To get ready for Sunday's game I exchanged questions with Rich Tandler, who is the Redskins correspondent for CSN Washington. My answers to his questions can be found here, and his answers to my questions are below.
1. I was a big fan of Washington's move to acquire Donovan McNabb in the offseason. How long did it take for 'Skins fans to forget that he played in Philadelphia for so long, and how has McNabb played so far as Washington's starting quarterback?
Some fans still have difficulty rooting for him but they are in the minority. The way players come and go in Washington, most fans realize that they are rooting for the laundry. There is no questioning his leadership and he has a presence that no quarterback -- no player for that matter -- has displayed in a long time. On the field, he has been inconsistent. McNabb has great touch and accuracy on his deep passes and when he gets hot he can shred a defense. The problem is, he hasn't been hot consistently enough. He has completed just 57 percent of his passes and his QB rating is a mediocre 76 and dropping over the past few games.
After 11 years in the same offense McNabb is navigating a learning curve and there is confidence that the issues will get ironed out. Even given McNabb's struggles there is no question that the Redskins are getting better play at the quarterback position than they have for quite some time.
2. Mike Shanahan's return to the NFL by taking the Washington job caught the attention of a lot of people. For quite a while the Redskins didn't seem to have a guy like Shanahan around to take control, but already his work seems to be paying off. How excited were Redskins fans when Shanahan got the job, and is he living up to their expectations?
There was excitement when Shanahan was named head coach but it was tempered by a few factors. For one thing, there was no surprise; the move had long been anticipated. Also, there is a jaded quality to the fan base after having expectations raised sky high by the hiring of a coach (Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs) or by a free agent acquisition (Albert Haynesworth). Finally, there is the realization that he is a long way from his two Super Bowl wins with only one playoff win after John Elway retired and his .500 record in his last three years in Denver.
The best thing that Shanahan has brought to the team is discipline along with clear lines of authority. There used to be an open door to owner Dan Snyder's office that certain star players could utilize to voice their issues with the coaching staff. That door has been slammed shut and all players are told to take their issues with Shanahan to Shanahan. The players also have great confidence in the offense and defensive schemes and game plans, something that has been lacking lately.
3. During the offseason, there was a lot of talk about the Lions potentially acquiring Albert Haynesworth since he played in Tennessee when Jim Schwartz was the defensive coordinator for the Titans. Nothing ever came of the reported trade talks, of course, but Lions fans are still interested in what Haynesworth is doing in Washington. He's had a tough season off the field with his brother dying, but how has he been on the field?
Haynesworth has had a tough year but the last two games that he played were his best of the season. Many of his problems were self-inflicted, from his refusal to attend OTA's and any of the minicamps, which prevented him from learning the new defense, to not being prepared for the conditioning test at the beginning of training camp. After spending most of the year in Shanahan's doghouse, Haynesworth broke out with a solid game against the Eagles.
He missed the next two games due to the tragedy involving his brother. But he was a force against the Bears, at one point driving a lineman straight back into Jay Cutler to pick up his first sack of the year. The Redskins seem to have found the proper role for him, as a tackle or end in nickel situations. When they play their straight 3-4 package, he is on the sidelines. He's a heck of an expensive role player and it wouldn't be surprising to see him dealt in the offseason.
4. Last week against Chicago, the Redskins turned Jay Cutler back into a turnover machine, with DeAngelo Hall picking off four passes by himself. What did Washington do so well to force Cutler into struggling, or was it more of Cutler just not playing well?
For one thing, the Redskins got good pressure on Cutler, but, then again, virtually everyone does that. Hall is a big-play cornerback and he's going to make big plays for both teams. I think after the first pick, Cutler thought something like, "Hall won't beat me like that again". After the second one it was, "OK, he's burned me twice, no way he gets me a third time," and so on. That was the way it seemed, anyway.
Cutler's stubbornness continued after the game. Asked about throwing toward Hall time and time again, Cutler said, "If we had to play them tomorrow, I'd still go after him every time."
5. What is a key matchup for the Redskins on Sunday, and do you think they will leave Detroit with a victory?
Big wide receivers such as Miles Austin and Andre Johnson have given the Redskins fits this year. Because of that, I expect that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will spend a lot of time designing ways to try to contain Calvin Johnson. I'm assuming that they'll blitz Matthew Stafford a good percentage of the time which means that they'll be in man coverage. The Redskins play sides, nobody follows a receiver from one side of the field to the other. That means that Johnson could be covered by Hall, Carlos Rodgers, who is the best cover corner on the team, or nickel back Phillip Buchanon.
I expect the Redskins to win this game but it would not be the least bit surprising if they lost. We don't have to go back any further than Week 3 of last year, the infamous (around these parts), celebrated (in the Lions' neck of the woods) Detroit victory that broke their 0-19 streak to see that the Redskins are capable of losing a game they should win. Yes, they're under new management but they did go to St. Louis and lay an egg against the Rams earlier this year.