More Q&A With Washington Redskins Bloggers

Yesterday, I published a question and answer segment I did with Ryan Estorninos of Riggo’s Rag. I thought it might be interesting to have some other Redskins bloggers answer the same questions to get a better view into the mind of Redskin fans. Special thanks to Tom Threlkeld of DC Pro Sports Report, Kevin Ewoldt of Hogs Haven, and Anthony Brown of Redskins Hog Heaven for taking the time to answer my questions. There are some interesting answers in here, be sure to give it a read and check out each of their sites for more info on the Lions’ upcoming opponent.

Zac Snyder: What is your take on the Washington Redskins so far this season?

Tom Threlkeld: The Redskins are more competitive than most people thought they would be. They’re not a good team yet, but unlike last season, they are clearly not a bad team either. However, they are capable of looking very good or very bad during various times during games. The Redskins have more wins over teams with a winning record this season than any other team in the NFC. Therefore, they can beat good teams. On the other hand, the Redskins lost by two touchdowns to a Rams team the Lions obliterated. If you think you know what you’re going to get from the Redskins on Sunday you’re either a fool or a helluva lot smarter than I am.

Kevin Ewoldt: They are exceeding expectations. The Redskins were the laughing stock of the NFL last year for multiple reasons including breaking the Lions losing streak and the Swinging Gate debacle on primetime TV. We know from past experiences (Sprurrier, Cerrato) it takes more than 1 year to clean up a mess of a roster, but the Redskins are winning games. We’re cautiously optimistic.

Anthony Brown: FINALLY, Daniel Snyder has the front office set right with a competent general manager in Bruce Allen and a competent head coach in Mike Shanahan who has current football schemes and the leadership heft to lead the Redskins to the next level. Unlike Marty Schottenheimer, Shanahan shares power with a GM, although Allen says he will defer to Shanahan on any difference of opinion about talent. That’s not ideal. I would rather see the owner break any ties. But when that owner is Daniel Snyder, well, I like Shanny instead. Unlike Joe Gibbs, Shanahan was out of the game for a single season and remains a thought leader in 21st Century football.

Gibbs is revered around here. He left the team better than he found it. However, he left with the job incomplete. Without adult supervision, Snyder gave us Vinny Cerrato and Jim Zorn. Only Matt Millen kept Cerrato and the Redskins from being bigger laughing stocks than they became. Millen gave you guys Charles Rogers. Cerrato gave us Devin Thomas. I wince because I’m a Spartan grad.

Shanahan is stetting the table for a 10 win season next year.

ZS: Who is your offensive and defensive MVP so far?

TT: Offensive MVP would be WR Santana Moss. He’s second in the NFC in receiving yards and on pace for over 90 catches. He can go deep, doesn’t fear the middle of the field despite his size and is very tough to bring down in space. The offense has been extremely inconsistent this season, but Moss can be counted on to produce if the Redskins get him the ball.

Defensive MVP is probably SS Laron Landry, with CB DeAngelo Hall getting honorable mention. Landry is leading the NFL in tackles and he’s playing so much better at strong safety than at free safety that it almost seems like a different person on the field. He’s a ferocious hitter, terrific blitzer and the Lions must be aware of him at all times. Hall obviously had a huge game last Sunday and he’s scored two touchdowns this year, each providing the winning margin. Hall is a risk-taker and he can definitely get beaten. He plays up and down a lot. Landry is the more consistent player. Brian Orakpo has 7 sacks, 3rd in the NFL, and will be a handful for Jeff Backus. The Skins will move Orakpo around a lot, but Backus will probably see more of him than anyone else. Backus needs to get his arms into Orakpo and use his strength to control him. Otherwise Orakpo will race past him.

KE: Offense: Trent Williams. The loss of Chris Samuels was devastating, and we learned that the hard way with pressure coming in non-stop off the left side last year. Shanahan drafted Trent 4th overall this year and he has held his own this year. The DEs the LT has had to face so far this year: DeMarcus Ware, Mario Williams, Trent Cole, Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, and Chris Long. TOUGH test for a rookie…but he’s done good. We have our LT for the future barring injuries.

AB: I’m not ready to pick an offensive MVP yet. The focus is on Donovan McNabb. He’s still working on the playbook and has acknowledged as much. The team is banking on him to spark the offense. The players have more confidence in him than in Jason Campbell. Fans believe McNabb can pull out a win in a close game. When you compare McNabb’s stats to Campbell’s in 2009 you do not see a big difference.

DeAngelo Hall makes a lot of noise for the defense. Did you like what he did to Chicago? OLB Brian Orakpo is the more valuable contributor for his role in pass rushing. Maybe Jeff Backus can handle him one-on-one, but more than likely, the Lions will double team Orakpo, or just hold him and take the penalty. That’s where my friend Big Al Haynesworth may fit in.

Last season, the sight of Butterworth sprawled out on the floor of Ford Field disconcerted everybody and started the downward spiral that was 2009. This year, Haynesworth is buff. Jim Haslett may have relented some in Albert’s complaints. Haynesworth played more of a pass rusher role against the Bears. His impact was more obvious to fans. If he plays the role the coaches want for him, he will occupy two blockers to free up Orakpo.

However, you asked about MVP. On defense, that person is ILB London Fletcher-Baker who quarterbacks the D, has everyone in the right spot, who is a genuine leader and is tied with S LaRon Landry as the league’s third leading tackler. If Hall, or Haynesworth or Landry were lost to the defense for a week or two, the ‘Skins could survive. It would be catastrophic if Fletcher were lost.

ZS: What has it been like for Redskins fans to cheer on Donovan McNabb after so many years in Philadelphia? Any chance he becomes a scapegoat if the Redskins don’t make the playoffs?

TT: Washington fans have always had a lot of respect for Donovan McNabb because he’s beaten the Redskins so many times. Also, if Philadelphia sports fans don’t like him there must be a lot of good in him. The QB of the Eagles is not detested by Redskins fans the way the QB of the Dallas Cowboys is. Redskins fans tend to dislike Philadelphia fans more than the actual Philadelphia teams. McNabb has been welcomed with open arms by a grateful and long-suffering population of Redskins fans.

KE: When the deal went down there was a lot of anger, but when fans saw and heard the players reactions, we knew we won this trade. The guy is a born leaders and instantly makes everyone around him better. Even though his numbers are not great, he had huge plays to extend drives and he’s had to work with much less talent than anyone should (poor WRs, dropped balls, missed blocking assignments). The Redskins are still learning the scheme…but it’s exciting to watch.

AB: McNabb played for Philadelphia? I have no recollection of it. Now if we were speaking of Romo from Dallas….

Seriously, McNabb does what fans want most. He throws deep. Some of those throws connect for a big plays. Fans will be patient with McNabb as long as he does that and shows week-to-week improvement. The Redskins are not making the playoffs this year.

ZS: What concerns you about this Lions team?

TT: Detroit has an offense that can be quite potent. Obviously, Calvin Johnson is one of the best wideouts in the NFL and will probably be the best player on the field Sunday. Admitting my biases as a University of Maryland grad, I liked a lot of what Shaun Hill did for the Lions and I think that Matt Stafford is capable of putting up similar numbers. I also like Jahvid Best as a multi-purpose threat out of the backfield. Defensively, I like Ndamukong Suh and I know the Redskins offensive coaching staff has a ton of respect for him. I think Detroit will be a tough place to play, particularly if the Lions offense is moving the ball and gets some early scores to gin the crowd up.

KE: A lot. Their front 4 on defense is scary and our OLine except for Trent Williams is very shaky. Center Casey Rabach and Left Guard Kory Lichtensteiger have been getting manhandled by solid DTs. I expect them to lose vs Suh.

AB: Martin Mayhew concerns me. I’m a management guy who believes that sports teams are no different than any other organization with a professional, high-talent workforce. Good things happen when you combine good people with good management. Former Redskin (Super Bowl 26) Mayhew is a smart guy: Georgetown Law; Redskins front office intern; prestigious DC law firm Akin Gump, associate on the NFL management council. Mayhew has shown good management and a sense for picking good talent. If the dumbest thing the Fords did was hiring Matt Millen, the smartest thing they did was keeping Mayhew. In three years, you’ll compare this guy to Bill Polian (Colts) and Ozzie Newsome (Ravens). A competent team will take the field against the Redskins Sunday. That’s Mayhew’s doing.

ZS: Was losing to the Lions last year seen as an embarrassment and what impact will last year’s game have on Sunday’s game, if any?

TT: Yes, losing to the Lions was an embarrassment to the Redskins last year. The Lions had lost 19 straight games and no team wants to be the one to break a streak like that. Redskins players have spoken about their need to atone for that performance, but a lot of the newer players were not part of it. I think a much bigger concern, however, is that the Redskins are heading into a bye after the Lions game and teams traditionally play poorly the week before their bye. Must be like trying to study hard on the last day of school before summer vacation. Mike Shanahan is very concerned about that.

KE: Is this a real question? Ha. The Redskins have DOMINATED the Lions since the birth of Christ and being the storied franchise we were, it was a reality check. We were hopeful Zorn would work but we all knew after this DET game it was over. I wrote an article after that game to blow the roster up. It took until the end of the season but it did happen.

AB: How long was the unbroken Redskins winning streak over the Lions? I won’t look it up, but it dates to the 1970s (the ‘Skins are 27-11-0 all-time against the Lions). The loss did two things that were shocks the system. First, the sight of Albert Haynesworth gassed on the floor of the stadium was our first clue that the $100 million contract was a bad deal. Second, the loss itself exposed how bad a team the Redskins had become. It was beyond embarrassment. The Tea Party movement against Washington really started as outrage over the Redskins.

Worse, the loss triggered the most concrete example of executive incompetence in the face of crisis that can be found anywhere. Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato thought they could fix a talent problem by torpedoing the coach. Really? Hire Sherm Lewis as an offensive consultant to call the plays from Jim Zorn’s playbook. Really? I mean, really? Those guys pushed an eight-win team to a four win season.

Sherman Lewis is a Spartan hero. I resented what he was subjected to when he got here. Any grad business student in East Lansing or Ann Arbor would have shown more executive savvy than Snyderrato. But don’t get the impression that I am bitter.

ZS: What has been the biggest change in the team since Mike Shanahan took over as coach?

TT: The biggest change in the team since Mike Shanahan took over is that the team now has professional management. Shanahan isn’t without his faults, but he’s a highly-accomplished coach whom the players respect and admire. He talks, they listen. It’s a gigantic change from the days of the Dan Snyder/Vinny Cerrato regime and their emasculated puppet Jim Zorn. The team isn’t playing better because there was a big talent upgrade during the offseason. There was not. The team is playing better because they have a very good coaching staff and they are well-prepared on game day.

KE: Leadership and winning attitude. Players have spoken to me how simple Zorn’s scheme was and how it was doomed to fail. All the players know Shanahan is a winner, and his work ethic and the schemes he come up with continually blow them away (not tough to do in comparison to Zorn’s Crayola playbook), but even the veterans who were with Gibbs say as much.

AB: Mike Shanahan is here. He’s more professional, competent and disciplined in his approach. Even stars are expected to practice and no one is guaranteed a spot to play. Reputations carry less weight around here. That’s why Larry Johnson and Willie Parker are not on the roster. Haynesworth is still here because Shanahan and Allen would not accept less than full trade value. Yet we might not see Haynesworth play Sunday. Whoever takes the field Sunday–and Mike Shanahan won’t say who they are–will be the best set of players ready to win.

ZS: Albert Haynesworth played what many believe to be his best game as a Redskin last week. Was that a one time thing or has he actually changed his attitude and will be productive the rest of the season?

TT: Albert Haynesworth has played very well in the last two games he’s played, the wins over Philadelphia and Chicago. The Redskins are now using him properly, playing him only on passing downs and short yardage downs. This allows Haynesworth to “play forward” — aggressively — as he wants to do. By relieving him of the duty of playing typical run downs, something Haynesworth was failing at because he couldn’t be bothered to learn the defense, Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett has reduced Albert’s time on the field and increased his effectiveness. I don’t know if he’ll make as many plays every week as he did against Chicago, but he’ll probably play at a pretty high level in the 20-30 plays he gets per game.

KE: I get a lot wrong but I predicted this game and Haynesworth’s success. He matched up perfectly against the Bears D. They are a horrible OLine. The Right Guard, Edwin Williams, was a former Redskins UFA and Haynesworth had his way with him. Since the OLine was so inexperienced, they couldn’t run a no-huddle D, which is the key to making Al ineffective. It was perfect.

Albert likes sacks…that’s all her cares about. He got one last week, and he’ll be bringing it this week for sure.

AB: Papers here say that the coaches have given up on playing Haynesworth in their standard 3-4 packages and instead are letting him shoot the gap to pressure the quarterback or ball-carrier. He should do well in that scheme. How much the Redskins use that against the Lions depends on how it matches up against Mr. Stafford and company. Washington did not use that package against the Colts, so Haynesworth saw no action. I have no clue what will happen Sunday. The Lions coaches will have to prepare two game plans.

The genius of Mike Shanahan.

ZS: Final prediction?

TT: The Redskins will try to force the Lions to drive the length of the field to score. It’s a bend, but don’t break defense that gives up a lot of yards, but not many points. If the Lions can avoid negative plays, like penalties, dropped passes, sacks, etc., they should do well. If not, it’s very difficult to score touchdowns on Washington.

Also, the Redskins create a lot of turnovers, second in the NFL in turnover ratio this year. That’s a huge change from last season, when the Redskins were the worst in the NFL. This is largely because the Redskins hit very hard on defense and special teams. The Redskins cannot match the talent of most of the teams on their schedule this year so they’ve compensated by being more violent and physical. This doesn’t mean cheap shots — the Redskins haven’t been getting those penalties. It means playing to the whistle and hitting very, very hard as often as possible. Lions players on offense and special teams must protect the ball carefully or they will fumble away the game like previous Redskins opponents.

I haven’t done well predicting Redskins games this year. They’ve won the games I thought they would lose [apart from Chicago] and lost the games I thought they would win. That’s true of most Redskins analysts this year — our prognostication records are poor, largely because the offense is very inconsistent and unpredictable. So you should be pleased I’m taking the Redskins to win 20-16. I think they’ll make enough plays against a Lions defensive back seven I just don’t like very much.

KE: Redskins are not going into their BYE week lightly. Stafford will struggle his first game back…Redskins 24-14.

AB: The Football Outsiders DVOA for the Lions and Redskins are close to each other, with the Lions rated somewhat higher. Paul Bessire at PredictionMachine.com ran 50,000 simulations of the Lions-Redskins game with the Lions winning about 55 percent of the simulations. I think these teams are very even with a slight edge to the Lions at home. My homer pick is Washington by under 3. My Magic 8 Ball says “without a doubt” the Redskins win. My objective blogger sense says pick-’em.

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