Making Friends with the Enemy: Redskins

Redskins_LogoThis week we’re on our third installment of MFWE and we’re fortunate to have Washington sports fanatic Peter Curtin with us to chat about the Redskins.

Now for those of you who don’t know Pete, he’s been a long friend of the site and has written a number of fantastic articles for us since the beginning. He’ll also be joining us on the podcast this week. Simply put: the man knows his shit.

This week we spend time talking about the team name, RGIII’s knee, the Skins draft class and, of course, Sunday. Here’s the results:

The Redskins name has been a huge debate over the last few months. What seems to be the general feeling of the fan base regarding the name?

Almost every fan falls into one of three camps. The first is really passionate about keeping the name as is, the second is really passionate about changing the name, and the third is somewhat indifferent, if not slightly confused or conflicted That first camp’s argument is, essentially, that the nickname is a tradition and that you don’t mess with tradition. Occasionally someone will pull out the “Why’s everything gotta be so PC all the time?” line, but that argument obviously doesn’t hold up to any amount of scrutiny.

The second camp’s argument is that it’s ridiculous that an ethnic slur is still being used as a professional sports team’s nickname in 2013, and that if anyone takes offense, it needs to be changed.

It seems like the third camp is where most people actually fall. They just happen to be the quietest camp and thus are underrepresented in media coverage. Members of the third camp have grown up using the word “Redskins” as part of their daily vocabulary without even thinking about what the word means to some. It’s just a word that’s used to refer to their football team. That being said, they are definitely uneasy about the nickname’s potential to offend, and their support of the team would not fade were the nickname to change.

Personally, I find myself somewhere between the second and third camp. The Redskins are a DC institution and they’re a huge part of the city’s culture. It would certainly be weird for me if the name got changed (think of the Eagles not being named the Eagles), but I’m very uneasy that there are many who take offense at the name. It isn’t as though the Oneida Nation is threatening to move the team to Los Angeles. They’re just asking for a different nickname. I stuck with the Bullets through their transition to the Wizards, I doubt there’s a name that would make me stop loving the team. And I think that’s the case for a huge number of fans, but there are those who act like the nickname is the Hill they will die on.

Last week we spoke with Packers fan Matt Stein about Jermichael Finley and whether or not he’ll hit free agency. However, for the Skins, Fred Davis seems destined to be shown the door despite also being a young talented tight end. What went wrong?

Fred Davis has always shown great potential and the occasional flash of brilliance. He has also, unfortunately, been plagued by accusations of poor work ethic for most of his career. You’ll recall that he was recently in the headlines for owning up to dozing off in team meetings. Throughout his career, he’s had trouble getting/staying on the field. He had trouble getting on the field early in his career under Jim Zorn, showing up to training camp late, out of shape, and firmly second on the depth chart behind roster stalwart and fan-favorite Chris Cooley. In the time since Cooley’s health problems and subsequent retirement, Davis has failed to stay on the field because of a series of injuries and a four-game suspension for smoking marijuana during the lockout.

His disappearance this year is the product of injuries and the emergence of Jordan Reed. Both Reed and Davis are receiving Tight Ends who are not polished blockers. Redskins OC Kyle Shanahan has, to this point, shown no signs that he wants to implement passing formations that feature two Tight Ends. It should be said that the weakness of his offensive line could be what’s preventing him from doing so. Backups Logan Paulson and Niles Paul are both better blockers than Reed and Davis, so they are the ones who on the field for two-tight end sets, either to help in the run game or in pass protection. The Shanahans obviously think that Reed’s presence makes Davis expendable, so rather than let Davis get all the first team reps in practice and playing time on game day only to let him walk away this offseason, they moved Jordan Reed up the depth chart faster than anyone expected.

How has the Redskins draft class been performing thus far?

David Amerson came out of NC State with a reputation for ballhawking and questionable tackling and route recognition. In a weird turn of events, he has only two interceptions and has been one of Washington’s more fundamentally sound defensive backs. He’s splitting time with Josh Wilson as the team’s second cornerback and is also featured on Nickel packages.

I talked about Jordan Reed earlier, so I’ll be concise and say that he looks outstanding. He’s absolutely massive, he has impressive speed for his size, he has good hands, and he has a knack for finding the open space in a defense. He’s showing improvement as a blocker, and he could be one of the NFL’s best tight ends very soon.

Shifting back to a more negative tone, the Redskins prioritized the Secondary in the Draft with good reason, and the secondary is still the second worst unit on the team (behind the Special Teams, if you’d like to count them). 4th Round Safety Philip Thomas is on IR. 6th round safety Bacarri Rambo looked horrible throughout Preseason and the first two weeks and was benched. Injuries have necessitated his return to the lineup and he looks improved, but there’s still obviously a way to go before he’s a quality NFL starter.

5th round Linebacker Brandon Jenkins hasn’t made an impact. Running back Chris Thompson earned a roster spot as a punt returner before picking up a season-ending injury, and running back Jawan Jamison failed to make the roster out of training camp, clearing waivers and ending up on the Practice Squad.

First impressions count for a lot, and at the moment, 2013 does not look like it’s going to be a banner Draft class for the Washington Redskins.

RGIII was obviously not himself week one against the Eagles. How has he progressed since that game and how frequently is the team using him as a runner?

In Week 1, Robert Griffin was a mess. He was still visibly favoring that leg, he wasn’t using his legs to drive his throws, and the Eagles were content to sit back, realizing that they didn’t have to respect his legs.

He’s gotten progressively better since that horrific outing, but he still doesn’t seem like the guy who led the 7-0 charge to the postseason last year. He trusts the knee more and more with each passing week. His lower-body throwing mechanics are back, and he is not afraid to tuck the ball and run anymore.

The Shanahans understand how much he means to this team, and they are trying as hard as they can to protect him. But, they also understand that this offense only works if an opposing defense has to respect Griffin’s ability to make plays with his legs. So how frequently are they using him as a runner? Just enough for a Defensive Coordinator to know that they theoretically could use him as a runner.

What’s more troubling as a fan is the number of plays Griffin leaves on the field by turning to his legs too early. He has the common problem among young quarterbacks of locking in on his first option and panicking when it isn’t there. He needs to get better at going through his reads, because what’s happening now is that he’s tucking the ball and running for an 8 yard gain and a gigantic hit when there is an open receiver 15 yards down the field. The two-fold damage done by the decisions Griffin makes on his own to run are going to add up over time.

So if you’re Chip Kelly going into this game, how do you attack the Redskins defense?

When Mike Shanahan was named Head Coach, he insisted on having a 3-4 defense and brought in Jim Haslett to implement it. His rationale was that “Bend, don’t break” defense is ineffective in the modern NFL and that he needed a defense that could make plays and create turnovers.

His personnel decisions on defense have reflected that philosophy. He’s re-signed DeAngelo Hall, signed Brandon Merriweather, and drafted David Amerson, Philip Thomas, and Bacarri Rambo. This strategy has created a defense full of players who make the occasional spectacular play but are weak on play-in, play-out, every-down fundamentals.

Going into the season, I feared that the big play would be the undoing of the Redskins’ defense. What I envisioned at the time was opposing receivers running wide open deep down the field. I didn’t imagine that the big plays that would break the Redskins defense would be slants and check-down routes, followed by six defenders whiffing on tackles.

The Redskins have gotten very poor play from their interior linebackers and safeties, so Chip Kelly would do well to attack the middle of the Redskins defense. Ageless wonder London Fletcher no longer looks like such an ageless wonder, and his partner at inside linebacker, Perry Riley, could be fairly and accurately described as a borderline NFL starter. At free safety, Brandon Merriweather always goes for the big hit, usually gets fined, and never wraps up his man for sure tackles. Strong safety Bacarri Rambo has shown improvement since his disastrous first two weeks, but, as a 6th round rookie, has looked every bit the long-term project that he is.

To inflict maximum damage against the Redskins defense, Kelly needs to get the ball into the hands of DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy in the middle of the field and let them make defenders miss. The Redskins’ defense couldn’t tackle McCoy worth a plugged nickel in Week 1, and I don’t expect this outing to be any different.

What do you consider to be a key match-up for the game?

I’m going to say the Redskins’ front seven against LeSean McCoy. I think the Redskins offense can score points against the Eagles defense, and I think they can score enough of them to make this a game. If that front seven can’t wrap up and tackle on the first level of the defense and McCoy runs wild as he did in Week 1, this is going to be a long game for Washington. Other potential key match ups include DeAngelo Hall against DeSean Jackson, and the Eagles’ defense against Alfred Morris.

Who wins this week?

Eagles. The Redskins offense has been wildly inconsistent this year (not even on a game-to-game basis; frequently on a half-to-half or quarter-to-quarter basis), and the defense is not going to get enough stops to stay in the game. The Eagles have too many weapons.

The only way Washington wins is if Alfred Morris has a big day, allowing them to own time of possession and keep the game somewhat low-scoring. At the moment, these look like two teams headed in opposite directions. The Eagles snap their losing streak at the Linc and improve to 6-5.

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Posted on November 12, 2013, in Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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