- I wish I had better things to write about after two weeks of professional football...but I don’t. The Washington Redskins are sporting a wretched 0-2 record, made all the more wretched by the fact that they are also 0-2 in the division and the conference. As sky-high as hopes can climb around the NFL prior to the season opener, fanbases like ours freefall back to earth with alarming speed. For the Redskins to have a successful 2019 campaign, certain things were going to have to go right for us out of the gate. The defense was going to have to dominate at the line of scrimmage. The offense was going to have to be able to move the ball, work the clock and capitalize in the red zone. The coaches were going to have to push the right roster buttons to ensure that any spark would be nurtured into a roaring flame. It kind of goes without saying that the Redskins, if they were going to present themselves as challengers come November, needed to perform at way better than league-worst levels in key areas of the game. Being 0-2 is bad, but there can be degrees of badness associated with 0-2. Redskins fans have been well-trained in splitting mouse-hairs when it comes to the varying forms of terribleness that are associated with these kinds of starts.
- Let’s start with the defense, a unit I (and many others) spent the offseason pointing to as the main reason this team would be competitive this season. I understand we lost our best player up front in Jonathan Allen (we’ll get him back), but are we going to tell ourselves that one missing defensive lineman explains being the THIRD WORST in total yards allowed in the league? We’ve given up the SECOND MOST rushing yards in two games. I understand that both the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys are hailed as title contenders this season, but here we are at the bottom of the barrel, tied for second-worst in total points allowed. As I said above, there are ways to get to 0-2 where some could reasonably look at the games and find reasons to be optimistic. The inability to stop the run is a conversation-ender. The inability to get off the field AT ALL is a conversation-ender. This defense didn’t make a single stop from the middle of the second quarter until the final whistle. Think about that. Last week, folks lamented Josh Norman’s “bail technique” as he would show press and then retreat. Yesterday, on the first deep ball Dallas scored on, Norman lined up outside of his receiver and literally chased him down the field, only to have the best seat in the house when Devin Smith hauled in the pass for six. When opposing teams can both run at will AND pick apart your secondary, it points to a pretty dismal brand of 0-2 football. Trust me, I would find a reason to paint lipstick all over this one, but losing two straight games to divisional rivals in this fashion to start the season is a pretty worst-case scenario.
- Let’s sandwich in a bright spot though, which continues to be the play of Terry Mclaurin. The rookie wide receiver out of Ohio State continues to look the part of franchise wideout, and Jay Gruden made the absolute right decision in choosing to target him deep on the first play of the game. Though I am already mired in a midseason-level funk over our winless team, I am perfectly capable of enjoying the hell out of a player who seems like he could be a legit star for us. For as much as everyone gets their panties in a bunch over wide receivers in this league, McLaurin has the potential to be a player who shows up in box scores and crawlers at the bottom of the screen all season. Though he was somewhat limited yesterday, Scary Terry still managed to find the end zone to keep his touchdown streak alive (it’s officially a streak, y’all!).
- I can’t just ignore the relative success that Case Keenum and Jay Gruden have had en route to being a top ten passing offense over the first two weeks, either. Both completions and attempts are well inside the top ten in the league, and Washington is near the tippy-top in touchdown and longest-touchdown stats. The rushing game for the burgundy and gold...uhhhh...well, it’s non existent. I guess that is as much on Jay Gruden as the passing offense’s success, but injuries and holdouts have significantly hampered this team’s chances to succeed on the ground. For the low, low price of $3.5 million, Case Keenum has performed admirably. He is doing his part, and while I would expect the Redskins to begin finding ways to get Dwayne Haskins some reps, Keenum is one of the only reasons we have even been in these games in the second half. I would argue that without Case Keenum operating like he has, Jay Gruden might be a LOT closer to being fired. With Keenum holding the reins, Gruden’s offense has at least looked passable (glowing endorsement, I know).
- I mentioned last week that my “Jay Gruden armor” is starting to wear down, and this week did nothing to help that. For the second straight week, the Redskins had a lead late in the second quarter and were actually in a commanding position (more so last week than this week). For the second straight week, the Redskins were unable to keep it up and turn that lead into a win. For the second straight week, Redskins fans are debating how much of that to hang on Jay Gruden. Let’s all get real honest for a second—there are very few survivors in the kind of season we are on the brink of having. This isn’t Jay’s first season—nor is it Greg Manusky’s first season—so it isn’t like they just got here and were dealt a questionable hand. Two weeks in the NFL is nothing and it is everything. It also isn’t like the Redskins just got bad all of a sudden. Thus far, they have proven they aren’t good enough to beat good teams. We will get the opportunity to match up against mediocre and bad teams (Giants and the Dolphins) in the near term, and I would strongly caution folks from getting out over their skis ahead of those games. As the in-house optimist, even I can’t shake the memories of games the Redskins should have won against the New York Giants over the last two seasons, and I sure as hell can’t bring myself to declare us better than anyone just quite yet—not even the Miami Dolphins. It absolutely doesn’t help anything that we will also face the Chicago Bears defense and the New England Patriots during this upcoming stretch.
- This all leads to us asking each other, “What now?” I know we aren’t the kind of fanbase to close up shop after week two, and the Washington schedule eases up slightly after the first month and a half. There has not yet been a surprising result for the Redskins. We were underdogs in both games thus far, facing well-rounded teams in the heart of their contention windows. I think the first order of business is to get a heat check on this offense against one of the best defenses in the league next Monday night against Chicago. On the other side of the ball, the Washington defense gets a Bears offense that has not exactly lit the world on fire. (Plus, it’s not like the Redskins don’t play well in prime time...wait, I’m being told that is not true at all.) There are rarely “good matchups” for winless teams, but with the Giants on the schedule the following week, the Redskins have an opportunity. Should they be able to get something going, and are able to convert these games into a 2-2 record, we are all of a sudden looking at the chance to use a Dolphins game to cancel out a Patriots game (reality bites). At or near a .500 record by midseason is the best possible position for this Redskins team to hope for, and could be the springboard into at least an interesting November and December. The landscape of this league changes on a weekly basis (the Eagles all of a sudden have health problems on offense and Hall of Fame quarterbacks are going under the knife in multiple cities). Since it doesn’t appear that the Redskins are going to dominate their way into the postseason conversation, it would seem to me that the next best thing would be to simply tread some early season water and be in position to possibly make that play in late October.
The Washington Redskins season is off to as bad a start as fans could imagine, and the imagination is beginning to run.