 2010
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Now that the signing of Albert Haynesworth has blown up in Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder's face, there's been some discussion about whether it was the owner's worst move in free agency. From my perspective, that's sort of a cheap second guess, although I support most cheap second guesses.

Were Snyder and the exiled Vinny Cerrato supposed to anticipate that Haynesworth would shut things down if they made a coaching change after the 2009 season? The thing folks have forgotten is that Haynesworth finished the season complaining about former defensive coordinator Greg Blache's 4-3 scheme. All this talk about him being upset about the scheme change under Jim Haslett seems rather hollow.

Haynesworth has come across as a brooding child who is now trying to force his way out of a situation he's never given a chance. Our friends at SportsNation asked readers to vote for the worst free-agent signings during the Snyder administration. Here are the results so far:

With 12,175 votes accounted for, 46 percent voted for Haynesworth. But I think those are "anger" votes. Jeff George is second with 27 percent of the vote and Adam Archuleta (15 percent) is attempting to hold off Deion Sanders (12 percent). So who would you guys select as the worst free-agent signing for Snyder?

If Haynesworth never steps on the field again for the Skins, he'll obviously move to the top. But based on the knowledge Snyder had at the time, that Archuleta signing was pretty ridiculous. Anxious to hear your thoughts.

Ex-Titans DC talks Haynesworth

February, 25, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- I just spent about 45 minutes visiting with 49ers coach Mike Singletary and Lions coach Jim Schwartz. You'll recall that Schwartz was the defensive coordinator with the Titans when Albert Haynesworth emerged as an All-Pro defensive tackle.

Haynesworth has flourished in a 4-3 scheme in the past, but pretty much everyone believes he'll be able to adjust to Jim Haslett's 3-4 scheme in Washington. But to be sure, Schwartz does think there will be an adjustment period.

Haynesworth
"There are a lot of different types of 3-4s," Schwartz told a group of reporters at the combine this morning. "[Haynesworth] has played over the nose [in Tennessee] and he's played head up on offensive tackles."

Schwartz then patiently explained the difference between 2-gap "guys' and "penetrating, attacking" players. He believes that Haynesworth has to be in a position where he's an "attacking player." And if you recall, that was part of Haynesworth's complaint about former Skins defensive coordinator Greg Blache. He didn't believe he was being turned loose to create havoc for opponents.

"I'm sure it will be an adjustment for him," Schwartz said of Haynesworth.

But the general thought is that Haynesworth is talented enough to succeed in any scheme. He might be more comfortable in a 4-3 scheme, but Haslett realizes that and will try to put him in winning situations.

OK, I'm off to visit with Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland about several topics.

Haslett should be a good fit with Redskins

January, 13, 2010
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With Mike Zimmer signing a three-year contract extension with the Bengals, the Redskins turned to former Saints head coach Jim Haslett to be their new defensive coordinator, according to an ESPN report. New head coach Mike Shanahan is putting together a dramatically different coaching staff than his predecessor Jim Zorn.


Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRENew Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett could transition the team to a 3-4 defense.
Haslett, a former NFL linebacker, has an outstanding reputation as a defensive coordinator in the league and you can guarantee that he'll field a more aggressive unit than Greg Blache featured the past two seasons. Redskins fans clung to stats that showed they were a top-10 defense on Blache's watch, but this unit didn't cause enough turnovers and never really took over games.

It's believed that Shanahan wants Haslett to run a 3-4 scheme, which would place more of a premium on the pass-rush in 2010. With the arrival of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in '09, the Redskins increased their sack totals and there's reason to believe that outside linebacker Brian Orakpo could flourish in a 3-4 defense. I think Haynesworth's talented enough to play either nose tackle or defensive end in a 3-4, but I'm not sure Andre Carter will make a smooth transition to being an outside linebacker.

As I've already stated, it will be tough for a smaller player such as London Fletcher to function in a 3-4 scheme because he'll have to fight off 330-pound guards on a regular basis. If the Skins are truly going to make this transition, you'll see them draft some completely different types of players than in the past. Zimmer transitioned into a 3-4 defense for Bill Parcells in Dallas, but he was more comfortable using a 4-3 scheme. I think Haslett's a little more open-minded when it comes to the two schemes, so you could see some type of hybrid used until the Skins have the right personnel to make a complete transition.

I think players such as LaRon Landry and Rocky McIntosh should be thrilled with the arrival of Haslett. He'll do a better job of putting them in positions to succeed. Landry too often goes for the big hit and he's been awful against the deep ball. I think Haslett will play Landry closer to the line of scrimmage and allow him to function more like a linebacker at times.

Haslett's agent, Peter Schaffer, spoke to the Washington Post on Tuesday evening: "It's a situation where I think that Jim and Mike Shanahan have developed both a great respect over many years, as well as a friendship," said Schaffer. "I think they have a lot of similar philosophies, and there's definitely been a lot of communication."

I'm not sure where the Redskins' defense will rank next season, but I'm pretty sure they'll play at a higher level.

Shanahan working on coaching staff

January, 11, 2010
1/11/10
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Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has given his temporary coaching staff off until Wednesday. He spent last Thursday interviewing members of Jim Zorn's staff and he plans to let them know quickly about their status. Of all the current assistants, I think that secondary coach Jerry Gray has the best chance of being retained. He's being considered to replace Greg Blache as defensive coordinator, a role that Gray once filled in Buffalo under Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey.

I spoke with quarterback Jason Campbell last night and he's looking forward to visiting with Shanahan. At this point, Campbell's used to learning a new system on an almost annual basis, but he's especially excited about Shanahan because of his reputation for being a quarterback guru. People from across the league have called Campbell to tell him how fortunate he is to have Shanahan taking over.

Campbell had just hung up with his former college teammate at Auburn, Karlos Dansby, who snatched a fumble out of the air and raced 17 yards to give the Cardinals a 51-45 win over the Packers in Sunday's wild-card playoff game. I'll be at Valley Ranch for a couple of hours. Let's meet back here this afternoon.

NFC East Team Wrap-ups

January, 6, 2010
1/06/10
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South
Clayton: Video | AFC grades ... NFC More: Fantasy MVPs | FB Outsiders | Awards

A team-by-team analysis of the division. The arrow indicates which direction each team is trending.

Dallas Cowboys

Final Power Ranking: 4

Biggest surprise: It was obviously wide receiver Miles Austin becoming one of the top wide receivers in the league. When Roy Williams missed the Kansas City game with a rib injury, Austin burst onto the scene with a 250-yard day. His confidence just grew from there, and now he's Tony Romo's most-potent weapon. One of the most remarkable stories we've seen in the league this season.

Biggest disappointment: Has to be Williams. The Cowboys gave up valuable draft picks (round Nos. 1, 3 and 6) and gave him a $45 million contract. At this point, it's hard to say whether Williams is even the third-best receiver on the team. Patrick Crayton has certainly been more productive, and a lot of folks believe Kevin Ogletree could accomplish more than Williams. Despite what he says, there's no way Romo can trust Williams at this point. Williams doesn't get many passes thrown his way, but he's still managed to drop at least 10.

Biggest need: The Cowboys are surging into the playoffs, so there aren't a lot of needs right now. I suppose you could get picky and say the team needs an upgrade from Ken Hamlin at safety. He hasn't lived up to his lucrative extension and he's someone who's capable of giving up a big play at any minute. But it's not like this team has a ton of needs right now -- especially since Doug Free filled in so admirably for an injured Marc Colombo.

Team MVP: Romo's been outstanding down the stretch, but I have to give the MVP to Austin. In a lot of ways, he saved the season.

Mosley's crystal ball: I think the Cowboys will finally break through Saturday night and win their first playoff game since '96. I don't have a real good feel for how they would perform on the road, but a deep playoff run wouldn't shock me at this point.


Philadelphia Eagles

Final Power Ranking: 7

Biggest surprise: DeSean Jackson has had an amazing season, but I don't think we're all that surprised after what he did as a rookie. You'd probably have to go with tight end Brent Celek, who belongs in the Pro Bowl with his eight touchdowns and 12-yard per catch average. He's brought a different dimension to the Eagles' offense, and could end up being for the Eagles what Jason Witten is for the Cowboys. That makes sense because Celek has patterned his game after Witten's since arriving in the league.

Biggest disappointment: Considering how much attention his signing received, I would list Michael Vick as a disappointment. I know he's receiving all sorts of courage awards, but let's not act like this experiment has been a huge success on the field. It was more of a sideshow that yielded a series of 3- and 4-yard carries and the occasional pass completion. Other than that, I think the injuries to Stewart Bradley and Shawn Andrews were certainly big disappointments. And you can throw Shawn's big brother Stacy into the disappointment file.

Biggest need: One of the reasons this team doesn't match up well with the Cowboys is that no one can cover Witten. Will Witherspoon and Jeremiah Trotter aren't the long-term solutions at linebacker. Getting back Bradley will help, but it's time to bring in more talent at the position, either via free agency or the draft.

Team MVP: It's obviously Jackson. He's emerged as one of the most-dangerous offensive players in the game. He's capable of scoring from anywhere on the field, and he's the most-exciting punt returner since Devin Hester was focusing on that area.

Mosley's crystal ball: I think this offense has become too reliant on the deep ball and the defense struggles against teams with potent weapons such as the Cowboys and Saints. The Eagles may come out with an inspired performance Saturday night, but I don't think it will be enough.


New York Giants

Final Power Ranking: 20

Biggest surprise: It's hard to find a lot of positives at this point, but Steve Smith emerging as a true No. 1 wide receiver has to rank near the top. He made big plays downfield and he continued to be a valuable third-down target for Eli Manning. Smith definitely deserved Pro Bowl consideration. When we look back at what went wrong, it will be difficult to point a finger at the wide receivers.

Biggest disappointment: It's obviously the defense. As Tom Coughlin said, this team lost its identity in the second half of the season. It couldn't stop the run, and the pass rush was almost non-existent. How can Pro Bowl players such as Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora suddenly go silent? It's a question this team has to answer in the offseason. Coughlin has already made one change by firing defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. That had to happen.

Biggest need: You better fix the situation at linebacker. Decide what you're going to do with veterans Antonio Pierce and Danny Clark, and then find a way to get younger and faster. Clint Sintim may be part of the equation, and young Jon Goff seemed to play well at times from the middle linebacker spot. Michael Boley had an up-and-down season because of injuries, but you have to figure out if he's the real deal. It's time to take a long look at this defense and then start making changes. You also need to find out why the running game regressed this season. If an injury to Brandon Jacobs slowed him down, bring in more reinforcements.

Team MVP: I'm having a difficult time with this pick. Let's allow Smith and Manning to share the trophy. I realize Manning had some less-than-stellar moments midway through the season, but he rallied and actually put up some pretty good numbers. You also have to admire that he never blamed any of his issues on what appeared to be a painful foot injury.

Mosley's crystal ball: General manager Jerry Reese and Coughlin need to solidify the offensive line. I think there are some tweaks that could allow the offensive line to become more effective. Take a long look at right tackle before you insert Kareem McKenzie back into the lineup. How did Will Beatty look at the position? I think the Giants will come back and be a factor in the NFC East race next season, but only time will tell.


Washington Redskins

Final Power Ranking: 29

Biggest surprise: I guess you'd have to say that Sherm Lewis going from calling bingo to calling plays for the Skins was a pretty major surprise. Dan Snyder didn't have the stomach to fire Jim Zorn when he stripped his play-calling duties in October because he didn't want to pay the man to sit around and do nothing. Thus began the slow march toward a 4-12 season.

Biggest disappointment: Based on the amount of guaranteed money he made ($41 million), I think Albert Haynesworth was a disappointment. He came across as a whiny brat as he took shots at defensive coordinator Greg Blache on Christmas. If you want to complain about a scheme, at least try to be on the field for the games. I'm not saying he was faking an ankle injury, but when you miss several games, I don't think it's wise to start going after the coaches. I know he has a lot of defenders out there, but the guy didn't impress me that much at all this season. I know what he's capable of doing because I watched him with the Titans. Haynesworth looked like a different guy to me. If you're an elite player, you should be able to flourish in any system.

Biggest need: Let's start with the offensive line. The Redskins tried 11 different linemen this season. Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan need to get to work on building a cohesive unit.

Team MVP: I think you can make a strong case for quarterback Jason Campbell, who decided at midseason to stop worrying about the offensive line and just focus on making plays. He had the best statistical season of his career, and I think Shanahan might be able to take him to a much higher level. I'd split the defensive MVP award between Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo. Some people want to give Haynesworth the credit for their success, but I saw them making plays when he was out of the lineup. Both of those guys are solid players.

Mosley's crystal ball: I think Allen and Shanahan will go down every path in order to improve the offensive line. It will be hard for Shanahan not to take a quarterback with that No. 4 overall draft pick, but he should take a long look at an offensive tackle at that spot. The Redskins have some premium picks in this draft, and it's the new regime's first chance to start putting its stamp on the organization. The free-agency crop should be pretty watered down because of the potential for an uncapped season. I wouldn't put too much stock in free agency.

The latest on Shanahan

January, 5, 2010
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We're still in a holding pattern for the announcement that Mike Shanahan is the head coach of the Redskins, but we all know it's coming. As we discussed yesterday, there's a good chance the organization could wait until Wednesday to hold the introductory news conference because Dan Snyder might want to honor offensive line coach Joe Bugel at some point today. The longtime assistant coach is expected to retire and defensive coordinator Greg Blache will likely follow the same path.

It will be interesting to find out Shanahan's exact job title. I fully expect him to be president and head coach, which would likely give him final say on personnel moves. Joe Gibbs is really the only coach who has enjoyed that much power during the Dan Snyder era, but Gibbs isn't quite as controlling as Shanahan.

Will he retain any of the current Redskins coaches? I'd be pretty surprised if Shanahan didn't make wholesale changes. We've already heard that his son, Kyle, will be his offensive coordinator and that Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will take on that same role with the Redskins. I know Zimmer pretty well and I've been told by people close to him that he's excited about joining Shanahan.

I'm headed out to the Cowboys' practice facility for the next couple hours, but I'll try to keep you posted on any developments at Redskins Park. For now, take a peek at this video that features Washington Post writers Mike Wise, Les Carpenter and Jason Reid. I thought they did a nice job of breaking everything down. And I particularly enjoyed watching Reid battle the elements in Ashburn, Va.

How I See It: NFC East Stock Watch

December, 29, 2009
12/29/09
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

1. Albert Haynesworth, Redskins defensive tackle: He picked an interesting time to take a few shots at the organization that guaranteed him $41 million. Haynesworth, who hasn't been able to stay on the field because of an ankle injury, was sent home Christmas Day for being 20 minutes late to a meeting at Redskins Park. He then fired a few shots at defensive coordinator Greg Blache's scheme via The Washington Post that evening. Let's use a little common sense, Albert. Every one of these coaches will likely be gone in a couple of weeks. Does it really do any good to throw them under the bus at this point? Haynesworth's reputation as an elite defensive tackle has exceeded his actual production on the field this season. But at least he talks a good game.

2. Giants' D-line: It's hard to single out someone since the entire group has struggled this season. But at some point you have to have some pride in stopping the run. Allowing Jonathan Stewart to go for 206 rushing yards in the final game at Giants Stadium is embarrassing. And go ahead and throw in the linebackers, too. They look slow at times, and when they're in position to make a play, they miss tackles. Bill Sheridan will probably lose his job as defensive coordinator, but I put more responsibility on the players.

3. Macho Harris, Eagles safety: I normally give rookies a little grace, but Harris has played enough this season to be held to a higher standard. His hit on a defenseless receiver after an Asante Samuel interception helped put the Eagles in poor field position. And after the Broncos had trimmed the Eagles' lead to 10 points, Harris fumbled a kickoff return to give Denver another quick score. If you're going to give Harris meaningful playing time in the playoffs, he has to use better judgment.

Rising

[+] EnlargeJay Ratliff
AP Photo/Rob CarrJay Ratliff recorded two sacks in Sunday's win at Washington.
1. Jay Ratliff, Cowboys defensive tackle: He absolutely took over the game Sunday. He finished with two sacks but he also stuffed the Redskins' running game. Center Casey Rabach and the Skins' guards had no chance against Ratliff's power and speed. It's hard to imagine that this guy was a seventh-round draft pick. He's now one of the best defensive players in the league. Also a special mention here for Tony Romo, who had a superb December. If Roy Williams makes a play on the ball, Romo would've made it through the month without a single interception.

2. Brent Celek, Eagles tight end: He's emerged as one of Donovan McNabb's most reliable weapons. When the Broncos sold out to stop DeSean Jackson, it was Celek who burned them in the first half. He finished with four catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. And his one-handed catch in the center of the field was brilliant. Tony Gonzalez will probably get the most Pro Bowl votes in the NFC, but I think Jason Witten and Celek are playing at the highest level right now. Jackson gets most of the attention, but Celek's put up huge numbers this season.

3. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles wide receiver: The Eagles needed someone to make a big-time play at the end of the game and Maclin was up to the task. His 27-yard catch on the sideline with 59 seconds left against the Broncos put the Eagles in position to win the game, 30-27. He's made the adjustment from the spread offense in college to the West Coast offense a lot sooner than some of us expected. The combination of Jackson, Maclin and Jason Avant at wide receiver gives the Eagles one of the best groups in the league.

Haynesworth blasts Skins' coaches

December, 26, 2009
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The Redskins continued their season of turmoil Friday when All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was sent home for being 20 minutes late to a team meeting. Haynesworth had been critical of the Redskins' defensive scheme and the overall leadership of the team following Monday night's blowout loss to the Giants. He was also fined $10,000 for an altercation with Giants running back Brandon Jacobs late in that game.

Albert Haynesworth
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesAlbert Haynesworth has grown frustrated with the Redskins' defensive scheme.
Reached at home by The Washington Post on Friday, Haynesworth took his criticism to another level. He insinuated that he couldn't continue to function in defensive coordinator Greg Blache's system.

"If they keep this system the way it is, then they would label Albert Haynesworth a bust who didn't live up to the contract," Haynesworth told the Post. "Everybody would say he just took the money and ran off. And I'm still playing as hard as I possibly can. But you can only do so much within the system that's put around you."

Even in some of my early conversations with Haynesworth during training camp, he admitted to having a difficult time adjusting to a new scheme. But even while the Redskins continued to lose in the first half of the season, Haynesworth was given credit for the increased sack totals of his teammates. Over the past month, Haynesworth has missed games because of an ankle injury and the defense was actually less effective Monday night upon his return to the lineup.

Haynesworth attributed his being sent home Friday to his comments following the Skins' loss to the Giants and said that other players had committed worse violations and remained at practice. His main message, though, was that Blache's scheme wasn't allowing him to be successful.

"They might have changed [the defense] a little bit [but] they don't let me rush," Haynesworth told the Post. "They call what Blache calls 'Hot,' a basic pass rush, maybe a few times a game. And half the time that's changed because of some formation. I disagree with their whole scheme."

The tricky thing here is that you have a lame-duck coaching staff led by Jim Zorn. Blache is likely going to retire at the end of the season. Zorn is powerless in this situation, just as he's been since his play-calling duties were stripped early in the season. New general manager Bruce Allen must step in and make a decision.

Does he want to see Haynesworth play in this scheme for two more games or would it be better to simply make him inactive and blame it on the ankle injury? I don't think you have a ton to gain either way, but my guess is that Haynesworth will be on the field against the Cowboys on Sunday night.

Haynesworth should realize that he's about to be playing for another regime. There's really no point in causing a huge stir when your team is sitting on a 4-10 record. The changes Haynesworth's obviously hoping for were put in motion months ago. There's nothing to accomplish by going after Zorn and Blache at this point -- other than causing further embarrassment to the franchise.

Skins' DC Blache sounds off on Pro Bowl

December, 15, 2009
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In case you haven't noticed, Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache petitioned the league to waive his responsibility to speak to the media this season for undisclosed reasons. Blache had only broken his silence once this season and that was to defend owner Dan Snyder after former running back John Riggins blasted him on a television show.

But on Monday, Blache agreed to visit with The Washington Post about his players' Pro Bowl chances. The voting for fans will end following Monday's Giants-Redskins game. Early results show the Redskins' defenders trailing in the polls -- and Blache had some thoughts on the matter. Here's what he said about linebacker London Fletcher not making the Pro Bowl during his 12-year career:

"The thing that hurts London is that he doesn't act like an idiot every time he makes a tackle," Blache said. "He doesn't bring that attention to himself. He's a football player, not a showman. He takes great pride in his football, and he has great respect for the game. He acts the way a professional is supposed to act, and consequently, it's cost him."

So using that theory, Fletcher hurt himself by never performing dances after tackles. That would've gotten old since Fletcher's the most prolific tackler of this decade in the NFL. As you know, I've taken up the Fletcher cause in the past. He's been remarkably steady with the Rams and Redskins, but he hasn't made the eye-popping plays that we've seen from players such as Carolina's Jon Beason and San Francisco's Patrick Willis this season.

"He is our coach on the field, as far as getting guys aligned, making checks, recognition, calling out offensive sets," Blache said of Fletcher. "The guy is smarter than a lot of assistant coaches that I've worked with."

Blache also took up the cause of defensive end Andre Carter, who is tied for fourth in the league with 11 sacks. Carter and Brian Orakpo have been excellent this season, and Orakpo has earned consideration for the defensive rookie of the year award. But at the end of the day, it's difficult for a 4-9 team to land players in the Pro Bowl. And there's also the perception that Carter's numbers are only up because of the arrival of Albert Haynesworth.

Speaking of Big Al, it's interesting that his name didn't come up in the Post story.

The Skins coach who got away

December, 4, 2009
12/04/09
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Of all the things that have gone wrong during the Dan Snyder administration in D.C., you'd have to think firing his excellent defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, is at least in the top 10 and could soon move into the top five. In one season, Williams has transformed the Saints' defense into one of the best units in the league.

Williams
Williams

Rick Maese of The Washington Post has a story today about the former Skins head coach-in-waiting. Williams' defense has forced 32 turnovers this season, including a staggering 22 interceptions. Every time you turn on "SportsCenter," Saints safety Darren Sharper is returning an interception for a touchdown. And here's what Sharper had to say about Williams:

"We always were known as a great offensive team and the defense is just adequate," Sharper told Maese. "We wanted to change that type of mentality, change that type of outlook on our defense. From day one, Gregg preached that to us, we're not going to be second-hand, play second-fiddle to anyone."

Redskins players are careful not to step on Jim Zorn's toes, but it's obvious that many of them thought Williams should have been the choice to replace Joe Gibbs.

"He's going to blitz and blitz and blitz even more," said Redskins defensive end Andre Carter. "Despite whatever the matchups may be. He expects everybody to get there and make plays."

Everyone at Redskins Park loves to throw out stats of how their defense is ranked in the top five, but it doesn't really matter. The Saints give up more yards than the Skins, but they cause far more turnovers. That's the mark of a Gregg Williams defense. And no matter how you slice it, Greg Blache's defenses haven't had nearly enough takeaways.

Who knows what Williams would've been like as a head coach for the Skins? But I'm pretty sure a lot of the team's fans would've enjoyed finding out.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 20, 2009
11/20/09
4:00
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11 in the Beast.

[+] EnlargeMiles Austin
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys hope Miles Austin can take advantage of Washington's aggressive secondary.
The Redskins have to do a better job against double moves. The Skins are coming off a nice win, but the secondary let Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall get deep on two touchdowns and he could have had another if not for a poorly thrown pass. Carlos Rogers, DeAngelo Hall and Fred Smoot are all aggressive players who sometimes get caught guessing on routes. The Cowboys have had success with Miles Austin on double routes and I would expect them to try to take advantage of the Redskins' aggressiveness. It also looks like Redskins safeties LaRon Landry and Reed Doughty have taken some poor angles to the ball on deep throws. The Cowboys have to be more balanced on offense this week, but they'll still take some shots downfield. Look for the Redskins to shade Landry in Austin's direction, which might open something up for Roy Williams on a vertical route.

Can the Giants fix their issues on defense? The good news is that this is the healthiest they've been all season. There's even a chance that cornerback Aaron Ross finally returns to the field. The Giants have paid dearly for not having sufficient depth at safety. If Ross could actually move over and help them at safety, there could be a huge payoff. I also think this could be a big game for former Falcons linebacker Michael Boley. The team pretty much gave up on the speedy linebacker. Now, he has a chance to make them pay. The Falcons lose an important player with running back Michael Turner out this week. Quarterback Matt Ryan will have to get the job done, and he's been very shaky in protecting the footbally lately. He managed games so well last season that it's hard to believe that he could throw so many interceptions. The Giants need to get in his face early and not allow him to find a rhythm.

I think the Eagles will be much better on defense this week. And I'm not just talking about the fact that they'll be staring across from the interception-machine known as Jay Cutler. It looks like Joe Mays will step in at middle linebacker, allowing Chris Gocong to return to the strong-side spot. With Will Witherspoon at the weak-side position, I think the Eagles will look like a more athletic team. Mays isn't a star or anything but he's capable of covering running backs and tight ends. If Sheldon Brown can play through a hamstring injury, I think the Eagles will be OK in the secondary. If Brown can't go, the Eagles are going to be hurting. Quintin Mikell and Asante Samuel are both strong players, but they wouldn't have much help with Brown on the sideline. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott desperately needs his front four to generate most of the pass-rush. You don't want to be bringing a lot of blitzes with the way this secondary looks right now.

Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett needs to re-discover the running game. Garrett said the game plan got "out of whack" last week against the Packers because of some down-and-distance situations. Some of that's true, but he could've done more to establish the running game. What's the point in spending a first-round pick on Felix Jones if you're going to give him three touches in a tight game? Jones is one of the most explosive players on the team and Garrett has to dial him up this week. Owner Jerry Jones pretty much said the same thing this week. He wants to see the other Jones get more opportunities, so hopefully that happens.

Watch this matchup between Cowboys right tackle Doug Free and Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo. I realize that Orakpo's a stand-up linebacker on first down but he'll see plenty of action at defensive end. He's a strong player who loves to use the bull-rush -- and I think that's Free's biggest deficiency. The former Northern Illinois player moves really well laterally and he's what scouts call a good "foot athlete," but he can get overpowered. Look for Skins defensive coordinator Greg Blache to try and get Orakpo in one-on-one situations with Free. The Cowboys will try to counter that by helping out Free with tight ends. If the Redskins pull off the upset, I think Orakpo will have had a monster game. Keep that in mind this Sunday. And have a tremendous football weekend.

John Riggins calls out Snyder, then Blache fires back

November, 5, 2009
11/05/09
6:55
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Former Redskins great John Riggins has never been one to hold back his opinions, but he took it to another level Wednesday while appearing on Showtime's "Inside the NFL." Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post has the full transcript right here. Riggins, who has been highly critical of Skins owner Dan Snyder over the past decade, got pretty personal with some of his comments.

"I am saying that I don't think that this franchise can be successful where you have people saying, 'Oh, this person Dan Snyder wants to win. He wants to win.' It's all about priorities. 'What's my priorities? The priority is it's all about me. I have to have my needs met, then I want to make money, and those are one and two, and then I want to win. You can see by the decisions that are made....I don't know if you have agreed with anything I am saying so far, but at this point, I would think you would say, 'Yeah, I'll go along with that.' This person knows nothing about football, absolutely nothing. I don't think they have a clue how a football team comes together, how it works. And yet they are the ones that are basically calling all the shots through a puppet, which is Vinny Cerrato. That is my take on it....I speak for the fans because these are the people that paid my salary for all these years. They are the ones that need to know that this is a bad guy."



Riggins called Snyder a "bad guy" a couple of times and then said the Skins owner had a "dark heart." You should check out the entire transcript because it's pretty wild. Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache has not been talking to the media this season, but Riggins' comments caused him to issue a statement defending Snyder. Here's a portion of what Blache had to say:

To hear such a vicious criticism of somebody I consider not just my employer, but a good friend, bothered me. And as much as I hadn't been talking to you, I felt like this is something I needed to do. Somebody needed to stand up and set this record straight. This person, the comment that was made, a 'dark heart,' that's totally, totally untrue. The problem is the fans don't get to know Mr. Snyder like we do, so they get an impression of things that are written and things people say. I'll tell you something from a person who's been here for six years who's gone to him for things that I've needed in my family, there's times that he's come to me when he's heard about issues in my family, and offered his assistance. It's unsurpassed. He's one of the most generous, kind individuals you'll ever meet. My wife and I are involved in hospice, and there's been countless times he's come and helped us with issues with hospice. So to see that and get the feeling that that's what everybody on the outside gets to hear about this person, I just felt like it was time for somebody to stand up and set the record straight. I decided that I was going to do it, I was going to do it today because it's enough. I mean, it really is. We've had criticism from other people outside the building, saying what Dan Snyder is and what he isn't. You don't know Dan Snyder, and that's the problem.



I've always been told that Snyder and Blache are close, so it's not that surprising that Blache rushed to the owner's defense. Did someone from the Redskins ask Blache to make a statement? My guess is that Blache heard what Riggins said and asked management if he could release a statement. Obviously the Redskins signed off on the statement or we wouldn't be reading it.

I mentioned this controversy earlier today, but I thought it probably deserved more attention.

Eagles-Redskins: An instant classic?

October, 27, 2009
10/27/09
5:10
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

WASHINGTON D.C. -- On my way out of town, here are a few observations from the Eagles' 27-17 win over the Redskins:
  • What does it say about the Eagles’ situation at middle linebacker than Will Witherspoon can show up on a Wednesday and end up with an interception return for a touchdown, a forced fumble, a sack and eight tackles? Well, maybe it just says that Witherspoon needed a fresh start. He was on fire against the Redskins and we should give defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and safety Quintin Mikell a lot of credit for simplifying things for Witherspoon leading up to the game. By the way, Witherspoon’s big night also says a lot about the Redskins’ ineptitude on offense.
  • Before I forget, Redskins defensive end Andre Carter deserves mention for his sack, forced fumble and six tackles. He bit on a fake handoff to Brian Westbrook early in the game that allowed DeSean Jackson to take an end-around for a 67-yard touchdown, but Carter bounced back and was the Redskins’ best defender the rest of the way.
  • I thought Albert Haynesworth actually played pretty well last night. He beat several double teams and he had a sack and four tackles. You have to feel for the Redskins’ defense. At times, Greg Blache’s unit looks pretty strong, but they have to stay on the field way too long and the offense puts them in awful situations.
  • Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell told me late last night that it was his right Achilles’ tendon that was injured early in the game. On several plays, he needed to take off running but the injury wouldn’t allow him to do so. He felt like he could've gained 30 yards scrambling on a play early in the second quarter when Will Witherspoon stripped him from behind. "I pulled up to try to throw it to Santana [Moss] because I couldn’t run,” Campbell said.
  • Chris Cooley’s broken ankle is another huge blow to the Redskins’ offense. Cooley is Campbell's safety blanket and he’s one of the few weapons on the team. This should provide a great opportunity for former second-round pick Fred Davis. On Monday, Davis finished with eight catches for 78 yards.

NFC East Underachiever: Albert Haynesworth

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
11:00
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Unfortunately, there are plenty of candidates in what was once (three weeks ago) regarded as the top division in the league. But Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth receives the dubious distinction based on the insane amount of money he's receiving. For $41 million guaranteed, I think you'd like to see him make more of a difference.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
The Redskins expected more from Albert Haynesworth when they signed him in the offseason.

I don't really care about his numbers -- 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks -- because his presence alone was supposed to strike fear in the hearts of offensive coordinators. So far, Haynesworth appears to wear down in the second half of games and he appears to have the injury bug. The guy has rarely made it through an entire season, but he was still an unbelievable player for the Titans.

I don't even notice him that much on the Redskins. Personnel czar Vinny Cerrato thought that Haynesworth would be a catalytic player on the defense, setting up Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo for sacks because of his ability to occupy blockers. I'm not ready to call the signing a bust, but he hasn't been nearly as effective in Greg Blache's defense as he was in Jim Schwartz's.

This is man who had a contract dangled in front of him when he lived in Nashville. Now Haynesworth has been paid in full. He's capable of disrupting an offense, but I'd like to see him force a fumble or blow up several plays. Right now, his most impressive stat is three pass deflections. It's impossible to defend his play right now. He's being paid like the best defender in the game, but I can name three Redskins players who are having better years than him.

Every team has an underachiever or two -- but Haynesworth is the poster child for underachieving this season. And I think he would admit that if you asked him.

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