|"What do you mean, 'gametime decision,' coach?"|
It's easy for me to tell myself that the reason our game plans over the first 1/3 or so of the season have consisted of a lot of college-style designed quarterback runs is because Shanahan's playing things too conservatively, and is unwilling to let RG3 out of his box. But what am I really basing that on? The fact that he tore things up against the Saints? That was just the first step to exposing a Saints team that has never had a very strong defense. The Saints made it to the Super Bowl a few years ago on the strengths of a high-flying offense led by one of the best quarterbacks of the last decade and a weak defense that was shored up by a defensive back who had a late-career renaissance and turned into an interception machine for a couple of years. That was the Saints at their upside, and since they're pretty much playing headless this year, with all of their major coaches suspended, the 2012 season represents their downside. As a week one rookie starter, RG3 rolled into the Superdome and crushed the Saints defense all day, and especially in light of how badly the other week one rookie starters did that week, it made him look like a fucking badass. In particular, as I've discussed before, I saw a few passes that day that had me off the couch and hollering, "What the fuck was that? Did that just happen?" It was awesome.
But as much as I want to believe that what I saw in week 1 was undeniable proof that RG3 is a hall-of-fame level great in the prime of his life come to take the Redskins into a new era of Camelot-like peace and prosperity, uncomfortable reality has been slowly creeping into the edges of my awareness over the past several weeks, and with last week's injury, I can deny it no longer. I hate to admit it, but the far likelier possibility is that RG3 has tons of talent and a huge upside but is just not there yet. None of us are around when the team is practicing on Wednesday afternoon or whatever and Shanahan is testing out a gameplan for the next week. We don't know what he's seeing and can't guess how much of that is affecting the kinds of plays we see on Sunday afternoons. It's entirely possible that RG3 is slipping up and throwing picks or losing track of his receivers or some other horrible issue is coming to light in practice that is driving Shanahan's conservatism. Much as I find it tough to imagine considering what I've seen the guy accomplish in highlight reels from Baylor's 2011 season, maybe he's not really ready to wing it downfield on a consistent basis. Maybe the designed runs are covering up for some other weakness that the elder and younger Shanahans are frantically working to erase from RG3's overall play before anyone else finds out about it and exploits it. I don't want this to be true, but unless I'm willing to assume that Shanahan is a total dimwit who has no idea what he's got in RG3, I have to figure that the gameplans we're seeing are in place for a reason. By the way, don't get me wrong, I have not taken the possibility that Shanahan really is just an idiot off the table--check back with me in week 11 and see where I'm at with that. But as of now, I'm reserving judgment.
And really, is Kirk Cousins a world away from RG3 at this point in time? There are some obvious differences in skill level and poise, and we saw them firsthand as Cousins blooped out two picks in a row to seal the Falcons game away. But the guy is not exactly Rex Grossman--at least, not yet. Some of the mistakes he made last week are very similar to the sorts of mistakes we've all been watching Grossman make for, it feels like, five years now (in truth, he's only been on the team for a little over two--crazy, huh?), but Cousins has an excuse. He's young and raw--where Grossman is 32 and has been in the NFL for a decade, Cousins is 24 and was seeing his first regular-season action last week, in game 5 of his rookie season. Look at the difference between week one Andrew Luck and Andrew Luck last week, all bringing the Colts back from a 21-3 deficit and throwing for over 350 yards. The guy seems to be pulling things together fast. Could Cousins do a similar thing on the field? Well, who knows? In truth, he might end up like Brandon Weeden, another struggling passer on a mostly-woeful team who has both great and terrible plays in seemingly every quarter. But really, considering how the team is operating right now, somebody who plays slightly better than Grossman but still has potential for a great deal of improvement isn't the worst option by any means.
|Could those be... gunslinger eyes?|
We can't afford to sink back into meek, pale defeatism, worrying about when to take a chance and then consoling ourselves when our half-stepping ain't quite enough to win the games we need to win with bullshit platitudes about "We'll get 'em next time" and "we beat ourselves" and "we're better than this." No shit, sherlock! Every Redskins fan in the world knows that, while we may not be world beaters, we've got a team on our hands that damn well ought to be able to win 8 or so games this year and let the rest of the NFL know that we are at least working on coming back. Dropping games to opponents who are just as clay-footed as we are, and doing so in obviously recallable moments when the killer instinct was lacking or the wrong plays were called or no one seemed to have enough energy to finish the job, is just worthless. I can think of so many games over the past several years where the Redskins have had a great first half, taken a significant lead, and then seemed to just fall over on their sides, go "We're tired, let's just kill the clock for the next quarter and a half," and in so doing, let 10, 14, 17 point leads get pissed away. At the end of it all, after another loss by less than a touchdown, the platitudes get aired out again and I find myself turning into an old school anarchist. "If not now, when?" I scream at my television. "If not you, who?" That's really the question. Are we going to put our best foot forward, let RG3 go out there and prove it on the battlefield with his arm and his quickness and his intelligence, or are we gonna half-step an entire game out of some misguided idea that there's always time to become a winning team somewhere down the road? We have to fight and scratch and claw for every fucking game--the best teams in the NFL have to do that every year, and if we want to be one of those teams, we have to do it too. Saying "fuck it, give the golden boy a rest" and letting Kirk Cousins start the game would be a symbol that we are still not ready to do that. And once again, I must ask--if not now, when?
|Just who the fuck are you, anyway?|
And then there's the question of this Vikings team we're facing this week. They're coming into this game 4-1, with one of those wins being against the seemingly-unstoppable juggernaut that is the 2012 49ers. I don't know about any of you, but that seems all kinds of wrong to me. I fully recognize that the Vikings have some great players on their team--Percy Harvin is a young, hungry wolf of a wide receiver, and Adrian Peterson is probably the best running back the league's seen in the past decade. On the defensive side of the ball, they've got that redneck asshole Jared Allen, who can eat a big ol' bag of fuck (with extra mayonnaise) as far as I'm concerned but is still an incredible defensive lineman, and the last thing I want to see is him scoring multiple sacks on RG3. But even as I say all this, in my mind I'm thinking, as I've always kind of thought, that the Vikings are a second-tier team with a lot of holes and weak spots. I don't know what the 49ers did wrong to lose to them, but I figure it must have been something, because they don't seem good enough to beat the 49ers in my mental estimation of them. But this is all blind bluster, really, because the fact remains that I haven't seen the Vikings actually play this year. The last game I saw them play was last year in Sunday Night Football, when Donovan McNabb did such a bad job that coach Leslie Frazier said fuck it and put the rookie in to try his luck under center. During the moments of that game that I caught, Christian Ponder still seemed very much a raw collegiate recruit trying to figure out a bigger, faster game, but I haven't seen the guy play since, and for all I know he's become a really good NFL-level pocket passer. I really don't have a solid handle on whether or not he'll look great in the pocket tomorrow afternoon, or whether things will be collapsing on him most of the time. I know one thing, though--if he could burn the 49ers for two touchdowns in the air and another on the ground, all without turning the ball over, he is cause for concern.
Our secondary has kind of looked like Swiss cheese this year. I can't really point to a perennial loser along our back line, so it's tough to say that it's when QBs look Josh Wilson's way that we have trouble, or Madieu Williams, or whoever. It more seems to me like the unit is not playing together as a team that well. Blown zone reads, inability to successfully execute man to man coverage, etc. If Ponder figures this out (and really, who am I kidding? The Minnesota coaches have probably showed him film of it), we're gonna be burnt toast on the defensive side of the ball all day tomorrow. This is something I ultimately blame on Jim Haslett, by the way, whose Cover Zero/rush everybody strategies strike me as being specially designed for a really great, A-level defense, which the Redskins do not have at this point. The guy doesn't seem willing to work with what he has and design a defense that keeps it conservative, giving things up underneath in order to avoid big plays rather than selling out everything we've got to try to get some glamorous high-profile stop but risking getting burned on a regular basis. How many times have you seen a Redskins blitz almost work but then at the last second turn into a 25-yard gain for the opponent? Too many, if you ask me. We really need to be more honest about what we (don't) have on the defensive side of the ball and stop acting like nothing's wrong and then getting burned for 50-yard passes by second-tier teams.
However, I don't think that change is gonna take place this weekend. I think getting burned for 50-yard passes by a second-tier team might very well be the theme for tomorrow afternoon. I don't know whether, in the fullness of time, Christian Ponder will grow up to be Drew Brees or just a really lucky Alex Smith. But it doesn't really matter right now. Worrying about the future is what keeps the Redskins from focusing on the present, and if they can't get their focus on the present soon, they're gonna keep dropping winnable games. It's like someone told me years ago when I was having trouble finding time to write--if you wait for the conditions to be perfect, you'll be waiting your whole life, because nothing's ever perfect. You've got to accept the imperfections of the space you're in right now, and try to do as much work as you can within those limits. That's something the Redskins have been bad at for years, and I think the team's fortunes will only turn around as a whole once they start accepting their current limits and finding a way to turn negatives into assets, or at least value-neutral situations.
And this advice might seem diametrically opposite to my previous cries of "If not now, when?" But if you think about it, both of these points are based on the same idea. Just as the Redskins need to stop gameplanning for assets they don't have, they need to stop worrying about hypothetical negative outcomes and not only recognize but utilize the assets they've got. We need less six-man blitzes on the field and more RG3 pocket passes. Will it happen tomorrow? I don't know. But if it doesn't start happening soon, then I think all that hype after week one about how the Redskins have finally turned the corner will look like the most rancid sort of bullshit by week 12 or so. And getting to say I told you so won't be any kind of consolation.