“Monday Monday, so good to me,
Monday Monday, it was all I hoped it would be
Monday Monday, can't trust that day,
Monday Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way”
So Mamas and Papas - which will it be on this 2013 Monday Night Football opener for our beloved Washington Redskins?
Yeah - I know. Any given Monday, right? Prognosticating based on previous history is as much art as science. Still, numbers matter. I crunched them, so you don't have to.
The Redskins a Monday Night Football juggernaut are not. Our Skins have taken the field some 62 times since Howard, Dandy Don, and Keith Jackson brought us the first rendition of the sacred franchise in 1970. In those 62 games, the Redskins have won a yawn-inducing 28 games (that's a .451 record for those of who've lost your calculators). That kind of dominance hardly strikes fear into the hearts of opponents.
The Redskins have faced the Philadelphia Eagles 7 times on Monday night, winning 3 of those matchups. Most concerningly, the Redskins have fared far better in Philadelphia on Monday nights than at home, having won just a single home Monday Night Football in front of their home crowd.
Again - that's not the stuff dreams are made of if you're a numbers guy or gal.
Some will argue those numbers are irrelevant. This is a different team, with a proven coaching staff, a legitimate franchise quarterback, and one coming off a league leading rushing title. You could make that case. So let's look at more recent numbers and what they might tell us.
The Redskins first game against the Eagles last year didn't take place until Week 11, arguably the most important game of the 2012 season for our Redskins. The Skins entered the game 3-6, their season literally hanging in the balance. Redskins fans were beside themselves. RG3 was electric, Alfred Morris was shockingly capable, but so far it hadn't resulted in any better results than the dismal sort fans had become so accustomed to. The Redskins thrashed the Eagles at Fedex that Sunday, RG3 tossing a TD in every quarter, sharing the joy with TD throws to Darrel Young, Logan Paulsen, and two long TD passes to Santana and Aldrick Robinson. Griff threw in 84 rushing yards as icing on the cake. The defense harassed Nick Foles all day long, intercepting him twice, sacking him 4 times, and forcing 4 Eagles fumbles. This was what Redskins fans had been waiting for and it was the first win in what will become a legendary 7 game winning streak that vaulted the Redskins to an NFC East championship and a playoff berth.
The 2012 sequel in Philadelphia was equally compelling. The Skins entered the game in a 3 way tie with Dallas and New York, all sporting an 8-6 record with just 3 regular season games to go. The Eagles season was already over with nothing but pride and incentives to play for. This one was tighter, with RG3 throwing touchdowns to Moss and Josh Morgan, Almo scampering in for another from 10 yards out, and Kai Forbath adding a pair of field goals. The defense again harassed Foles to the tune of 5 sacks. Dallas and the Giants went on to lose 2 of their final 3 games while the Redskins...well, you know how that turned out.
So recent history against Philadelphia looks promising for hopeful Redskins fans heading into Monday night's home clash.
But let's reign in that confident optimism just a bit. Because while the Washington Redskins hope to continue building upon a dangerous offense, opportunistic and underrated defense, and finally improved special teams unit, the Eagles have been revamped from top to bottom. Andy Reid is in Kansas City. And Nick Foles is on the bench. In their place? Chip Kelly and Michael Vick (who's got more lives than most cats we know, and most dogs he's known). There's little point in dissecting what the addition of Kelly will mean for the Eagles offense - no one knows and we'll only begin to find out on Monday night. Here's hoping it doesn't look anything like the epic spanking my beloved Wahoos took at the hands of Oregon on Saturday.
But Vick, the inventor of the 'read option' and 'pistol' offense (at least that's what he says)? Well, we've seen him before and he doesn't much scare Redskins fans. Vick's bark? It's definitely worse than his bite.
It has always been, and will continue to be my assertion that Vick just isn't smart enough to be a successful NFL quarterback. Granting his considerable physical gifts, Vick can always be counted on to make the worst possible decision at the worst possible time. He's got a career completion percentage of 56.3%. He's thrown 82 career interceptions (to 123 TDs). And his highest season quarterback rating was 68. He's brittle and can't stay on the field. But there's one little problem with my assessment, and you'd better brace yourselves.
Vick has owned the Redskins.
In 7 games against the Redskins, Vick has won 6 of them. That's SIX. That's a stat that should make Redskins fans break out in a cold sweat. Vick might suck. He might be a torturer of defenseless animals. But, at least up till now, he's had the Redskins number.
But he'll be coming into DC to face a Mike Shanahan-lead Redskins team. Shanahan has a perfect .500 record on Monday nights, with a 16-16 career record. On a more upbeat note, Shanahan lead teams have won 14 of 18 season openers. Shanahan knows how to prepare his teams for the start of the NFL season and has done it more successfully than any other NFL head coach.
So what are the keys to Monday night's game? Let's look to last season's stats for some clues. In 2012, the Eagles (surprisingly given their record) 13th in both passing and rushing offense, but a woeful 29th in points scored. The Eagles, even the 2012 version, can move the ball. They struggled mightily in the red zone, and in giving the ball up in key situations. On defense, the 2012 Eagles were 9th against the pass and 23rd against the run, but brought up the NFL rear in total points allowed, ranking 30th overall.
Yeah, the Eagles have the latest wunderkind at head coach, and Vick returns in the starting role under center. But last year's results still provide some clues in how the Redskins should approach this game.
The Redskins need to pound the rock in this one. I'm talking 60-40% ratio rushes to passes. Time of possession will be the most important stat on Monday night. The Eagles can't execute their highly-anticipated, much-hyped rapid fire offense if they can't get it on the field. When the Eagles offense is on the field, the Redskins need to apply max pressure to Vick. The Achilles heel for Chip Kelly in this game is that Vick does not make good decisions under pressure. An early and often dose of Kerrigan and Orakpo will force Vick turnovers, and RG3 and company will make the Eagles pay for them. If the Redskins have a chink in their armor, it's an unproven and young secondary that may experience some growing pains early in 2013. Pressure in Vick's face, particularly when the Eagles are in Redskins territory, will help mask and mitigate some of the concerns there. There's a good chance that Michael Vick won't finish this game if the Redskins defense plays as aggressively as I think they need to.
So who do the numbers favor on Monday night? In terms of recent performance, the Redskins are a far superior team. In terms of coaching, Shanahan is dominant in season openers. But the numbers also show Vick to be a legitimate threat to pull off an upset. Chip Kelly? He's an unknown variable.
Me? I'm a big fan of Mark Twain who said there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Here's to numbers, big ones, leading to a Redskins victory, of the 'so good to me', 'all I hoped it would be' variety on Monday night.