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I watched several pre-game press conferences this weekend in anticipation of today’s season kickoff. I thought I’d share some stray thoughts that popped up as I watched, supplemented by some commentary from newspaper articles published this week.
I want to start with a disturbing report that I read just a few minutes ago.
Dan Steinberg wrote an editorial posted in the 8 September edition of the Washington Post, titled: Is anyone actually excited for this Redskins season?
This is supposed to the juiciest, happiest, most completely irrational time of the year in Washington. For the first time in the 20 years I’ve lived here, the team is actually coming off consecutive winning seasons. And yet the temperature around town right now seems to be at “grits left overnight on the kitchen counter” levels. The buzz sounds like a dying mosquito. The electricity couldn’t power a fidget spinner. Optimism? There’s more optimism in the wholesome, collaborative and rejuvenating power of Congress than there is in the Redskins.
“I think there’s absolutely as little buzz around the Redskins as I’ve probably ever experienced,” said Chad Dukes, of 106.7 The Fan’s afternoon show. “Everyone’s just kind of resigned to walk the green mile. It’s a huge shift. It’s unbelievable. Even when they were terrible, even when they were awful, people still believed.”
For sure, there will still be tens of thousands of Skins fans in FedEx Field on Sunday, and the TV ratings will smash those of any other local team, and a deep playoff run undoubtedly would be captivating. And granted, this is totally vague, mushy, “I-get-the-feeling” mumbo-jumbo, based only on trying to remember what the past 20 Septembers have felt like, and what this one feels like, in my dumb head and in the dumb heads of my sports-radio pals.
I think some fans still haven’t recovered from the blown optimism of the Griffin and Scot McCloughan experiments. I think some fans feel like last year’s disastrous season finale proves that optimism is stupid. I think the metamorphosis of the Redskins name issue into a partisan, culture-wars topic has turned off some casual corners of the fan base. I think some die-hard fans are moving out of the die-hard age bracket — or dying — and are being replaced by younger people without any vestiges of goodwill. I think some people feel icky getting passionate about a team that has received as much bad press and national mockery as this one.
“There’s 100 percent been a degradation of the fan base under Daniel Snyder; there’s no question about it,” Bickel said. “They’re losing fans annually. They just are.”
“Even in my personal life with friends, people are less engaged about when we’re watching the game, where we’re watching the game,” Dukes said. “Now Saturday will roll around, and I won’t have heard from anybody.”
“I think it’s a lack of excitement, generally, for the start of the season that is tangible from years past,” Paulsen said.
“Is there any enthusiasm at all for the Redskins this year?” a young D.C. sports fan of my demographic asked this week. “For all the talk about them being a D.C. pillar, I haven’t seen much excitement.”
Certainly, in the Hogs Haven 2017 NFL Season Predictions published by James Dorsett this week, there was a definite lack of enthusiasm for the Redskins chances of success in this upcoming season from the 13 people asked to make picks (including my own 8-8 and out-of-the-playoffs projection). Most of us said the ‘Skins would likely finish with between 7 and 9 wins, and very few predict a playoff finish for this edition of the Redskins.
Is the passion of this fan base fading as we grow old and die, those of us who remember watching the 3 superbowls live?
Has the franchise finally passed the tipping point, and poisoned the golden goose?
Jay Gruden cited three players as questionable in his Friday press conference:
- Ryan Anderson (Shoulder stinger)
- Spencer Long (recovering from knee surgery)
- Jamison Crowder (hip flexor)
That would be a lot of firepower to be missing in the first week of the season.
Jay does sound confident that Jordan Reed will be healthy and ready to play today, along with Docton and Galette, so there’ll be some new firepower in burgundy and gold on both sides of the ball.
That sounds good.
Jay says that Ryan
Gruden Grant would be the next man up if Crowder can’t go.
That sounds bad.
But not to worry, John Keim reported that “Crowder looked surprised in the locker room Friday when told he was listed as questionable” and that Jamison Crowder said, “There’s no concern. I’ll be ready.” The article had film of the comments by Crowder, and he was clear that there’d been nothing but a minor bit of pain during the week. All indications are, you can start Jamison on your fantasy squad today.
Just in case you’re not up to speed on why the Redskin slot receiver might be a good pick in fantasy, there’s this from ESPN:
Crowder’s quickness works well vs. man coverage, something the Eagles like to play. In two years, he’s caught 14 passes for 167 yards vs. Philadelphia – though only five for 89 yards last season. The Redskins like getting the ball to him in different spots, allowing him use his speed in the open field. He’ll play a lot more in two-receiver sets than a year ago and that should increase his targets and productivity.
John Keim also reports that Spencer Long is expected to start, so it sounds like — if Ryan Anderson can just get right — it’ll be all hands on deck versus the Eagles in about 14 hours.
It’s no surprise that the news on the questionable guys is good. I read a statistic on the BGN site this week that claimed that 92% of the time, Redskin players who were listed as “questionable” on the Friday reports last season played on Sunday. That’s encouraging. I think Jay Gruden takes a very conservative approach to injury reporting. Basically, if a player sees the trainer, he goes on the report.
A bit of attitude
On Thursday, Jay seemed a bit testy in his press conference. Once or twice he looked like he wanted to spit on reporters. I hope that bad mood translates into a nasty attitude from the players today. The team needs to show opening week fire against a hated division rival in front of the home crowd. The team needs to start the season with a win.
Redskin Running Backs
Asked about the backup running backs, Gruden indicated that Perine would be active, while Mack Brown would be inactive, but also said that it’s an ongoing competition between them. Honestly, Mack Brown looked more ready to me during the preseason games, but of course, you always have to consider the level of competition. I like all four of the ‘Skins running backs.
Every time Gruden talks about the defense, he uses two words: “communication” and “energy”. I wouldn’t mind him actually surprising me one day and breaking down some defensive play to prove to me that he knows the names of the positions on the other side of the ball. After watching 3 1⁄2 years’ worth of press conferences, I sometimes get the feeling that he not only doesn’t know what they do on that side of the ball — he doesn’t want to know.
When one reporter asked Jay to describe the reason for the increased energy, Gruden snapped at him. I don’t’ think I’ve ever seen Jay quite so short-tempered with reporters in a pre-game (and especially pre-season) press conference before. I kind of liked it. I want to see a sense of urgency to start the season with a win. O-5 in season openers since 2013 would suck.
But, of course the visiting team gets paid to play ball too, and the Eagles are trying to break a string of 5 consecutive losses against the good guys. Cavenaugh & Gruden both talked about the Eagles defense. They’ve got some serious talent across the defensive line playing their wide-9, penetrating “get up the field” attacking defense: Vinny Curry, Timmy Jernigan, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, backed by Kendricks, Hicks & Bradham.
The Redskins OL will have its hands full. We’ll finally find out if The Hogs 2.0 are ready to play or not after a preseason in which they mostly looked not-ready-for-prime-time.
Jalen Mills & Ronald Darby at CB with McLeod and Malcom Jenkins add some high-profile defensive backs who should make for an entertaining game.
Offensive Coordinator Cavanaugh
Coach Cavanaugh spoke in his Friday press conference about being “patient” in the run game, and even used the word “balanced” one time. Hopefully, the change from the youthful pass-oriented McVay to the more mature, former OL position coach will mean a new commitment to an old idea — winning by rushing effectively.
That would make me very happy. I love offensive linemen and running backs the best.
Offensive Coordinator Cavanaugh also said that Ryan Grant will be on the field even if Crowder is playing, so the offensive braintrust sees something in Ryan Grant that is difficult for the average observer to appreciate. Perhaps this report from ESPN will be enlightening:
He’ll rotate in more than in the past, and it won’t just always be to block. Last season, when Grant was on the field the Redskins ran the ball 53 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Compare that to Jackson (27.9 percent runs) and Garcon (31.8 percent). A big key will be how much Cousins trusts Grant during a game. Teammates consider him the hardest worker among the wideouts, a testament to him and not a knock on the others. You might have heard he runs good routes.
Defensive Coordinator Manusky
Geg Manusky, in his press conference, described Ziggy Hood as the “ideal nose tackle for us right now”. He mentioned Ziggy’s stats: 300 pounds, 17% body fat. It’s not that I don’t trust Manusky & Tomsula to make good decisions, but after watching Ziggy get pushed out of the way most of last season, and Phil Taylor make a bunch of plays this preseason, I can’t help feeling that the injury Taylor suffered in the preseason is gonna hurt the Redskin defense all season long, and may actually end up moving a game or two from the W to the L column.
At one point, Manusky referred to ‘cross-breeding’ defensive lineman. I trust that was just a slip of the tongue.
I spent a fair bit of time on BGN this week, and it was surprising/interesting to see that the Eagles fan base has similar concerns about their offense as we have for ours.
Eagles fans don’t seem to have supreme confidence in the stable of running backs. While they may bluster a bit, there is an underlying nervousness that the 4 guys they have in the backfield don’t really have the skills to make something happen on the field, and while they feel that the OL looks good on paper, the unit struggled in preseason games, and the fans wonder whether they’re ready.
As Yogi told us, “It’s like deja vu all over again.”
Here’s hoping that the Redskins backs & O-Line get the job done, while the Eagles players make all the fans’ worst fears come true.
The offensive similarities don’t end with the running game; the two teams wide receiver situations are eerily similar too:
- We have Terrelle Pryor, the Eagles have Alshon Jeffrey.
- The Skins have Brian Quick, the Eagles have Torry Smith.
- The Eagles have Agholor -- a perennial underperformer — the Redskins have Ryan Grant, coach’s pet.
The shiny new toy for Eagles fans, of course, is Alshon Jeffrey. To get an idea of what he’s likely to do against the ‘Skins defense, we can look back at last season when Jeffrey played for the Bears:
The Redskins faced Jeffery in Chicago last season and he did catch one deep pass versus corner Josh Norman. They used Norman on whichever side Jeffery aligned, but sometimes he played man and other times zone.
Norman shut down Jeffery in the second half of their Week 16 meeting in Chicago, holding him to two catches for 28 yards after he went for three and 64 in the first half. Norman did so by being a little more physical at times but mostly by mixing up looks.
Regarding our own shiny new (well, second-hand, but lightly used) toy, Terrelle Pryor, Rich Tandler chimed in with a rare insightful and detailed report this week:
One of the causes for concern around Redskins Park during the last month or so is the timing between quarterback Kirk Cousins and free agent wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. Even though they have had all the offseason program, training camp, and about a full game’s worth of snaps in the preseason contests to work things out, things don’t quite seem to be there. Cousins targeted Pryor seven times and they connected for completions just twice.
It seems that Pryor is getting a little weary of being asked about the subject. As a reporter started to ask about it in the locker room on Thursday, Pryor answered before the question was finished.
“Don’t worry about that we’ll see Sunday,” he said. The reply wasn’t terse at all, just stated in a matter-of-fact tone.
Another reporter followed up, asking if he has been working with Cousins after practice. Again, the question wasn’t quite finished before the short response came out of Pryor’s mouth.
“We’re good, brother,” he said in the same, confident tone. “Really good.”
Is it possible that this “issue” is being overblown? Last year, Pryor played for the Browns. Five different quarterbacks threw at least 24 passes for them. Pryor still wound up with 77 receptions for 1,007 yards.
But don’t let me forget our quarterback. Kirk Cousins was all smiles in his final press conference prior to the season. He was thrilled to talk about his ‘nook’, and I saw the kind of relaxed confidence in Kirk that makes me feel that Clark Kent is about to rush into the phone booth and come out as Superman (or Kurt will go in and Captain Kirk will come out).
This doesn’t look like a brooding, unhappy player being forced to stay in DC for another season against his will. Kirk looks like he’s at the peak of the mountain physically, mentally and emotionally right now. If more NFL fans saw Kirk in these moments, there’d be a lot less talk about him being under center in San Fransisco (or elsewhere) next season.
Did somebody suggest that Redskin fans aren’t excited about the upcoming season, or about today’s season kickoff against the hated Eagles?!
The Reskins fans are here; we’re not going away, we’re not dying off, we’re not abandoning the team. We are passionate about football, we are passionate about our team, and we’re passionate about the class-act that leads our team -- Captain Kirk Cousins.
That’s a good final image to have — our happy, smiling quarterback, confident ahead of the season opener.
That’s Redskin football!
Look out Eagles... look out NFC East... Look out NFL... here we come!
How will you be following the game tonight?
This poll is closed
I’ll be at the stadium!
Watching live on TV/video feed at home
Listening on the radio
I’ll be in a bar wearing my Redskins gear
I’ve got to be somewhere else, so I’ll have to catch up later
None of above