The Redskins Played Like Booty and No One Should Be Surprised

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Being negative is a defense mechanism.

 

There are things to like about the Washington Redskins. Intriguing second year players, the continued growth of their youth, the shiny new free agent acquisitions. That palpable feeling of joy once the air starts to turn crisp and football is being played. It’s hard to stay unhyped and low key, even if you’re the most negative of Nancies. But some fans manage to build that wall, to keep from getting exciting, to use the past experiences to stomp down that indelible hope that creeps into each new season.

 

It’s not that they want the team to lose. That’d be dumb, why root for a team that you want to lose? It’s that they expect to lose, and would rather be pleasantly surprised when they win or exceed expectations. They hope to win, but guard themselves against what they feel is the inevitable. If they win, great. If they lose, well of course they did.

 

The Washington Redskins lost last night, and not one bit of it felt surprising. They didn’t even lose in a new, amusing way. This was a team that looked exactly like the team that got embarrassed by the Green Bay Packers, only a year older and with a ton of new expectations that they promptly went about not living up to.

 

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The End of Robert Griffin III

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How the hell did we get here?

It’s tough sometimes to think that it was only four years ago that Robert Griffin III was the prince of Washington, DC. There was hardly an athlete more beloved, more revered, and more readily embraced by a fan base desperate for change. For a savior. For someone, anyone to pull them into football relevancy and, perhaps, finally get them back to the promise land.

How did we get from that, to people openly decreeing that they can’t wait until he leaves, and that they hope he takes anyone who dares talk about that electrifying 2012 season with them?

Four years ago, Robert Griffin III left an ACL on the battle ravaged, painted green dirt of FedEx Field. That moment — Griffin, in a heap, while millions at home had been screaming all day for then head coach Mike Shanahan to pull him out — is the moment when everything changed. The moment the savior became fallible, and the selfish sought to cover their own backsides, and the fans began to pin decades of frustration, anger and anguish on him.

You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. Griffin’s fall has been recapped over and over, but it always positions him as the architect of his own downfall. He was done in by his own ego, the story goes. He figured that he knew it all, that those around him knew nothing. He was weird, too quiet. He spent too much time in the weight room, not enough in the film room. He was too close to ownership, he was the product of a “gimmick”, flash in the pan offense that he needed to develop out of and yet needs in he’s to have a career going forward.

The blame, it goes, falls squarely on Griffin’s shoulders.

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Kirk Cousins Is Slowly Improving, But Needs to Get To Play With Swagger to Take the Next Step

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Here’s a thing that you never thought you’d hear from me; I think Kirk Cousins has played pretty well the last couple weeks.

He still has his moments where you’d rather punt him into the sun than have him quarterback the team, but there has been a slow but steady uptick in his overall play during the course of the season. He’s (generally) been more accurate, his throws (generally) have had a little more umph, and all told, when Cousins gets it going, he looks like a capable NFL starter.

That’s not to say the Redskins shouldn’t look to upgrade the position, or give Cousins a big fat extension to keep him around. All it means is that Cousins is playing at an acceptable level, and isn’t entirely the reason the Redskins lost in last week’s match-up versus the Patriots, and that one hopes he keeps it up over the back half of the season.

With Rex Grossman (the guy Kirk Cousins gets most often compared to), the story was always whether Good Rex or Bad Rex would show up. Sometimes Good Rex would show up in the first, then Bad Rex would show up in the second. Sometimes it was vice versa. Sometimes they could happen on back-to-back drives.

With Cousins, I’m not sure there is a “Good Kirk” and a “Bad Kirk” as much as there’s a Swaggy Kirk and a Unconfident Kirk.

When Kirk is feeling it and things are going his way, he’s more than capable of throwing darts and leading last second comebacks. When the game starts to get away from him, he faulters, his play drops off, and the team around him isn’t good enough to elevate him back to a decent level.

Take, again, Sunday’s game versus the Patriots. Cousins first throw was a laser that bounced off Garcon’s hands and was intercepted. Still, Cousins came back on the second drive and did a great job of manipulating the pocket, stepping up and laying in a beauty to Derek Carrier…that was promptly dropped. Cousins came back with a throw short of the sticks that was dropped by Reed.

As the points piled on and the drops added up, Cousins didn’t press. He didn’t take unnecessary chances to get back in the game, as he might’ve last season. But you could see it in his play that, as the team struggled to succeed on the routine plays, his confidence wavered, and he did not have as good a second half as he did in the first.

Cousins seems to get into his own head too often, which makes him less risk averse. That’s only compounded by two things; an offensive scheme that encourages not taking chances, and the background noise of people who flip out when he makes a mistake.

One has to remember that Cousins was put in a bad position by head coach Jay Gruden from the start. After Gruden annihilated RGIII last season, it was only natural that the guy he kept picking to start was going to face intense scrutiny, and it didn’t help when Gruden seemed to go out of his way to avoid critiquing Cousins fairly.

It painted a picture of inequity between the two, pitted the two teammates against each other, and gave off the impression that Gruden was doing so because Cousins couldn’t suffer the slings and arrows the way RGIII could.

In reality, all it did was create two quarterbacks terrified of making a mistake, less they have to answer to a divided fanbase and story starved media.

Now, Cousins is the unquestioned starter, and RGIII is on the bench. The chances RGIII starts a game this year barring an injury are basically nil. (This is despite it being an actual talking point that Cousins is playing poorly — which he really isn’t, BTW — because he’s scared RGIII will play. Because RGIII is the root of all evil and steals candy from babies.)

But Cousins isn’t showing the confidence in himself to step up and take those next level plays, still playing like he’s a back-up. His Yards-Per-Attempt is still an abysmal 6.3; his adjusted yards-per-attempt stands at 5.7.

Again, part of that is a scheme devised by Jay Gruden and Sean McVay that more or less demands not taking chances. It’s not that the scheme doesn’t get guys open for bigger plays; it’s that the spent the entirety of the offseason and training camp telling their quarterbacks that they…well, that they had to be ordinary. That they didn’t have to play hero ball, to get the ball out of their hands quickly and move on to the next play.

Cousins has done that; his quick delivery is part of the reason the Redskins have only given up eight sacks on the season. But it’s also part of the reason that the offense produces few big plays and why teams can more or less sell out to stop the run first. The chances of getting beat deep with this group of receivers aren’t very high. Teams will give up those shallow crossing routes, screens to wide receivers and checkdowns to running backs all day. It gives the appearance that the offense is “moving”, but just because yards are getting gained, doesn’t mean the passing game is productive. (As evidence by the fact that Redskins currently rank 28th in points-per-game.)

Now, Gruden is extolling the virtue of improvising, of Cousins taking those chances and not being scared of making a mistake. Saying this after you essentially build a scheme around not doing so is funny and puts the burden on Cousins for not making bigger plays, which is the kind of slight passing-of-the-buck that Jay has become so, so good at.

But he’s not entirely wrong. Now, when Cousins does improvise (such as the drop by Carrier), people have to catch the ball. But even within the course of a game, Cousins could do so much better.

Take for example, DeSean Jackson. Jackson is quickly becoming the scapegoat for a lost season, because RGIII is benched and Alfred Morris is non-existent and Jordan Reed is healthy and playing again, so “DeSean Jackson” is next on the list of offensive players to get miffed at.

Jackson can be a frustrating guy because he’s not going to get all his yardage the dirty way someone like Pierre Garcon does. He’s not really a screen or shallow cross guys; he’s going to make his plays in the intermediate and deep levels of the field, the two places Cousins has struggled to make plays.

Jackson got knocked for some out of context quotes after the game, but there were a couple times where Cousins could’ve taken a shot for the big play receiver and didn’t. The old adage with a guy like Cousins is “if he’s even, he’s leavin’.” Facing a third and ten in a game that was getting away from them, Cousins chose a 2 yard out to Jamieson Crowder over taking a shot deep to DeSean Jackson, who was even with Malcolm Butler. Even giving D-Jax a shot to pull that ball down is better than a two yard route that won’t get you what you the first.

But that’s sort of been Cousins’ MO. Several times this season, the Redskins have managed to scheme a receiver open deep, only for Cousins to short arm the throw. It’s not that he can’t throw deep; Cousins has more than enough functional arm strength to throw vertically down the field (it’s in those intermediate routes in the middle of the field where his lack of arm talent starts to show up); it’s Cousins playing it safe, trying to complete the pass instead of just letting it rip.

Or, it’s Cousins taking a checkdown or route short of the sticks just to get the ball out instead of taking his time and trying to make a bigger play down the field.

“Get the ball out quickly and keep the chains moving” seems to have been a coaching point that was drilled over and over in Cousins head, and now, it’s adversely effecting his ability to play fast and throw with confidence.

And who knows; maybe Cousins taking those chances would result in more turnovers, and we’d all bemoan how he wasn’t playing smart. But I’d argue that a bigger issue fans have with Cousins than just the turnovers, is his reaction to them. There was a time when people would get frustrated that interceptions never seemed to bother Rex Grossman. But in some ways, that was Grossman’s biggest strength; he accepted turnovers as part of the game (albeit too big of one for him), and had full confidence in himself to go play at a high level.

That is the step Cousins must take next; to not just take the chances, but to realize that even the best quarterbacks make crap throws. The difference is whether or not you allow those early mistakes to pile up, or whether you learn from them and don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over.

Cousins needs some more pep in his step and to play with less fear. The worst that could happen is that Washington benches him, at which point he’d still probably have his pick of teams that would sign him to a good deal to be a back-up and maybe compete for a starting job.

Be more swaggy, Kirk. It can’t possibly hurt. Suffice it to say, if it paid off, I think we’d all like that.

Thoughts and Observations on the Washington #Redskins 34-20 Loss to the New York Jets

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— There’s a thought among fans that teams are stacking the box against the run and daring Kirk Cousins to beat them with his arm. While it’s one way to look at the Redskins woes and at least part of the reason the run game has struggled, there are other, simpler explanations. A big topic of conversation last week was the Redskins not allowing Alfred Morris to get into the rhythm of the game and wear down defenses to help the run game succeed late. With Matt Jones inactive with a toe injury, one would think that Morris would get more run. But nope. He didn’t.

— Morris has 11 carries for 21 yards, in one of those “his average yards per carry doesn’t tell the whole story of the game” type of games. Morris wasn’t explosive, but he was steady, which has always been his M.O. That’s the nature of running outside zone; you get an ugly 2, and ugly 3, an ugly 1. And then you pop those big 20 yard runs. Running the ZBS requires an offensive coordinator to be patient enough to stick with the run even when it appears to be unproductive.

Instead, Alfred Morris got two carries in the entire second half, including a play on the goal line where neither Morris or Darrel Young was on the field.

I’d like to say I understand the fascination with getting Chris Thompson more touches in the run game, but I don’t. He’s no more productive than any of the other backs, and yet you’ll regularly see him shuffling in and out of the game. When the Redskins needed points the most, the choice was made to give the scat back touches on the goal line.

—- And again, a team that’s struggling desperately to get anything going in the run game just refuses to put Darrel Young in the game for anything more than a few token plays. Darrel Young made a great finger tip catch, and generally sticks out as a positive anytime he hits the field. But he saw only 4 snaps the entire game. Four. I understand that fullbacks aren’t in vogue in the league, but Darrel Young is NOT just an ordinary fullback. Instead of putting him on the field, however, the Redskins have chosen to stick with more two tight end sets…despite not having a blocking TE on the roster, and essentially having two inexperienced back-ups. This goes back to what I was saying about decision making and talent utilization. Jay Gruden is very regimented in his offensive thinking, and that lack of outside the box thinking means leaving talented players on the bench to do things a certain way — a way that isn’t working.

— I commend the Redskins for actually trying some different ways of running the ball yesterday, working in some pistol and toss concepts. But it still highlights just how disjointed the run game and the passing games are when the running backs are constantly shuffled depending on packages and when the play action concepts don’t seem to build off plays that worked before.

Ultimately, Jay Gruden is the decision maker here. He decides whether to run or pass. OL coach Bill Callahan chooses which run plays to call, but still, Gruden is the ultimate decided. Gruden has tried to pass the buck here on running back coach Randy Jordan as to why which running back plays when, but again; he’s the playcaller. If every assistant on offense has hand in who plays when and what play is called, then it’s really no wonder why the offense seems like such a mess; you need one voice and one vision of what the offense should be.

Maybe Kyle Shanahan spoiled Redskins fans with his “run a play to set up another play 10 plays down the road”, but all too often it feels like the Redskins offense operates on the Madden NFL 16 principle of “Eh, screw it, I’ll run this and see if it works”. There doesn’t seem to be a method to the madness; plays that work aren’t gone back to in key situations, plays that don’t work are called in crucial moments, and then there’s wacky plays like the flea flicker with Jamison Crowder to one of the least reliable receivers on the team, in the red zone, off a turnover no less. Stuff like that drives fans nuts, and the excuses are starting to run thin.

— Much was made of the Redskins defensive line this offseason, but after these last two games, wherein they’ve gotten bullied and beaten up in the run game while manufacturing zero pressure, you have to wonder what exactly the point of spending all that money to revamp it really means. Terrance Knighton has been a disappointment, and is regularly outplayed by Ricky Jean-Francois and Chris Baker. He flashes, but he’s anything but consistent. One can’t remember a play that Stephen Paea has made all season.

— Preston Smith had 17 snaps in Sunday’s game. 17 snaps on a team that struggles to get pressure but rarely blitzes. I understand him not starting, but I don’t understand how he hasn’t worked himself into a 3-down pass rush specialist kind of role.

— Bashaud Breeland had himself a day. He recovered a fumble, stripped Brandon Marshall, and produced an INT in the first half, all of which led to points. (Not touchdowns, mind you, but points). Breeland is becoming a cornerstone of this defense, and it makes you wonder why he was ever supposed to just be the third guy on the field. I love D-Hall as much as anyone else, but the fact that Breeland’s only starting because he got injured is kind of baffling. (There goes that “talent utilization” thing again…)

— And now, for the big long part about Kirk Cousins.

1.) I think the biggest turning point of Kirk Cousins’ season as a starter came last week versus the Falcons, when Jay Gruden showed that he had zero faith in Cousins’ ability to lead the team to victory, only a week after Cousins had done just that. I think Cousins played some of his best football of the season in the second half of that game, and deserved a chance to silence critics like me by leading a second potential game-winning-drive to win.

Instead, Jay Gruden called two runs and a terrible screen (note: can we just take all these terrible screen plays Jay has out of his playbook?), the Redskins settled for two field goals, and Kirk threw a pick six to end the game. I think that was effectively the death of Swaggy Kirk, and Fearful Kirk was back again on Sunday.

2.) People will harp and bang on about the interceptions, but the biggest, most persistent problem from Cousins has been his inaccuracy. Cousins has always had a trouble with squirrelly accuracy. But it tends to get worse and worse as the season wears on, and worse as his confidence drops. It’s just bad.

3.) Cousins missed several routine throws. He threw too high on an easy pass to Garcon; he underthrew Chris Thompson on a wheel route — Thompson tried adjusting and nearly injured his back. He put a screen to far out in front of Crowder, then overthrew him up the seam. The second INT was an underthrow where he couldn’t step into it, highlighting his lack of arm strength. The Jets gave up the Redskins crossers all game, but Cousins inability to lead a receiver meant the team couldn’t capitalize. Garcon gains separation from Revis and Kirk throws short into the dirt by 5 yards. Cousins footwork is bad. The first INT was an absolutely horrible throw. Despite it not resulting it sacks (which, according to Redskins fans, are worse than interceptions), Cousins is holding the ball too long. When he does throw, it’s inaccurate and he passes lack zip. You can count on one hand the amount of NFL level throws Cousins made Sunday. He’s not even making the wide open throws.

3.) And you know what? Missing DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed and a third of his offensive line isn’t the problem. The o-line only gave up one sack all game. The run game is inconsistent, but that’s just as much a function of the bad passing game and the poor playcalling as it is anything. Having his full complement of receivers won’t help, because you don’t magically fix accuracy issues by having better plays on the field. Hard catches aren’t supposed to be routine. If you cant throw to a wide open guy on a crossing route or a slant and allow your guy to get YAC, what does it matter if you have the best offense ever out there?

What does having DeSean Jackson back really mean, if Cousins struggles to hit wide open guys deep? What good is having Jordan Reed in the line-up if he can’t take advantage of YAC because of inaccuracy? This isn’t an issue of talent anymore; it’s a matter of execution, and Kirk just can’t execute.

4.) It’s been six games now, and I don’t see why Kirk Cousins deserves to start. That’s not me advocating that RGIII starts; that’s me wondering why Colt McCoy won’t get a look. Cousins has a handful of good plays in every game, but mostly it’s just bad, bad, bad. He’s not making progress. He progressively gets worse as games and weeks and seasons wear on. The issues he had as a rookie are still issues now.

He’s thrown more INTs in less pass attempts than both the other quarterbacks on the roster, and legendary quarterbacks like Blaine Gabbert and JaMarcus Russell. His INT% is worse than Rex Grossman’s. His accuracy is terrible, and the biggest part is that his fragile confidence — the thing Jay Gruden so desperately tries to protect by refusing to lob anything looking kind of like criticism at him — looks completely shattered.

That last drive versus the Falcons was the death of Swaggy Kirk. The Kirk we have now is just going to get worse from here.

Jay Gruden’s Asinine Decisions Are Costing the Improving Washington #Redskins Wins

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Here’s something that sums up Jay Gruden’s basic competency level as an NFL head coach.

In the middle of the second half, the Redskins faced third and ten on their own 23. The Redskins lined up in an empty shotgun look, then motioned Jamison Crowder from the left slot to the right TRIPS side. The linebacker immediately walked out on Crowder, likely in anticipation of a screen, which is exactly what the Redskins ran.

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Kirk Cousins Self Destructs in the Clutch, Will Doom the Washington Redskins As Long as He Starts

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He is who we thought we was.

There’s something aggravating about the reaction to the Washington Redskins’ 17-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins. The talk goes that, sure, the Redskins coughed up a lead in a game they should’ve won. But they played something vaguely resembling okay-ish football for most of the game, and hung in there with a trendy pick for a playoff team. That’s something to be proud of.

To quote one of the greatest movies in cinema history, “Gag me with a spoon.”

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