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The 5 O’Clock Club: Style points

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Carolina Panthers v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

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.

Al Davis

We all know his most famous saying

There are no “style points” in the NFL. Every win counts as “1”, and the same is true for every loss.

Well, kinda yes, and... kinda no.

Not all wins are created equal

We know that the team with the best W-L percentage wins the division or qualifies for a wildcard spot. But in a 16 game season, with 16 teams in the conference, there are a lot of teams sporting the same records at the end of the season, so tie-breakers become very important.

It’s not my objective to review the tie-breaking procedures for the NFL playoffs in this space today, but we all know that head-to-head matchups are a key tie-breaker, and that a win inside the division may be critical to deciding the division championship, and wins inside the NFC are more critical for wildcard tie-breakers than wins against AFC opponents, which carry about as much significance as the weekend weather forecast for Albania.

So, in the march to the ‘second season’ and in determining playoff seedings, some games are more important than others.

But that’s not really what I wanna talk about today.

Coaches, players and fans

Players play one game at a time; win a game, and the celebration is intense no matter how you win it, but after a loss, players need short memories because there’s another game in just a few days. To quote Jonathan Allen following Monday night’s loss to the Saints: “We ain’t got time to feel bad for ourselves; we got Cam Newton coming, and I don’t think they give a damn about how we feel.”

But fans are a bit different than players. Fans rate the quality of wins & losses.

I know that, personally, I sometimes feel better about the Redskins after a gritty loss where they played well (I’m thinking here of Week 5 last year against the Chiefs in Kansas City) than I do about a loss where the ‘Skins embarrass themselves with their lack of effort (Giants in Week 17 of the ‘16 season) or lack of execution (last Monday night against the Saints).

A good non-Redskins example of a ‘gritty loss’ came this past Monday night when the Niners outplayed the Packers for approximately 59 12 minutes before falling to the Aaron Rodgers strong magic. Most people’s opinions of the 49ers and CJ Beathard improved following that loss — I know mine did.

Likewise, some wins satisfy me more than others. Week 3 last year against the Raiders, and RG3’s debut game in New Orleans in 2012 stand out in my mind as games that left me feeling especially pumped up about the team and its future. Conversely, the Week 15 & 16 home wins against the Cardinals and Broncos last year, while nice, left me feeling a bit flat, knowing that the team was already out of the playoffs.

Joe Gibbs: “good teams find a way to win”

When I was a young man, Joe Gibbs was the head coach of the Redskins, and his team won often, but they also often won ugly. The Redskins would battle their opponent for 60 minutes, pick up a late turnover and kick a 51-yard field goal to win.

After the game, reporters would ask questions like:

  • Coach, how do you feel about the team’s inability to score more points in the first half tonight?
  • Coach, what do you think it says about your team that they were behind on the scoreboard for 49 minutes of the game?
  • Coach, do you think it’s sustainable to rely on last minute field goals to win, seemingly week in and week out?

I used to be bothered by Joe Gibbs’ standard reply, because I thought it was meaningless coach-speak. Joe would reply to reporters’ questions with some version of the following idea:

Good teams,” Gibbs would say, “find a way to win. Tonight, we recovered a fumble and our kicker came out and got us three points on a tough kick when we needed it. We won the game. We can play better, but we can’t do better than to get the ‘W’.”

Thirty years later I have a different appreciation for those sorts of quotes that Gibbs used to give routinely. I understand that this is a league of great parity, and that winning is tough.

Fans like to see their favorite team win big, crushing the opponent, but the opponent is comprised of talented players and coaches too.

Fans love to see big play offense and lots of points on the board, but the only stat that counts is the score at the final whistle.

Win by 40 or win by 4, it’s the same result.

A score of 15-11 may not feel as satisfying as 43-31, but it counts the same in the standings.

There are no style points, and there are multiple paths to victory.

Fans love Madden, fantasy football, and offensive scoring

Fans rate games on more than just whether the team won or lost.

We like to win pretty, and hate to lose big.

We really hate to lose big in prime time games, when other NFL fans are watching.

But the fact remains that — outside of tie-breaker considerations — wins and losses, whether they be the ‘pretty ones’ like Week 1 at Arizona, or ‘ugly ones’, like the embarrassment in New Orleans on Monday night, all count the same.

There are no style points.

A preseason view of the 2018 Redskins

Just before the start of the season I posted a 4,000-word stream of consciousness titled, “If I can speak simply as a fan for today”. Near the end of that article, I tried to say what I expected from the team in 2018:

I have the feeling that the 2018 Redskins are going to be a team that is led by the defense once again. A lot of fans don’t really think of strong defense and average offense as “Redskin football” but a “who let the dogs out” defense was certainly what defined the team that won Super Bowl XVII, and my feeling as a Redskins fanatic is that this is the year that Washington returns as a defensive powerhouse. The team has a lot of young players who haven’t proven themselves yet.

So I’m expecting a lot of ball control (queue up #26, “All Day”).

I’m expecting a team that will protect the ball (welcome to the Redskins with your 5-interceptions in 2017, Alex Smith) and win the turnover battle (the ‘82 Redskins were +18).

I’m expecting a lot of sacks and pressure, not just from the edge rushers (Kerrigan, Smith) but also from the interior. This part of the Redskin game has been getting stronger in recent years, and I expect the trend to continue.

In a division that features Saquon Barkley and Zeke Elliott, plus Jay Ajayi running behind an outstanding Eagles offensive line, I expect the Redskins defense to catapult from the bottom of the league to the top in terms of run-stopping ability. The lessons learned inside the division against some of the best running attacks in the league will pay off when the ‘Skins face other teams outside the division.

When you play suffocating defense, conservative low-turnover offense, and ball control in the 4th quarter, your place kicker becomes very important,

the ‘18 Redskins will likely be relying on the strength and accuracy of Dustin Hopkins’ leg to get the win several times this year. I think he’s ready to come through and help rack up the Ws.

I’m looking for my Washington Redskins to be some of the worst fantasy players in the NFL in 2018. I expect a runningback-by-committee that will prevent any single guy from being a fantasy star, but will help the Redskins control the clock and win games.

I expect several players, from backs to tight ends to wide receivers, to be catching balls — too many different fingers in the pie for anyone to amass 1,000 yards receiving.

I expect Alex Smith to play a lot of ‘small ball’ and allow Tress Way to help win the field position battle, the defense to stop the opponents and get the ball back, and the team to score just enough to win tough games week in and week out.

I expect the Redskins to win ugly, but I expect them to win. I expect them to win a lot.

This is the new era of Redskins football — the era of stout defense and efficient offense. This is the era of division titles and playoff wins. This is the era of unbridled excitement for me as a Redskins fan, and lots of happy Mondays.

I have said a few times in today’s article that there are no style points in the NFL, and there’s a reason I said it.

Fans like to “win pretty” and they like to win BIG. Pat Mahomes and the KC Chiefs are probably the 2018 poster kids for the way fans want to collect the W.

But the games against Arizona, Green Bay and Carolina have ended up in the Win column, and the Redskins are currently sitting all alone atop the NFC East, where they’ve been for three weeks now.

I think the Washington Redskins are proving to be who I predicted they would be in the article quoted just above.

  • The Redskins have been led by their defense in all of their victories, and in every game except the loss to the Saints. Even with the MNF debacle included, the Redskins are ranked 6th in yards per game, and 8th in points per game given up.
  • The Redskins have played the ball control game — at least in their 3 wins. Overall, the Redskins are ranked 5th in the NFL in time of possession per game, and Adrian Peterson is on track for a 1,000 yard season. The offense is averaging 65.6 plays per game, which puts Washington in the top-ten in the league
  • When it comes to turnovers, the Redskins offense has lost the ball 3 times in 5 games, while the defense has taken it away 7 times. Only three teams in the league can boast a better mark than the Redskins +4 in turnover margin.
  • The Redskins may have taken a step back in terms of pass rush, at least from the edges, but the defense has definitely improved the interior pass rush in 2018, with Payne, Allen and Ioannidis combining for SEVEN sacks in the first five games.
  • The Redskins run defense has been above average so far this year, ranked 6th in yards per game allowed, at 90.2 ypg. Even the Saints put up less than 100 yards against the Redskins, though that had a lot to do with the ease with which Drew Brees was moving the ball in the passing game.
  • Dustin Hopkins has, indeed, been an important part of the Redskins team, perhaps no more so than on Sunday against Carolina when Hopkins hit on all three field goal attempts, including a clutch personal best 56-yarder early in the 4th quarter to keep the Redskins’ lead at two scores. Even in the team’s losses, Hopkins has been a bright spot, kicking 2/2 with a long of 53 yards against New Orleans, and accounting for all of the team’s points versus the Colts. He has hit 10 of 11 attempts on the season (91%) and hasn’t missed an extra point. In addition, Hopkins’ strong leg on kickoffs has kept opposing offenses on long fields, and helped the ‘complimentary football’ that this team needs to play.
  • The Redskins have, indeed, had the worst fantasy skill players I can ever remember. The best fantasy player the Redskins have been able to offer has been Adrian Perterson, and he has been inconsistent — shining in the wins, but being largely unproductive in the team’s two losses. The offense is 24th in scoring, at 21.2 ppg, and with Reed, Davis, Doctson, Crowder, Richardson, Harris, Quick, Peterson, Thompson and Alex Smith all having a hand in this low-powered offense, this has been one of the worst groups of fantasy players imaginable.
  • Alex Smith has, indeed, played “small ball” and the Redskins have been unafraid to ask Tress Way to punt the ball, pin the opposing offense inside the 20, then challenge the defense to stop them.
  • The Redskins have won more than they’ve lost. They had one dominating win against the Cardinals, and an embarrassing loss versus the Saints, but the two ‘quality’ wins they’ve had so far (Packers, Panthers) have both followed, to a large degree, the patterns predicted in my preseason article. After the Week 3 win against the Packers to lift the record to 2-1, fans were unhappy with the way the Redskins played. They were “lucky” because Green Bay played badly, with lots of penalties and dropped passes. Of course, while the Packers were dropping balls in the rain, the Redskins weren’t. While the Packers were shooting themselves in the foot, the Redskins were keeping the pressure on the visitors. There were also complaints about how the Redskins won this week against Carolina, despite the fact that the Redskins took the lead on their first drive of the game and never gave it up. Carolina never evened the score, and never had the lead, but fans weren’t happy with the win.

So, what’s my point?

The Redskins have won ugly twice this season, against two pretty good ball clubs. The team has been inconsistent, but this week, just like in Weeks 5 & 4, the Redskins sit alone atop the division standings.

In fact, there hasn’t been a time, at the end of any week from Week One to Week 6 — there hasn’t been a time when any other team in the NFC East has had a better record than the Washington Redskins.

Washington has had the best win-loss percentage (or at least tied for it) in the division every week. Thus far, the Redskins have been in the lead from pillar to post, and only the Eagles were able to match the ‘Skins record, and then, only for the first three games.

The Redskins have a winning record.

They are in first place in the NFC East.

They have the 3rd-best record in the NFC behind the Rams and Saints, and they are well-positioned, with early wins against the Packers and Panthers, to do well in tie-breaking scenarios for the playoffs.

This Redskins offense doesn’t look like the well-oiled machine that we’ve seen in past years. The quarterback won’t be setting any franchise records for the “most” anything.

The team has earned its wins by limiting opposing team’s offensive production, winning the turnover battle, field position and time of possession.

The Redskins are a team that is heavily invested with draft capital in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and offers no fantasy darlings to light up the scoreboard from week to week.

The Redskins have a defense that travels (but apparently not to New Orleans), a talented punter, a big legged and accurate kicker, and a defensive scheme that no one but Sean Payton and Drew Brees have been able to crack the code on.

This is a team that is consistently winning the turnover battle (though Alex Smith has shown a troubling propensity to put the ball on the ground, even though he doesn’t usually lose it to the defense).

The Redskins are winning ugly — but they are winning.

They may not be as much fun to watch as the Browns; they may not have the 4th quarter comeback capacity of Aaron Rodger’s Packers; they may not have the big-name wide receivers and running backs that the Falcons can boast, or the top-10 yards per game output of the Vikings, but the Redskins have something that none of those teams do — a winning record and sole possession of first place in their division.

The Redskins may not be winning “pretty”, but they are winning, and there are no points for “style” in the NFL.


How do you feel about the game against Carolina?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Fantastic! We beat one of the better teams in the NFC in convincing fashion.
    (43 votes)
  • 60%
    A win is a win. I’m satisfied.
    (121 votes)
  • 17%
    Worried. Winning isn’t enough. This game, like the win against the Packers, showed that the Redskins are a flawed team that can’t dominate opponents. They are a .500 team that got lucky this week after being unlucky on Monday night.
    (35 votes)
199 votes total Vote Now