FFAs Game Notes: Titans (4 secrets)

Washington Commanders

I’m taking a different format for today’s Game Notes. The following are 4 “secrets”–things that I think will fly under the radar as other issues dominate the media this week. Secret 1: Mark Brunell is not the reason why we lost the past couple of games. No man is going to take more heat over the next week than Mark Brunell, and, while he was no all-star, he doesn’t deserve about 80% of the criticism that he’s about to get. Brunell started the season under fire because he couldn’t make anything happen. When he turned it on big-time against the Texans and the Jaguars, the big criticism was that he wasn’t throwing the ball down the field. The two theories on this were that he either lacked the arm strength to do it, or that plays were being called short so that it wouldn’t stretch him too much. It looks as though the latter was true, as Brunell has shown plenty of zip (and accuracy) on passes in the last few weeks. Now the criticism will be turned once again to a vague sense that he can’t get things done. Unfortunately for Brunell, this criticism is true. At his age he brings a lot of positives to the Washington Redskins, but it doesn’t seem apparent that he will ever be the kind of game-changer, playmaker that he was in years past. All of this is something that our coaches try to take into account, but with the rest of the offense not quite clicking yet–and with our defense really suffering–the heat will still be on Brunell. Secret 2: Our defense isn’t going to get better immediately with the full return of a healthy Shawn Springs. The Reason: Last week Skins fans were a bit frightened at our lack of ability to stop the run. After shutting down Fred Taylor completely and making the Jags a 1-dimensional team, Tiki Barber seemed to have little trouble stacking up 123 yards on us. This week it was even worse, as Travis Henry had a career day and rushed for 178 yards on 32 carries. In the Titans final 11 runs, when it counted most late in fourth quarter, they were able to get 4, 3, 9, 12, 3, 2, 14, 1, and 10 yards before the Skins shut them down to get the ball back–but it was too late. With about a minute on the clock and positioned on their own 16, Washington hoped for a miracle that rarely comes in the NFL. Shawn Springs may help a secondary (there are plenty of problems there, too, that make me think he won’t be an immediate fix), but unless the linemen and linebackers do something about the running game, Springs being in the game won’t help the run D one extra bit. Secret 3: Brunell’s biggest problem is not his decision making, his accuracy, or his arm strength–his most criticized “weaknesses.” The Reason: Brunell’s biggest problem is either (a) his downfield vision, or (b) a lack of open receivers, and there’s good reason to think that it isn’t (b). I’m not sure whether there is still an issue with learning the system or whether Brunell’s field-vision has simply declined the more he has aged, but there seem to be many plays where an open receiver goes unnoticed or the dump-off pass is made a half a second too early. Nevertheless, one of the most frustrating experiences for Skins fans, no doubt, is seeing Brunell drop back with plenty of time to throw. . .and he isn’t able to get the ball downfield. Our offensive line struggled early in the season but has played very well in the past few games. Portis’ ypa average is high, and Brunell has rarely been sacked, hurried, or even pressured. The receivers are big names and we have seen their quickness and ability to make things happen. All of our problems in the passing game nowadays seem to be that short moment when the QB needs to make a read and decide what to do with it. We’ve got the right players in place, the protection for Brunell is there, he has the arm strength, and we’ve all seen what these exciting receivers can do after the catch. What we’re missing is a good read by Brunell–or, still possible though not probable, our receivers simply aren’t getting open. Secret 4: The season isn’t over yet for the Washington Redskins. Don’t plan out a top ten pick in April’s draft yet. If the Skins can play so inspired that they win 6 in a row en route to the divisional playoffs, then you’d better believe they can climb out of a 2-4 hole to make something happen. We’ve got another game to prove ourselves and then a bye week to heal up and gather our bearings for the final 9 games of the season. Anything can happen….

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