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The 5 O’Clock Club: The Redskins after 5 games & Gruden’s ‘make or break’ year

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Indianapolis Colts v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club is published Wednesday to Saturday during the season, and 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.

The Redskins, the past three seasons after 5 games

In 2017, the Redskins were 3-2 after 5 games, and it felt pretty good because of big wins against the Rams & Raiders, plus a gutty performance in the loss to the Chiefs. We didn’t yet know that the season was destined to be derailed by outrageous bad luck with injuries.

In 2016, the Redskins were 3-2 after 5 games (and 4-2 after 6). Consecutive wins against the Giants, Browns, Ravens and Eagles had fans riding high on what was possible. It was the tie in London that put the first real bump in the road, and late season losses to the Cowboys, Panthers and Giants kinda sucked the fun out of a season that started so well.

In 2015, the Redskins were 2-3 after 5 games, and the Week 5 game was the “turf monster” game where Ryan Grant slipped on an out route and fell down, providing the pick-six opportunity in overtime to Alford, who was the hero for the Falcons. Since the Redskins had started the season with a loss to Miami, largely due to giving up a 4th-quarter 69-yard punt return for a touchdown to Jarvis Landry, the team was feeling a bit ‘snakebit’. That season’s division championship seemed pretty unlikely at the end of week 5.

2018 needed to be different

Over the past three seasons, the Redskins, despite a middling record each year of 7, 8 or 9 wins, could point to some pretty gaudy stats, at least in the passing game. Cousins was a statistical leader among quarterbacks every year that he started. When we lost, we could still point to exciting pass receptions by a variety of players, impressive touchdown catches by players like Garcon, Jackson and Reed, and some entertaining play by Chris Thompson and, occasionally, some other backs.

But what we fans couldn’t point to was a playoff win.

The running game had been anemic for 3 seasons. The defense had fluctuated between bad, very bad and pathetic since at least 2013. The organization often seemed to be enveloped in a circus atmosphere... you don’t need me to enumerate all the embarrassing happenings that made the Redskins look bad.

Things had to change. Not just one thing... lots of things.

A changing franchise

Over the past couple of years, I have used this space on Hogs Haven to put forward my ideas about the many changes that have taken place in the Jay Gruden era. The team has finally had enough time to recover from the twin disasters of the salary cap penalty and the RG3 debacle. The front office has managed to put together 4 drafts that for the most part avoided disasters, and added a lot of talent to a roster that was, in 2013, largely bereft. One indication of this is the number of former Redskins players currently earning a living playing for other NFL teams. After years of neglect, the front office spent the last two drafts building a young defense, and after three years of confusion, the front office opted for certainty when they traded for Alex Smith, then gave him a 4-year extension to be the team’s franchise quarterback. Along the way, the organization has put together a pretty respectable lineup of position coaches who seem to be focused on player development. Gone are the days when the Redskins roster read like the retirement home for all of yesterday’s marquee players. The ‘Skins now have a well-balanced roster with a mix of talented veterans, young drafted talent, and capable depth players with playing experience.

But a few things became clear as this current iteration of the Redskins was assembled over the past two or three offseasons.

This team was no longer led by its wide receivers. With Garcon in Cali and DJax in FLA, the Redskins had a very different look in the passing game.

Despite an offensive-minded head coach, the key roster development over the past two seasons has been on the defensive side of the ball. The heart and soul of this team was shifting away from its west coast offense, and toward a bad-ass defense.

That transition was finalized when the team signed on the dotted line with Alex Smith, letting Kirk Cousins pursue his dream of riches in the northlands. This offense was going to change. It would likely take on the personality of its new driver — Alex Smith: careful, low risk, lower scoring.

This was a team that was going to have to limit the scoring of the opposing teams because the Redskins were going to matriculate the ball down the field at a much more measured pace. They were gonna burn a lot of clock, and hold onto the ball, resulting in lower-scoring, tighter games. The new signal caller was likely to dramatically reduce the number of turnovers the Redskins offense committed, limiting the chances for opposing teams to score, and helping the Redskins defense through ‘situational football’.

Finally, the Redskins showed a huge commitment this past offseason to prioritizing special teams play. It looked like the failures of recent seasons were going to be behind us.

Jay Gruden’s “make or break year”

This past offseason, I wrote a 5 o’clock club post that was titled “Eleven months that will make or break Gruden in DC”. Here’s how I summarized my thoughts in that post:

So, what does Jay need to do?

- start fast - win in Week 1

- finish strong - win in Week 17

- beat some teams with winning records

- have a winning record inside the division

- stop talking about ‘expecting’ to be in close games; start preparing to dominate other teams and put your foot on their necks

- establish greater discipline; more of “the Gruden Way” and less reliance on 25 year olds to ‘be professionals’ and take responsibility for themselves.

The bottom line

Jay Gruden has done good in his four years here; he helped the franchise step forward from where it was mired for about 15 years. We’re not one of the worst franchises in the NFL anymore.

But now it’s time to take the next step forward... or get pushed out of the way.

Jay needs to get his team to win.

How Jay is doing against my checklist?

Start fast

The Redskins certainly started fast in Week 1 against the Cardinals, and I think that win helped set the stage for some positive feelings about this season. We will, of course, need to wait a while to see what Week 17 looks like.

Beat teams with winning records

The Redskins beat a team with a winning record on Sunday, and — while the Packers may not technically have had a winning record when we played them — after putting up another win this week on MNF, they appear to be on track for a winning season, and are certainly a respected franchise.

Win inside the division

This week and next mark the first opportunity for the Redskins to play against their division rivals. Having passed gotten rid of the “Week 1” monkey with the win against the Cards, and having put up big wins against the Packers and Panthers, but having failed the MNF test against the Saints, this week’s home matchup against the Cowboys is the next big test.

The Redskins really need two wins in Weeks 7 & 8 to establish a mid-season stranglehold on the division. Unfortunately, a Dallas offense that looked to be in disarray in the first month of the season just dropped a 40-burger on the vaunted Jacksonville defense. The Cowboys’ D has been playing well all season; if they are now playing well on both sides of the ball, the Week 7 matchup suddenly looks a lot scarier, though the Week 8 game in New York is a bit less intimidating than it might have been.

Commit to discipline and a dominating attitude

I’m not really sure how to evaluate Gruden’s commitment to discipline. Following the ugly loss on MNF, we started hearing chirps about music, relaxed attitudes, too many jokes, not enough focus, and the team has seemed unprepared and unmotivated in both of its losses this season. I’ll reserve judgement on this point till I see a bit more of the team as we pass through the tough games in November and December.

Jay has shown some commitment to putting games away, though his efforts have been more defensive smothering than offensive burying, and haven’t really resulted in a shutdown of the opposing team. At least when the Panthers had 1st down in the red zone with less than two minutes to play, and needing a touch down to win, the Redskins didn’t play passive zone defense; instead, they blitzed Cam Newton 3 times in a row, and the pressure shut down the Carolina drive to seal the victory.

The bottom line

I said before the pair of games against the Saints and Panthers that the two games would tell us a lot about who the 2018 Redskins are.

And we found out. The Redskins are Dr. Jekyll.

Or they are Mr. Hyde.

Or both.

The Year of Gruden is still a puzzle, and we’ll have to wait a while longer to find out the result of this critical make or break season.

Of course, the next two division games against the Cowboys and Giants offer the opportunity for the Redskins to give us a lot of clarity about which version of the Jekyll/Hyde personality is most dominant, and about Jay’s odds of surviving and thriving.

Two wins against division opponents would lift the Redskins to 5-2 overall, and 2-0 in the division, setting them solidly on the path to a division championship and a playoff berth.

Two losses would drop the team below .500 and leave them winless inside the NFC East.

Oakland Raiders v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The last word

I’ll let Jay Gruden have the last word today:

We’ve been hovering around .500 the last three years here, or four years, I guess it is. That’s something we have to do, we have to handle success equally as well as we handle adversity.

These guys have to come in and prepare and understand what’s at stake here every week.

Every team is a different opponent with great challenges and Dallas is no different. We know what type of rivalry it is, what type of big game it is for everybody, but they key is to just keep your preparation up and continue to focus, even after a big win, you’ve got to work harder the next week.

The better you are, the harder you’ve got to work.


At the end of Week 8, following the two division games versus the Cowboys and at the Giants, what will the Redskins record be?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    (205 votes)
  • 47%
    (210 votes)
  • 5%
    (24 votes)
439 votes total Vote Now