Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bruce Allen: the Redskins last, best hope (since the previous last, best hope)

[Apologies as usual for the weird formatting. Blogspot is just f-ing terrible.]

As I wrote a few weeks ago when this whole shitstorm broke, what was so depressing about the revelation that Mike Shanahan and Dan Snyder's relationship had soured so badly was the confirmation that the Celebrity Coach model can't work in DC. I'm not a fan of such a model on it's merits, but it seemed like the last option for allowing a football operation to take place without Dan Snyder's interference. With Marty Schottenheimer and Mike Shanahan, the egos were just too big to peacefully coexist with the owner. He and Joe Gibbs seemed to get along, but that was mostly a case of hero worship. Hiring a more obscure coach to see if you could uncover hidden talent is a non-starter because without a strong football structure over him an unknown coach will be destroyed by the whims of ownership (Hi Jim!). My preference all along (everyone's preference, really) has been the Strong GM model, but it seemed like that is the one option that Dan Snyder would never accept. It would prevent him from either basking in Celebrity Coach’s reflected glory or micromanaging (and therefore undermining) an up-and-comer.

That's why I watched Bruce Allen’s press conference yesterday with great interest. In it he claimed that he was taking on a full GM role. He also said that he would have full control over personnel matters. It is important to remember, of course, that press conferences don’t mean a damn thing. But let’s take him at his word for the moment and discuss what that would mean.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Snyder, Shanahan, and finally reaching the point of despair

Yesterday was a bad day. And I think I can say without exaggeration that this is the most hopeless I have ever felt as a Redskins fan. Yes, I know that's saying a lot. What I usually do in a situation like this is to try to argue that the media is forcing an over-wrought narrative, or that fans are oversimplifying, or that the problems, while severe, are fixable. But I don't have it in me this time. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My response to the "fire Mike Shanahan" crowd

Despite the extreme team nature of football, I don't think there is anyone who disagrees that the Redskins' long term fortunes will be largely dictated by whether or not Robert Griffin III plays up to his potential. There are three big factors working in Griffin's favor:

- Further recovery, both physical and mental, from the injury.

- A full offseason of work (do not underestimate how much a young quarterback can be inhibited by spending his second offseason in the league rehabbing rather than learning his craft).

- Having a better roster put around him due to the expiration of the league's ludicrous salary cap penalty and, after one more year, a return to having first round draft picks to play with.

Those are three sound reasons for optimism. The one thing I would not want to do is throw a new variable into the mix, like a coaching overhaul. Don't you think this kid - and he is a kid, despite last year's silly messiah treatment - has enough going through his head already?

Also, this is not the Steve Spurrier era, where it didn't even resemble a professional organization out there. Nor is it the Jim Zorn situation, where a guy was thrown in over his head and constantly undermined by management. This is an accomplished, respected NFL coach who is currently not getting the results he wants.

If Shanahan is fired, who is the replacement? Remember that Dan Snyder still owns this team and we have a pretty good track record on the guy. Only a coach of the stature of Joe Gibbs or Shanahan can stave off the owner's office from involving itself in football decisions and generally undercutting the coach at every turn. That of course limits the options. What reason do we have to assume that, I dunno, let's say Bill Cowher, has a better chance of improving this team than Mike Shanahan?

In my opinion, a disruption of continuity after this season has much better odds of neutralizing this team's bright spots than of sparking a recovery.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The current state of the Redskins in light of a loss to Denver

The Redskins are now 2-5. This is not good. However it is important to remember how scary the situation looked just a few weeks ago. The Redskins are now consistently competitive.

I know it's the fourth year of the Shanahan regime, and it can be frustrating to be satisfied with "competitive" this far in. But of course they got to reset their clock after the franchise went all in on Griffin III. It's unfortunate that two full years were squandered as a result of the misguided attempt to build around Donovan McNabb, but that's also water under the bridge at this point. For all intents and purposes we are only in the second year of this program, and given that it's centerpiece is coming off of major knee surgery I can't be too disappointed in the progress to date.

I don't like continually being optimistic for next year any more than you do, but if you think of 2013 as year two in a rebuild there several reasons for optimism:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Nate Jackson on the "genius" of football players

Former NFL tight end Nate Jackson has a very good piece up on MMQB that I highly recommend. It covers not just the effects of concussions but also football's allure and the sense of loss once a career ends.

I also wanted to call your attention to a parenthetical aside he throws in. It is a bit off topic, but I think it is an important point that we casual observers of sports often overlook:

"(And make no mistake, it is the athletic mind of the athlete that connects the dots; brilliant performance artists, the lot of them, mistaken as dummies because they never learned to file a report or calculate a spreadsheet. But try visualizing an explosively violent and incredibly intricate physical task, and then DOING it with your two hands, your body, your limbs, your connections, the synapses, the will and the fire, in real time against the most dominant members of the species. That’s genius too.)"

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Redskins' defensive breakdowns against Detroit

In this post I am going to point out what I think are a plethora of mental errors by Redskins defensive players. It seems appropriate to point out the following:

- When players and coaches say "if you aren't in the meeting room you have no idea what the play was," they are right.

- Without knowledge of the play call, it can be pretty dicey to assign blame to an individual player. Quintessential team sport and all that.

However, a number of things went on that violated the basic principles of defensive football. So on most of these plays I can say with some confidence that that is not how the play was drawn up. It is certainly true that inferences were being drawn, but in most cases it is pretty clear that someone screwed up.

Keeping in mind those disclaimers, it certainly appears to me that the problems with this defense run deeper than bad tackling and some inexperienced defensive backs.

And now for the examples, with play by play descriptions taken from the NFL Game Book and screenshots from NFL Game Rewind's Telestrator function:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Redskins opening snap sack against Detroit

I have often been critical of Jim Haslett's blitzes in the past, but the blitz that got the Redskins a sack on the opening snap last Sunday was nicely designed to draw the Lions into a protection adjustment and then exploit it so I wanted to walk through it.

The Lions come out three wide with an empty backfield (the RB is flexed to the left), and Ryan Kerrigan starts out lined up over the slot receiver. He then creeps in to threaten the right side of the offensive line while Josh Wilson takes over responsibility for the receiver:

The Lions adjust their protection such that the RT is responsible for Kerrigan, so that the TE can still release into a route. Fletcher crouches low behind Cofield, initially shaded slightly to the Redskins' left side of him. He is hoping the left side of the Lions' line doesn't realize he is still a rush threat. Before the snap you can see him tap Cofield's left hip - it appears that he is telling Cofield to attack the gap to his left to open up Fletcher's blitz lane. It works:

Note that even if the Lions hadn't gone with the empty backfield the Redskins likely still would have broken down the protection. Perry Riley was responsible for Joique Bell on this play (both on the far left of the picture) and presumably if Bell has stayed in to block Riley's assignment would have been to blitz, so either he or Fletcher would still get a free shot at the quarterback. As it happens he released into a route anyway (after a brief chip on Orakpo) so both he and Riley were removed from the play entirely.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Jordan Reed's unexpectedly busy day

By now you have heard the buzz about how rookie Jordan Reed stole the bulk of Fred Davis' playing time against the Packers.

After the jump I have play breakdowns of every one of the snaps he played (or at least all of them where I could identify him during a quick skim through NFL Game Rewinds "Condensed" feature; I'm sure I missed one or two). But if you're not one to go into all the details here are my takeaways:

- I did not get to see much run blocking out of him, because falling behind 31-0 just doesn't create a whole lot of run blocking opportunities. Unfortunately that is what I am most curious to see about him, because if he can block competently then he is even better positioned to take Fred Davis' job next year if not earlier.

- He was expected to be the tight end who mostly motioned and split out wide while Fred Davis lined up at the more traditional TE spot, like a less murdery Aaron Hernandez (allegedly!). But on Sunday he spent much of his time in a three point stance on the line of scrimmage, and I never saw both he and Davis on the field at the same time. The conclusion: he and Davis are not fulfilling different roles, he was absolutely replacing Davis.

- He seems to be a very aggressive route runner, really selling an outside route before cutting inside and so forth.

- He was always near the bottom of Griffin's route progressions, so there were a number of occasions he got open but Griffin had already thrown to one of his first reads. So while he showed potential don't go picking him up in your fantasy league just yet, it's not like the Redskins are going out of their way to force the ball to him.

- Check out his blitz pickup at 11:41 in the third quarter.

And now on to the play breakdowns:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Just how bad is the Redskins 0-2 start?

OK, it's pretty bad. But given that many people are already reaching for the panic button I feel somewhat obligated to live up to my blog title.

Let's start with the defense, which was expected to be weak. However the beating they have taken in the first two losses has led many to believe we are looking at a total defensive collapse (I believe I saw the words "historically bad" somewhere on Twitter). But it's important to remember the nature of these two losses:

Thursday, September 12, 2013

So what was up with that crazy-ass three linemen formation from the Eagles?

So you have the two offensive tackles aligned way the hell wide, creating what looks like two trips bunches - but of course one man in each "bunch" is actually not an eligible receiver:

The Redskins defense notes the obvious - the Eagles are set up to run a screen to either side if the defenders remain bunched up in the middle of the field. After some shouting and gesturing by London Fletcher and DeAngelo Hall, Perry Riley and Josh Wilson each quickly move to cut off the screen options to either side so the Redskins won't be stuck with a cornerback trying to take on an offensive tackle:

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Eagles are inferior to the Redskins, yet well positioned to pull off an upset

The Philadelphia Eagles are quite likely to end up with the worst record in the NFC East this year. They also, in my opinion, have a better than even chance of starting 1-0 after beating the Redskins tonight.

The basis for my pessimism caution is the matchup between new Eagles coach Chip Kelly and Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. All offensive coaches focus on creating situations in which they can array more blockers against fewer defenders and get the ball to one of their (so-called) skill position players with room to run. But there are a few factors that make tonight's situation not quite routine.

Monday, August 26, 2013

My favorite non-Redskin players to watch

I've tweeted some of these names before, but partly out of boredom and partly because I was reminded by this tweet...

... I decided I may as well put together a little list.

This is not a list of best players. It is merely the ones who for totally subjective and biased reasons I tend to notice and enjoy the most when I catch them on TV. Also I am talking about my enjoyment of them throughout their careers, not necessarily just with their current team.

It's probably not a coincidence that this tends to skew towards team that end up in prime time a lot:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Are tactical innovations in the NFL making football fans' vocabulary obsolete?

You could say I came of age as a football watcher as a teenager in the 90s, so I consider traditional I-formation offenses to be the norm. That style of offense allowed for a fairly clean and simple understanding of what constituted play action. There's more to it than this, and occasional exceptions, but from our perspective as a fan any time we saw a fake handoff we could call it play action and we got by just fine. As Tanier said in a recent Mandatory Monday, "We need to learn enough Spanish to get around Barcelona; not every verb needs to be properly conjugated."

But recent tactical developments in the NFL such as read option and packaged plays (not the same thing, but there is overlap between them and it is not a coincidence that they are arriving in the NFL simultaneously) may force fans like us to abandon some of our simplistic definitions. A read option play in which the running back doesn't get the ball isn't so much a fake because up until the QB reads the defensive end's first step there was a legitimate chance the running back could end up getting a carry. Regular old fake handoffs, of course, are designed to be fake from the beginning.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Redskins I'm watching

Here's a short list of the Redskins I am most interested in watching now that I'm back in the blogging game after a year and a half off:

Will Montgomery

I try not to outright pick on players, but I was probably Will Montgomery’s most consistent critic last time this blog was active. Many commentators described him as at least adequate for a backup, a view which I tended to protest. Of course players improve with experience all the time (and the new offensive approach does wonders to help out O-linemen) so I wasn’t entirely shocked when he looked much better last year. I at least noticed that he wasn’t jumping off the screen as a liability each play, but Pro Football Focus gave him an outstanding +21.3 grade for the season. I strongly respect PFF’s work and find their grade’s informative, though they are not necessarily definitive and I feel free to disagree with them. So now that I am back to doing more detailed analysis I am looking forward to finding out whether Montgomery is as good as they seem to think.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On the problems of evaluating field goal kickers

 If you follow me on Twitter for some reason you may recall my objections to the general fan enthusiasm to cut Graham Gano or Billy Cundiff after every missed field goal or to praise Kai Forbath as a savior after every successful kick. You could be forgiven for thinking I was just being contrarian because I admit that's occasionally my thing. But I actually think the approach to evaluating field goal kickers - not only by fans and media but by NFL coaches as well - is deeply flawed in ways that will take more than 140 characters to discuss.


Let’s get right to the point: you can tell pretty much nothing about the quality of a field goal kicker from his field goal percentage. Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders wrote back in 2006 that “There is effectively no correlation between a kicker’s field-goal percentage one season and his field-goal percentage the next.”

What are some possible reasons for this?

Monday, August 5, 2013

The blog is coming back

I've got the itch again. After a hiatus of a year and a half I intend to start the blog back up for the 2013 season.

It may be in a somewhat limited capacity compared to what I did in the past. It is unlikely I will do the full play by play breakdowns of entire games. Most likely I will re-watch the games and then do more limited posts on certain aspects that I want to highlight.

This is for a few different reasons. The first and most obvious is simple time constraints. Additionally, committing to that format was rather limiting. I would get so hung up on completing all four quarters that it pretty much prevented me from writing other kinds of posts. Less ambitious goals will let me dole out some bite size chunks in a way that can work for readers who don't have the patience to slog all the way through the play by play. I know that if you read my stuff you read every other Redskins blog and site, so by not even trying to be comprehensive it will increase the odds that I can contribute something that you don't see elsewhere.

For this preseason, you will probably not be seeing the usual stuff like roster predictions. This is because I was exceptionally busy last year and was unable to spend any more time on the Redskins than watching each game once, live. I frankly lack strong opinions on most of the bottom half of the roster. So this August I will be getting back up to speed on this team, at least when it comes to the details.

(NB: In 2012 the Redskins built around a superstar rookie QB, were at the forefront of a tactical revolution that swept the NFL, and went on a dramatic win streak to turn what seemed like a lost  season into a surprise playoff berth. Yep, THAT's the year I took off.)

Within the next day or two I should be able to publish a piece I've been working on about the problems of measuring field goal ability and how, as I perceive it, NFL teams do not make rational decisions when it comes to signing and cutting kickers.

After that the first preseason game will be upon us, and we'll just play it by ear from there.

Cool? Cool.