So other than making a young billionaire extremely giddy, I'm trying to figure out what being 3-0 in the preseason means. Teams have gone undefeated in the preseason and still not made the playoffs. Teams have gone winless in the preseason and won the Super Bowl. Every week on both sides of the ball, guys play in the fourth quarter who affect the outcome of preseason games, yet won't get any closer to the field for a regular season game than I will.
I don't want to put too much stock in 3-0.
I don't want to blow off 3-0, either.
Okay, here's the evidence that suggests 3-0 is pretty darn impressive:
The Redskins have beaten three teams that live in the playoffs, the Patriots, Bills and Steelers.
They beat the Patriots and Steelers on the road.
The Redskins starters beat the Patriots and Steelers starters by 33-0. That's 20-0 over the Pats and 13-0 in Steel Town Saturday night.
The Redskins defense shut out Drew Bledsoe and Kordell Stewart, arguably the two best young quarterbacks in the NFL.
That same defense hasn't allowed a single touchdown, and has given up just one measly field goal.
Okay, here's the evidence to the contrary:
It's only the preseason.
That's it. That's all I've got. But it's the answer that rains on any and all preseason excitement. It doesn't actually count!
I can't start a bandwagon off the preseason. But I don't want to ignore altogether some pretty good stuff that's happening. I guess this is what's meant by the phrase, "Hedge your bets."
Okay, since the friendly neighborhood columnist is paid to tell people what 3-0 in the preseason means, here goes:
It means the Redskins have the stuff it takes to be pretty good.
I'm sorry, but that's as far out on that limb as I'm crawling. Look, I grew up in this business covering Bobby Beathard, and a long time ago bought lock, stock and barrel into his philosophy that line play is the most important thing going. Trouble along the offensive line almost always means trouble for the offense. And uncertainty at left tackle is often downright disastrous. Now, the line was thin even before the Redskins kicked Joe Patton to the curb, and if they decide to cut him, the line may as well be Kate Moss. Let me see if I've got this straight: You're going to cut loose a veteran who can play both tackle spots? A good tackle is harder to find than left-handed relief pitching. It's impossible. There are none out there. This move, if the Redskins don't have another tackle on deck, could be cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Plus, I still don't see anybody at running back or wide receiver who's going to scare the daylights out of opposing defensive coordinators.
But here's what we all have to see about the Redskins: the makings of a great defense. It's got every element a defense has to have to be a force through an entire 16-game season: fundamentally sound run stoppers, multiple pass rushers, fast and active linebackers, cornerbacks who can cover man-to-man and safeties who can tackle.
Having corners who can cover allows so much more flexibility up front. Darrell Green, Darryl Pounds and rookie Champ Bailey are like flypaper. They shut down the Patriots' wide receivers (Terry Glenn, Shawn Jefferson, Vincent Brisby, etc.), which may be the best group of pass catchers in the AFC. They shut down the Bills' wide receivers (Eric Moulds, Andre Reed, Peerless Price), who are not far behind. The Steelers, granted, are going through a major offensive overhaul, what with offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride redesigning everything. But to hold Stewart to 22 yards passing in the first half is extraordinary no matter what the circumstances.
"We have real balance at the corners," Coach Norv Turner said. "We don't have somebody you can go out and get big plays on. And with both corners covered, you have real freedom to play a total package. And the safeties [Leomont Evans and Sam Shade] are real good tacklers, which allows you to do some things to use them against the run." That's because Evans and Shade don't have to help Green/Pounds/Bailey on every down. The front seven can be utilized in creative, bold ways if that's what the coaches choose to do.
Now, a whole lot of stuff can go south on you in a hurry once the regular season begins. We saw that last year at Giants Stadium in New Jersey when Gus Frerotte had two bad series, and the balloon burst on the opening day of the season. I remember several former Redskins suggesting before the game that the Redskins were in a must-win situation from the very first day. It sounded preposterous, yet it was a correct assessment.
The Redskins have had a fragile psyche ever since jumping out to 7-1 in '96 and collapsing in the second half of the season. You can't wait until the regular season starts to fix that. It's a team (and coaching staff for that matter) that needed to erase the negativity of last season and generate some reasons to feel good about itself. The sooner the better. I don't know that you have to win preseason games to do that; even if the backups had lost each of these three games in fourth-quarter audition time, it wouldn't have negated all the good work done by the starters.
What you can tell in preseason is whether players are in condition and ready to go, whether they are certain of assignments, whether they have confidence in what the coaches are trying to get done. Remember that stretch in the middle of last season when the offense couldn't even line up and snap the ball without drawing a penalty? Quarterback Brad Johnson was on the other side looking in at that mess last season, but as he said late Friday night, "You're not seeing guys line in the wrong spots. You're not seeing a lot of penalties. You're not seeing much in the way of missed assignments."
If the preseason was totally meaningless, it figures somebody like, say, Sam Wyche would be the NFL's all-time leader in preseason winning percentage.
But it's not Wyche, or Ray Perkins or Wayne Fontes.
It's Bill Parcells. And that may suggest that whenever you take the field, it's a good idea to try to make winning a habit.