Wednesday, September 19, 2012

DC United roundup: Branko Boskovic's venting, Josh Wolff undergoes surgery ... - Washington Times (blog)

Seemingly releasing months of pent-up frustration Tuesday, D.C. United midfielder Branko Boskovic vented about the coaching staff's penchant for pulling him early in matches amid concerns about his fitness. In today's paper, my story dives into Boskovic's comments, coach Ben Olsen's response and what it means for the club down the stretch.

One element of Boskovic's situation I only briefly touched on in the story is his frustration coming in the wake of his decision to skip the Montenegro national team's World Cup qualifiers this fall so he can concentrate on United.

"I speak with my coach there and he told me the doors of the national team are always open for me," Boskovic said. "But really, after this [ACL] injury and everything, it's difficult to travel there and play. You can't be ready after traveling 15 hours, be ready to play after one day. ... You must sacrifice something and I decided to stay here to help as much as possible.

WOLFF UNDERGOES SURGERY

Forward and assistant coach Josh Wolff has undergone surgery to repair a lower back disc herniation. The time frame for his return is unknown.

The move is a minimal blow for United, as Wolff has made just nine appearances (one start) this season, notching a single assist. He had sat out United's past six games, and 11 of the past 13. With Lionard Pajoy, Maicon Santos, Hamdi Salihi and Long Tan all ahead of him on the forward depth chart, it was unlikely he was going to contribute again this year.

At 35 years old, Wolff now seems poised for a graceful transition into a full-time coaching role with United, although he has not yet made any announcement about his future.

DEFENSIVE RECOVERY

United's defense found itself scrambling late in Saturday's 2-1 win over the New England Revolution, leaving goalkeeper Bill Hamid to preserve the win with several standout saves.

So what did the back line take away from the experience?

"We just have to stay alert for 90 minutes," center back Brandon McDonald said after Tuesday's film session. "If you look at the last 10 minutes of that game, they were playing like a 1-1-8."

When United are holding onto leads late, it's hard not to remember last year, when the club had notable difficulty closing out games.

"Us as a whole, we'd be lying if we don't think about that toward the end of the games when it's close like that," McDonald said. "Because of last year, we're trying to get that burden off our name here at this club that we can't finish out games. As much as went on in that game, we still found a way to win. So I think it's a positive for us."

OLSEN'S OPTIONS

Here is my guess at the starting lineup Olsen will roll out for Thursday night's match at the Philadelphia Union (8 p.m., ESPN2):

Hamid; Russell, McDonald, Jakovic, Korb; Najar, Kitchen, Neal, DeLeon; Pontius, Pajoy

Olsen on Tuesday mentioned using different players on the road than at home. With a golden opportunity for three points at RFK Stadium looming Sunday against last-place Chivas USA, I think Olsen will go more conservative at PPL Park, replacing striker Maicon Santos with right back Robbie Russell in a move that pushes Andy Najar to midfield and Chris Pontius up top.

After scoring Saturday, the more defensive Lewis Neal could get the start against a scrappy Union team. Boskovic also was effective off the bench in United's last meeting with Philadelphia (the "Geiger show"), so Olsen may want to use him in a similar capacity Thursday.

Washington Redskins: The Biggest Early Season Storylines - Bleacher Report

The replacement officials looked unsure and overwhelmed in the Redskins-Rams matchup.
The replacement officials looked unsure and overwhelmed in the Redskins-Rams matchup.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

It was only a matter of time before the lockout started to affect the games. The atmosphere inside the Edward Jones Dome was so bad you could feel it through the television.

The players had no respect for the officials and you could see that the reaction from the fans started to make the officials doubt themselves.

The Rams looked determined to stretch the rulebook as far as it would go. Consistently laying on players after making tackles, pushing heads into the ground and taking shots after the whistle are all things that should be identified early and erased.

The officials have to make it clear to the players that these actions will not be tolerated. The helmet-to-helmet hit on Fred Davis after an incompletion was savage; if he hasn’t got a concussion he should consider himself very fortunate.

On a separate note, where is Davis? Does Griffin hate him or something? There were at least two or three occasions when Griffin ran the ball himself when he could’ve just given it to Davis and let him try to make the playâ€"and take the hits. Davis looked improved as a blocker, but not much else.

Every play seemed to end with both teams squaring up to each other, surrounded by officials who looked out of their depth and quite fearful.

It wasn’t all on the Rams, but their grievances should be with the bad decisions they received. Both teams received penalties for hits that were clearly in bounds and Steven Jackson should have had a touchdown.

The game just looked too fast for the referees to call, and too aggressive for them to control. The officials who are locked out make mistakes, sure, but they never look overwhelmed and intimidated to the point where they lose their grip on the game.

It’s time to end the lockout, for the sake of all teams. With all the claims to safety that Roger Goodell makes, they ring hollow when the people charged with protecting the players on the field aren’t up to the job.

You often hear words like “battle” and “war” thrown about by players to get them pumped up before a game. The fact remains, however, that the NFL is neither of those things. It’s controlled and regulated to ensure the maximum amount of safety for its participants.

Across the league this week, we’ve seen that the system isn't working.

Washington Redskins: Stats That Matter After Week 2 of the NFL Season - Bleacher Report

About 75 percent of people know that you can use stats to skew perspectives. The reality is that they rarely tell the whole story, but I also find that they almost always tell part of the story.

Let's attempt to complete the story by tossing out a few of the key stats regarding the Washington Redskins two weeks into the season.

23, 223

That's how many penalties and penalty yards have been dealt to the Redskins this season. Both numbers lead the league by fairly wide margins. Penalties have hurt the 'Skins equally on offense and defense.

Nflpen_original

That includes a slew of holdings, false starts and offsides, as well as a ridiculous five personal fouls. What's odd is that the 'Skins were actually one of the least penalized teams in the league last year, taking 91 in total. Two games into this season, they're already 25 percent of the way to that number.

Madieu Williams, DeJon Gomes, Kory Lichtensteiger and Trent Williams are the only Redskins who have been penalized twice, so it's not as though there's one position group or one or two players causing the brunt of the problems.

Something for the coaching staff to work on going forward.

4.9

That's how many yards per attempt the Redskins have surrendered on the ground two weeks into the season. A lot of that has to do with Rams' rookie seventh-round pick Daryl Richardson, who averaged 5.5 yards per rush in relief of Steven Jackson Sunday.

Will Josh Wilson make the Pro Bowl this season?

Will Josh Wilson make the Pro Bowl this season?

  • Yes

  • No

Only three teams have been worse against the run on a per-play basis, which is a little surprising when you consider how stellar this run D looked down the stretch last year. I know Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart tore them apart in Week 16, but Washington gave up 91 or fewer rushing yards in three of its last four games.

The good news is Perry Riley has continued to perform well as a run defender. The problem is that key cogs such as London Fletcher, Barry Cofield and Ryan Kerrigan have all received negative grades by Pro Football Focus thus far.

2

That's how many receptions top cornerback Josh Wilson has surrendered this season on eight targets. In other words, quarterbacks are avoiding him. And when they do throw his way, they're only completing 25 percent of those passes. 

Pffe_original

Wilson's coverage rating of 4.4 ranks second to only Patrick Peterson, per PFF. He and Chris Culliver are the only corners in football who have been on the field for more than 100 snaps and have given up fewer than three receptions. 

He's also only given up six yards after those catches, which trails only Chris Gamble and Nate Clements among corners who have played at least 100 snaps. 

Wilson might be on the verge of a Pro Bowl season.

5.7

That's Ryan Kerrigan's PFF pass-rush rating, which is tops in the NFL among 3-4 outside linebackers through two weeks. He also has nine hurries, a number that is 50 percent higher than the next-best guy on the list. 

The question, now, is whether the second-year linebacker's production will dip with Brian Orakpo out for the remainder of the year.

DC United Coach Ben Olsen responds to Branko Boskovic's comments about ... - Washington Post (blog)

After Branko Boskovic vented his frustration about being removed from Saturday’s match and his general playing time this season, Ben Olsen addressed the issue with several reporters after training Tuesday at RFK Stadium. Take it away, Benny.....

“The game needed a change. Lewis [Neal] came in and did a good job. I am very happy Branko is pissed off about it. I want guys pissed off if they are coming out of the game and they want to be in the game. This is a normal reaction. I was the same way” as a player. “Subbed is never fun.”

He has only played 90 minutes once.....

“You need to play 90 minutes consistently to get fit and he hasn’t been in the plans for 90 minutes. So he is not 90 minutes fit, in my mind.”

Has he voiced any frustration to you directly?

“No. He’s a pro. He’ll be fine. He’s pissed off he got subbed. I can sleep at night because I thought the game needed a sub and it ended up helping out.”

He seems to think his playing style makes it seem as though he is growing fatigued.....

“I am not going to get into a debate about whether he is fit or not. Yeah, he could continue playing the game out there. He’s not going to fall over, but I thought the game needed a different look. He wasn’t on his last leg. I’m sure he could’ve put another 30 minutes into the game. But that doesn’t mean the game doesn’t need something else, maybe a guy who is 100 percent. That’s my decision and that’s done. And we won the game, and he should be happy we won the game.”

He did say he was happy about the team winning.....

“Well, good. Unhappy that you got subbed? Great. Happy that we won the game? That’s all I want from my players. So if that’s the case he is in, beautiful.”

You said the other night he did some real magic out there but leaving him in there has a cost. What does that mean?

“When someone gets tired or is not 100 percent against a team who has a bunch of guys playing offense in the central midfield and is cheating by going into a three-back system, it’s hard to keep a guy who is maybe more of an offensive guy than a guy who is maybe a little more defensive. I think we’re blowing up the fitness issue a little bit too much rather than the type of player that game needed at that moment.”

He also wondered why it’s always him first to come out.....

“Because that’s the decision I make.”

Will you talk to him about it?

“No, it’s okay. I am not going to make this a big issue. I don’t have any ego with this stuff. He [complained about] me in the press? I don’t care. What do I care? I care about this team winning games and doing the right thing for this team. I realize [every week] I can’t please all of my players. That’s one of the first lessons I learned here. I think Branko has been great. His role on this team will continue to be a guy who can start in some games and come off the bench in others. That’s where I have him. He’s not going to be happy about it, but he’s a pro. He is going to continue to do his work, I’m sure of it. He will continue to be a big part of what we’re doing down the stretch....

“He played 56 minutes. He set up a goal and he had some pretty darn good free kicks, right? And I subbed him for a guy who helped out and I thought the game needed. What else is there to talk about? I don’t understand what [the media is] trying to stretch here.”

Because he he decided to talk about it.....

“That’s fine. I am fine with that. I don’t feel like having a debate about whether he is fit or not fit. He is unhappy with the sub? Fine. That’s normal. I like that. I was the same way. As long as he is for this group and continues to contribute to this group, what’s the issue?”

Over a stretch of games, is it difficult for him when he has to look over his shoulder at the sideline waiting for a sub?

“Probably.”

Is it sustainable for him to be a 60-minute player?

“Sure. I’m not saying that’s his role every game, but this happens. This is part of who we are as a group. We have some guys who can contribute off the bench and offer different things. We’ve got some guys I will use in away games that I wouldn’t use at home. This isn’t personal. It’s about making decisions I think are going to help this team win games. Branko has been a great soldier. I’m surprised it has taken him this long to say something, to be honest with you.”

Breaking Down the Washington Redskins' Week 2 Game Tape - Bleacher Report

Heading into St. Louis last Sunday, the Washington Redskins were considered favorites against a Rams team that didn't seem to have enough offensive fire-power to overcome a solid defensive front-seven and a decent pass-rush. 

The Rams would eventually go on to defeat the Redskins 31-28, proving to be the more resilient team and taking what the defense gave them. Taking all of what the Redskins defense gave them. 

The Good

With a little more than six minutes to go in the first half, the Redskins led the Rams 14-6. Robert Griffin III settles under center on first down at the Washington 32-yard line and goes to work. Increasing the lead before halftime would serve as a huge boost in momentum. 

In this play, Griffin performs double play-action that begins with a fake to running back Alfred Morris, and is immediately followed by a fake end-around to wide receiver Josh Morgan. 

Hankersonbegins_original_original

During his pre-snap read, Griffin recognizes the cushion coverage from rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins on Leonard Hankerson, who is split wide left. Although there isn't a lot of pressure on Griffin in his dropback, Morris does a good job of getting off the play-fake and picking up the linebacker coming off the right end. 

After the Rams safety bites extremely hard on Griffin's selling play-fake, the rookie quarterback sees that he has a streaking Hankerson at full-speed going against a rookie corner that got a late jump on his cover.

From there, it's easy. Griffin has time to set his feet and deliver one of those picture-perfect deep balls that we saw so often at Baylor, while Hankerson simply makes a bread basket catch to haul in his first NFL touchdown. 

The Bad

As a result of five blocked field goals last season and an unearned job for free agent kicker Billy Cundiff during the summer, there were a lot of eyes on the Redskins special teams. In addition, the team's punt blocking looked suspect in Week 1 against the Saints and the Redskins gave up a costly block in just their first week of the season. 

To say that two blocked punts in as many weeks is a nightmare would be an understatement. However, that's exactly what happened to special teams coach Danny Smith and his punt team last Sunday. 

Following the blocked punt from Week 1, head coach Mike Shanahan acknowledged it as a missed assignment by linebacker Chris Wilson. And after such an embarrassing call-out, you'd think missed assignments were a thing of the past. 

Apparently not. At least not for Perry Riley. 

Ramsblockpunt_original_original

It's clear from this shot that the Rams aren't bringing a heavy rush on the kick. In fact, they're not going for the block at all. There's six guys with their hands in the dirt, no disguised rushes, and eight Redskins blockers. 

The Redskins have no excuse, here. Perry Riley was simply eaten alive. 

The Ugly

Ask any Redskins fan what the most frustrating part of Sunday's game was and they'll tell you all about Washington's soft, delicate sort-of-zone-looking defense. Even after the Redskins were torched and sliced by Sam Bradford and Danny Amendola, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett didn't seem to give a damn. Corners didn't pressure, creative blitzes weren't called, and the Redskins defense didn't have much of an answer for the Rams.

In this play, Haslett's soft defense on the receivers actually works to benefit the Rams' rushing attack. Because of how deep the safeties are playing off the ball and how much of a cushion the top corner is giving his receiver, running back Steven Jackson simply has the task of running to space. The middle of the field is wide open. 

S

What sends this play and Jackson into orbit is the terrible angle by veteran linebacker London Fletcher. As Bradford takes his stance under center, Fletcher creeps from his ILB spot to the line and blitzes from the right side.

It appears, however, that Fletcher refused to fall for what he predicted was a play-fake and he took the best angle to sack Bradford. Suddenly, Fletcher is out of position, the right tackle and tight end seal the edge, and the flood gates open for Jackson to break a 20-yard run. 

There was nothing good about this defense all afternoon. 

Conclusion

When it comes to the offense, Redskins fans don't have much to complain about. Were there some drops and bonehead mistakes along the way? Sure. But the offense was the Redskins' strong suit last Sunday. 

Instead, the loss should be shouldered by the defense and special teams. Not necessarily the players on defense, but Jim Haslett and his overall gameplan. For nearly the entire game, the defense looked unprepared and out of position. And on special teams, players need to start backing up all this talk about how great of a coach Danny Smith is before it's too late. 

Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin in talks with Dynamo Moscow due to ... - bettor.com (blog)

Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin in talks with Dynamo Moscow due to expecting long Lockout -NHL Update

Alex Ovechkin just might be the next biggest player to be exiting the National Hockey League (NHL) to go play with a foreign league, due to what he expects is to be a long and harsh lockout year.

According to the Washington Capitals’ captain, the current lockout may very well last a full year after he seemed to be a little confused about the entire situation and is now on the way out of the country to continue playing hockey.

In regards to latest reports by the Washington Post, it seems like Ovechkin is in talks and close to sign with the Dynamo Moscow of the Russian, Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for at least the next regular season.

"If the league continues to insist on their [demands], then it will take a full year. That's because we are not going to cave in," Ovechkin said, according to usatoday.com. "Then I will spend the entire season in the KHL. It's an absolute reality."

While it may have not been announced officially yet, the player has assured the media that the next couple of days will bring out his final decision.

"I am not yet ready to answer this question," Ovechkin added. "But I think that you will know everything in a few days. It will all be officially announced."

At the moment, Alex Ovechkin is signed on with the Washington Capitals to a 13-year, $124 million contract which is set to last till the 2020-2021 NHL regular season comes to an end, but with there not being any collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the league and Players’ Association, it has all come to a halt.

This will definitely not be the first time Ovechkin has played with Dynamo Moscow, but was a part of the team for multiple seasons at a time prior to starting his career in the North American major league.

In 553 games played in the NHL, Alex Ovechkin has spent it all with the Washington Capitals and holds 679 points (339 goals, 340 assists), to definitely be one of the best in the league for sure without a question.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Washington Redskins: 3 Things the Redskins Must Do to Beat the Bengals - Bleacher Report

The Washington Redskins should be happy with their overall performance through two games, but there are many things that need to be improved.

A matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals is looming, and it's now or never if the burgundy and gold want to keep pace with the other teams in the NFC. Here are three things that the Redskins absolutely must do in order to come away with a victory.

1. Pressure Andy Dalton

It's no secret that the Redskins' pass defense has been an abomination through two weeks. An inspired performance against the Saints still yielded over 300 yards in the air, and the Rams simply looked unstoppable.

In addition, stalwarts Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker have been declared out for the year, further damaging a defense that had little talent to being with.

Every bad defense's worst nightmare is a dynamic receiver, and unfortunately for the Redskins, they will be squaring off against the ultra-talented A.J. Green.

Washington's secondary won't be able to stop Greenâ€"containing him is the only option. And the only way to contain him is to get pressure on Cincinnati's quarterback, Andy Dalton.

Of course, the injures to Orakpo and Carriker really threw a wrench in this strategy because now the Redskins have only Ryan Kerrigan to rely on in terms of true pass-rushing ability. That means that someone else (here's looking at you Rob Jackson) will have to step up.

Dalton showed last year that while he is a very good quarterback, he struggles mightily under a lot of pressure. If the Redskins can get into Cincinnati's backfield, they will have a chance to contain Green and the Bengals offense. If not, it could be a field day for the guys in orange.

Who will win the game between Washington and Cincinnati?

Who will win the game between Washington and Cincinnati?

  • Redskins

  • Bengals

2. Improve on special teams.

The Redskins have had two punts blocked in two weeks, each of which led directly to a touchdown. They managed to pull out a win despite the block against the Saints, but the block against St. Louis came at the most inopportune of times and gave the Rams new life when the Redskins should have had all the momentum.

First and foremost, Washington can't allow the Bengals to penetrate their protection unit when Sav Rocca lines up to punt. It's as simple as that. If there is a punt blocked for a third consecutive week, special teams coach Danny Smith is going to have to get back to the drawing board in a big way.

The Bengals up the ante even more when you throw Adam Jones into the mix. Despite his legal troubles, Jones has always been a great punt returner and he showed off his skills with a spectacular 81-yard touchdown on a return against Cleveland this weekend.

So not only must the Redskins prevent a block, they must keep the ball out of Jones' hands. Here's hoping that they're up to the task.

3. Give Alfred Morris the ball more often.

As great as Robert Griffin III has been, it's easy to forget that there's another pretty good rookie standing right behind him.

Hi-res-151641953_crop_exactChris Graythen/Getty Images

And that's exactly what Mike Shanahan did with Alfred Morris last week: he forgot about him. Morris ripped off a couple of 20-yard runs and was using his massive frame and significant power to simply bowl over Rams defenders, yet only had 16 carries in the game. This was despite the fact that he was averaging a superb 5.6 yards per carry.

The Redskins could have used Morris better in order to control the flow of the game and win the time of possession battle. But for whatever reason Shanahan decided that he wanted to air it out or run it with RGIII, and completely forgot about what Morris was doing to the Rams.

I'm not arguing that the Redskins need to run the ball more. I'm just saying that when a guy like Alfred Morris is having a great game, there's no reason not to run it more. It's simple strategy. If the other team isn't stopping your running back, you run the ball more.