- We don’t duck reality here at Hogs Haven. As we inch closer to the beginning of the 2018 season, we also inch closer to what at least feels a little like that monster at the end of the book that Grover has been warning me about for decades. For Jay Gruden and the Washington Redskins, the monster has been at the beginning of the book. At 0-4 in season openers under Jay, the Redskins have been losing to that monster. Granted, two of those seasons saw winning records (you know how I feel about ties), but getting off to an 0-1 start four straight years can’t be the best way to go about it. As I name my “pivotal moment of the 2018 schedule” (patent pending), I just can’t help but think it is coming sooner this year than I have typically seen it.
- My goal today is to introduce a few topics that we can get some discussion around and take to the show tomorrow night in the basement. It is somewhat foolish to even wonder if winning the opener is really that big of a deal—it is. When you only get sixteen chances to bring home a win, every one matters. On that front, here is a question that touches a topic we bring up every winter: when are the most important regular season games played? I think we can dispense with some of the more simplistic answers to this question—we know our schedule and we know (for the most part) the personnel we will face. Think of this in two parts: a) when do you most want be “hot?” and b) when do you most need to be “hot?” Maybe the answer is the same. (Also, this would be a great time to section off a three or four game stretch that you think is the most important one of the year.)
- This begs the question: what kind of team have the Redskins put together? We are clearly not returning champs looking to pick up where we left off after a big season. These kinds of teams are generally capable of collecting 10 or 11 wins regardless (irregardless, even) of whether or not they win the opener. You might even say these kinds of teams (think New England Patriots) are capable of “giving one away” and recovering well enough. No...the Redskins are not this kind of team. Washington can’t afford to give a single thing away (except second round picks, which are given out at Halloween instead of candy at Redskins Park).
- It probably bears mentioning that this conversation isn’t about when we would choose to lose a game. We would choose never. It isn’t about which games we would choose to win. We would choose them all. For the purpose of this conversation, try and imagine that the Redskins won’t be going undefeated this year. I know...difficult. The point is that the NFL season is a minefield that teams have to navigate. Some teams can survive hitting a mine early. Most can’t survive hitting one late. To the casual observer, it almost seems like the Redskins are actively seeking these mines every year and doing jumping jacks on top of them. Assuming for a moment that Jay Gruden has improved his minesweeping abilities, is this Redskins team built to survive early losses?
- I hope you were covering this sentence up as you were reading that last question, because—spoiler alert—the answer is NO. Jay Gruden and Alex Smith seem pretty damn happy together. The offensive line in burgundy and gold is going to prove they belong in the top third, if not the top five, of OL’s in this league. The defense is as young, hungry and talented as we have seen...ever during Dan Snyder’s stewardship. The skill positions on offense are stocked with talent and promise. The position coaches on the sideline are as good a group of coaches as we have seen since the Joe Gibbs staffs. I believe this group—as a whole—needs early validation. This is not even about proving to the fanbase or to other teams what they are all about. I think this Redskins team feels good about themselves right...this...very...second. That feeling has to be validated—for themsevles—with a win as soon as possible or we risk watching that feeling vanish like a fart in the wind. There are no recent memories of stellar Redskins play in games that matter that much for these players to call up. There is no break in this schedule for the players to look toward and rely on for a stretch of games where they will be favored...at least not the way it lays out currently. Everything that can be good about this season and beyond has to be manufactured out of the gate. Despite having recently watched a team crawl out of a 3-6 hole to finish 10-6, let’s all be real honest about being a successful comeback team in the NFL. It is one of the hardest things to do because there is generally a reason why you are losing, and that doesn’t typically change that fast in such a short season.
- When the good times aren’t rolling, something needs to happen to get the rolling started. That is why I am breaking with my trend over the last handful of years and saying that the Pivotal Game of the 2018 Season is the opener, on the road in Arizona. No, the Cardinals are not favorites to make it to the Super Bowl, but yes, they can give us everything we can handle. Jay Gruden has never been able to open a season and have some positivity blow through town from week one to week two. Given I have also called this “The Year of Jay Gruden,” let’s just say he needs this 2018 ride to open with a bang. I understand that the bulk of our divisional schedule is later in the season. I understand that you want to be peaking before the playoffs (if you are lucky enough to be in contention). I understand that history is littered with great September teams that turned out to be terrible December/January teams. I don’t care about any of this today. I am arguing that this Redskins team absolutely MUST win its opener, and that it will be a pivotal moment. In addition to being a road game in-conference, which checks two huge boxes in terms of “extra value” wins, getting off to a 1-0 start will allow these players to do something no Redskins team under Jay Gruden has ever done: look at each other in the locker room after week one thinking, “You know what...maybe we were right to be so confident in who we are. Maybe this year is different like we have been telling each other all summer.” You can argue it is a little lazy to call the “next” game the most important, but I’m also talking about doing something we have failed at doing for the last four years. If and when we break that trend, I do very much believe we will be witnessing a pivotal moment, because we will be combining confidence with talent on the front side of the grueling year. We can examine my record briefly on this tomorrow night...with what I expect will be some tough football talk from Kevin and T—let’s just say they aren’t bashful about stating...uhhhhh...opposing viewpoints.
If the Redskins win the opener this season, it will be the first time Jay Gruden has ever done so as a head coach.