Ten Yard Fight -- Staying Medium With Extra Large Expectations

Mid-week Thoughts

1. There is a reason teams like the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and other top teams in the NFL play each other year in and year out (inside their respective conferences): top teams get scheduled against top teams each season. Similarly, teams that finish at the bottom of their division play other cellar-dwelling teams. See where I'm going? We have had a standing date with St. Louis for some time now, and it is because both teams have managed to finish in the same lowly spot in their respective division. To me, the annual tilt against St. Louis is a reminder of our position in the NFL. Every time I get worked up and excited about what "could be," I quickly recall that we have yet to graduate from trading blows each year with a few of our fellow bottom dwellers. This has to change.

2. This isn't to say that you can't make the leap from worst to first and make noise in the NFL from one year to the next. In fact, for teams that make that kind of leap, it is often precisely because they were able to take advantage of a "weaker" schedule. (I don't consider the 2012 Washington schedule "weak"-but mostly because of who and where we are currently.) Inherent in this sort of leap is a lack of regular-season measuring. Teams that advance to the playoffs by beating lesser opponents earn their standing to be sure, but they arrive without the tests that go with a first-place schedule. I want that first-place schedule. I want to be on primetime television duking it out every year with the Packers, Saints, 49ers and other top teams. That is how you know your team has moved from the lower rungs of the NFL ladder to the upper echelon of the league. When we are dominating that schedule, we can really hold our heads high.

3. Is there a more depressing stadium than St. Louis? Parks has brought it up before on our podcast and I agree-on TV, that place looks drab and dull. Add to that the fact that we "assume" every year we will beat the Rams and...well...we don't beat them every year. (Do you remember when Kevin infamously referred to a Rams game as a BYE week? I think the team listened, because they didn't show up.)

RG III, Act II, Part I

4. Uhhhh...are we supposed to "temper our expectations" after last week's performance? Are we supposed to "stay medium" after whooping the Saints and then travelling to play a struggling Rams team? Do people really not know what we are about as a fanbase? I find it hilarious that a team that struggled mightily in 2012 to win the handful of games it won is going to be viewed this weekend by a group of fans that expect nothing less than an absolute blowout. All this after one game. Of course I will be one of these overzealous fans, even though I know FULL WELL that this is the exact game we have lost so many times over the last decade-we have momentum, we face a team lacking much cohesion and we show up with a 50% effort. You know it goes...opening kickoff goes out of bounds, tipped balls always land in our opponent's hands and crippling penalties occur at the worst possible time. If we can avoid these kinds of things, it will be a victory unto itself.

5. You may be thinking to yourself, "Why is he saying this stuff? Why can't we just give this group of Redskins the benefit of the doubt?" First of all, there is the old saying that "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." I believe that this team has been guilty of hubris-without any basis for it whatsoever-going into games like this and the results have been embarrassing losses. Further, we can't progress beyond "up and coming" to "contender" without applying the same focus on opponents like the Rams as we do on opponents like the Saints. The truth is that most teams in the league view US as the easy spot on their schedule. We have no business viewing any of our opponents that way until that changes substantially. And THAT is how you blow out teams like the Rams. I believe Griffin is going to be a key figure in keeping his teammates focused on the situation at hand throughout his career. Elite quarterbacks always are.

6. As well as Griffin played against New Orleans, he is going to have to match one key stat this week for us to have a chance to really put this game away: zero turnovers. We've been talking about this on Hogs Haven for months. Rex Grossman has made a living turning the ball over throughout his career. Despite being a rookie, it stands to reason that most decent quarterbacks are capable of limbo'ing under the bar set by Grossman in that category. We saw Jason Campbell protect the ball in the first half of Zorn's first season and the difference it made in the Win/Loss column (we started 6-2 that season).

Coaching Notes

7. When you have hung around as long as Danny Smith has in Washington, you get used to hearing people calling for your head every now and again. I try as hard as I can to not let the fact that he is one of the best men (if not the best person) currently employed by the Washington Redskins color my criticism of our special teams. I suppose one could make the case for some change at such a critical coordinator position after so many years under the same man. Despite the gaffe that led to the blocked punt and touchdown at the end of the first half on Sunday, I still think we are better off with Danny Smith as our special teams coach. Perhaps in the offseason-depending on how the season unfolds-it would be fruitful to spend considerable time looking at what Smith has done in D.C. I think the focus of that analysis should really be on Shanahan's three years here, as the personnel he has been given has been decided by the same two guys in that span. (cough...cough...Dan...looking in your direction on this one)

8. I know I am not alone in my constant worry that our secondary is going to be our downfall. The Redskins brought in Raheem Morris to really extract all of the potential from our pieced-together secondary. Except for a few exceptions, they held together shockingly well against the potent Saints passing game. I have to give Morris a lot of this credit, and I am hopeful that we will see even better results against Sam Bradford and Danny Amendola. I love the role our corners and safeties are playing in the pass rush but the key is being opportunistic when the ball comes your way (ahem...Orakpo).

Mailbag

9. From Jason James in Bowie: "What do you think of [Andrew] Luck's preseason performances?" Jason thinks they are a bit overrated.

Jason, first and foremost, I think the Colts made a HUGE mistake not taking Robert Griffin. I love Andrew Luck and I think he will be very good, but as I said (and got killed for) during almost every interview I did this offseason, I don't understand how a team like the Colts could pass up on Griffin's rare combination of athleticism and intelligence. (Danny Rouhier...I think you called me certifiable.) That said, Luck is going to dominate. He is also very smart and possesses more than enough athleticism to get the job done. His preseason performance was not overrated in my opinion because he is still a rookie. We, as fans, definitely undervalue some of the work we see getting done in August because of who might be on the field at the time. That is both fair and unfair. In Luck's case, I think what he did is absolutely indicative of what he is capable of...and soon.

10. From Jeremy in Fairfax: "Watching the Raiders get to lean on Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski for so many years makes me wonder if the Redskins will ever try and do what Oakland did when they used two draft picks in the same draft to put that battery together?"
I love Seabass, and Lechler is a favorite of mine because he has joined Sammy Baugh at the top of the punting hierarchy in NFL history. I don't know if there are many front offices that would have the cojones to double dip in the first five rounds for a pair of kickers. What is interesting is that Bruce Allen was part of that Oakland front office that drafted these two guys. I am pretty sure Redskins fans would burn Ashburn to the ground if Bruce Allen brushed aside offensive line talent to take a kicker at the top of the draft. Still, it has worked amazingly for the Raiders. You are right to envy it and desire it, but executing any strategy drawn up by Al Davis comes with many perils. And let's be very clear when we recognize that this had Al Davis written ALL over it, and not Bruce Allen.

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