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Slaying Goliath - One Down

Heading into a brutal 2 week home stretch facing both the 3-1 Packers and the always daunting Peyton Manning-led Colts, I identified 5 crucial factors that keyed Redskins wins against formidable foes in recent history.

This afternoon, the Redskins played David to the Packer’s Goliath, and against the odds, brought down a more talented team.

Did they follow my recipe for historical success? Let’s take a look.

Perseverance – Redskins fans know their team is rarely blown out. Losses typically involve close games and sometimes even a late Redskins lead before the rally turns to implosion. In our ten great wins, the Redskins weren’t perfect. But they battled, hung on, and ultimately prevailed. All but two of these victories were decided by a touchdown or less. That speaks of guts, determination, and gritty play.

The Redskins personified grit and guts today. Outmatched and outgunned, they hung in there. Outplayed for an entire half, giving up lots of real estate, they held when they most needed to. Tenacious special teams play never gave the Packers a break, and the defense made several second half stands that kept the Redskins hopes alive. A banged up Donovan McNabb set the stage for a most unlikely win. Today was all about perseverance.

Sustained Drives – A key factor in many of our losses in recent years has been an inability to get our defense off the field. Likewise, the ability to drive down the field, convert 1st downs, and wear down a more talented opponent has been the key to success in big games. In nearly every instance, it was the Redskins ability to win the time of possession and 1st down conversion battle that contributed to victory.

Not so much. Although the Redskins surprisingly won the time of possession battle (34 minutes to 32 for the Packers), this was not a game in which they could mount many long, will-sapping drives. It just wasn’t that kind of a game from the outset. The Redskins were more effective on 3rd down conversions, nearly doubling the Packers efficiency on that crucial down. Both teams showed an inability to sustain long drives in this one, and the outcome clearly came down to which team would make the most mistakes.

It’s the Running Game Stupid – It ain’t rocket science folks. When the Redskins commit to the run they can beat anybody. When they’ve committed to the run and done it well, they’ve often beaten NFL somebodies. In their ten great wins, they invariably ran more frequently and for more yards than their opponent. In eight of their ten wins, a 100 yard rusher led the way. Pounding the ball, and then pounding it some more is unquestionably a key to big Redskin wins.

Although the Skins were outgained 157 – 51 yards overall, mostly courtesy of Brandon Jackson, they stayed committed to the run throughout, running 21 times to the Packers 17 attempts. Ryan Torain showed determination and toughness in banging out 40 hard-fought yards on 16 carries. That sounds like an awful day, but if you watched the game you know yards on the ground were hard to come by. That Kyle Shanahan didn’t give up on the ground game entirely is noteworthy and few would’ve blamed him if he had. Shanahan kept it on the ground just enough to keep the Packers guessing, and in that respect, the Redskins met the ground game imperative today. On a side note, Torain acquitted himself well in a high-pressure start against a formidable opponent.

Let the Other Guy Beat Himself – Another common thread in big Redskins wins is making fewer mental mistakes than the other guys do. In half of these victories, the Redskins committed just three penalties (averaging just over four per game) while forcing better teams into drive-killing errors. Playing smart may be the great equalizer.

Nearly from the outset, it looked like the Redskins might take shoot themselves in the collective foot today and seize defeat from the jaws of victory. But it was the Packers who imploded today when it counted most, not our beloved Redskins. Victims of at least two awful drive-killing officiating blunders today, the Redskins still won the penalty battle with just 4 penalties for 28 yards, compared to 9 penalties for 63 yards for the visiting Packers. The Redskins made plenty of mistakes, including the most obvious miscue early in the game which negated a certain scoring opportunity, but in the end, they hung tough and let the Packers muck it up.

Home Sweet Home? – There is a hint of good karma here. Although the Redskins have been a safe bet to be an unsafe bet at home over the past six years, seven of our most impressive ten victories have come at FedEx Field.

FedEx Field might as well have been a mausoleum in the first quarter after our Redskins graciously handed Green Bay opportunity after opportunity. But in the 2nd Half, the Redskins faithful roared to life. The crowd noise in the 4th Quarter would’ve rivaled any NFL stadium on any given Sunday. Home field advantage mattered today, and that’s all you can ever ask of your fans.

So although the Redskins did not precisely follow my historical formula for taking down an NFL giant, they stayed true to enough of those principles to get the job done today. Showing guts, grit, and determination, staying committed to the ground game despite a tough defensive stand by the Packers, and making fewer mistakes than their opponents were the difference today.

One Goliath down, one to go.
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