The Redskins' draft gets an "Incomplete". It's a reasonable way to look at it. Assigning grades to drafts immediately after the draft is worthless. The draftnicks that spend all year long preparing for 3 days of roulette-guessing are well within their rights to label with A's, B's, and C's but grading should wait at least a year but more like 2+.
Even when you hear a draftnick say "the Rams got great value, hehad a 2nd-round grade and they got him in the 5th", it means little. There are 32 teams with 32 different draft boards. It wasn't always that way but sophisicated scouting has resulted in against-the-grain evaluation being the norm. Not everyone had the 5th-rounder as a projected 2nd, hence the reason the player wasn't picked until the 5th despite the draftnick's insistence that it was three rounds too late.
The "Incomplete" for the Redskins comes with a few notes.
1. They drafted highly productive defensive playmakers at the college level. Amerson, Thomas, Jenkins, and Rambo made plays. Amerson and Rambo finished 1 and 2 nationally in interceptions during the 2011 season, Thomas led the nation in 2012. The three combined for 8 touchdowns the last 2 years. Jenkins was 3rd nationally in sacks in 2010.
2. They took some chances. Rambo had multiple drug suspensions while Jenkins and Thompson were injured last year. However, as we've seen in recent years, when the Redskins take a shot on a checkered or injured past, they usually do it with the least amount of risk possible. A 5th or 6th rounder on a talented player with some baggage is worth it. A 2nd-rounder on Malcom Kelly isn't.
3. There is a roster trend developing. The Redskins really like guys that play with great feel and vision even if they aren't elite in the so-called important measurables. They believe that athletic vision and feel is more important than a tenth of second on a 40-time when it comes to getting hands on the football or making someone miss when you have it.
Just look at their last two drafts for examples. Kerrigan doesn't have elite speed but plays with great anticipation. How many times have we seen him knock down a pass with feel and timing or bait a quarterback into a dangerous throw. Royster and Morris have average straight-line speed but both have great vision and the ability to make tacklers miss. One of Richard Crawford's pre-draft write-ups included this line--"short-arms, average speed, but makes up for it with great vision and deceptive quick-feet".
This weekend's draft is totally reflective of a team that wanted vision, feel, and anticipation more than anything else. Shanahan on Thomas--"great job adjusting to the ball, played with good feel". Shanahan on Reed--"he's got a great ability to make people miss". Shanahan on Rambo--"former quarterback, just a guy that has a lot of intangibles, makes plays all over the football field." Shanahan on Thompson--"he's got great elusiveness".
4. RG3's health trumps everything. Free agency, draft, and everything else we've spent the last few weeks discussing is important but none of it matters as much as RG3's health. His health/readiness for next year is the runaway number 1 factor for next season's prospects. If he's healthy, the Redskins have a chance to be good and maybe very good. If he isn't, all bets are off.
This is a list of things about the Skins' 2012 season that I want to remember when we get to free agency, draft, and beyond.
1. RG3's Spectacular Season. The whys and hows of his injury will dominate the offseason discussion but let's not let it totally overshadow the greatest rookie season in franchise history. His debut game in New Orleans was stunning. The final drive in Tampa, the 76-yard game-clinching run against Minnesota, and the go-ahead touchdown drive late in the 4th quarter in East Rutherford were breath-taking early-season moments. The 7-game season-ending win streak featured 8 touchdown passes in back to back wins over Philly and Dallas, a clutch go-ahead touchdown pass against the Giants in a huge Monday night win, and two clutch throws on the final drive against Baltimore on one leg. He threw 20 touchdowns against just 5 picks with a 102.4 QB rating.....as a rookie! Oh and by the way, he rushed for 815 yards while leading the league in yards per carry at 6.8. The list of eye-popping plays he made during the course of the season are too numerous to mention but how's the 88-yarder to Garcon in the opener, the 4th and 10 to Paulson the first Giant game, the 76-yard TD run against Minnesota, the 30-yard go-ahead TD pass to Moss in the first Giant game, and the TD pass to Moss just before the half on Thanksgiving in Dallas for starters.
2. Pierre Garcon's Impact on W's and L's. With Garcon the Redskins were 9-2, without him they were 1-5. He was a difference-maker for sure.
3. Alfred Morris. He was the perfect zone-stretch and zone-read runner. He set the franchise record with 1,613 yards with the perfect combination of vision and power. His 33 carries for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns in the NFC East title game against Dallas in the season-finale is one of the franchise's all-time great individual performances.
4. Santana Moss Wasn't Done. The 33-year old led the team with 8 touchdown catches and was third on the squad with 41 catches.
5. The Offense Was Top 5 and Could've Been Better. They finished 5th overall, 1st in rushing averaging 169.3 per game, 4th overall in scoring at 27.3 points per game, and it could've been better if their defense didn't rank towards the bottom. Imagine that offense with a defense that gave them the ball back quicker.
6. Offensive Innovation. Mike and Kyle Shanahan introduced the NFL to the "Pistol". The "Pistol" was nothing more than a formation that allowed them to more effectively run their traditional zone-stretch offense while also threatening defenses occasionally with the lethal "Read-Option". Once the Shanahans introduced RG3 as a run-threat out of the "Pistol", the offense became nearly unstoppable. The most overrated talk during the season was how many times RG3 ran from the "Pistol" while underrated was what the threat of him running did to defenses. Separating truth from fiction, the "Read-Option" was not only the most effective passing offense the Redskins ran, it was the safest and cleanest pocket for RG3. He barely got hit on throws on the "Read-Option" and his primary receiver was almost always open. By midseason, San Francisco and Seattle were among the teams copying what the Redskins were doing.
7. Turnover Margin. The Skins ranked 3rd in the league at +17 and led the league with just 14 giveaways. A big reason for their 7-game season-ending win streak was 15 takeaways and a plus-10 margin.
8. Defense Got Better. 28th overall isn't good and leaves a ton of room for improvement but after the bye at 3-6, a defense that couldn't stop anybody started to and a team that couldn't generate any pass rush got some. Jim Haslett deserves a lot of credit for figuring out how to take a defense decimated by injuries and suspension early (see Carriker, Orakpo, Merriweather, Jackson) and turning into a competitive group by the final month of the season.
9. Penalties' Good and Bad. The Redskins were penalized an average of 7 times a game (5th most in the league) but just 2.7 times per game in their last 3 games (best in the league).
10. Danny Smith's Comeback. From two blocked punts in the first two games to a very good rest of the year. Fans wanted him fired early but his punt coverage team finished 8th while his kickoff coverage team finished 12th. Brandon Banks was ineffective but the move to Richard Crawford on punt returns worked.
11. Kai Forbath. Nobody can explain the move to Cundiff at the end of the preseason but the final outcome was a good one after Cundiff predictably failed. Forbath set an NFL record by making 17 straight field goals to start his career....he finished 17-18, missing his final attempt of the season into the wind and on the sand at Fed Ex.
12. Fed Ex Turf. A total disaster late in the season and a total embarrassment in the playoff loss to Seattle.
13. Biggest Offseason Needs. Safeties, corners, and another playmaker on offense are my top 3 priorities. Big decisions regarding Fred Davis and Brian Orakpo.
Last week this time it was grins, giggles, and excitement about an amazing run to an NFC East Championship. RG3 was getting better, a home playoff game was underway, and Mike Shanahan had turned 2.5 years of criticism into a probable contract extension. Today, the Redskins are out, so is their prized quarterback, and Shanahan's seat is hotter than ever. What more proof do you need that the NFL is truly a week-to-week league.
My view on whether he should or shouldn't have is that either decision wasn't easy for the coach at the time. It's easy now, it wasn't then. From what we know, nobody else on that sideline tried to convince him his quarterback couldn’t go. Not one doctor nor trainer screamed to get him out. None of RG3's teammates believed it was necessary to protect their captain. London Fletcher, the most mature and senior of team leaders said he thought RG3 would make a play. RG3 himself never indicated to anyone with authority that he was in trouble. Many believe that a blind man could see how hurt RG3 was and how much risk Shanahan was taking by leaving him in there but those closest to it weren't as convinced.
There are so many reasons why those closest to the situation didn’t see it the way many of you did but the most obvious is this. In their eyes, he still looked capable of performing well enough to win. Remember, he played hurt against Philly and Dallas and played well. While he clearly looked worse against Seattle, how much worse? The talk this week of him playing as if he were a one-legged amputee is hyperbole. He didn’t look great but he wasn’t incapacitated as some talked themselves into believing.
He clearly tweaked his knee immediately before his 2nd touchdown pass in the first quarter. For the remainder of the first half, he took just six snaps in total. Six! And which of those six was obvious proof of his lameness? None is the answer. He didn't limp or wince noticeably after any of them. Did he throw a pick on a deep shot to Pierre Garcon? Yes. Was the ball so badly underthrown that it looked like a 12-year old threw it? I don’t think so. After that, RG3 took a mere 18 total snaps the rest of the game. There were indications of stress for sure but a one-legged amputee….exaggeration.
The most obvious vision of trouble was his 9.5 yard hop on the read-option play early in the 4th quarter. This was the play that convinced most of you that he couldn’t do it and more importantly, was at great risk if he stayed in the game. Two things about that play. First, his touchdown run against Dallas a week earlier and his first run against Philadelphia two weeks earlier were different-looking but not ridiculously different. Second, the play actually happened on the other sideline where it’s possible, Shanahan didn’t see RG3’s struggle to run while pulling that right knee with him. Now, if he saw it and feared from it, how could the decision to pull him from a game in which they led 14-13 with 12:45 left facing 2nd and short be easy? It may have been the right call, but is it that much of a reach to consider the decision was a tough one? I know, RG3 is "the franchise" and it was Shanahan's job to protect "the franchise" but that wasn't his only responsibility that day. He was responsible for giving 53 players and 15+ coaches/employees his best effort in order to win the most important game of the year. At that time, no matter how bad RG3 may have been hurting, he had just gone 9.5 yards to start one of the most important drives of the game. Taking him out at that point seemed obvious to some. Not to him and not to those on his sideline that thought after that 9.5 yard hobble, that's our leader. Hurt or not, he's going to lead us to victory.
For a week now, Shanahan’s critics have wanted more than just their opportunity to vent. They have demanded explanation, investigation, and in some cases, Shanahan’s head. Leaving it alone as simply a football coach making a football decision that went wrong isn’t enough. Some believe that this was selfishly motivated, irresponsible, and negligent. The NFLPA considered investigating but realized that opening an investigation about a football player playing hurt was Pandora’s Box times 10 and smartly ditched the idea.
A week after being united, Redskin fans are divided. Should he or shouldn’t he will be the question of the offseason and it might last until we know for sure that RG3 is the RG3 we saw before the Baltimore game. It might get old talking about it but those that think Shanahan “should have” are finding it hard to accept discussion about anything else. After all, if we drop it and move on, we’d have to talk about the coach that guided this team to their most successful season in 13 years. That’s a hard swallow for those that are convinced he ruined their quarterback. Almost as hard as the decision a certain football coach faced a week ago.
It was a disappointing end to an exciting season and the game that ended the season is already generating a ton of questions and discussion that will last weeks. There's time for that but first, the good, bad, and more from the loss to Seattle.
1. The start. No doubt that the Redskins were ready at the start in all phases for this game. For a quarter, they dominated. Their first two offensive drives of the game were perfection. The defense was very good at the start as well. It looked very good at 14-zip but Seattle got a few huge breaks on their 2nd and 3rd possessions of the game that probably saved them from being blown out. More on that below.
2. RG3's competitiveness. I think there are reasonable differences of opinion on whether or not he should have been pulled from the game but I don't agree with the view that the decision to keep him in the game was dumb, selfish, or irresponsible on anyone's part. RG3's big-time competitiveness and his associated confidence makes it a tough in-the-moment call to bench him if he says he's good and ready to roll. Many ripped Cutler for pulling himself in the NFC Championship a few years ago....that wasn't going to happen with RG3.
3. Reed Doughty. He has played very well recently but he was spectacular today. He had 12 tackles, 2 sacks, and a few more QB hits to go with a near-pick in the end zone. It was a memorable game for him.
4. Jim Haslett's defense. Even though ultimately the defense gave up 224 yards rushing in this game, I thought Jim Haslett's defense did everything it could to give the team a chance to win the game. Over the last month, the defense has been able to generate legitimate pass rush pressure and force key turnovers and today was no different. Five sacks, plenty of hurries, and a huge early third-quarter forced fumble at the goal line. Sometimes a coach does his best job when it's not obvious based on the numbers. Haslett got the most out of limited resources over the last month of the season.
5. Sav Rocca and kick/punt coverage. Rocca had some huge punts including a 53-yard net punt late in the 3rd qtr that finally flipped the field in the Skins' favor. Punt and kickoff coverage were solid all day too.
1. The turf. It was perfectly fit for a playoff game in the 20th century....not in 2013. Field turf should be considered if they can't keep a grass field in decent shape In December and January.
2. Not enough Morris. Whether RG3 was hurting or not, I thought Morris should've gotten more than five second half carries. To be fair, the Redskins only had a few possessions in the 2nd half in total and several of those started in horrific field position where they were trying to make a play through the air with Seattle showing 8 in the box. Still, on 7 2nd-half first-down plays before they fell behind 24-14, Morris only carried the ball on one of them.
3. Drop-back pass game. This has been a problem all season long for the Redskins. They just aren't very good when they have to throw. RG3 wasn't healthy for sure so part of their failure to throw was on his inability to step into passes and/or extend plays with his feet. It was even more apparent when Cousins came in. He had no time in pure pass situations down by 10. This is why the read-option was their most effective pass offense this year because it kept the pass rush in flux.
4. The play that may have changed the game. Down 14-zip, Seattle faced 3rd and 12 from their own 18 after Wilson was sacked by Perry Riley for a 6-yard loss. With the crowd in full throat, Wilson underthrew Zach Miller short of the sticks but instead of an incompletion and a subsequent punt, Miller made a shoestring catch and somehow was able to get the necessary first down yardage through would-be tacklers Hall and Wilson. It was just one play early in the game but if he doesn't make that catch and a first down, the Redskins would've gotten the ball back in great field position with a chance to add to the 14-nothing lead. Instead, the Miller first-down catch was the key play on a drive that ended in a Seattle field goal.
5. Leonard Hankerson hears footsteps. He's had an up and down year but one thing has been consistent....if he's going over the middle and a defender is close, he's going to short-arm it.
1. Shanahan's decision to stick with RG3. Truth is, I never felt strongly during the game that RG3 should be benched for Kirk Cousins. I thought about it but it wasn't obvious to me until he was laying on the ground after the fumble down 21-14. In hindsight, it's easy to say their chances would've been better with Cousins at some point before the 4th quarter but with that said, I never gave up on the possibility that RG3 would make enough plays to win the game. My view on this whole thing is that RG is a competitor, he's the main reason you're in this game, he's telling you he can do it, you let him go, especially considering that your team still had the lead. How much better would Cousins have made out with the awful 2nd half field position? Maybe better or maybe worse. Keep in mind, as limited as he was, RG3 still had a 3rd and 7 throw to Leonard Hankerson early in the 4th quarter that Hankerson should've caught for a first down. It would've given the Skins a first down in Seattle territory up 14-13. I understand and believe Shanahan's postgame explanation that he felt Robert had earned the right to keep playing as long as Robert felt he was up for it and the doctors weren't pleading for him to sit. I think this was a much tougher call in the heat of the game than it seems now.
2. A key play that bounced Seattle's way. Russell Wilson fumbles and instead of Madieu Williams or Rob Jackson picking it up, Lynch picks it up and rumbles for a 20-yard gain. It was a key play on their first touchdown drive.
3. Haushka was hurt. The Lynch go-ahead touchdown run on 3rd and 5 was obviously a big-time run. If the Skins had gotten a stop, I wonder if Seattle would've sent an injured Haushka out for a 45 yard FG on bad turf.
4. Seattle had some missed opportunites. A dropped pass by McCoy near the end of the first half could've been a touchdown....the fumble at the Skins 2 by Lynch on the opening drive of the 3rd quarter....Wilson missed a wide-open Baldwin in the end zone in the 3rd quarter.
5. Near-disaster on a punt return. Skins got lucky they didn't turn it over on a punt return in the 3rd qtr when the ball nearly hit Cedric Griffin and Richard Crawford.