November 30, 2017

Redskins vs Cowboys. Thursday Night Football.

Injuries and precarious placement in the standings aside, it’s still a big deal when these teams meet. At least it is to Redskins fans. So, given the opportunity to blog this thing, seems like some “analysis” is in order.

Rather than solemnly run through a dozen or more angles, I’m going to winnow it down to these few. Because, well, they’re the ones I kept coming back to this week.

In no particular order …

Redskins QB Kirk Cousins

No mystery here. He needs to bring it if the Skins are going to win. Which, given his history, is actually encouraging at first glance. In six career games against the Cowboys, Cousins has averaged 68% passing, thrown ten TD’s versus three picks, and racked up a QB rating of 100. Which is pretty good.

Unfortunately, he’s also 1-5, which is not.

The one win came in January 2016, when the Captain was just about perfect, going 12 for 15 for 176 yards, 3 TD’s, no picks, and a QB rating of 155.1. Chances are he’s not going to have that kind of night again Thursday—not behind a reeling OL, without his top two running backs, without a reliable proven WR, without mercurial TE Jordan Reed, etc. So while Kirk is definitely going to have to play well, he’s also going to need help. Not having to face Redskins-killer LB Sean Lee (see below) is a plus, but Cousins will also need a running game that resembles an NFL running game, tight ends and receivers to come up with key catches and maybe a bit ‘o YAC, and the defense to show up for more than, say, 56 minutes.

Which brings us to …

Redskins DC Greg Manusky

I love Greg Manusky. Except when I don’t.

I love that his defense shows attitude and generally plays hard—that’s something that has not been a given here in many years. I love that his short-handed group generally seems to come out of the gate fired up and dialed in, and holds other teams down early in games while the offense tries to settle in.

I don’t love that we’re back in familiar statistical territory, near the bottom of the NFL—20th yards allowed; 25th points allowed; 19th passing; 15th rushing. And I don’t love that I have to hold my breath and watch through my fingers late in games again, fearing The Collapse.

This is a defense that, despite myriad well-chronicled injuries, can hold Seattle wizard Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, on the road, to 14 points; and hold Drew Brees’ crazy-hot Saints to 16 points for 56 minutes (before collapsing and giving up 18 to blow the game). Conversely, it can also fail to show up at all, as in the home game against guy-at-the-end-of-bar Case Keenum and the Vikings. Sure, Keenum’s a nice enough story, and playing well. But the Redskins were humiliated on defense that day, allowing this future football trivia question to carve them up for 304 yards and 4 TD’s in a defensive effort that still has me shaking my head.     

I love Manusky today. I’m reserving the right not to again Thursday night.

Cowboys LB Sean Lee

The Cowboys will be without unlikely-looking superman Lee, by far their best defensive player. Throughout his career Lee has seemingly been in the Redskins offensive huddle, always seeming to know exactly where to be, when, and never missing a tackle once he arrives. No joke ... his absence looms large for the Redskins. How large?

Lee has played the Redskins nine times in his career. His first came in his rookie year in 2010—that crazy MNF season-opener at FedEx which the Skins won 13-7 on the back of DeAngelo Hall’s fumble-return TD.

Since then? Dallas is 8-0 against the Redskins in games Lee has played, 4-4 in games he hasn’t.

Yeah, I know—silly stat. But he’s out. We’ll take it.

Enough “analysis.” Here’s how this one feels.

Dallas has been blown out three straight weeks. That will stop Thursday night. The Redskins won’t win by 20-plus—it’s just not what they do. If the Redskins show up, meaning both sides of the ball, teams, and coaching, at some point Thursday night they’ll have a lead, momentum, and it will feel like they’re on their way to evening their record at .500.

But they won’t ‘close the deal’ and let us enjoy the fourth quarter. It’s not what they do. They’ll find a way to open the door and let Dallas hang around. When you close your eyes, you can almost see it. A penalty on offense that keeps them from converting a key first down. A completed 11-yard pass on a potentially game-clinching 3rd-and-12. A sack taken by Kirk, commendably keeping his eyes down the field in the face of the rush, but infuriatingly not stepping up into the pocket or wheeling out of it to extend the play. A blown assignment on Dez Bryant that turns a short-gainer into a long touchdown.

I honestly don’t consider this negativity, by the way. To me this is the accumulated experience of observed patterns over the course of many, many games, over many, many seasons.

I recognize that nationally the Redskins are finally seen as a team with some resiliency, some toughness, some character, a team capable of competing with anyone on a given day. But they’re so much more than that.

I recognize and grasp the significance that the team we saw stomp the Oakland Raiders way back in week three, before seemingly losing half their starters and key reserves to injury, is long lost to memory and not taking the field Thursday night … I also recognize that this patchwork Redskins team can overcome crazy odds and win inspiringly, as they did in Seattle.

I recognize that they can show up looking utterly unprepared and lose, albeit to a good team, like they did at home to Minnesota, while making a nice story like Case Keenum channel Aaron Rodgers for a day. And that they can thoroughly dominate a good team on the road for 56 minutes, hold a 15 point lead, and still somehow, incredibly, find a way to lose. Oh yes, Drew Brees is pretty good—a first-ballot Hall of Famer—but the Redskins owned him for 56 minutes before suddenly remembering that they were, in fact, the Redskins.

So what does all this mean?

It means no one who has been paying attention to this franchise for the past few weeks, years and decades has any clue what Redskins team will show up. They could not show up at all, allow Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant to get healthy at their expense and roll them on national TV. They could show up looking like the inspired group that shut down Russ Wilson and the Seahawks, and do just enough to take a nail-biter on the road. They could dominate … for a long time … and give it away at the end in head-shaking fashion.

What do I think they’ll do?

No fucking idea. It’s the Redskins.

But I’ll be watching.



Okay, I won’t cop out. My prediction:

Cowboys 24, Redskins 20

When I pick the Skins they lose.


September 23, 2016

Facebook, Bad Hair and Redskins vs Giants

So this happened:

Thanks for the nudge, Mr. Zuckerman. Although I don't know what the problem is. Over the past four years I've published like, six posts. That's 1.5 per year for the luvagod.

Anyway ...

Here we are again.

At 0-2, the Redskins head up to New York on Sunday to take on the New York Giants. Not Tom Coughlin's Giants any more, mind you, but some guy named McAdoo's Giants. Dude with bad hair and zero resume.

I always hated going to play Coughlin's Giants every year ... his teams always seemed so competent. So I was kinda happy when the old guy finally was shown the door. I mean, respect and all, but damn. Enough.

Turns out the Redskins are 4-12 up in the Jersey swamp over the past 16 games. Not good. Coaches get fired for 4-12.

Add to that Kirk Cousins hasn't exactly lit up the Giants in his brief career either.

"Cousins, 28, has had four starts against the Giants in his Redskins career, and the statistics aren’t pretty. With Cousins at the helm, the Redskins split their meetings with the Giants last season but were beaten by double digits in each of his starts in relief of Robert Griffin III in 2013 and 2014.

In four starts against the Giants, Cousins has completed 88 of 160 throws (55 percent), with three touchdowns, eight interceptions and one lost fumble.

The ugliest outing came at FedEx Field in Week 4 of 2014, which was Cousins’s second start after Griffin suffered an ankle injury in Week 2. The Redskins turned over the ball six times in the 45-14 loss, and Cousins accounted for five of the team’s six turnovers, fumbling once and throwing four second-half interceptions. The Giants scored 31 points off turnovers."

So we have that going for us.

It's not hard to contemplate what next week will look like around DC if the Redskins should do what the football world expects, and have their posteriors handed to them this weekend. At 0-3, all that happy offseason talk about patience and a steady franchise rebuild under GM Scot McCloughan will get drowned out by fast-rising drum beats from the hills, incensed and indignant calls for pink skips, and brisk pitchfork sales all around the DMV.

What I'm saying is, this would be a really good time to steal one, Washington. The difference between 0-3 and 1-2, with the woebegone Cleveland Browns coming to town offering a chance at .500, is impossible to understate.

If 2016 is to stay on the rails for the Washington Redskins, it had better start with a gutty and improbable win against Mr. McAdoo's undefeated (yeah, I know) New York Football Giants.

January 8, 2016

Redskins vs Packers - Thoughts and Prediction

It’s a rare treat to write about an upcoming Redskins playoff game, much less one they can reasonably be expected to win. Nonetheless, that is what exactly has come, shall we say, to pass.

Which leads directly to one of the two key components I believe Redskins vs Packers will come down to.

1. The Redskins passing offense.

The first key to continuing the 2015 Redskins unlikely march to respectability (and beyond?) for another week will be whether or not the passing game can remain at or near the productivity level of the past month.

The Redskins running game hasn’t scared anybody since week three—it has become the occasional body shot, thrown less to affect serious damage than to keep the opponent from comfortably keeping his hands high protecting only his chin. And It has worked. The passing game, on the other hand—the relentless effective jabs and occasional right cross—has progressively ramped up over the second half of the season to the point where the Redskins come into this game boasting arguably the hottest passing offense in football.

There has been a lot of talk—understandably so—about the Redskins having to mitigate against an elite quarterback in the Pack’s Aaron Rodgers if they have realistic hopes of winning Sunday night. Truth is, given recent trajectories, it could reasonably be argued that the Packers will have to mitigate just as warily against a currently lethal Redskins passing attack.

As Kirk Cousins, DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon, et al, go Sunday night, so will go the Redskins. If those guys show up, the Reskins have a better than even chance of being the ones holding helmets high as they run off the field Sunday evening. They have become the identity of a surging, suddenly legitimate and increasingly confident team, and its strongest case to legitimacy as an NFL playoff contender.

2. The Redskins defense on “off-schedule” plays.

Washington’s defense has been operating on the edge all season. Playing with leads down the stretch, they have been able to back off defensively, forcing opponents to put together long drives and consume enough time to ultimately allow let Skins to walk away winners.

They don’t put consistent pressure on the passer rushing only down linemen—they rely heavily on sending extra rushers to generate pressure. In this particular game, against a Packers offense that has struggled the second half of the season, the concern is less with their ability to contain on-schedule plays, but their ability to track down Rodgers and maintain coverage down the field once plays breaks down and Rodgers starts moving. That’s where the Redskins shortage of true defensive playmakers—both up front and in the backfield—will ultimately prove their biggest test.

Few are better than Aaron Rodgers at buying time, sliding, rolling, and ultimately delivering accurately on the move. The Redskins will probably need some breaks—a couple of crucial drops, perhaps a tipped ball INT, or more likely, what has been their defensive salvation several times this year, their knack for tearing the ball loose from receivers after the catch.

Their ability to cause/recover fumbles this season may well be the reason the team was able to hang around .500 long enough for Kirk Cousins and the passing offense to finally catch fire as they have over the past few weeks. The Redskins are almost certainly going to need turnovers to beat the Packers. Seasoned elite QB’s rarely tank it in playoff games—we have to assume Aaron Rodgers is going to “bring it” all day long. No lead may be truly safe until time finally runs out.

Some general thoughts, since you’ve come this far:

- It’s not hard to envision the Skins starting fast Sunday night, and even building a substantial lead heading into the 4th quarter. But unless the Washington ball-control passing game—and maybe even some well-timed runs—can achieve meaningful time of possession down the stretch, it’s also not hard to envision a frenetic finish with Rodgers going sandlot, moving around and gunning his team back into the game.

- Washington is the hotter team heading into this one—that’s not in question. What is in question is whether or not that will carry over into the first playoff game in which they can reasonably be considered favorites for this coaching staff, this quarterback, most of this roster, and this franchise in many years.

- Will Cousins be the Cousins we’ve seen over the last half a season, completing 70% of his passes and directing multiple long scoring drives? Will he be the stone cold killer in the red zone—51 of 84 (60.7%), 22 TD, 0 INT, 4 TD rushing, QB rating 109.7—he has been all year? Or will the biggest stage and brightest lights of his young career push him a step back?

Many long years of disappointment and shattered hopes make it easy to look at this one and see the Redskins coming out flat, making mental errors, turning the ball over, giving up big plays on defense, and ultimately failing to get the job done. No long-suffering Redskins fan can be faulted for harboring those demons.

But this Redskins team has also seemed to change the paradigm.

It’s only been ten weeks since they were 2-4, trailing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at home, 24-0 in the second quarter, staring into the abyss of a bye week at 2-5 and a road trip to then-undefeated New England on the horizon. The quarterback looked average at best, the running game was stuck in the neutral, the head coach—close to halfway into his second season sporting a 6-16 record with no clear signs of evident improvement—and the team reeling with significant injuries.

It was hard to see much light in all that darkness.

Since then?

The Redskins came back and won that Tampa game, in historic fashion—nothing short of the greatest comeback in the storied 78-year history of the franchise. They have since shouldered aside a host of “yeah, but’s” … you know them by heart by now … “can’t win a road game” (they’ve won three straight) … “can’t win in prime time” (they beat Philadelphia in their own house to claim the division title) … “don’t have a quarterback” (you don’t hear much “interception machine” or “not clutch” talk these days) … “the head coach is a failure” (don’t tell that to the guys who play for him).

I do believe the magic they’ve harnessed over the past month isn’t illusion. I think this team is what the vast majority of Redskins fans hoped they would be, heading into the season—a rebuilding team showing signs of turning into a pretty good one—and maybe a bit ahead of schedule. There were few predictions of this team finishing above .500 this year, much less hosting a playoff game and having a legitimate shot at winning.

Hey, I hear the demons still—they’re tenacious little ****ers. But the harder and longer I look at that light coming from down at the other end of the tunnel with this team, the less it looks like the oncoming train I’m so used to getting flattened by and more like, well, a legitimate NFL team on the rise.

This is where I think I’m required to post a prediction:

It will almost certainly not be easy. In fact I can practically guarantee it won’t be.

It might come down to a last-second field goal by the revelation that has been Dustin Hopkins.

It might come down to a Rodgers Hail Mary as time expires falling harmlessly to the turf or nestled in the arms of a Redskins DB playing only because it seemed we lost every-damn-body who was supposed to be playing back there along away this year.

It might be one Alfred Morris, offering a symbolic skyward middle digit to all his critics and converting a crucial 3rd and 2, with 1:30 left in the game and GB out of time-outs, allowing Kirk Cousins to genuflect in Victory Formation a couple times as the faithful gutturally levitate FedEx.

This has all happened very fast, this apparent Redskins Revival, and there’s been precious little time to really step and back assess the big picture … but as I sit here today, I find myself believing.

Feels good. Damn good.

Redskins 27, Packers 24


October 28, 2015

Cousins: A Tale of Two Quarterbacks

There have been two Kirk Cousins in 2015.

Seven games into his first season as a full-time starter, in four home games Cousins has shown a confidence and competence that make a strong case for him as a legitimate NFL quarterback:

108-for-144 (75%), 1006 yds, 6 TD, 2 INT, QB rating 101.8
Record: 3-1

That's a top-ten guy. Elite, no. Legit, yes.

Unfortunately, NFL teams play half their regular season games on the road. And through his first three road games in 2015, Cousins has simply not looked like the same player. His body language has been different, his decisions and throws have been different, and of course, the results have been different:

76-for-124 (61.3%), 731 yds, 3 TD, 6 INT, QB rating 65.6
Record: 0-3

That's a guy you have to scroll pretty far down the stats page to find.

And therein lies the rub. When you put the two Kirk's together, by NFL standards you have Just A Guy:

184-for-268 (68.7%), 1737 yds, 9 TD, 8 INT, QB rating 85.1
Record: 3-4

So where do the Redskins go from here? Easy. They spend the balance of 2015 finding out if Kirk Cousins can take his act on the road and be more than Just A Guy.

They might find out he cannot. They might even find out he heads the other direction and brings his shaky road act home. But until and unless that happens, his performances and results at home have shown enough promise to make it imperative the Redskins let him play out the season as starter. They cannot cave to public sentiment or anything other than pure football merit and pull the plug on Cousins in 2015.

As a rebuilding team long starved for legitimate, consistent quarterback play, the Redskins need to let him either prove he can take his act on the road, continue to grow as a player and leader, or if he is unable to overcome the road demons that have thus far scared the dickens heck out of him and anyone with a passing interest in the burgundy and gold.