If the Redskins 16-10 win over the New Orleans Saints is a look at the shape of things to come, there is a lot to like. In no particular order:
- Jason Campbell wasn’t perfect, but he was more than good enough. In front of a charged-up hostile crowd in a dome, he made no apparent mental mistakes. He did misfire on a few passes but none came close to winding up in the hands of a New Orleans defender. You just can’t throw a pass any better than the touchdown he threw to Santana Moss. Campbell rolled right and he launched the ball from about the 42. It traveled 50 yards right into the hands of Moss, who has split the two defenders.
- The offensive line played extremely well, especially considering that one of its starters was missing. Todd Wade filled in for Jon Jansen and the unit didn’t miss a beat. While the Saints rushing defense is not very strong, they do have a good pass rush. The Redskins blocked well enough for Ladell Betts to go over the 100-yard mark for the fourth straight week and well enough to keep Campbell upright almost the whole day. Casey Rabach finally is living up to his contract, Randy Thomas just might be the team’s best player, Derrick Dockery seems to play smarter and more refined every week and Chris Samuels likely will be the team’s Pro Bowl representative if they have one.
- The defense tackled. You’re not going to shut down opposing receivers all day long, especially with a quarterback like Drew Brees throwing to them. But you can make a solid tackle as soon as they catch the ball and minimize the gain. That’s what the Redskins did all day long. New Orleans’ yards after catch was negligible. The first man almost always brought Deuce McAllister down. And while the first defender there didn’t always bring Reggie Bush down, he was always knocked hard enough at first contact to allow the rest of the defense to swarm to him. The tackling ability turned around all of a sudden against the Panthers and it’s kept up.
- Specifically on defense, Carlos Rogers is getting his game together. Many of the long plays he was giving up earlier in the year did not come as a result of him being clearly beaten by the receiver. He often was close enough but for whatever reason he wouldn’t make a play on the ball. In the past few weeks he has been making the plays instead of being a spectator. While he’s not quite playing up to the level one would like to see from the ninth overall pick in the draft, he’s heading that that direction.
- And nobody’s calling Andre Carter a bust any more, either. Again, he isn’t quite living up to his contract but his picture no longer belongs on the side of a milk carton. On the third down play on the Saints’ final series he came from the other side of the line to make a stop on Bush for a loss. There hasn’t been any question about his motor; now, the effort is beginning to show some results.
- Shaun Suisham has made seven straight field goals. That’s not a Moseley-like streak by any means, but it is possible that the Redskins have a young leg that can stick around for a few years. Nobody will be completely sold until he makes a game-winner in December, but the early signs are good.
It all bodes well for 2007. Of course, we all thought that the way the team finished off 2005 was a sign of things to come this year, so we will have to wait and see.
Going for it
One other piece of business from the Saints game needs to be discussed. There is a chorus of criticism out there coming from the message boards and call-in shows about Joe Gibbs’ decision to kick a field goal on fourth and three with his team holding a three-point lead. They wanted Gibbs to go for it and make it a two score game. This complaining is coming despite the fact that the strategy worked and the Redskins won the game. They agree with Fox talking head Brian Baldinger, who said that Gibbs should go for it.
That is ridiculous. It was not only the right call to make, it was the only call to make. First of all, it was fourth and three, not fourth and two. The graphic on Fox said fourth and two but the line for the first down was at exactly the one and the ball was spotted at the four. The cameras were on Gibbs during the whole time in between plays so you couldn’t get a good view of where it was, but you can clearly see that the ball is being snapped from the four when they go to the shot of them lining up for the field goal attempt.
But whether it was two or three to go, or even if it was two feet, you have to take the points in that situation. You are on the road in a noisy dome. You have already experienced some problems with crowd noise. If you don’t make it the Saints need to get only a field goal to send it into overtime. It’s always easier to play defense when you know that the other team absolutely has to cross the goal line. Your defense has been playing well all day.
Given the same situation, an NFL coach will kick the field goal 99 times out of 100. It’s a no-brainer. On top of that, it worked. I’ve said that I would like to see Gibbs be a little more aggressive and go for it on occasion, but not on this occasion.