- Happy Victory Monday, y’all! The game was interesting once again, but the outcome yesterday was the same one we have now experienced three straight weeks. Winning does, in fact, beget winning (#winningbeautifully). And before we buy into the “easiest schedule left in the league,” let’s remember you don’t play “a schedule”—you play 53 other guys on a weekly basis. We argued on this site all summer about where the wins were going to come from for stretches this season (as we do every summer). Now we find ourselves arguing about whether or not a Redskins game is a “should-win?” We know that the tilt against the Giants was a “should-win” game, and for as long as I have been writing this column, I recall plenty of lament after losing such games. Put simply: winning in the NFL is hard. Even when you should win, the game of football can humble the crap out of you. At 5-2, the Redskins have plenty of humble pie on their plate (i.e. offensive issues to work out), but each “should-win” game they put in the W column moves them a step closer to hosting a playoff game this winter. After watching the green team up I-95 win the Super Bowl last year, this would have to be considered not just a worthy goal, but also a huge achievement.
- If these Redskins were a bunch of aging, journeyman veterans taped and glued together to play out the string—as we have seen, you know, from time to time—I would join the chorus of those saying this team was “lucky” and “fake”...but that is not the team we are watching. At the beginning of the season, the average age of the Redskins 53-man roster was 26.2, which represented their second-youngest average age since 2013 (h/t Jimmy Kempski). Taking into account that we had to switch out a 21-year old running back for a 33-year old Hall of Famer, and that we are trotting out another 33-year old at quarterback, I would argue that the age is slightly skewed. This Redskins team is young and talented, and still developing in front of our eyes. I know what it feels like to watch that aforementioned aging Redskins team grab a win against a middling squad (or even a godawful one) and know that it wasn’t going to be enough to get the job done by the time the winter arrived. This is different. I don’t think it’s fair to suggest this current Redskins team is dead on arrival in the playoffs like so many seem to think (seriously, I heard that about a dozen times in the last 24 hours). First of all, let’s get to the playoffs before we get too carried away. Second of all, teams that win in the playoffs are, well, winners. This young Redskins team is learning how to win. It is getting the taste of winning stuck in its mouth, which is important because that is what makes the taste of losing that much more repugnant. The beauty of watching this young core get their winning legs under them is that the benefit lasts more than just through the end of this season—but let’s just see what this group looks like come January before we write them off against, for example, a team we have already beaten (like the Packers).
- Let’s try to avoid arguing too much today about any kind of playoff demise and focus on the now. So you’re saying the Redskins won “ugly” yesterday? Here’s what I don’t call ugly: another game where we had more first downs, more total yards, more yards per play, a positive turnover ratio and a seven-minute time of possession advantage. Oh yeah, and the Redskins went 182-37 in the rushing yards department. Now, we can all agree that the score just never felt like it was telling this story, but the truth is...well, the truth is the score. I get it. I won’t use the “I have seen the Redskins lose this game a million times” argument today, because at this point it is kind of implied. I won’t make excuses for an offense that absolutely sputtered multiple times against a young defensive front in New York because winners don’t make excuses. I will point out that the Redskins went on the road, in the division, beat down a Hall of Fame quarterback (yeah, I think Eli is going into the Hall) and secured a “should-win” game that nobody was giving to them (the betting line did not indicate a cupcake kind of game). It could have been prettier for sure, but ugly is not the word I would use for a game that featured one of the more dominating performances of what is becoming one of the top two or three defenses in the league (ranked fifth in total defense as of this morning). This 5-2 Redskins team needs to improve on the offensive side of the ball, but the good news is that they appear to be capable of improving, while simultaneously playing to the defensive strength of the team.
- Before we condemn the Redskins to being “ugly with no chance of beating a good team,” perhaps a quick survey of the NFL terrain can give us a little perspective. The Skins are sitting in the #3 slot in the NFC right now. They are staring up at the Rams and Saints—two teams we can all agree are a tier above us right now. The head-to-head advantage goes to Washington over Carolina right now. The Redskins are tied with the Rams for most NFC wins (5), and have won both divisional games so far. The point differential does begin to point out some...well, ugliness (haha)...but that is a combination of running into Drew Brees on his coronation day and playing a field position/time of possession style game. Could we be confusing “ugly” with “safe?” In this era of pass-happy, scoreboard-ringing football, it might be a fair statement to say that “safe” can get you just far enough to lose in the playoffs. I just don’t see the ceiling that this mindset seems to imply though. I don’t see this as the best version of Jay Gruden’s offense, and despite not having a player like Derrius Guice, I think there are ways for this offense to improve that will result in more points and more convincing victories. You are well within your rights to question that, and you might even be right, but you won’t be able to argue away the 5-2 record OR the fundamental underlying reasons for these wins: the defense, the special teams and a successful run game.
- There is a legitimate conversation to be had that doesn’t involve shouting or anger when it comes to the woes the Redskins absolutely need to correct. Before we spend time this week digging deeper into that, we simply have to acknowledge that some part of the way in which Jay is calling games plays to the team’s very obvious strengths on defense and special teams. Is there room for better execution and more aggressive play-calling? Oh yeah. Is there room for better utilizing the wide receivers we do have on gameday so we don’t get Jordan Reed killed? Yep, but let’s not ignore where improvement is happening. Josh Doctson caught all five of his official targets yesterday, some in very heavy traffic, and most for first downs. The longest was only 15 yards, so we can hope for better there, but him and Alex Smith have now looked more in sync for two straight games. The dam hasn’t broken there yet, but if and when it does, it would be meaningful for this Jay Gruden offense. (For a quarterback that has historically favored tight ends over wide receivers, I found it hilarious when we went empty backfield with three tight ends spread and Chris Thompson out wide.) Getting Thompson back healthy is a big deal, and here’s hoping he looks a little more himself next week (did we really have to get him schwacked on that last dumpoff yesterday?). Those that are done with Jay Gruden and Alex Smith see an offense that is stuck in the mud with no chance to break free. While I am not in that boat, until we begin to see the improvement I think is possible, I can’t sit here and act offended that people hate what they are watching on offense. I just want to make sure we recognize that this team’s identity is not on the offensive side, which is only a valuable point to make for a team that is 5-2 (it would be a stupid point to make if the Redskins were 2-5, for instance).
- Did you think I was going to get to the end of this Sixpack without mentioning the names of the heroes of this Redskins team through seven weeks of action? Did you see Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan yesterday? Did you see D.J. Swearinger yesterday, PFF’s highest-ranked safety in the league, and the league leader for interceptions? Did you watch the Washington secondary keep pretty much everything in front of them? Sure, Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley found a way to get their yards—they accounted for two-thirds of Eli’s passing production—but they weren’t enough. SEVEN SACKS?!?!?!?!? I mean, Ioannidis looked like an All-Pro yesterday. I also loved that we had ten tackles for a loss. Once again, a team with a talented running back was unable to find anything on the ground against this defense. Once again, Tress Way and the special teams unit made the opposing offense continuously look at insanely long fields. The Giants were 2-14 on third downs. We are all on board with this defensive unit at this point. We all understand it is the undisputed face of this team. The question going forward is whether or not a dominant defense is enough to overcome a not-yet-there offense. The best-case scenario is that the offense wakes up of course, but until then, what a treat it is to watch our team win with the big guys up front on defense. I know that is how some people define “winning ugly,” but not me. It has been about 30 years since I have seen something this beautiful on a football field in the district.
Looks Like Someone Has a Sixpack of the Mondays
Three wins in a row has the Washington Redskins on the kind of roll that could lead straight to a home playoff game at FedEx Field.