Regular season football is back! The Philadelphia Eagles and Washington are set to play each other this Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. In order to preview the Eagles’ Week 1 game, I reached out to our enemies over at Hogs Haven. The affable Andrew York kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming contest. Let’s take a look at the answers. (Also don’t forget to check out my Q&A exchange over at HH.)
1) What’s the confidence level in Case Keenum as the starting quarterback? Did Washington make the right decision to start him over Dwayne Haskins?
I think the confidence level can best be described as “meh”. Keenum’s history is known, he’s a journeyman QB who is capable of winning with a good team around him, but he has only led a team to the playoffs once in his 7 year career. He didn’t really separate himself in the offseason with his play and wasn’t named the starter until after our week 3 preseason game (and after a setback with Colt McCoy’s health left him unable to start). That being said, he hasn’t looked bad either, just not spectacular. He has a veteran’s ability to read the defense, go through progressions quickly, and throw the ball away rather than take a sack. He looks like he can execute the offense well enough to keep us in games and allow the defense and rushing attack to win them for us.
I think most fans agree Keenum should be the starter week 1, including me. The Redskins knew Dwayne Haskins was a raw (though very talented) prospect when they drafted him, having only started 1 year at Ohio State, and Jay has repeatedly talked about the need for “patience” since we drafted him. He is still learning many nuances of the QB position, such as consistent footwork, cadence of the playcall, timing of the snap, and calling out protections at the line. In addition, Jay seems to have decided that Haskins should learn the full playbook rather than simplifying it to make it easier to learn. At the same time, Haskins is clearly the most talented of our QBs and makes regular “wow” plays that show off his amazing arm talent, poise, and athleticism.
All of this was on display in his first preseason game against the Browns. He was slow to progress through reads, called some poor protections at the line that resulted in unblocked rushers, made mistakes in cadence that resulted in false starts by the offensive line, and made some poor decisions on throws that may have worked in college, but resulted in interceptions in the NFL. However, his first pass was a flick of the wrist that sailed over 30 yards for an easy first down reception, and he tested the field deep more than any of our other QBs. Since then, his play has noticeably improved with every preseason game. The mistakes have become less frequent, and the good plays more common. Early in the offseason, I was projecting Haskins to start week 11 against the Jets (after our week 10 bye). After watching him progress through the preseason, I’m moving that projection forward to week 6 against the Dolphins (after our early season gauntlet playing the Eagles, Cowboys, Bears, and Patriots tough defenses).
2) How do Washington fans reconcile trying to root for the team while also seemingly having much disdain for the front office and ownership?
This is a tough question to answer, but I’ll do my best. First, some fans can’t reconcile these things, and erosion of the fanbase has been visible recently through declining season ticket sales and a drop in TV market share relative to other NFL teams. However, fans don’t root for an owner on Sunday, they root for a team. As despised as Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen are by fans, they’re not the reason we watch football and they’re not the ones we cheer to get a game-winning TD or 4th down stop. The problem for most fans is less that they dislike Snyder and Allen, and more that the team has been continually disappointing under their leadership. Although it would probably take many years and a radical change in leadership style before fans would be willing to embrace Snyder or Allen, fans are ready to get excited about the team the moment they are playing well and finding success on the field. We saw this last year when the Redskins were leading the division in the first half of the season. The season ended in disappointment due to a rash of injuries (notably at QB), but I suspect fans will be equally excited the moment the team gets hot again.
Also, fandom is not rational. If we were being rational about which team to root for, then we should all be Patriots fans, since they seem to be the best run organization in the NFL and are the only team that seems to have figured out how to make it to the Super Bowl almost every year. Fandom isn’t about picking the fastest horse, it’s about finding a tribe and sharing a common identity. I remember watching Redskins games with my dad on TV all through childhood and it’s still something we look forward to doing together. I remember meeting Art Monk and thinking how he was larger than life as I got his autograph. And there are numerous times where I’ll pass someone on the street or in the store on gameday and smile as we notice we’re both wearing burgundy and gold and feel a sense of camaraderie even though we’re total strangers. Fandom is about a lot more than the people at the top.
3) What is Washington’s biggest strength? Where do they have the biggest edge in this game?
The biggest strength is the defense (particularly the DL) and the run game. Four of our front five starters on defense are 1st round picks (Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, and Daron Payne) and we have Josh Norman and Landon Collins to help in the secondary. I expect our DL to be able to shut down runs up the middle and limit rushing yards in general, though I imagine the Eagles will be more successful finding soft spots in the passing game. The Redskins also have a deep RB stable. Normally I would predict us to have an edge running the ball, but the Eagles have one of the top run defenses in the NFL, so both teams could find more success passing.
4) What is Washington’s biggest weakness? What concerns you the most about the Eagles?
Our biggest weakness is our QB and the left side of our OL. Our starting LT is Donald Penn, a Pro Bowler in 2016 and 2017, but he’s 36 years old and returning from a 2018 season lost to injury. Also, he only joined the team about a month ago as a Trent Williams replacement and doesn’t have a lot of experience working with the rest of the OL. Our starting LG is Ereck Flowers, who needs no introduction. As skeptical as I am that the Ereck Flowers experiment will work, I will say that he looks better as a guard than a tackle (a low bar, I know). Flowers is a big dude, much larger and stronger than most guards. He’s actually got pretty good straight line speed for his size and can generate a lot of push with his upper body, which makes him great at run blocking and blocking at the second level. The problem is he has terrible lateral agility (slow feet), stands up too quickly, and is slow to recognize stunts. This killed him as a tackle, but is hidden a bit if he’s allowed to play in a phone booth as a guard. I actually think he’ll be a plus at run blocking, but I think he’ll be a liability at pass protection, which is not great against a DL good at getting pressure up the middle. Also, given what I said in the previous answer about this game favoring the passing attack of both teams, I don’t like that one of our weaknesses is QB.
5) Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for this 2019 Washington season?
I’ll guess that the Eagles win 13 - 10. I imagine it’ll be a very defensive game with a lot of punting and potentially turnovers, and I imagine some of that scoring will be off of turnovers. If not, it probably won’t go well for the Skins. Like I said before, a game script that favors each team’s passing attack favors the Eagles. Week 1 games are always the hardest to predict though, because we have no idea who these teams are. That’s one of the fun things about the NFL, every year teams surprise us. In terms of the season, I’d say we go 8-8, but we could easily go way over or under that projection. With Case Keenum at QB, I don’t expect the offense to be much worse than with Alex Smith, but not a whole lot better either. Case will probably turn the ball over more, but he’ll also probably take more 50-50 shots and throw receivers open. I think under him, we’ll mostly follow last year’s pattern of winning games where the defense can keep the score low and the run game can dominate, but we will get blown out in games that become shootouts and we get behind early. However, the big X factor is the development of Dwayne Haskins, because he looks like he has the potential (if he can clean up his mistakes and get more consistent) to win shootouts and put games on his back.