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The 5 O'Clock Club: First quarter review

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere...

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The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Overview

The Redskins have played 4 games, with 12 remaining in the 16-game regular season, so it’s time for the first quarter review of performance.

Let’s start with the ratings agencies

The preseason outlook for the Redskins was not very bullish if you relied on pre-season Power Rankings to tell you what to expect.

On 31 July, the 5 o’clock club took a look at the rankings ahead of the upcoming season. Here’s a quick summary of what we found:

  • SB Nation 10
  • Bleacher Report 11
  • NFL.com 15
  • MMBQ 22
  • Pro Football Weekly 25
  • Pro Football Talk 25

With the completion of the first quarter of play, how do these same ratings agencies see the team now?

  • SB Nation 5
  • Bleacher Report 11
  • NFL.com 9
  • MMBQ 15
  • Pro Football Weekly 16
  • Pro Football Talk 17

So, from an average rank of 18 in the preseason, the Redskins have risen to an average of 12th, which would put the ‘Skins as the last wildcard team to qualify for the playoffs.

For a team that is sporting a record of 2 wins and 2 losses, this represents a healthy amount of respect. How has it been earned?

A quick review of game performance

The Redskins are traditionally slow starters, having lost every Week 1 game in the Jay Gruden era, which built on a Week 1 loss in Mike Shanahan’s final season as the head coach. The Redskins were looking to break that streak against the Eagles, whom they had beaten in 5 consecutive games.

It didn’t happen the way the Redskins wanted. Despite the defense playing hard and getting consistent pressure on the Eagles quarterback, Carson Wentz broke out of would-be sacks several times during the game, extended plays and made big throws. The loss threw Redskins nation into a funk, as the fans knew that two of the toughest games on the schedule were coming in Weeks 3 & 4 against the AFC West playoff teams from a year ago.

But first the team had to travel to LA to play the Rams — a game that had been circled as a ‘win’ when schedules were announced in the off-season. But following the troubling showing against the Eagles, and a Rams victory in Week 1, suddenly the prospect of traveling west for an easy victory didn’t sound so simple.

The Redskins took care of business, however. In the three games that the Rams have played against teams other than the Redskins, they have averaged 41 points per game — leading the NFL by a wide margin. The Redskins defense held the Rams to just half that total.

It was a sign of things to come.

The high powered Oakland Raiders were held to less than 100 yards of total offense prior to a final meaningless drive to end the game, and only two turnovers leading to short fields allowed the Raiders to avoid an ignominious shutout against the Redskins.

That prime time telecast put the NFL on notice that there was a new bully on the block, but respect comes hard when you have the history that the Redskins have had since 1999. Kansas City fans, while polite ahead of the Week 4 game, were rather smug in their belief that they had superior talent and coaching, and that a home victory against the Redskins was inevitable.

The Chiefs got their victory, but a rash of injuries to key players like Josh Norman, Rob Kelley, and several other defensive starters was likely the prime factor that allowed Kansas City to get back into the game after being dominated early by the Redskins.

When it comes to qualifying for the playoffs, only wins and losses count; there are no style points. But when it comes to earning respect, how you play is important. For the first time in many years, the Redskins have come out three games in a row with fire in their eyes, playing with passion and control, with sure tackling and punishing hits.

Kansas City fans noticed. Oakland fans are still crying in their beers about it. The loss to the Redskins is the only blemish on the LA Rams record.

One team at a time, the Redskins are announcing that this is a new era.

Investment paying off

There has certainly been a changeover in the roster. Nine of the Redskins ten draft picks made the 53-man roster.

In addition, the Redskins had an active free agency period this year, signing two new receivers, two D-linemen, an ILB and a safety to build the top of the roster.

But the most significant changes have come on the coaching staff.

Wunderkind Sean McVay has gone to be the head coach of the Rams. The chairs were shuffled around on the offensive side of the ball, and Jay Gruden ended up calling plays — something that seems to be paying off in the form of a more balanced attack with more commitment to the run game than has been in evidence in recent years.

But the real change has come on the defensive side of the ball, with the previous defensive coordinator, Joe Barry, being shown the door after two miserable seasons. Greg Manusky was promoted to defensive coordinator, and he wasted no time hiring two position coaches who seem to have made a huge difference.

Jim Tomsula, who won’t top anyone’s list in a head coaching search, is possibly the best defensive line coach in the league, and he has a group of no-name veterans and one high draft pick playing with passion and dedication. With a regular rotation to keep the players fresh, his defensive line is currently holding opponents to 88 yards per game rushing, and that has come against the #1 & #2 ranked rushers in the league — Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley. In addition, the Redskins shut down Marshawn Lynch (18 yards) and pretty much all of the Eagles running backs.

If possible, Torrian Gray — the new DB coach — has had even better on-the-field results. The cornerbacks have played very well, limiting opposing receivers, and have also tackled well, even supporting the run game — at times looking like fast, undersized linebackers as they took down running backs who ventured outside the hash marks. DJ Swearinger has brought an old-school attitude with him. He was voted captain of the defense, and his personal play has displayed passion, skill and hard hitting fury.

It has all added up to a punishing style of play that is quickly giving the Redskins a new reputation as clean-hitting bullies who will make every receiver, every ball carrier, and every quarterback pay a physical price for handling the ball.

Elliott Harrison of NFL.com had this to say following the loss to the Chiefs to close out the first quarter of the season:

Jay Gruden's guys are competing hard. Literally. The defense, including the smallish defensive backs, are laying wood on every play. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has them running around like a pack of wild dogs making tackles.

Assets - quarterly performance and current valuation

Let’s take a brief look at the performance of each position group this quarter, compare it to last year and identify the opportunity areas remaining in 2017.

Offense

Quarterback - After a rough start against the Eagles, Cousins settled down to have three good games to round out the quarter. His valuation is largely unchanged from the start of the season, but the long term outlook is uncertain. If Cousins can maintain or improve his production, the immediate future looks bright for the team, and Kirk’s individual future will be rosy. (Hold)

Wide Receivers - Overall, the value of this position group fell during the first quarter, as key assets like Pryor and Doctson underperformed, and Brian Quick barely registered on the balance sheet. Ryan Grant, after years of poor game performance, is showing signs of pulling his weight as the #4 receiver, but Jamison Crowder has been disturbingly quiet. Look for a rebound in the second quarter. (Sell/hold for medium term recovery)

Offensive Line - Expectations were muted for this group after preseason results indicated a recession might be on the horizon. Trouble was averted, however, as creative play design and aggressive play calling — especially in the run game — has pumped new life into the value of the O-line. Suddenly, the outlook is bullish for the starting 5. (strong Buy)

Running backs - The market for the ‘Skins offensive backfield is a bit soft, as results have fluctuated wildly throughout the first quarter. Injury, fumbles, and players still learning patience have all played a part in keeping a lid on valuations here, despite Chris Thompson individually lighting up the board in the first three games of the season. There is uncertainty surrounding this group, and everyone will be watching leading indicators closely in the coming weeks to decide whether to recommend a ‘buy’ , ‘sell’ or ‘hold’ for this group. (Sell short)

Tight ends - mixed results, but an overall positive trend for this group, with most of the positive action focused on 33-year-old Vernon Davis who seems rejuvenated, after seeing his career stagnate in Denver two years ago. A healthier Jordan Reed following the bye week i s likely to lead to big gains for the Redskins tight end futures starting with the San Fransisco game in 9 days. (Recommend hold, or put-options)

Defense

Defensive Line - Following a complete reorganization, Matt Iaonnidis has returned to the field and looks like the darling of investors, as he puts pressure — not only on opposing quarterbacks — but also on his value to the team and the defense. Hood, Allen, McClain & McGee round out a low-profile but high-performance entity that is surprising all competitors. Look for a sharp rise in value in the coming quarters. (Buy immediately for capital gain)

Inside Linebackers - The acquisition of Zach Brown in the offseason has paid immediate dividends to the Redskins who have seen an uptick on effectiveness against the run, in particular. Speed & tacking efficiency make Brown the #1 tackler in the NFL through 4 weeks, with expectations that this trend will continue. The valuation for the Redskins ILB corps is skyrocketing at the moment. The smart move would be to lock up Zach Brown as a long-term asset, before the opportunity passes. (Buy, though much of the value here is already priced into the market)

Edge Rush/OLB - Kerrigan, Smith, Galette & Anderson has shown why they are one of the most talented young organizations around, despite having little name recognition. They have harried and harrassed quarterbacks weekly, though with mixed results. Analysts familiar with the game plan expect this talented young group to continue to set the cutting edge in the league in coming months. Value is on the rise. (Accumulate)

DBs - Two big free agent signings in the last two years has resulted in two (very) vocal leaders among the defensive backs -- Josh Norman (2016) and DJ Swearinger (2017) bring reputation, communication and on-field performance to this unit, led by the young and dynamic Torrian Gray. Our analysts suggest investing in futures for this group, as value is expected to climb weekly for the remainder of the year. (Use options to hedge against injury, but buy aggressively)

Special Teams — Along with running backs and wide receivers, the ST unit has seen a loss of value from the start of the season to the quarter break. Muffed punt returns, bad snaps, missed field goals and even some less-than-stellar punts have all contributed to the overall loss of value here. A fake punt/pass by Johnny Hekker of the Rams to continue an offensive drive nearly sank this units value completely, but a stellar effort by the rest of the team kept the unit out of Chapter 13. If the ST group can’t improve performance, look for changes next year. Value has declined, and future is uncertain. (Hold pending reorganization & recovery)

Review of Competition

It has been widely reported that the Redskins faced one of the most brutal schedules in the NFL in the first quarter. Eagles 3-1, Rams 3-1, Raiders 2-2, Chiefs 4-0, Combined 12-4. Take out the games against the Redskins and the teams are 10-2. The Redskins 2-2 record, in light of the strength of the competition they’ve faced, is encouraging.

However, to win the division, Washington will have to dig out of a hole that it dug in Week 1. By losing to the Eagles, the Redskins fell a game behind overall, and gave Philly an advantage in the tie-breakers.

There may be no more important game on the schedule in the 2nd quarter of the season than the Week 7 rematch against the Eagles. Lose that game, and the Redskins may not only fall 2 games back in the overall standings, but they would effectively be 3 games behind the division-leading Eagles, since the Redskins would lose the tie-breaker. Making up 3 games in the final ten would be a challenge.

On the other hand, a win against the Eagles in Week 7 would even things up between them, and reduce a bit of urgent pressure in the second half of the season.

Let’s take a look at our main competitors:

The Eagles have surprised everyone by making huge strides forward since last year. Their investment in, and patience with, the young QB Carson Wentz, is paying off. He looks like a young Ben Rothlisberger, and his team just keeps winning. 3 - 1 and leading the division. The Redskins have to win in Week 7 to catch, then surpass, the surging Eagles.

The Cowboys are currently tied with the Redskins at 2-2, but while Washington players will be on the sofa with Madden this Sunday for their bye week, the Cowboys will be facing off against the Green Bay Packers, who have been picked to win by a ratio of 71% to 29%. The Star is fading in Texas. News should be coming in the Zeke Elliott court case any day now. Bad news could sink the Cowboys stock value completely, though even if the news is favorable for Elliott, his on-field performance shows that he has taken a huge step back from his rookie campaign. Dallas is currently 2-2, but staring at 2-3 unless they can find some magic against Aaron Rodgers this Sunday. The Cowboys aren’t going away entirely, but they are not dominating the division as they did last season.

The Giants have collapsed. While they continue to show up for games physically, it appears that they have left all intelligence and desire at home for the first 4 weeks. New York currently stands at 0-4 and is staring at 0-7 or 1-6 at the bye week, when it is likely to be “bye bye” week for Ben McAdoo and his Pat Riley hairdo. Stick a fork in ‘em. They’re done.

Check back in with the 5 o’clock club on Sunday, when we’ll take a look ahead to the second quarter of the season.

Poll

What grade do you give the Redskins for the first quarter of the season?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A+
    (0 votes)
  • 5%
    A
    (12 votes)
  • 43%
    A- / B+
    (96 votes)
  • 40%
    B
    (90 votes)
  • 7%
    B- / C+
    (16 votes)
  • 2%
    C
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    C- / D+
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    F
    (0 votes)
221 votes total Vote Now