Saturday, October 20, 2012

Do We Have A Problem Here?

Does this guy represent a legitimate concern?
So... the New York Giants. I can remember a time in the last decade when it seemed like we'd start every season with a game against them, and every season, they'd spank our asses and send us into the season with an opening day loss. It was always some kind of horrible omen for the rest of the year--even the year when Jim Zorn had just become our coach and we followed that game by winning 6 of our next 7 games, it turned to shit in the end. I always felt like the Giants were the hardest team in the NFC East to beat, and not just because they were the most likely to end up winning the division in any given year, either. With the Cowboys and the Eagles, there are decades of hot-blooded rivalry to call up, much psychology and spiritual mumbo-jumbo to tap into for inspiration and special quasi-supernatural on-field powers to embody our generally mediocre team with for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. The fans get riled up and holler for blood, and things happen, you know? That first Zorn year, we beat the Eagles twice. That was not really in the cards for that Redskins team, and yet it happened. And the situation with the Cowboys... well, we all know it's complicated, and considering we have the mother of all Cowboys matchups this year--a Thanksgiving day game in Texas Stadium--I'll have plenty of time to talk about it later.

But the Giants always felt to me like they could defeat any of our spiritual vibrations and cosmic psych-outs with the cold-eyed rationality of a team with a better on-field product. They felt like they refused to even play the game on our terms, as if walking into Jack Kent Cooke Stadium and falling under the spell of the spirit vibes swirling through the place was something they could just choose not to do. And then they'd spank us in front of our home crowd and make us all feel like idiots for even having gotten so psyched up in the first place. And in the Meadowlands? Forget it! I don't even feel like you could have a more intrinsically soulless sporting arena than one that is not only in the wrong state (yes, I know, the Redskins play in Maryland, but that's different. I'll tell you why it's different some other time. Now go help your mother with the dishes--the grownups are talking), but one that is shared with another team that plays the same sport in the same league. The Meadowlands doesn't even have its own franchise identity, and calling it "Giants Stadium" when the Giants play there and "The Meadowlands" when the Jets play there doesn't change that situation one iota. The Redskins have no spiritual powers in the Meadowlands, and neither do the Giants, but the Giants don't need it--they defeat us with math problems and an angry, rationality-based denial of the spiritual nature of football as a sport. For a team that once boasted Lawrence Taylor as their star and Bill Parcells as the sideline captain, the Giants have certainly undergone a significant change in their overall vibe since I returned to being a devoted football-watcher in the early 2000s. They've become the team of science-happy supervillains, or something like that. There's just no reaching them on the spiritual level, which is why games with them in recent years have always played out exactly as badly as they seemed like they should on paper.

So then, how do we explain last year? In a season where the Redskins only managed to win five games, how is it that their only two convincing wins came against the Giants, a team that would back into the playoffs with the minimum passable record, suddenly hit a hot streak, and go on to win the Super Bowl? I must admit that I don't have a concrete theory about that. In fact, I think it's going to take watching the Redskins play them this year to really even start to figure them out. The kind of Skins fans that comment on sports websites, and do other dumb internet-based stuff like that (as opposed to brilliant internet-based things like blogging for Armchair Linebacker), were doing a lot of gloating last year about how the Redskins had beaten the eventual Super Bowl champions, not once but twice. And I shouldn't even need to say this right now, but that was some stupid shit to be proud of. Even in the regular season, the Giants won four more games than we did, regardless of how they did against us. And the Redskins wouldn't have had a snowball's chance in hell against any of the teams that the Giants beat in the playoffs. The Giants were a better team last year, just like they always are. Sure, the case could be made that if the Redskins had played in their other 14 games last year the way they played against the Giants, we could very well have dominated the league. But why in the hell would we expect them to do that? Those games weren't predictive of our 2011 performance; I'd say the game against the Panthers was more accurate as far as the eventual template for that season went. But whatever; I don't want to talk about the 2011 season. At all. Ever again.

The only time Grossman actually looked good.

What I do want to talk about is that, though I haven't personally encountered it yet, I'm sure there's a significant portion of vocal Redskins fandom out there talking about how we've got this week in the bag because it's just the Giants and we beat them twice last year with Rex Grossman at QB! Yeah... not so fast, folks. For one thing, that kind of overconfidence has already worked out badly for us at least once this year--with the Rams game, which I was calling a trap game so often in the week leading up to it that I probably started sounding like Admiral Ackbar at some point. The Vikings game made me think the Redskins were pulling it together and starting to figure out how to work within their limitations and accentuate their strengths, but after all, it was just one week. Meanwhile, last week, the Giants delivered a sound beating to the 49ers, who should by all rights be one of the best teams in the league right now. Of course, the Giants beat them in the playoffs last year too, which didn't seem like it should have happened either. This brings me back to my earlier point that I have no idea what's going on with the Giants at this point. Eli Manning has seemed over the past couple of years like a better quarterback than ever before, like he's finally reaching the level that Peyton has played at for a long time now. The Giants running game is always a bit spotty, with no clear-cut #1 back, but they still put up some yardage on the ground week in and week out, and both their offensive and defensive lines are obviously skilled. And yet they don't seem to play in as dominant a fashion as they did a few years ago when Eli wasn't as good and their running game didn't do as well. It's a mystery to me, and what it means for the Redskins is equally mysterious. After all, the Giants' only two losses thus far have come in their only two divisional games. So what does that mean?

All I feel like I can say for sure about this upcoming game is that the Redskins should not get too confident. The win against the Vikings was nice, but it's in the past. Things are still wrong with the team, and considering how Eli Manning has been playing lately, he's in a prime position to exploit the secondary, which might very well be our biggest problem right now. This game could be a real struggle, and the only way we'll probably come out on the winning side of it is if RG3 and our offense can hang in there with the shootout that I expect Eli and the Giants offense will give us. Ultimately, we'll probably blow it if for no other reason than the fact that if we can win, we'll be leading the NFC East, and I can't imagine that happening at any point over the course of this year. But then again, I don't feel any more confidence in that statement than I do in much of anything else I've written in this post. Sorry guys, half a dozen posts in and I've defaulted to wishy-washy indecisiveness. I would think the game tomorrow will shake me out of these doldrums, but right now I've just got no idea. Guess we'll see.

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