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.
1. Terrelle Pryor is the big story around these parts as you might expect. How is he catching on in Washington?
Funny you should use the word “catching” in the same sentence with Terrelle Pryor, as the one thing he isn’t doing much of so far is catching the football.
On the first play of the season, he ran down the middle of the field and just couldn’t track the ball, which fell harmlessly to the ground several yards ahead of him. Later in that game against the Eagles, a long pass hit him in the hands in the end zone, and Terrelle just dropped it. He had at least one bad drop in the Rams game last week, and – by my count – he had three drops in preseason.
One hallmark of Redskin offense in recent years has been good hands and very few drops, so watching Terrelle’s hands of wood in the stadium for the past two months has been painful – especially after the plethora of twitter video showing him making flashy training camp catches in 7-on-7 drills.
I have to confess that I’m not any kind of professional analyst – just an enthusiastic Redskins fan who gets to post a daily column. I don’t have what it takes to break down film and analyze players.
That said, I watched Pryor play a lot for the Browns last year, and – honestly – he was the player that I most wanted the Redskins to sign in free agency. Big, fast, smart, with a full season of wide receiver play (and 1,007 yards) already, I felt he’d be just the tonic to help the Redskins overcome the loss of Garcon & Jackson. In fact, I had him ranked higher as a priority signing than either Pierre or Desean because of his physical traits, his age and his expected contract. I was thrilled when he was signed.
So far, the Pryor party hasn’t started.
Pryor and Cousins have looked out of sync, and when Kirk has put the ball where Pryor should catch it, too often he hasn’t. Smarter guys than me have looked at film and said that he is sluggish coming out of breaks, and still lacks polish as a route runner and pass catcher. But, my gosh! 28 years old, 6’4”, 228 pound receiver who has recorded a 4.38 time in the 40… there’s just way too much potential not be excited about what he can mean for the Redskin offense.
Officially, Pryor has only recorded one regular season drop, but that’s because there was a holding call to negate the drop against the Eagles. His stats are pretty mediocre so far:
- 15 targets
- 8 receptions (53%)
- 97 yards
- 0 TDs
Some of it can be blamed on Cousins, but a lot of the responsibility goes to Pryor. He has a couple of tough catches across the middle (at least one in each game), and that’s the frustrating part. His drops, in preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season, have been easy balls, well within his catch radius. He was lighting it up in Training Camp, and he’s held onto the ball as he’s been punished by safeties and linebackers, but then had balls just bounce off his hands when he’s had 5 or 10 yards of separation. It’s been frustrating to watch, and a real kick in the nuts after having Garcon for 5 seasons; Pierre rarely had more than a single drop per season.
Still, I’m excited about Terrelle’s potential, as I think most Redskin fans are. We’d all like to see him flip the “on” switch very soon.
Maybe playing the Silver & Black will kick start his season.
2. How much 'what might have been' has there been with regard to David Amerson being waived, catching on in Oakland and thriving?
Honestly, not a lot.
We haven’t forgotten David Amerson, but the fact is, he didn’t play well when he was here, and I think everyone felt that the bad on-field play was unlikely to improve. Even his staunchest supporters were pretty resigned to the reality of it all when he was finally cut.
Significantly, most Redskin fans are thrilled that Amerson is finding success now. We loved the Amerson pick when he was drafted; we cheered for him in training camp, rooted for him in games, and gave him the “Bye, Felicia!” treatment when he the team cut him, but everyone genuinely hoped that he’d land on his feet. We’re unanimously happy that he did.
He gets remembered in the Hogs Haven comments section from time to time, but the discussion is never a wistful ‘what might have been’, but a reflective pondering about what made the difference for him. How did he go from a draft bust to a high-level performer in such a short time? Why did it happen?
People wonder whether the change in fortune was due to (i) Amerson responding to a wakeup call and changing his work habits after being cut, or (ii) whether the Redskin coaching staff at the time was simply so bad that Amerson couldn’t flourish here. I think fans are genuinely unsure which is the case.
3. When Zach Brown says something like 'We dare teams to put the ball in the air' what do you suppose he means by that?
In case you didn’t get to watch the interview, let’s have a look at the transcript of that question and answer:
Nate Burleson: With two games behind you guys, you guys are ranked 9th in stopping the run. Now, I know it’s a small sample size, but it’s something, really, to lean on. What is it about this defense, and can you continue to be a top-10, maybe even a top-5 defense by the end of the season?
Zach Brown: We feel like [if] we get a couple more sacks, we can be one of the best teams on 3rd down if we can get the quarterback down in the last two games. For us, we gonna make sure we gonna have a light box, so we’re gonna test you and see if you can run on us. But at the same time, when you pass it we got great corners and a good safety, so we’re kind of daring you to put the ball in the air.
It’s only three sentences, but I think there’re are a few things to take out of Zach’s comments.
1. Zach was responding to a question about the general defensive philosophy and/or execution, and Zach responded in kind, discussing the overall mindset of the defensive unit.
As you can see from the transcript, there’s no mention at all of the Raiders, Derek Carr, or the upcoming game. Headlines suggesting that Zach was addressing himself to the Raiders in particular are really just click bait intended to troll the Raider fan base.
To me, the key phrase in his answer wasn’t the part about daring teams to put the ball up; the key phrase was: “we gonna have a light box”.
2. When I hear Zach say that the team is going to have a “light box” then I take that to mean:
a. The defense wants to put 7 in the box, and rush the passer with 4 players most of the time; they don’t want to commit a safety to stopping the run or rely on the blitz to pressure the quarterback.
b. The defense is having success stopping the run with a ‘light box’ (per Burleson – 9th in the NFL).
c. The defense believes that it can get pressure on the quarterback rushing 4 – and I’d say that the team got consistent pressure on Wentz & Goff in Weeks 1 & 2 (though Wentz scrambled out of it too often, and burned us in off-schedule plays).
d. A quarterback who counts 7 in the box and doesn’t expect a blitz should typically check to a run, but if the Skins are stopping the run (Burleson says they are) with 7 in the box (Zach Brown says they are) then the quarterback’s best option is to pass, even with 7 defenders back.
e. Brown says that the CBs & Safety position are very talented (I agree with his assessment of the cornerbacks), so that’s the dare – pass into 7-man coverage despite the fact that the number count in the box says you should run the ball because the ‘Skins are winning the battle to stop the run without loading the box.
This is all consistent with everything I’ve heard Jay Gruden say for four seasons now. His message is always this: Stop the other team’s run game and make them “one dimensional”. Force the other team’s quarterback to beat you throwing the ball because you’re not allowing the run to be an effective option. As soon as the opposing offense becomes one-dimensional, the pass rush can tee off, using good cover skills to make the pass rush effective and force punts or turnovers.
After most losses, Gruden laments that this is exactly what happened to the ‘Skins. The opponents stopped our run game, got ahead on the scoreboard, forced us into a one-dimensional passing game, then unchained the dogs on the pass rush. He’s like a broken record.
That’s what Zach Brown was talking about: a defensive philosophy that says we can stop the run, force you to pass into 7-man coverage, then unleash the pass rush on 2nd & long and 3rd & long, getting pressure, and forcing turnovers. Basically, an orthodox and fairly conservative defensive philosophy that’s been used in the NFL for decades. Nothing very newsworthy, to be honest.
4. What do you think is Washington's biggest strength and weakness?
This team has changed so much from the 2016 version that it’s really hard to answer that, especially with the small sample size that we’ve had with just two games. I can tell you what our strengths and weaknesses were last season, but this team doesn’t really resemble that one very much. We have two new coordinators, and at least two new position coaches. We lost our top two receivers in free agency, and cut Matt Jones, who was the starting RB in week 1 last year. Nine draft picks made the 53-man roster, and our 22-year-old, 2nd year starting strong safety apparently decided to retire a week before the regular season. We return all 5 starters from last year’s offensive line, but they’ve been schizophrenic, looking like a junior high team throughout preseason and then against the Eagles, but like the Hogs reincarnate versus the Rams in Week 2. Cousins, who performed as a top-10 quarterback most of the past two seasons, has looked more like Clark Kent than Superman in the first two weeks of 2017.
Instead of trying to manufacture an answer in the face of so much uncertainty, let me talk about the biggest positive development, and the biggest disappointment in the first two weeks of the season.
Chris Thompson was drafted by the Redskins in the 5th round in 2013. He was a small, explosive back with talent, but he’d suffered two major season-ending injuries in college. First he broke his back (think Tony Romo, but two vertebrae instead of one), then, in 2012 he tore his ACL. The Skins drafted him anyway.
Thompson immediately lost his entire rookie season to injury (torn laburnum, I believe), then managed to appear in just two games in 2014 suffering from ankle sprains and other ailments.
By 2015, he was looking like a major front-office bust. He’d been drafted by Shanahan, who was gone; Gruden & McCloughan had nothing invested in him. He’d been injured for two seasons and he appeared to be ‘on the bubble’ in the 2015 training camp. In a bit of a quiet surprise – headlines at the time talked about his ‘last chance’ -- he made the team, and for the past two seasons has been a mainstay as the teams talented 3rd down back.
Fast forward to 2017: In two games so far this season, Chris Thompson has 81 rushing yard, 81 passing yards, and three touchdowns. All three touchdowns will make his career highlight film. One is a ‘human pinball’ pass reception in the middle of the field with Thompson eluding multiple tacklers; the second is a 61-yard draw play, and the third is a diving stretch for the pylon.
The Redskins have scored 4 touchdowns in 2 games, and CT has 3 of them.
But for all the positive energy that Chris Thompson is providing, on the other end of the spectrum is Josh Doctson, the team’s first round draft pick in 2016. He seems like he should be the perfect complement to Terrelle Pryor, giving the Redskins a pair of big, fast, physical receivers. Doctson is 24 years old, 6’2”, 208 pounds, and he was ranked as one of the best receivers to come out of college a year ago.
But he saw only a handful of snaps in two games as a rookie last season, and managed just two receptions, spending most of the year on IR with mysterious dual-Achilles ailments.
In press conferences, Gruden’s body language seems to convey frustration every time he gets a question about Doctson. One senses that Josh is not Jay’s favorite player, and that Jay is looking for Doc to do something to show that he really is the guy the Redskins hoped he’d be when they drafted him. (Remember, he was drafted to help fill the void that was left when Garcon and Jackson were allowed to walk as unrestricted free agents.)
This season, Doc spent most of training camp nursing a hamstring injury, and didn’t get much preseason work. He played just 20 snaps against the Eagles and 29 snaps against the Rams. He hasn’t recorded a reception, though some of those talented film analysts who are much smarter than me say he’s been open; Kirk Cousins simply hasn’t thrown to him.
Doctson is supposed to be a highly productive receiver putting stress on opposing defenses. Instead, he’s been a ghost. Maybe after a bit of film review, Kirk will start looking in Doc’s direction.
The entire fan base is waiting for him—like Pryor – to find his “on” switch. The feeling is that if the two of them get in sync with Cousins and reach their potential, the offense will be scary. As long as Pryor keeps dropping balls and Doctson remains invisible, the offense is likely to remain in low gear.
5. Washington was essentially a .500 team last season. Is more, less, or the same expected of them this season and why?
The Redskins had a .531 winning percentage last season, but I take your point. The typical over/under this season is 7.5, and most projections I’ve seen anticipate 7 to 9 wins, with more pessimism than optimism when people stray up or down from that middle-range. The reasons for this season’s muted expectations are numerous and complex, but let me see if I can highlight a few key ideas:
1. At the top of everyone’s mind is the loss of Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson to free agency. Analysts nationwide have spent the past 5 ½ months repeating this bit of trivia: no team in the history of the NFL has ever had two 1,000-yard receivers leave in the same season.
I’ll be honest with you… prior to Training Camp, I felt confident that Pryor and Doctson, along with our talented tight ends (Jordan Reed & Vernon Davis) and emerging 3rd year slot receiver Jamison Crowder would be enough to make up for their departure. Given their ages & salary demands, I thought it was a good business decision to let them go.
Two games into the season, Pryor & Doctson haven’t got 100 yards or a TD between them, and my confidence is shaken. Maybe the pundits were right.
2. The second big issue for people on the outside looking in was the loss of our Offensive Coordinator, Sean McVay. I’m sure you already know he is now the head coach of the LA Rams. The strong relationship between McVay and Kirk Cousins was the reason most people gave for why the loss of McVay would hurt the Skins. We all know that Gruden is a talented offensive guy, but McVay and Cousins were close, and people fear that breaking up the duo would hurt Kirk’s effectiveness.
In fact, Kirk hasn’t looked very sharp in the first two games, but that has – unfortunately – been his standard MO in the past. He has been a slow starter in the past, who takes a few games to find his rhythm, so I think it’s still too early to pass judgment on the full impact of Sean McVay leaving.
3. Last year’s Redskin defense was bad. It had a historically bad success rate when it came to allowing 3rd down conversions, they couldn’t stop the run, and tight ends were able to gash the linebackers almost at will.
Throughout 2016, when the Skins would force 3rd and 12 – any normal fan base would be celebrating and the punt returner would be grabbing his helmet – the Redskins fans were closing their eyes, and the opposing quarterbacks were laughing.
The Skins went heavy on defense in free agency and the draft this past offseason. Our depth chart is now littered with names that weren’t there a year ago. Fourteen players on a 27-man unit had never been on the field in burgundy & gold in a regular season game before two weeks ago. The team has a new defensive coordinator (Greg Manusky), new DL position coach (Jim Tomsula), and new DB coach (Torrian Gray).
That could be good news or bad news. I think a lot of fans & analysts were projecting the Redskins defense to be very much the same hapless unit they were last season. There wasn’t a lot of evidence prior to Week 1 to argue otherwise.
Anyone who looks at the defensive stats for the Redskins right now is likely to think that not much has changed, but watching them play, this defense looks and feels completely different from last year’s edition. The team is playing with energy and they are making tackles. They are swarming to the ball. The three cornerbacks (Josh Norman, Baushaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller) are all playing very well.
My feeling, and the feeling of most fans, I think, is that the defense is what kept us in the game against the Eagles and won the game against the Rams. But – again – anyone who looked at the stat sheet without watching the games would likely think the defense hasn’t improved.
4. Strength of schedule has a lot to do with the 7 to 9 win expectations, as well. The Skins have to play the AFC West, with the Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos all looking like tough teams. Within our own division, we have to play the Cowboys twice (13 wins last season) and the Giants twice (11 wins last season). The NFC West isn’t as strong, but the “all West” matchups this season have us traveling east-to-west 4 times this season. All in all, I don’t think many people have much trouble looking at the schedule and tallying up 7 or 8 losses for a team that has managed 10 wins just three times since our last superbowl season in 1991. That’s 26 years, three 10-win seasons. Why would anyone who’s not a Redskins fan expect us to win more than 8 or 9 games?
On a scale from 1 - 5, how do you rate the Redskins home field advantage versus the Raiders tonight?
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