For the past 8 weeks the Washington Redskins have surprised opponents and fans alike, causing upsets against Philadelphia and Dallas in their home fields with projected loss and losing to St. Louis with a projected win (sort of like the Maryland Terps and their roller coaster of a season). But, this week the Redskins find themselves in a situation where they must once again prove their worth.
It wasn't enough to defeat Dallas in Texas, nor was it enough to beat the Eagles in Pennsylvania - NFL fans still carry with them a bit of skepticism about the merit of the Redskins. Gibbs second coaching stint did not produce the results many fans had been used to during his first tenure with the team and while the Redskins made it to playoffs more than they didn't their overall performance lacked the 'killer instinct' needed to lock in a win. They face a tough team with an equally strong ground game offensively and stronger defensively in FedEx field on Monday night. But, the Redskins have beaten teams who were stronger both offensively and defensively before, and fans are hopeful that this signals a start to a new Legacy era for the Redskins.
Redskins coach Jim Zorn has led his team to some impressive victories, if only by a margin, with his West Coast playbook. Jason Campbell and the rest of the Redskins have adapted to the plays well and Campbell more than any other Redskins player has grown very well into his position - taking sacs without dropping the ball or throwing the ball away to stop a loss in yards, completing passes both long and short, identifying his secondaries faster and connecting with them (he showed Dallas he was a very fast learner in this area), and... NO INTERCEPTIONS SO FAR THIS SEASON (something that has Campbell in the limelight right now), and for a side-arm quarterback from Auburn who as thought of as mediocre, he's done an amazing job this year.
The Redskins offense has developed with RB Clinton Portis (RB #26) as the center piece but Portis, followed by Ladell Betts (RB #46) Santana Moss (WR #89) and Antwaan Randle El (WR #82). Offensively Clinton Portis with a battered ankle and listed as 'probable', Santana Moss (who remains up in the air for Monday night), and Ladell Betts are listed in the Redskins injury report, while Shawn Springs(CB#24) is listed as 'out', LaRon Landry (S #30) as 'questionable', Jason Taylor (DE #55), Fred Smoot (CB #27), Rock Cartwright (RB #31), and as 'probable' from the Redskins defense. Despite some Redskins key players listed as probable, there exists the possibility for those injuries to resurface early in the game since both the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers are two of the most physical teams in the NFL. Fans may see some Gibbs style conservative playing from the Redskins in an effort to protect some of those injured players but without the 'pity for the other team upon the lead' that was rife in Gibbs recent conservative coaching. Perhaps Chris Cooley (TE #47) will see the action he's been looking for along with a traditionally hungrier but slightly weaker second and third string action offense.
Monday night's 'mirror match' will almost make or break the Redskins, leaving the the New York Giants the only consistent top team to beat in their schedule this year before playoffs.
The Redskins head into a 'bye' week after Monday's game before they take on their second meeting with a revenge seeking Dallas Cowboys who will see the return of Romo, on FedEx field. Historically, "The Rivalry" has taught Redskins fans and Cowboys fans alike that the visiting team usually wins. Washingtonians hope to see this 'fact' debunked to further merit the newfound praise the Redskins have been receiving and 'wild card' be stricken in a positive light from the vocabulary associated with the Redskins in the weeks to come.
All in all, the game should be just as entertaining and interesting as all of this years Redskins games, but realistically the Redskins must show up and return to the form used to topple Dallas and the Eagles is they hope to win against the AFC leaders this week. Players they need to watch for are Mewelde Moore and Hines Ward as both pose threats on par with Portis and Moss and Ben Roethlisberger is famous for his calculated patience in the pocket. Again, with Taylor out of the game this week, applying pressure to Roethlisberger, and Spring's common physical coverage removed - the Skins will have to pick up and hold on tight for what will prove which team in a balanced match-up is truly better.
My prediction is that the win will hinge on Shaun Suisham to provide those 3 extra points over the opponent to close the deal. marginal victory will be the outcome, but as both the NFL and NCAA season has shaped up, it's really an 'Any Given
Sunday Monday' situation. Then again, Mike Tomlin hasn't lost a Monday night game this year so far and the Redskins are 1-1 for nationally televised games (W Dallas - L Giants)
Last week the Terps secured a ranking, at least in the USA Today and AP polls, but have been neglected by the BCS. Perhaps this wouldn't be the case if they'd defeated Middle Tennessee and the failing Virginia Cavs like they should (and were well within the ability to do so). They've toppled ranked teams (and are 1 of 3 teams to break down 3 ranked teams this season as an unranked team) Cal (23), Wake Forest (21),and Clemson (20), with the win over Wake Forest a solid beat down. Thursday they face Virginia Tech coming off of a wet and narrow homecoming win over NC State.
Maryland, like the Redskins had let their guard down against Virgina and was shutout so they can let victories go to their head and roll back the needed determination when facing an allegedly weaker opponent. Virginia Tech is one such opponent. Maryland with their bowl eligibility can lose it just as fast come Thursday and Virginia teams have consistently given Terps head coach Ralph Friedgen a headache. Fans shoudl expect a close game as both teams battle over air superiority. Though, the Terps ground game shouldn't be overlooked so readily. Darius Hayward-Bey (WR #7) has shown time and time again that a ball in the hand is worth a first down and more, but Da'Rel Scott (RB #23) moves the ball just as quickly and efficiently on the ground. At the source however is the Terps Junior, Christ Turner (QB #10). Turner, like the Redskins Campbell has developed into a solid quarterback this year, making better decisions in and out of the pocket. Turner came to his position last year when Josh Portis (QB #12) was placed on academic suspension from the team, and while Portis makes a great back up and has been given some game time this year, Turner has turned out to be a better choice in the long run.
The somewhat splotchy record of the Terps (winning as underdogs and losing as favorites), have put them in a position very similar to the Redskins. In the past both teams have been mediocre compared to actual ability and riddled with inconsistency. This year the Terps have struggled with a bit of inconsistency but altogether earned every one of their victories (and losses). For them to be effective against the Hokies this Thursday they must pull together and take an early lead as they did against Cal, continue the fight as they did against Clemson and be collected and focused like they were against Wake Forest. Virginia Tech may have a worse record than the Terps, but they've had a slightly harder recent schedule, having just played two teams that look to give Maryland a run for their money if not leave them bankrupt altogether - Florida St (16) and Boston College (who will be set on revenge for last years ultra surprising upset late in the season). Add to this, the following match up of Terps vs. Tarheels (21) and the schedule for Maryland isn't getting easier, they have revocable bowl eligibility, and are on the cusp of their first BCS ranking in 2 or 3 years and Maryland really does have a lot to lose Thursday should they fail. The pressure could prove to be too much is they players enter the field with it on their mind, or it could charge them to unify and actually play Maryland football like in the Boomer Esiason days (though while I like Turner, he's nowhere mentionably close to Boomer in ability).
It's down the the NCAA wire and while there is no chance of Maryland being ranked above 21 this year, there is every opportunity to lose the hard work they've done to attain an honest shot as the ACC championship game (or title) or any ranking they may get from here on out.
Players the Terps are going to look towards for putting points on the board are the regulars - Hayward-Bey and Scott, but Danny Oquendo (WR #17) has been known to be open and able so he remains a strong second option as does Davin Meggett (RB #41) who took over for Scott after a shoulder injury that is going to keep him limited despite extra healing time this week. Of course, there is always a need for Obi Egekeze (K #39) for those 3 FG points to carry the score above the opponent in the remaining seconds of the game.
Players the Terps are going to need to look out for are...well... no one specifically. The Hokies have been whittled down to a meager second and weak third string line up and their special teams have been less than stellar (less than favorably mentioned to be honest), this season costing the Hokies a few games. Still, the Terps have underperformed against underdog teams and playing another game in that frame of mind can ultimately lead to 'another regular Terps season'.
Defensively the Terps really need to protect Turner as he's a mobile QB and as evidenced last week, failure to do so will put the Terps in the same rough spot they found themselves in last week in which it took several veteran players to finally realize what NC State was doing (running all over Turner prior to the game reversing sac giveng the Terps their winning drive). Overall the Terps have a dominant ground game (as seen against Clemson and Cal) and their air game isn't bad, but they really need to work on protection and filling gaps. If the Terps can win the next couple of games before the square off against Bobby Bowden and the Seminoles they really might just get to play for the ACC championship.
In the end the likely outcome will be a win for the Terps by a FG or an extra point. Much pressure lies on Egekeze, but he's done well with that so far this year. Fans shouldn't expect a Wake Forest style of win, but should expect that the Terps flounder in the first quarter, struggle in the second, and then show up and actually play in the third and final quarters of the game on an away field. That's just Maryland football, and in the end - it's all about the BCS rank and the "W" that gets them on the board.
UPDATE - Double damnit....