Not sure if you guys knew this, but the Philadelphia Eagles play a football game this Sunday. A real, actual football game! Pretty exciting stuff. First week of the season and all, you know.
In order to preview the Eagles’ matchup against the Washington Redskins, I reached out to our enemies over at Hogs Haven. The one and only “Bill-in-Bangkok” kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let's take a look at the answers. (Also don't forget to check out my Q&A exchange over at Hogs Haven.)
1 - So, what do you make of Washington’s 2017 offseason? From an outside view, it seems kinda dysfunctional with the GM unexpectedly being fired and the starting quarterback seemingly set to be gone after this season. How do you feel about Washington’s outlook for this season and beyond?
Let me start with Cousins first. This will be Kirk’s 6th season in a Redskin uniform, and I don’t think it’s particularly likely that he’ll be playing for any other franchise in 2018. The Redskins can tag him for a 3rd time if they want, and there’s nothing to stop them from signing a long-term contract. The ‘will he or won’t he’ question is the most over-discussed topic in Redskins nation – and that’s not just in 2017, the topic dates back to last season (and even to 2015 when people were debating whether he had done enough then to deserve an extension).
I’ve got Kirk Cousins contract fatigue. Given that the front office can’t discuss a new contract with him for the remainder of the calendar year, I’m ready to discuss other things. We’ll find out in February or March where Kirk will be playing next season. To answer your question directly, I didn’t feel that the failure to get a long term deal done this off season was a sign of dysfunction, no. I think Kirk made a business decision to play on the tag, seeing it as his best option for maximizing his career earnings potential.
The Scot McCloughan drama is completely different. I don’t think a healthy franchise would have gone through those events in the way the Redskins did. #FireBruceAllen was very popular among Redskins fans for much of the post-draft, post-McCloughan period. The “anonymous sources” in the team office that tried to slander Scot via the Washington Post immediately following his termination were the actions of a dysfunctional organization.
Coming out of the debacle, though, I don’t feel any real sense of helplessness. The 2014 draft – which was the last pre-McCloughan draft for the ‘Skins – was one of the team’s more successful ones. This year’s 2017 draft class looks good. In fact, 9 of the 10 players selected made the final 53, with the tenth player being signed to the practice squad. Redskins and NFL legend Doug Williams was promoted to the top of the personnel tree in the front office, and – until Su’a Cravens seemed to make an unexpected decision to retire, prompting the ‘Skins to put him on the Reserve/Left Team list – the offseason was feeling relatively normal in terms of the front office management.
I do think that Redskins fans have some reasons to feel unsettled, but the facts are that Jay Gruden is in his 4th season, the team has had two consecutive winning seasons, and is just a year removed from a division title. We have a talented quarterback in place for the season, we seem to be drafting well, and – except for a couple of head scratching moves – there seems to be a plan in place for the personnel.
Personally, I think that the roster has gotten stronger year by year for 4 seasons in a row (’14 – ’17) and, really, that’s what the front office is there for. Bottom line… I think there’s some concern among the fan base, but no real sense of panic. I think most of us perceive the team to be on an upward trajectory, with the next real off-the-field test coming in the new year, when the front office needs to either get Kirk Cousins under contract, or find an equally (or more) talented replacement.
2 – To what extent will Washington’s offense miss DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon?
This is probably the most important offensive question facing the Redskins this season. The frank answer is probably, “I don’t know”, but I think the team will miss them a lot less than most non-Redskin NFL fans expect.
First, the Redskins offense runs through the tight end position, where Jordan Reed is arguably the best pass-catching tight end in the league. He seems to effortlessly create separation, he has a large catch radius, soft hands (he rarely drops a pass), and he can take a hit and hold onto the ball. Now if he could just learn to block…
Second, Jamison Crowder is an extremely talented slot receiver (who can also line up outside), who probably didn’t get to show off his full potential last year because he was playing with Garcon & Jackson. Most Redskins fans (and I think the coaches as well) expect Crowder to have a lot more opportunities this season, and to improve on his 2016 numbers: 67 receptions, 847 yards, 7 TDs. A number of fans expect Crowder to become the Redskins’ leading receiver this year.
And while the team lost a pair of 1,000-yard receivers, we signed a free agent 1,000-yard guy in Terrelle Pryor as a replacement. I, personally, expect a huge year out of the 6’4”, 228 pound, 28-year-old receiver who is still developing as a wideout. Many Redskin fans agree with me. The preseason showed that Pryor and Cousins have a bit of work to do, but if they can get on the same page quickly, they will both turn into fantasy studs this year.
I’m not sure how aware Philly fans are of Josh Doctson. Scot McCloughan said that Doctson was the highest-rated receiver on the Redskin board in the 2016 draft, and we took him with our first round pick. He saw just a handful of plays last year, as he was hobbled with dual Achilles issues. This year, he and the coaches say he’s healthy, though he saw very limited preseason action due to a hamstring issue that cropped up ahead of the third game. I think every fan in Redskin nation is anxious to see if Doctson can remain healthy and live up to his draft status this season. He’s another big body, at 6’2”, 208 pounds with a 41” vertical leap.
No wide receiver is tougher than Garcon. No healthy receiver is faster than DJax. The team will miss both talented wide receivers, but Jackson is 30-years old and earning $11m per year; Garcon is 31 and signed to a 5-year, $47.5m contract.
The remodeled Redskins receiving corps is younger, bigger and cheaper. I think that Jay Gruden & Kirk Cousins will figure out an offensive attack that will succeed. I’m expecting 4,500 passing yards again this season.
3 - How much does the unexpected absence of Su’a Cravens hurt Washington’s defense?
Describing the Redskins defense this year is kind of like describing a blind date… before you meet her.
Consider these 11 names for a moment:
Stacy McGee – free agent DT
Jonathan Allen – 1st round draft pick DT
Zach Brown – free agent ILB
DJ Swearinger – free agent FS
Terrell McClain – free agent DT
Ryan Anderson – 2nd round draft pick OLB
Junior Gallette – OLB
Stephan McClure – free agent SS
Fabian Moreau – 3rd round draft pick CB
Josh Holsey – 4th round draft pick CB
Josh Harvey Clemons - 7th round draft pick ILB
I’ve never seen any of those 11 guys on the field in a Redskins uniform in a regular season game, and most of those eleven guys are expected to see a lot of defensive snaps this year. That’s 11 out of 26 players on the defense who have never played a down for the Washington Redskins.
Su’a Cravens played for the team last year, but he played linebacker; this season he was slated to make the move to strong safety, which many people (including Su’a, apparently) consider to be his natural position. In a sense, losing him isn’t a huge blow; many fans and analysts felt that the ‘next man up’ --Deshazor Everett -- had actually outplayed Cravens this preseason anyway. There have even been some quiet suggestions from some fans that Cravens may have decided to walk away because he felt that he was losing the position battle.
The issue is more about the loss of stability/continuity on a defense where the players still have to wear nametags when they get together for dinner, along with the really horrible timing – just a week prior to the opening game of the season. Cravens is (well, he was, prior to this) popular with fans, and he seemed to have the on-field attitude that endears a player to fans. The current issues seem to be mostly within Cravens head, having to do with his personal motivation to play the game.
There is a level of concern for Cravens, the man, quite apart from the football player. I think that fans recognize that the NFL is a game that requires commitment; I think they understand that a guy who doesn’t feel that commitment may be better off choosing a different path, and I think most of us wish him well no matter what he decides. I think the general sentiment, though, is that it would have been nice if he’d had his epiphany a little earlier in the offseason.
Redskins fans, collectively, I think, have a lot of faith in Everett to play well. He’s been with the team for a while, and is likely to acquit himself well. So, losing Cravens lessens the continuity, stability and depth of the defense, but may not really diminish the first-string talent on the field.
4 - What’s one matchup that really favors the Eagles? And one that really favors Washington?
The matchup that probably favors the Philadelphia squad is likely to be Legarrette Blount versus the Redskins defensive front-7, which is re-tooled, but was absolutely horrid against the run last year. The ‘Skins brought Phil Taylor into camp to compete for the Nose Tackle job, and he seemed to have won it. A season-ending injury in the 3rd preseason game brought that to a screeching halt.
The team made the curious decision to cut both of the other players (Joey Mbu & AJ Francis) who were competing for the NT job, and the week 1 depth chart released by the team has Ziggy Hood listed as the starting nose tackle. As a 5-tech, Ziggy is pretty good, but he was in the middle of the Washington 3-4 defense on most of the plays last year, watching the opposing running back scamper downfield. Zach Brown was signed from the Bills for his speed and tackling ability, and he has displaced Will Compton as the starting ILB and signal caller for the defense.
The team’s Defensive Coordinator from last year, Joe Barry, has been replaced. Two Alabama players – Jonathan Allen at DT and Ryan Anderson as a run-stopping OLB – should enhance the run defense, and fingers are crossed that the McTwins (free agents Stacy McGee & Terrell McClain) will help as well, but until this unit goes on the gridiron and stops a running back at the line of scrimmage, I don’t think anybody is ready to believe they can do it.
Legarrette Blount is not the kind of first test I would have hoped for. The matchup in the Redskins’ favor that I would point to is Jordan Reed versus anyone Jim Schwartz wants to match up against him. I’ve seen teams try to cover Reed with linebackers, with safeties, and even cornerbacks. He’s almost unstoppable in man coverage, and he’s way too skilled to be stopped by zone cover. Basically, he demands double coverage, and you know what that means for the other pass-catchers.
I used the word ‘effortless’ to describe Jordan Reed earlier. I don’t know how he does it, but he seems to magically get separation. He rivals Pierre Garcon in his catch rate and toughness – rarely dropping a catchable ball , and taking the hits that come with making tough catches in the middle of the field. Pretty much the only thing that slows Jordan Reed is injuries. When Reed goes off the field with an injury, we bring in our second-stringer, Vernon Davis…
5 - Who wins this game and why? What’s your score prediction?
The Redskins offense has not looked good in preseason. I’m hoping that they find the magic on Sunday. I still need a game program with numbers on it to tell which defensive players are on the field. There’s no way to know what to expect from them to open the new season.
Making a prediction about what this team is going to do in Week 1 is little more than guesswork. The Redskins – especially under Jay Gruden – have been notoriously slow starters, both in the first quarter of games and in the first week of the season.
At the same time, I think the Philadelphia football club is winless in the past five games against the Redskins. But FedEx is the worst home-field advantage in the NFL, so I can’t even rely on that.
I’m gonna say that the final score is 31-26, (somehow, one of the teams always seems to score 31 in Redskins/Philly games) but I’m not sure who wins. Just a moment while I get a coin out and flip it… ah! Redskins win!
Here’s hoping for a hard-fought contest, a good game, and no injuries!