So “Shanahan Football” didn’t look all that good this past Sunday night when the Washington Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys. What matters is that it was a win. Head coach Mike Shanahan was pleased with his team in its win over the Cowboys this past Sunday but hopes that his brand of football will produce more points.
What was needed in this game was: to establish a running game, to keep quarterback Donovan McNabb vertical with time to throw the football, to hold onto the ball, to force some turnovers and to get good field position from special teams. This would be Shanahan Football.
In his “Victory Monday” press conference yesterday afternoon, the head coach explained that there was a lot to be pleased with in he Dallas win but also a lot to improve upon. One of the more positive aspects of the team that Shanahan noticed was the focus and intensity.
“Well, number one, hopefully ‘Shanahan Football’ will be scoring a few more points,” Shanahan said. “On the serious side, I just liked the mindset of our team going in. They were ready to play, they knew they were playing an excellent football team, a team that is very talented, and they had to play hard for 60 minutes.”
To look at the statistics of the game without watching it would make it easy to think Shanahan Football wasn’t all that great. The Redskins ended the game with 250 offensive yards and no offensive touchdowns. The running game, which Shanahan is so well-known for producing, was less than brilliant in terms of production. Clinton Portis’ statistics were okay but not what would be desired week after week. He carried the ball 18 times for 63 yards and averaged 3.5-yards-per-carry. He did knock off a nice 18-yard run in the second half. Running back Larry Johnson had three attempts for nine yards, seven being his longest and a 3.0 yard-per-carry average. There were only three first downs gained by rushing and 89 net rushing yards.
But the team played hard and the Dallas Cowboys have a good defense. Shanahan was pleased with the effort from his number one running back. Clinton Portis is so much more than just a running back. There were plays where he put his shoulder into defenders and practically laid them on the ground with his pass protection blocking. His awareness in that phase of his game is amazing.
“I thought Clinton did a heck of a job,” Shanahan maintained. “I thought we got stronger as the game went on. I thought we were in pretty good shape. Most of the success in our running game was in our second half. I thought Clinton did a tremendous job blocking when we did throw the football. He was instrumental in some of the blitz pickups and keeping them from sacking the quarterback.”
Portis is the type of back who will get into a rhythm and just keep pounding the ball. Two yards here, four yards there… then a long run. This is the type of running game that will wear down a defense. This is Shanahan Football and the hope is that it will develop over the season.
“In the past, we’ve had some of our better running games in the second half because you do wear defenses down when you’re running sideline to sideline. Shanahan explained. ”I thought we were able to do that in the second half. The thing I was disappointed on was at third-and-two, we had a chance to put the game away but with two minutes left, we didn’t get that first down. We got a penalty then all of a sudden we’re third-and-seven going back and missing a third down there giving them a chance to get back into the football game.”
While the Shanahan Football: Offense should have produced more, McNabb was only sacked once – a huge endeavor with Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus across the field – and there were flashes of what could be throughout the game. McNabb hooked up with wide out Santana Moss for a couple of big plays although Moss ended up with only 77 yards. Tight end Chris Cooley was dependable as usual across the middle for six receptions and 80 yards. He was responsible for four of their 10 passing first downs. Wide out Anthony Armstrong caught one pass for 11 yards.
But the passing game is a big question mark right now and Shanahan Football will mean more than Moss and Cooley making big plays on the field. He also had Joey Galloway out on the field and needs to get Devin Thomas involved in more than just kick returning and get into the red zone when the team is down there.
“The thing I was hoping we’d do a better job of is scoring in the red zone,” the head coach said. “When you get your opportunities first and goal from the five-yard line against a team like that, you want to score. Another time we’re inside the 10 and we’re second-and-six inside the 10, and then all of a sudden come away with two drives and three points, you feel fortunate to win the game. I think our defense came up with a big turnover. We had a couple of field goals but beyond that, we kept them out of the end zone and that was the key to the game.”
Shanahan Football evidently also includes rotation in the offensive line. Last season, this was not a method of choice but due to injury and it wreaked havoc for the offense. O-lineman Stephon Heyer appeared in the huddle against Dallas at one point as did Kory Lichtensteiger, much to the surprise of McNabb. Shanahan made this switch for various reasons but McNabb, the consummate professional, just played the game.
“Yeah, I got a glimpse of that in the huddle,” McNabb admitted. “I saw some different faces.”
Apparently, this may be the modus operandi for at least the early part of the season. Right tackle Jammal Brown was on injured reserve last season with the Saints and being in football shape after the hip injury he suffered is a concern for the head coach.
In Jammal’s situation, I didn’t feel like Jammal was in a position to play a full game,” Shanahan said. “He just didn’t have enough reps throughout the preseason. I want to get him in better shape. Stephon has played well when he has played throughout the preseason. Stephon got a fair amount of reps during the game and I thought the plays he did play in, he played well. Jammal played 50 plays and I thought he did a good job considering he hasn’t played that many plays this preseason.”
Shanahan Football: Defense showed up Sunday night. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s ’3-4 hybrid’ scheme did not disappoint. He applied pressure all night on Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and kept him from getting into the rhythm that makes him so dangerous.
“Give them credit,” Romo said after the game. “That is a good… really, really good defense and football team. They were prepared. They did a lot of stuff that you can’t really prepare for since it was the first game. We made far too many mistakes and we weren’t able to overcome them.”
The defense did cause turnovers. Right before the half, cornerback DeAngelo Hall along with Lorenzo Alexander stripped the ball away from Dallas fullback Tashard Choice. While it was the only touchdown scored in the game, it was what was missing in a good defense last year and there were several games in 2009 that could have been won if the defense could have gotten their hands on the ball just the way Hall did Sunday night.
Safety LaRon Landry was all over the field and led the team with 17 tackles and 4 assists.
If Shanahan Football includes a defense that keeps a quarterback like Tony Romo scrambling the way they did Sunday night, who can complain?
The most disappointing aspect of the game Sunday night was the Shanahan Football: Special Teams. To see punter Josh Bidwell punt so well during training camp and in the preseason and then have so the problems he had against the Cowboys was a puzzler.
The punting in first half was respectable. Bidwell punted for 51, 48 and 50 yards. But in the second half he must have lost his focus or something because he ended up with punts of 27, 35 and 36 yards and a fumbled the snap for kicker Graham Gano in the third quarter. However, special teams coach Danny Smith is one of the best in the league and there’s no doubt that he will get things straightened out.
“Things like that happen,” Shanahan said about the punting. “You are going to have turnovers, you are going to have bad punts, but you got to find a way to step up and make some plays and gain good field position.
The Washington Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboy in their week one opener. If Shanahan Football is finding a way to beat the opposition regardless of how pretty it is, no fan can argue with it if in the end the team wins more than it loses. The players would likely agree as they are the ones that coined the phrase. The head coach doesn’t seem to mind.
“I think when you take a look at the end of the half, you take a look at the end of the game, when you take a look at [Brian Orakpo], you think, ‘I’ve got to rush a passer,’ and [get an] all out effort on the last play and you get a holding call. But without that type of effort and [that DeAngelo] Hall [showed] in the first half, that just was trying to strip the guy and [was] the different things we’ve practiced with. So, it showed me that guys were willing to play for 60 minutes. When you do that, it gives you a chance to win. It just shows you how important it is for guys to play 60 minutes when you take a look at the last play they had in the half and the last play of the game. That’s what separates teams.”