Monday, December 01, 2014

If You Only Care About Results, the RG3 Benching Makes No Sense

So, let me see if I can understand and summarize the week that was in Redskins Nation. It will not be easy. My head is spinning faster than Jay Gruden is spinning his rationale.
Last week, Gruden decided to bench RG3 in favor of Colt McCoy, largely because RG3 was not producing points and the Redskins were losing. So, let's ignore the poor defensive schemes and defensive coaching and defensive breakdowns and try to imagine that all of the Redskins losses are due to poor offensive production.
Now, try to imagine that RG3 did not play in a pro-style offense in college against great completion and carry his Baylor Bears to a bowl win for the first time in decades. Try to imagine that the passing statistics that RG3 put up in college were not GREAT predictors of NFL success as RG3's college passing numbers blew away the college statistics of NFL QBs who had great success in the NFL. Try to imagine that RG3 did not have the best all-time season as an NFL rookie QB when he blew away the old rookie passer record with his 102.4 passer rating, beating Ben Roethlisberger's old record by 6% and confirming the analysis that his Heisman Trophy career statistics would lead to NFL success. Now try to imagine that RG3 did not put the 2012 team on his shoulders when they were 3-6 (after the head coach had already given up on the season) and carry the Redskins to the division title. It will take some imagination to forget all of those things, but Jay Gruden, apparently, has a great imagination.
So, let's look at RG3 with a more critical eye.
By most accounts, RG3's 2013 season was a complete bust, and it seemed especially so after the record-breaking year he had in 2012. Yet, in the Skins first ten games last year, when Griffin was still in the Shanahans' good graces, Griffin's offense was scoring over 25 points per game. They were 3-7, but the offense was scoring points. RG3 didn't look like the 2012 version, but he was still leading the offense to the end zone. The defense and special teams were absolutely atrocious, but RG3 didn't play defense or special teams.
So, do you know which division-leading or contending NFL teams THIS YEAR score 25 or fewer points per game--and in many cases significantly fewer than 25?
San Francisco
New Orleans
San Diego
Kansas City
And Baltimore is averaging just slightly over RG3's production in 2013.
In other words, RG3's offensive production in the redskins first ten games last year--a monumental bust--was as good as practically EVERY contending team's offensive production is this year. After the tenth game, the team had checked out and RG3 was benched for the last three games in favor of Kirk Cousins, who could not win even one of those games because he turned the ball over multiple times per game.
So, explain to me again how the Redskins weren't winning last year and this because of RG3?
Now, lets look at the results of this year's benching. Sure, RG3 got hurt again and lost time and probably some timing with his receivers. But, the main difference between RG3's rookie season and the last two? In his rookie year, all five starting offensive linemen played almost every snap. The last two? Hardly. He has had very few drop backs in the last two years when he wasn't harassed. But, to blame it on Griffin, one would have to see that his replacements performed better.

Kirk Cousins? He melted down in practically every game. He didn't win any of his starts last year or this. Let's move on.
But before I address Colt McCoy, let's remember that McCoy enjoyed a couple of things yesterday that RG3 hasn't had much or any of in the last two years: 1) Four times McCoy had a short field thanks to a sack fumble of Luck and an interception of Luck; another fumble; and good defense on one series along with good special teams; and 2) a healthy Jordan Reed playing TE. Other things McCoy had yesterday that RG3 didn't have last week: All Pro Trent Williams protecting his blind side; David Amerson helping his defense. 

So, how many points did the McCoy offense score after being given a short field four times? 6.
Why only 6 points? For many of the same reasons RG3 has not been able to lead his team to the end zone. The O Line is a sieve and McCoy has been harassed (that, and McCoy underthrew wide open receivers all day).
In all, McCoy put up 390 yards, but most of that came in garbage time and he got big chunks on poorly thrown balls on which his receivers made great plays. For example, his long TD to Jackson was horrifically under thrown but the defender didn't see it. Jackson did see it and came back to the ball. But, with 6 minutes left in the first half, with the game still within reach, McCoy had -3 yards passing (yes, that's a minus sign).
Now, McCoy was sacked 6 times (and fumbled twice), so the blame is not all on him. But, whenever RG3 was sacked multiple times in a game, Gruden stated that RG3 held the ball too long and wasn't seeing the things that were there. Colt was sacked more times yesterday than RG3 was in any game this year, yet there was no mention of McCoy holding the ball too long; no mention of having to look at the film to see why McCoy missed open receivers; no mention of McCoy failing to exploit four series in which he had a short field, an advantage that Griffin was not given this year.
So, if these losses are not the QBs' fault, the question is not who can win from week-to-week for the remainder of this year, but who is more likely to be a future franchise QB: A) the Heisman Trophy winner and Rookie of the Year who led his team to a division championship as a rookie and set an all-time passer rating record for a rookie just two years ago; or B) the journeyman who never had success in the NFL and who is six years older?
I know my vote.
But, it is apparent now given all of Gruden's post-game comments that RG3's benching is not temporary and it is not being used for motivational purposes. Gruden has given RG3 just five injury-interrupted games this year to prove himself. The rest of his career doesn't matter to Gruden, not even RG3's division-winning results when healthy. For reasons I cannot fathom, Gruden favors any QB over RG3 and it is unlikely that RG3 will be a starter again for as long as Gruden is head coach.

Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post said after this game, that it is clear that not only are the Redskins not a good team, they are not a well coached team either. I'll have lots to say about that in addition to Gruden's personnel decisions. Remarkably, this is the first time that I have had major disagreement with Brian Mitchell's take.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Offensive and Defensive Ranks of teams within the NFC East:

1) Redskins
2) Dallas (+22 Yards/Game)
3) Eagles (+53 Y/G)
4) Giants (+54 Y/G)

1) Dallas
2) Eagles (-2 Y/G)
3) Skins (-27 Y/G)
4) Giants (-86 Y/G)
As I have said all year, there is very little difference in talent between the teams with the top and bottom records in the NFC East, with two exceptions: 1) The Giants are clearly worst, spotting 140 yards per game in total to the best in the division; and 2) The Redskins are rising while the rest are falling, especially on defense with the young guys--Breeland, Amerson, Murphy, Kerrigan, and Robinson--who are rising fast, paired on offense with RG3, Morris, and Jordan Reed.
If RG3 were healthy all year, they likely would have beaten Philadelphia in Philadelphia, and the Cardinals in Arizona. Kirk cousins' meltdowns kept them from winning those games. Those two wins alone would place the Skins in first place right now. And, we don't know what would have happened in the Giants game if Kirk didn't melt down completely in the second half of that game, which was close until Paulson fumbled in the red zone with 2:00 to go in the first half. Or, what would have happened with a competent QB in the Seahawks game, which was a one-score game deep into the fourth quarter.
The good news: Kirk will not be given any more chances to melt down unless RG3 and McCoy get hurt. And, RG3--the Franchise--will be back for the Tampa game and the Skins will probably be 4 - 5 when he does. That record is one game better than their 3 - 6 record in 2012 when Griffin put the entire team on his shoulders and carried the Skins to the NFC East title.
On the other hand, I am still hearing nonsense from DC media that RG3 should not take the field if McCoy is 3 - 0 after the bye. Nuts. RG3 is one of the best QBs to step on a football field in the past 25 years. You don't keep a guy like that on the bench when healthy.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

" A Guy Who is a Friend of a Guy Close to Gruden Says (Anonymously)..." This Talk is Nuts. RG3 is a Once in a Generation Talent

The Redskins franchise took a major hit yesterday with the injury to RG3. You wouldn't know it from all of the media coverage, which in DC seems downright giddy this morning, but if one takes an outsider's view, it is pretty easy to see.

First, I have to dismiss Mike Wise's ridiculous column published last night.

I like Wise, but c'mon. I paraphrase: "A source close to Gruden who wishes to remain anonymous said Gruden is essentially relieved that he doesn't have to bench RG3 in favor of Cousins who can run his offense better?" Please. There is no head coach in this league would have benched RG3 in favor of Cousins at any point for as long as Griffin was healthy; not even that genius Belichick.
That is no knock on Kirk Cousins who is a player that I believe is capable of winning football games for a lot of teams, including the Redskins. In fact, it would not surprise me to see this team, with its dramatically improved defense and special teams, and awesome running game, to go far in the playoffs with cousins at QB. It's just that Cousins is no RG3. And, as good as Cousins was in relief yesterday against a weak team, RG3 was on his way to having an even better day. Had the refs gotten the call right on the deep ball to Jackson, RG3 would have been 3 for 3 for over 80 yards and at least one TD before his injury.
There have been very few athletes who ever stepped on an NFL field who were as good at their positions as RG3 is at QB. The few that immediately come to mind: Rice at WR, Montana at QB, Lawrence Taylor at LB, and Sean Taylor at S. That is not hyperbole. Those are "step-away-from-the-situation-and-look-at-the-facts" observations. The numbers are there and your eyes are not deceiving you. His all-time record PASSER rating for rookie NFL QBs is one thing. The fact that he redefined the position is another, when as a rookie he made several head coaches around the league adapt their offenses to try to get their QBs to approximate what RG3 was doing in DC. The latter includes Russell Wilson, last year's Super Bowl winner, and everyone's darling Colin Kaepernick.
RG3 is a special talent that comes along once or twice a generation. Smart, competitive, and incredibly athletic. As for being "injury-prone", there is a strong case to be made that a less-athletic player--one with athletic ability merely like the top QBs in the game--would not get injured as severely or as often. The dislocated ankle he suffered was not the result of a hit, but of incredible body contortion in an effort to avoid a hit and still deliver an accurate pass. His teammates are still in awe that he completed that pass. Jackson, who caught the pass, was so surprised by it that he failed to get up from the ground and run it into the end zone. The Jaguars defense was so surprised by it that they didn't bother trying to touch Jackson while he was on the ground. I was screaming at the TV for Jackson to get up and run it into the end zone, but he didn't, and the refs seemed so surprised by it, they blew the whistle to end the play before anyone touched Jackson.
In RG3's contortion, he awkwardly planted his left foot. It could be argued that no other QB in the game would have even attempted that move because no other QB has the talent to make that throw in the first place. The answer to RG3's freak injuries, then, is to have RG3 dial down his athleticism to be more like the merely great QBs in the game as opposed to a once or twice in a generation player.
Which brings me full circle. I like Cousins a lot, but he is not special. I understand the concept of having diversified talent and not vesting so much in one player, even a special one like RG3, but that ship has sailed. The Redskins are vested. When RG3 is healthy it will once again be time to exploit the talent that they acquired because so few teams ever get opportunities like this. There is no reason to settle for a lesser QB merely because he theoretically fits a system better. It is time to make the system exploit the extraordinary talent that is already there. And that includes developing RG3 into a pocket passer because most of his extraordinary talent--most of the reason that he is special--is because he makes great decisions, throws accurately to all parts of the field, and can move around IN THE POCKET better than anyone to buy time and wait for a receiver to break free.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

I Don't Even Recognize the RG3 That These Guys Write About

I am astounded by the all of the criticism being thrown at RG3. I may not be an expert on all of the technique--footwork, arm angles, vision, etc.--necessary to be a great quarterback, but I think the criticism of RG3 has gone way overboard. He has now gone from a "cannot miss" Hall of Famer after his first season in the NFL when he posted the best NFL passer rating of all time for a rookie, to what many consider a bust. It's preposterous.

He has retained all of the qualities that made him a great PASSER and leader in 2012. Enough already.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Fumblin and Bumblin: Skins 6 - Texans 17

When one is in an old fashioned gun fight against a Texan and one pulls a gun out of the waist of one's pants, one shouldn't pull on the gun by the trigger. Yet, that's exactly what the Redskins did yesterday shooting themselves in places where it hurts before the Texan could get off a shot.

If the Redskins had held onto the ball all three times that they found themselves inside their opponent's ten-yard line (turning it over twice), they would have won the game. Had they merely blocked those rushing the PAT attempt and the punt, they probably would have won the game. These are simple things. Things that can be corrected pretty quickly.

The good news:
  • Griffin played well. Going against a very good defense, Griffin finished with a passer rating close to 97, which is good enough for tenth in the league so far, and he looked a lot like the pocket passer that Gruden wants him to become. He ran only three times and mostly moved around in the pocket buying time for receivers to open up. I'd say he has learned the new system pretty quickly, not that it's a surprise (per my Season Preview). And, more importantly, Griffin's decisions were outstanding--just like in his rookie season. He consistently took what the defense gave him and didn't try to force anything. The Texans were not going to let him burn them deep, so Griffin took the five to fifteen yard plays every time at a high success rate;
  • Alfred Morris is a beast. He average 6.5 yards a carry yesterday and should have gotten more than 14 opportunities;
  • Jordan Reed's early injury was a reminder how much they miss him when he is hurt, especially on third down. The injury is supposed to be minor;
  • The defense is as good as I suspected it would be. They made few big plays, but they forced a lot of three and outs. They only let up one big play and only let up 10 points when they were on the field. There is a lot of talent there even if it turns out that Cofield will be out for a while with the ankle injury he sustained;
  • Their new punter looked very good. The block was not his fault;
  • Roberts was exceptional on returns and may have broken one had his own teammate not knocked him out of bounds. Damn these unforced errors. He also had another big return called back on holding away from the play;

The bad news:
  • Right Tackle Tyler Polumbus has looked bad every time he has played. I'm not sure what it will take to give the rookie tackle Moses a chance, but surely Moses could not have been much worse than Polumbus yesterday. In the preseason, Moses substituted for Trent Williams against Cleveland's first-team defense and did extraordinarily well. Let's hope the Redskins give Moses a start at RT soon;
  • All of the unforced errors;
  • Injuries to Reed and Cofield
It would be very damaging for a lot of reasons for the Redskins to fall to 0 - 2 after playing the Texans, who were on a 14-game losing streak before yesterday, and the Jaguars next Sunday. So, as ridiculous as it sounds, this week is almost a "must-win" game. The good news is that it is very winnable. The bad news: so was yesterday's game. The Redskins have to stop shooting themselves.

A win against Jacksonville should give them confidence in the system and Gruden and Griffin and the defense, especially if they fire on all cylinders. That would put them in position to do some early damage in the NFC East with the Eagles and Giants coming up after that. If it turns out that the Redskins are 3-1 after the Thursday Night game against the Giants, they will be sitting alone in first place with the tie breakers. After that Giants game, they play four games in which they should win three, for a potential 6 - 2 record at the halfway point and a lot to look forward to in the second half.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The CounterTrey 2014 Redskins Season Preview

This will be quick. The Redskins defense and special teams will be significantly better than just about everyone expects, and certainly much better than last year when the D and special teams were atrocious. That, combined with a prolific offense, will propel the Skins into the playoffs, possibly with a bye. No one thinks that the Redskins are a playoff team today, certainly not at where ten of the eleven analysts have predicted that the Eagles will win the NFC East and that the Redskins will fail to make the playoffs.

I find it laughable that there is so much "concern" about Robert Griffin III and his ability to pass from the pocket and digest Jay Gruden's offense. I find it hilarious that many think that RG3, the quarterback with the best rookie passer rating in history, somehow forgot how to pass the ball properly.

RG3 came out of college with passing statistics that the Wall Street Journal noted were huge predictors of success in the NFL: Namely, combined he had one of the highest completion percentages and yards-per-attempt of any quarterback coming out of college in the past thirty years or so (I looked for the info graphic the WSJ published before RG3's rookie season in 2012 in order to paste it here but could not find it).

The WSJ displayed those two passing stats in a Cartesian plane and demonstrated that the QBs in quadrant II, the upper right with the highest numbers in both categories, were known to have the most success in the NFL. Griffin's (x,y) point in that plane was better than almost all QBs coming out of college in the last thirty years. It was another data point that proved the WSJ correct because Griffin had the best rookie passer rating (not rushing rating) in NFL history. RG3 didn't just inch past the others in passer rating history, many of which turned into NFL greats, RG3 blew them away. Did I mention that his passer rating for a rookie quarterback was the best in NFL history and was almost 9% better than Dan Marino's rating? There are a couple of $100 million QBs on this list.

Highest Passer Rating (Qualified), Rookie Season
Robert Griffin III
Ben Roethlisberger
Dan Marino
Russell Wilson
Greg Cook
Matt Ryan
Cam Newton
Charlie Conerly
Charlie Batch
Andy Dalton
Joe Flacco

But, now after a leg injury in the playoffs in 2012, after RG3 carried a team on which his coach had given up, he forgot how to pass the football. Enough said.

The Redskins probably have the best collection of offensive weapons in the NFL. The trio of starting WRs have Santana Moss and Aldrick Robinson as BACKUPS. Both backups would start on half the teams in the NFL. Jordan Reed had an explosive 9-game rookie season at TE with many clutch catches and will dominate if he can stay on the field. And, of course, like most Redskins teams, the running game is one of the best in the NFL. In the last two years, only Adrian Peterson gained more yards on the ground than Alfred Morris, yet no one talks about Morris as one of the best in the NFL. The more they ignore the Redskins, the better are the odds that they will sneak up on teams.

When Joes Gibbs came back to coach, one of his first decisions was hiring a strong defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams. One of the first things Williams did was make sure the Skins signed middle linebacker London Fletcher. Fletcher was a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine. If he put hands on you, you would go to the ground. Fletcher was an undrafted free agent from a DIII school who became the fifth leading tackler in NFL history, but only got voted to the Pro Bowl two times, and even then it seemed it was out of pity at the end of his career. The last two years, it was apparent that Fletcher had lost a step. Whereas before he could go all the way to the sideline to get a sweeping ball carrier, get his head in front, and make the tackle, in the last two years that head didn't get in front so often, and then even when it did, he often uncharacteristically failed to bring the carrier to the ground.

Given the huge importance of a middle linebacker, it was understandable why the Redskins went from a perennial top-ten D since Gibbs' first year back in 2004, to one of the worst last year. It was more than Fletcher but the MLB spot was important. This year the Redskins have a young LB crew with Keenan Robinson taking over for Fletcher. Robinson was outstanding in preseason, going sideline-to-sideline and making brilliant open-field tackles.

So, the Redskins front seven should be very good. They picked up a sack machine in Hatcher who bolsters a D line that get Jarvis Jenkins healthy. The front seven will make up for any deficiencies they have in the secondary, but there is improvement there too. Getting Ryan Clark back adds much needed leadership at safety. David Amerson now has a year of experience after a good rookie season at CB. Breeland, a rookie CB, received a ton of accolades in the preseason.

Special Teams:
When the Redskins signed Jackson at WR, it made it more likely that they would use Roberts in kick and punt returns. Roberts was outstanding at both in the preseason. When the Redskins lost ST coach Danny Smith's leadership before the 2013 season, their special teams became a joke. Gruden and new coordinator Ben Kotwica have stressed the importance of special teams and the players seem to have figured it out. That and the threats of losing jobs seems to have made many much more enthusiastic for special teams than in 2013.

I see the Redskins winning at least 10 games, which should be good enough to win the division. The quicker that RG3 demonstrates that he is close to the RG3 we saw in the NFL in 2012 and at Baylor before that, the greater that win total will be. If we see that RG3 in week one, 12 wins is very possible. If it takes until week 8, it could be only 8 wins. But, I suspect the greatest rookie QB in NFL history, the one who not only graduated college but graduated in three years, will figure it out pretty quickly.

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