At approximately 4:05 eastern today, the Washington Redskins’ 2017 season will come coasting into the station and come to a complete stop with a whoosh of hydraulics, and the metal lap bars will lift out of the way. We will be told: thank you for riding, now please exit to your left. We will be bitterly disappointed it’s over, but eager like kids to get back on again. Sadly, the line that meets us on the way out, looks like it’ll take forever to get through. Which it will. As it always does.
This is football. Four quick months of ecstasy, pain, anger and hope following your favorite team. Then an excruciating 8 months of just basically sitting around, waiting for football to come back.
This year, my team, the Redskins did not make the playoffs. This was not unusual. Thankfully, there are teams whose appearance in January is even MORE rare than ours, but “not playoffs” is quickly becoming our “default” position. We are now 5-20 since 1992 when it comes to making the playoffs. Not good.
I believe making the playoffs is the basic definition of a “successful” season. Sure, you may scrape in at 8-8 (or even 7-9 like the Seahawks and Panthers did recently) and be going nowhere, but because the NFL has the second toughest post-season to achieve by percentage (MLB: 10 of 30 = 33%, NFL: 12 of 32 = 38%, NHL: 16 of 31 = 52%, NBA: 16 of 30 = 53%) it’s still an accomplishment worthy of feeling good about by any organization, unless your name is currently the Patriots.
So this year was a failure for the Redskins. Duh.
Failure invites (no, demands!) analysis and introspection. Why did it go wrong? How did it go wrong? What could have been done better? Were we just not very good, or did we get un-lucky? Was it the schedule? The refs? Or…. a common lament: THE INJURIES!
For many Redskins fans, they will point to this year as the year that injuries derailed. The coach has not been shy in doing a subtle “woe-is-me” two step when the issue is raised by media members. I wouldn’t say Jay Gruden has “wallowed” in that excuse, but he certainly has been splashing his legs in it while sitting on the side of the pool.
I reject this excuse for 2017.
If you look honestly at this Redskins team, there was a LOT of parts of it still standing by the time the season was declared DOA. Sure. The Redskins were 5th in the NFL in total number of players place on IR this year with 23. (Note: The Saints were 6th, with 22, FWIW). And sure, the top half of the league in IR placements, will likely only get 4 teams in the playoffs, and the bottom half will place at least 8. So duh, the NFL is alot about staying healthy. I think we’ve all been over this plenty of times.
But not every player placed on IR matters as much as somebody else. To wit: Carson Wentz is equal to probably 6 guys on IR, Tom Brady 10 (or more!). And some players get placed on IR, only because the season HAS BEEN DECLARED OVER already. This is the case with the Redskins Trent Williams and Jordan Reed: arguably our two biggest IR losses.
Let’s talk about sequencing of wins and losses in the NFL for a moment. Forgive me if I’m late to the party on understanding this concept, but it has sunk in with me now that winning games EARLY in an NFL season, is by far one of the most important factors in making the playoffs. In fact, I would argue that wins in the first 8 games of the year, are almost worth 1.5 wins in true value.
This is because once December hits, not only are many teams essentially out of the playoff race, but many others are depleted at various key positions themselves, or they have lost their most important piece: the quarterback. If your team can enter December still viable for the playoffs with a winning record, you can feast on these decimated and/or disinterested teams.
But the key is that YOU yourself, must have won enough of the early games to take advantage. Otherwise, you are just two chumps playing each other, with Dick Stockton watching from above, and Jeff Triplette wandering around looking for his flag.
The Redskins suffered “wave injuries” on the o-line in early October. It greatly reduced their chances to win some key divisional games against the Cowboys and Eagles. But then the team played a truly inspired 3 week stretch against maybe the toughest part of their slate: a win at Seattle, a 38-30 loss at home to the Vikings (the most points anybody has hung on Minnesota this year), and then the choke job at New Orleans.
Nobody was blaming injuries then.
What this team needed to do (as does every team) is win the close ones that were right there to be won. In other words, close. If you could “flip” the result of the Chiefs game (Doctson’s endzone dislodgement – I refuse to call THAT one, at least, a “drop”) and just not CHOKE vs. the Saints, then today’s game against the Giants is a ticket for 10-6, and most likely a playoff spot.
AND…. this could all have been done with our two most important pieces resting for the last 3 weeks in Williams and Reed. No way those guys would have been IR’d if the Skins were still playoff hunting. They would almost surely be suited up for the wildcard game and then… who knows?
Some guys going to IR for the Redskins this year, have had virtually NO effect on the team’s ability to function. Terrelle Pryor was a bust. Plain and simple. C Spencer Long was nice, but rookie Chase Roullier did not miss a beat according to those who understand line play. The Redskins had the luxury of having both edge rushers healthy all season (Kerrigan and Smith) with a 3rd one in Galette coming on strong at the end. They have had both LCB and RCB healthy and available virtually all season, with a great slot CB in Kendall Fuller holding it down. The safeties have been solid (although we missed Nicholson’s spark) and the amorphous pile of interior D-linemen have been mostly there all year (McClain, McGee, Hood, et. al.) and Ioannidis had a great half season when healthy and next to rookie Jonathan Allen.
On offense, sure: losing Chris Thompson hurt bad. But I refuse to weep for the loss of Rob Kelly. Fact is, this coaching staff and front office has missed badly at finding a difference making running back, and we are reminded of that fact virtually every Sunday. The Skins are 29th in rushing (YPC) and compounding that pity is the fact Kirk Cousins is top-5 this year in passer rating on play action.
My goodness, can you imagine him with a decent run game, and single “A” wide receiver? (Hint: You will, next year, with somebody else).
As the season closes, I refuse to say injuries submarined a playoff caliber team. Two games they threw away (at Chiefs, at Saints) and two others they didn’t get off the bus for (at Cowboys, at Chargers). Combine that with front office miscalculations at WR and RB, sprinkle in a schedule that had a few nasty short-turnarounds, and sure… a splash of the injury bug… that’s the story of the 2017 Redskins.
Now, you’ll excuse me if I don’t rush to order my “Three Straight Non-Losing Seasons” hat just yet.