Archives for posts with tag: Dallas Cowboys

The Redskins learned their upcoming regular season schedule last Thursday night…three months after learning all of their opponents for 2017 (beware that third place schedule).  Which brings in my two best Burgundy & Gold Buddies, Positive and Pessimist.  Both have plenty of thoughts about how the upcoming slate will progress.  Their projections average out to a final record of 6-7-3.

September 10- Philadelphia, 1 pm.  The Eagles enter year two of coach Doug Pederson’s regime…with Carson Wentz that much more polished than the guy who got swept by the Skins last year.  Can’t wait to see Kirk Cousins now that he finally has great new shiny toy in Terrelle Pryor plus a healthy Josh Doctson!  Don’t the Redskins always sleepwalk in September after going easy during the preseason?  Not feeling good at all here.

September 17- at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 pm.  First game back in the Coliseum since…when did they visit the LA Raiders?  Former Offensive Coordinator Sean McVay has a major rebuilding project on his hands.  Easy pickings- the Skins D will know McVay’s offense inside and out.  Chalk up another W!  Wouldn’t McVay know the ins and outs of the sad-sack Skins D?  But it’s impossible not to think of a successful sunny afternoon against these Rams-at least this year.

September 24- Oakland, 8:30 pm.  The first of five prime-time games for a team coming off an 8-7-1 record.  Hey, the NFL has to put somebody on.  Do we have to refer to them as “Oakland”?  I’m feeling there may be some tension between the city and team that will have them less than focused.  Whatever city they’re calling home, the Raiders boast Derek Carr at quarterback.  The first legit QB to face the Skins D will enjoy some easy pickings.

October 2- at Kansas City, Monday at 8:30 pm.  Consecutive prime-time games this early means the NFL is hedging their Burgundy & Gold bets…because a 1-2 Redskin team is so much better than a 2-7 squad.  Can you say 4-0 entering the bye?  I’m thinking Andy Reid finds a way to bungle this one.  Didn’t Reid own the Skins when he coached the Eagles?  And isn’t this game on Monday night?  Just what we need–two weeks of desperation.

October 15- San Francisco, 1 pm.  The coordinator reunion tour continues with a visit from Kyle Shanahan.  They needed two weeks to prepare for the 2-14 Forty-niners?  I’m never a fan of a west coast team playing at 1 ET…except when it helps the Skins.  W.  There’s no way they can lose this game, right????

October 22- at Philadelphia, Monday at 8:30 pm.  Another prime-time game?  Guys in the beltway area will be dragged to apple picking, brunches and antiquing early and often Sunday afternoons this fall.  Seriously, Carson Wentz got locked in a gas station bathroom last offseason!  Didn’t the Skins escape both games last year?  Philly will be better, and Wentz will be wiser (at least, he’ll take his cel in the bathroom with him).

October 29- Dallas, 4:25 pm. Six of the Skins’ first eight games will be on national TV.  They return a bottom-10 defense and are going through trust/confidence issues with a quarterback who loses both of his wideout weapons?  Hmm.  Next to fans fighting in the stands, nothing is more certain about a Redskins-Cowboys game than it will go down to the wire.  I feel good.  Dallas will be that much better with Dak Prescott…at least during the regular season.  I have a feeling we’ll see Colt McCoy that day.

November 5- at Seattle, 4:05 pm. Technically a part of FOX’s regional package…back in the day when there were blackouts this always used to be referred to as the “Curt Menefee-Brian Baldinger” slot.  Tough to keep the glass half-full out west…where this team never plays well.  Doubling down on that–it gets loud out there and it could get ugly.  The late-afternoon start means more apple-picking.  Great.

November 12- Minnesota, 1 pm.  Two teams trying to get back into the playoffs after each barely missed the postseason in 2016…and both should be in the mix again this fall.  Will Teddy Bridgewater be healthy?  If not, I’m looking forward to facing Ryan Reynolds-lookalike Sam Bradford.  A win? Definitely Maybe.  The Vikes should have won here last year…and they’ll likely have a better QB.  Deadpool rocked!

November 19- at New Orleans,  1 pm.  The pre-Thanksgiving Sunday game gets them home by 8 Sunday night…unlike last year when they were supremely hosed by the league.  The Superome features no D whatsoever by the home team…and Drew Brees is a year older.  I’ll take it.  Brees can still pick apart most defenses…and the Skins aren’t like most defenses.  They’re likely going to be worse.

November 23- NY Giants, Thursday at 8:30 pm.  Who gets this call- Al Michaels or Mike Tirico?  Either way, NBC has an NFC East showdown supreme.  How did we lose to this team in week 17 last year?  Eli’s good for at least two ill-placed interceptions.  Break out the pumpkin pie!  Thanksgiving Night?  Great–after dealing with relatives I don’t want to see I have to head over to Fed Ex Field for a late-night travesty.  Thanks for nothing…

November 30- at Dallas, Thursday at 8:30 pm.  Finally a Thursday night game where both teams aren’t working on short rest.  Why doesn’t the league have its TNF foes be the ones coming off byes?  They’d be better rested and prepared.  This should be for first place in the NFC East…I can already see Pryor turning the Cowboy secondary inside-out.  The Cowboys get consecutive Thursday night games?  Further proof the NFL is out to get this team.

December 10- at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 pm.  They’re playing this game not at the Coliseum but in a soccer stadium.  Anything to get that second team in LA.  Rested and refreshed, the perfect way to begin the stretch run.  Philip Rivers can still play, and after back to back prime time games against division foes this is prime time for a major letdown. Don’t let the palm trees hit you on the way out…

December 17- Arizona, 1 pm.  Another morning body-clock game for a team out west!  Although doesn’t Arizona become Mountain Time in the in the winter?  I forget.  Daylight Saving is such a scam.  Skins take advantage of a sleepwalking Cardinals team that’s probably out of contention.  Did you see what they did after a slow start last year?  If Carson Palmer is healthy…watch out.

December 24- Denver, 1 pm.  Odd to see an interconference game this late in the schedule.  Sucks for the Broncos to have to fly across the country on Christmas Eve.  Another early game against a team from the west?  Is this a makeup for last year’s BS?  We’ll take it on the way to the playoffs.  These are precisely the games the Skins lose late in the year against non-division foes that might be out of the hunt.

December 31- at NY Giants, 1pm/4:25pm/8:30pm.  Face it, this game will probably be flexed in some way.  Unless it’s like 2013 when probably the worst game ever played ended the Mike Shanahan era.  Ringing in the new year with another Division Title banner.  Nothing like having a New Year’s hangover on New Year’s Day.

 

 

Did you expect the Redskins season to wrap up any other way?  The Burgundy and Gold are in prime playoff position after their 41-21 win at Chicago…within striking distance of making consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 1990-92.  As in the end of Gibbs I.  As in eight coaching regimes ago.  Special thanks to Tampa Bay and Detroit for losing two straight games as the Skins were able to capitalize this time.

Playoff Picture- Redskins are in with a win plus the Green Bay-Detroit game not ending in a tie.  If that is the case then the Packers win the NFC North and the Lions take the wildcard.  A Skins loss ends the season.  A tie (heaven forbid) means the Burgundy and Gold need a Green Bay loss plus a Tampa Bay loss or tie to play the following weekend.  Take heart…the Buccaneers and Packers if tied for a playoff berth the “strength of victory” tiebreaker would be used to parse two 9-7 teams.

Captain Kirk- the face of the franchise threw for 270 yards and a touchdown while running for two more scores (shades of RG3! not really).  There’s quite a bit of debate surrounding whether or not to pay #8 what he’ll demand…but Cousins has given the franchise stability at a position that has had eight primary QB’s this century. Star Trek Episode Equivalent- “Journey to Babel”.  Spock’s parents show up and there’s a murder mystery aboard the Enterprise…with Kirk making just the right moves while not upstaging anybody else.

Tragedy of Robert III- the former face of the franchise continues to thrive in exile, throwing for 164 yards while running for 42 more in directing Cleveland to their first win of the season.  Sadly he suffered a concussion in the Browns’ victory, and remains a question mark for the season finale against Pittsburgh.  Heavy is the head that wears the crown…or at least the helmet.

Resurrecting the Run-  from 29 yards on the ground against Carolina to 208 against the Bears!  Sadly, these aren’t the Singletary Bears of the 80’s…or even the Butkus Bears of the 60’s.  Still, Robert Kelley pounded out 76 yards on 19 carries while Mack Brown delivered a 61-yard knockout punch in the fourth quarter.

DeSean & Garcon- the duo delivered again, notching nine catches for 208 yards.  On a week where the Skins were without tight end Jordan Reed, those two secondary-smashers were even more important.  This is going to be one tough offseason…

Third and Solid- after going 2-for-12 on the money down against Carolina, the Skins moved the chains on 8 of 13 attempts against Chicago.  That’s not including two penalties against the Bears that moved the marker on third down after the Redskins were stymied.  Kirk Cousins went 6-for-9 with 4 conversions while scrambling for another first down.  They ran three times…moving the chains all three times.  DeSean Jackson was the top target, catching both passes intended for him and moving the marker once.  Cousins’ safe spot?  Short and to the right (3-4 with one conversion).  Yardage breakdown:  3-for-4 on short yardage (including 2-2 on the ground), 3-for-6 on third and medium (4 to 6 yards needed), and 2-for-3 on third and long.  Stat you don’t see:  10 of the 13 attempts needed six yards or less, meaning the gameplan got things done on 1st and 2nd down.

Defense?  I’m all for it- the Skins rank 15th in the NFC in total defense and Saturday saw a season’s worth of highs and lows.  They tallied five interceptions but still coughed up 458 total yards to a bad offense directed by a quarterback who may be taking his next snaps in Canada.  The Bears converted 7-of-10 third downs and averaged 5.4 yards per carry.  One will take the win…but now one wonders what happens when they face a real offense again.

Flying Flags- seven penalties for 73 yards this time (Skins commit the 11th most infractions in the league).  Two were on offense (illegal substitution plus a hold on Brandon Scherff), three were on defense (Bashaud Breeland’s pass interference,  Duke Ihenacho’s horse-collar tackle and Mason Foster’s illegal use of the hands) and two more were on special teams (illegal block by Terrence Garvin and Ty Nsekhe’s “leverage” penalty on an extra point).  Most costly penalty?  Foster’s illegal hands turned a 2nd & 9 at the Bears’ 28 into a 1st & 10 at the 42…jumpstarting a touchdown drive for Chicago.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas takes their 19th NFC East title at 13-2…but they had already wrapped up the division plus home field advantage when the NY Giants lost to Philadelphia.  The Giants are already assured of the #5 seed in the conference, while Philadelphia had locked up last place the previous week.  So for the first time since the 2007 season the Skins don’t finish first or last.  Ricky Bobby has to be smiling somewhere…

East is the Beast- the NFC East takes top division honors with one week remaining…posting a composite mark of 37-22-1.  The AFC West (36-24) takes second while some last-month maneuvering by the AFC North (24-35-1 but 9-6 in December) puts the NFC West (21-37-2 and 5-11 over the last month) in the lowlight spotlight of the league’s most depressing division.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM in September-little did we know at the time that Dak Prescott would be awesome and the Giants would go 8-2 in one-possession games.

How did the world get flipped in such a manner over the last 12 months?  It’s amazing how one year ago the Redskins were viewed as the hot mess of the NFC East compared to the “stable situations” in Dallas, Philadelphia and the New York Giants.  Instead of being picked for another last place finish (there were eight over an eleven year stretch from 2004-14), the 2016 Redskins are a consensus selection not only to win the division but also (heaven forbid) win a playoff game.  Baltic Avenue has suddenly become Park Place.  How on earth did we get here?

For years the rest of the division laughed at the slippery sand the Skins built successive foundations on.  Norv Turner’s demise one year after a playoff berth?  The Schottenheimer experiment?  Spurrier and the signing of every available Florida Gator free agent?  Gibbs 2.0 calling 2 timeouts in a loss to Buffalo?  Zorn’s “Maroon and Black” outfit?  The hits (actually misses) kept on coming before the failed Shanahan & Son regime that featured a brittle quarterback the franchise gave away the house to acquire.  In the meantime, the Giants were winning Super Bowls, the Eagles were at least disappointing their fans on the NFC Championship/Super Bowl stage, and the Cowboys were racking up double-digit victory seasons with which to tease their faithful.  The team that called Fed Ex Field its home delivered nothing but misery for its burgundy and gold jersey wearing crew.

A franchise is nothing if it doesn’t have a strong chain of command.  Whatever you think of the owner, his hire of Bruce Allen at least rid the team of Redskin Rasputin Vinny Cerrato (seriously, I’m still wondering how he was gainfully employed by this franchise for most of the last decade).  And whatever your impression is of what exactly it is Allen does, he provides a buffer between the throne room and coaching office.  Jay Gruden may be the younger brother of a larger-than-life ESPN personality, but despite the fact that he consistently drops his “G’s” in press conferences the hire paid off with an NFC East title last fall.  Scott McCloughan came to Ashburn with a little baggage but a lot of potential as a franchise-builder…and while the roster is still in the process of being reshaped, at least he pronounces his draftees’ names correctly (I still can’t forgive Cerrato for Brian “Orapko”).  That brings us to having a solid quarterbacking situation.

Kirk Cousins enters his second season as the starter…and the Skins boast the only coach-QB combination in the division that returns from 2014.  This all of a sudden is the most stable signal-caller situation in Ashburn since…Mark Rypien in the early 90’s?  Please go ahead and tell me that Brad Johnson was on stable footing with Jeff George brought in as a free agent in 2000…

Normally one wouldn’t be so confident about a 9-7 squad that didn’t beat a playoff team en route to the postseason…but have you seen the rest of the neighborhood?  I mean have you seen it???

Dallas?  Jason Garrett has all of the legitimacy of an Iron Curtain regime…and the quarterback situation there is less than ideal.  For the third time since 2010, injuries have derailed Tony Romo’s season and now we get…rookie Dak Prescott?  Fear not, the same Mark Sanchez that couldn’t beat Trevor Sieman for the starting spot with Denver is waiting in the wings.  QB issues aside, there’s always an arrest around the corner with the Cowboys as well.  Dumpster fire…

New York Giants?  Yes, Eli Manning is back…and the 35 year old actually has played better lately (30 and 35 touchdown seasons after tossing a league-high 27 interceptions in 2013).  And he has his offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo running the whole show now.  Before you start saying Ray Handley, the issues of this team will be on the defensive side of the ball–the Giants allowed the most yards and third most points in the league last fall. Grease fire…

Philadelphia?  Somehow the team that posted back to back 10-6 seasons completely imploded last fall.  After handing all of the personnel power to Chip Kelly only to see the coach dismantle what was a playoff team, the Eagles fired the coach and brought aboard former assistant Doug Pederson to rebuild this wreck.  They’ll start their fifth primary quarterback in five years…with rookie Carson Wentz getting the nod Sunday after playing one quarter in the preseason.  Eagles fans hope the first-round pick will be “locked in”.  Figuratively of course…not like when Wentz found himself trapped in a New Jersey gas station bathroom in the offseason and they needed garden shears to rescue him. Tire fire…

It was going to happen eventually.  We heard echoes of an attempt after the win over Minnesota…and I’m sure the heirs of Frankie Ford would have had issue with Kirk Cousins’ “ooheee!” and its similarity to “Sea Cruise”.  Look it up on Youtube, kids. Instead Cousins throws for 375 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-24 win over Green bay…and goes all Toby Keith on GM Scott McCloughan.  “How do you like me now?”–I’m sure he wasn’t referring to concert the two of them attended; instead it’s an opening shot for the upcoming contract negotiations.  Regardless…we have our new catch-phrase.  Just like “AAAyy” gave way to “Sit on It”.  Hopefully there won’t be a “Wah Wah Wah” next year…

 

Captain Kirk- this is the episode many doubted could happen and others hoped would be possible.  A prime-time, national TV performance against a playoff team (despite the Packers 4-6 start, they were a postseason player last January).  Outgunning Aaron Rodgers.  A victory for the Burgundy and Gold at Fed Ex Field.  This is Exhibit A when Kirk goes into Starfleet for offseason negotiations.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent: “Amok Time”- Kirk has to divert the Enterprise to the planet Vulcan because Spock is experiencing a deadly 7-year cycle.  Once there, a native ritual turns into a fight to the death.  Great episode…watchable anytime.

Robert-not Gene-Kelley- one reason why a Spock-centric episode was picked for Kirk’s evaluation this week was the emergence of Cousins’ supporting player.  The rookie from Tulane rushed for 137 yards and three touchdowns…as his breakaway run in the fourth quarter all but sealed the victory.  Unlike his non-relative Gene, this Kelley does not dance.  He plods and fights and searches for that extra yard.  More importantly, he doesn’t fumble (fingers crossed).  The Skins have found their necessary compliment to an air attack that only appears to be scratching the surface.

Better to Receive- and what a crew of pass-catchers.  Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder each took turns burning the Packer secondary Sunday night…Garcon finishing with 6 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown while Crowder notched 102 yards on 3 receptions.  Meanwhile, Jordan Reed provided the matchup nightmare he always does and DeSean Jackson was the team’s top target on third down.

Third and Awesome- tough to think otherwise after the team converts 9 of 14 on the money down…8-12 through the air and 1-2 on the ground.  Cousins completed 8 of 10 passes while getting sacked twice…and all 8 of his completions moved the chains.  Jackson had two catches in his three targets, while Reed and Crowder also had two receptions/conversions.  Yardage breakdown:  3 for 4 on third and short (less than 4 yards needed), 4 for 6 on third and medium (4-6 yards needed) and 2 for 4 on third and long (7+).  And 71% of third downs needed 6 yards or fewer…that is awesome.

Case for the Defense- so they didn’t shut out the Packers.  And defensive back Donte Whitner led the team in tackles (a pet peeve of mine) with 10 stops.  But they forced three 3-and-outs to start the game and finished it with takeaways on the final two Green Bay possessions of the night. In a league where nobody stops anybody for sixty minutes, sometimes just enough is just enough.

Flying Flags- six penalties for 40 yards…a far cry from the first month of the season when it fans were seeing yellow.  Two on offense (delay of game and a false start) and four on defense (two delays of game, a roughing the passer and an illegal use of the hands).  The top culprit?  Breeland’s illegal use of the hands and delay of game give the cornerback seven on the season…still four shy of Josh Norman’s team lead (he padded his total with a delay of game).  Where would we be without another false start?  The total of 18 on the season is the fourth-most in the NFL.  After eleven weeks the Redskins do lead the league with seven illegal use of the hands.  Most costly penalty?  Breeland’s illegal use of the hands turned a Redskins ball at their own 38 into a 1st and 10 for the Packers at the Washington 33.  Green Bay would score a TD on that drive.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas continues to win-this time 27-17 over the Ravens, and at 9-1 the Cowboys continue to lead the NFC East as well as hold down the conference’s #1 seed. The New York Giants’ 22-16 win over Chicago proves that Eli Manning and company are the least-enjoyable 7-3 team in league history…still in second place of the division and the #1 Wildcard in the NFC.  The Redskins remain in third place at 6-3-1 and occupy the final playoff spot in the conference…while Philadelphia’s 26-15 loss at Seattle drops the Eagles to .500, fourth place, and ninth in the NFC.

The NFC East Beast- a 3-1 week means the division is now 27-12-1… a far cry from last year’s monstrosity.  The only other quartet that’s close is the AFC West that’s 26-14.  Worst division?  The AFC North is dragged down by Cleveland’s 0-11, but even without the Browns they’d be sub-.500 at 13-16-1.

 

 

There’s nothing more amusing in the NFL than when two teams tie and everybody freaks out like it’s the end of the world.  Instead of focusing on how both teams had to play at 9:30AM ET after making a seven-hour flight a few days before, the mantra “ties are stupid” gets spewed all over the place.  Instead of wondering if it’s fair that a team loses a home game so the NFL can “grow overseas”, we get the hot take “ties suck, man”.  Instead of worrying about the wreckage that is Thursday Night Football (underprepared and overworked players make for great football), we have to make overtime more equitable.  Last Sunday’s tie between Arizona and Seattle would have been a 6-3 Cardinals win had they been using the old rules…so you can thank the league for that one.  Both the Bengals and Redskins had opportunities to win in regulation and in overtime (missed extra points, anyone?).  The league can’t make field goals for the Burgundy and Gold…just like they can’t force Cincinnati to stop committing idiotic penalties.  Sometimes there are games so well-played that neither team deserves to lose…just like sometimes there are games so poorly played that neither team deserves to win.  If you are that hell-bent on a winner, award one “action point” for whichever team gains more yards in the extra session.  And let that stand.  Until then, I’m cool with ties.  Especially paisley ones…

Captain Kirk- the face of the franchise threw for 458 yards and two touchdowns.  He also did his best to distribute the ball fairly…finding seven different receivers on the afternoon.  He’d like the interception back, but just like his Trek counterpart you have to take the overzealous mistakes with the energy of his leadership.  A deep pass like the one intended for Jackson when picked off is basically a punt…and didn’t come back to haunt his team.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent- “Assignment Earth”- where the Enterprise travels back to 1968 and has to figure out if an alien named “Gary Seven” is working to destroy the earth or save it.  Just like the tie gives no resolution…this episode provides intriguing setup only to end ambiguously.

Robbing a Starting Job- Robert Kelley started in place of an injured Matt Jones (the report said bruised knee, I want to say it was fumble-itis)…and ran 21 times for 87 yards and a touchdown.  Does this mean Mr. Jones’ days are numbered as the #1 option?  I’ll try not to fumble in my response…

Crowding the Receiving Corps- while much of the attention is focused on DeSean Jackson’s ability to stretch the field and Pierre Garcon’s knack for moving the chains, Jamison Crowder led the Skins with 107 receiving yards on 9 catches.  With 40 receptions at midseason, the second-year player is on pace to shatter his rookie totals (59 for 604).

Tight End Extravaganza- Jordan Reed returns to perform in the role of “Kirk Cousins’ security blanket” with 9 catches for 99 yards and a touchdown.  Lost in the shuffle is the resurgence of veteran Vernon Davis- 5 grabs for 93 yards.  Even in a limited role, Davis is on pace to post his most productive season since 2013.

Third and Fading- the Skins moved the chains on 8 of 17 opportunities…but after going 4-4 in the first quarter had issues extending drives as the game progressed (just 2-7 after halftime).  Cousins completed 11 of 15 throws for 7 conversions…while the team was 1-2 running the ball on the money down.  His top target?  Reed had four catches with two conversions while Crowder had a pair of receptions in his four targets with one conversion.  Before getting hurt, DeSean Jackson had two catches on three targets, moving the chains twice.  Six of Cousins’ passes were thrown short left (five catches and two conversions)…while four were thrown short and to the right (all four catches moving the marker).  Yardage breakdown?  Third and short saw the Skins go 3 for 4, third and medium (4 to 6 yards needed) saw the team convert 3 of 4 chances, and third and long was a predictable 2 for 9.

Grading the D- a little of this and that on an afternoon where AJ Green seemed to be on a different speed than the Skins secondary.  They were able to sack Andy Dalton three times and tallied two turnovers.  Will Compton led the way with 10 tackles.  At midseason, the unit ranks 16th against the pass, 26th against the run and 22nd overall while allowing the 18th fewest points per game.

Flying flags- Fifteen penalties. 15. XV.  Not ideal…as the total pushes the season-long tally to 66 (second most in the league, behind Oakland in the biggest non-surprise ever).  Five penalties were offensive (including two false starts to give the Skins 15 on the season-tied for most in the league), nine were defensive (including three illegal use of the hands by Josh Norman- giving him five on the year and a team-high ten flags this fall) and one came on special teams (holding, Martell Spaight).  Bashad Breeland after getting flagged just twice over the first seven weeks had a defensive hold and two facemask fouls against the Bengals.  Thank goodness Cincinnati had seven penalties of their own- the most idiotic the ignoring of a fair catch in overtime that helped jumpstart a Skins drive.  The most costly penalties?  Ziggy Hood’s defensive hold in the third quarter turned a 2nd & 5 from the 7 into a 1st and goal from the 3 (the Bengals would score soon thereafter)…while Brandon Scherff’s hold in overtime turned a 2nd & 8 from the 17 into a 1st & 20 from the 29.  Actually, it would have been 1st & 15 from the 24 because of Robert Kelley’s illegal shift. Yes– it was one of those days…

Kicking Themselves- two missed field goals will haunt Dustin Hopkins during the bye week…especially the 34-yarder he booted wide left in OT.  Analysts point to a high snap as the cause.  The Skins also averaged under 20 yards on kickoff returns…while Jamison Crowder ripped off a 23-yard punt return.  Tress Way averaged 42.7 yards over three punts…while dropping one inside the 20.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas (6-1) after their overtime win over Philadelphia find themselves not only atop the NFC East, but in the #1 spot of the entire NFC.  The Giants (4-3) made a rare two-spot bye week upgrade;  while enjoying their post-London naps Eli Manning and company jumped from fourth in the division to second (and sixth in the conference).  The division record tiebreaker puts Philadelphia in third place (and seventh in the NFC).  The 4-3-1 Redskins?  Eighth overall in the conference…and all alone in last place of the NFC East for the first time since week three.  Hello darkness, my old friend…

West is Best- as in the AFC West.  A 3-1 week means the Broncos and company are 20-11 …a whisker better than the NFC East (for those grading at home, .645 to .638) and it’s record of 18-10-1.  The AFC North despite its tie remains the worst of the quartets at 10-19-1.

After four weeks, despite the burgundy and gold lenses, the Redskins glass is half-full. Two straight wins brings the Skins back from the brink and (coupled with the Giants Monday Night loss) gets them out of the NFC East basement.  While the team is by no means playing great football…the results are getting better.  Sunday’s 31-20 victory over an 0-4 Cleveland team on its third starting quarterback of the season will be more than accepted by the faithful.

Captain Kirk- yes, he threw the interception that led to a three-play, 12 yard drive for a TD in the first half.  And yes, he gave up a crucial sack on 1st on 10 from the Browns 32 that killed a drive only to get sacked again on 3rd and 18 that pushed the team out of field goal range.  And yes, he averaged less than 10 yards per completion.  But Cousins completed 78% of his passes and threw for 3 touchdowns.  Converting in the redzone (4 TD’s in 5 chances)!  All while the man he replaced stood idly on the other sideline.  The Star Trek Episode Equivalent “I, Mudd”-where the scheming, mustachioed Harry Mudd hijacks the Enterprise…leaving Kirk and crew to work off-script.  Not a classic, but highly entertaining especially with the return of a former nemesis.

Griffin’s Ghost- Robert III returned to Landover like an exiled leader, simply watching as his replacement rallied his former team against his current squad.  A squad that he only was able to lead for one regular season Sunday…and one that remains the lone winless team in the NFL.  Unlike Caesar, Hamlet’s father, Banquo, or Henry IV, this ghost will fade quietly into the background: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage.  And then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth)

Welcome Matt- the second-year running back Jones gained a season-high 117 yards on 22 carries, scoring the game-clinching TD in the fourth quarter.  For a team that was held to just 55 yards rushing in the season opener, definitely an encouraging sign.  Because the more productive Jones and Chris Thompson (3 carries for 24 yards) are, the less Kirk Cousins has to throw.  Let the record show that the Skins are 2-0 when Cousins throws fewer that 40 passes in a game this fall, and 0-2 when he has 40+ attempts.

Jordan Rules- the Redskins top target notched season-highs in catches (9), receiving yards (73) and touchdowns (2) while providing Cousins with a third down security blanket: all four of his completions on the money down went to Reed (two did not move the chains, one did and the fourth put points on the board).  Currently the fourth-year player is on a pace for 100 receptions.

Third and Streaky- the Skins converted 4 of 8 opportunities, moving the chains on their first four third downs while failing to reach the marker on their last four attempts.  As mentioned, Reed was the target: 2 short-left, one short-middle and one short-right.  Cousins was sacked on the other third down pass play.  Matt Jones carried the ball three times on third down, converting twice on third and one.  Yardage breakdown:  3-3 on third and less than four yards, 1-5 on third and more than six yards needed.

Defense Takes the Fifth on Third Down- after four weeks the Skins’ D is the worst in the league at getting off the field…allowing opponents to convert 57% of third downs.  Cleveland moved the chains on 8 of 12 chances. A makeshift defensive line is doing what they can, but when three of your top four tacklers are defensive backs it usually means one of two things:  either you’re allowing too many completions or the opponent’s running game is getting by your front seven consistently.  This is an issue that won’t go away…especially with linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (hyperextended elbow) added to the day-to-day injury watch.

Saved by the Turnovers- thank goodness for the ballhawking defense that tallied takeaways on three straight second half Cleveland possessions:  Quinton Dunbar’s fumble recovery inside the ten kept the Skins from potentially falling ten points behind, Will Compton’s recovery stopped a Browns running game that had gained 25 yards on the previous two plays, and Josh Norman’s interception set up the game-sealing TD.  With a defense that ranks 25th against the pass, 30th against the run, and 29th overall- turnovers will be its saving grace.  The Skins are tied for fifth in the league with 8 takeaways.

Josh Norman=Robin Hood?- instead of robbing from the rich while giving to the poor, the Skins offseason acquisition simply takes from the opposing offense while he gives his team a short field.  Until he unveils the bow and arrow.  Norman was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct after his INT for pantomiming Errol Flynn (I’m sorry, we refuse to acknowledge the Costner film) or for you millennials Jennifer Lawrence.  Full disclosure: I’ve used the bow-and-arrow move after getting a strike on bowling (timing the release for when the ball hits the pins).  As well as the six-shooters move…and the pulling the pin from a grenade.

Flying Flags- while Norman’s penalty didn’t hurt the Skins (they still scored a TD on a drive that began at the Browns’ 39 instead of the Cleveland 24), there were 9 flags for 75 yards against the Skins Sunday.  Through four weeks the team’s 34 penalties are the 5th most in the NFL (although their 251 penalty yards is 13th most).  This week four came on offense (two holds, a false start and a pass interference) while four came on defense (holding, pass interference, offsides and archery) and one more coming on special teams (offsides on a Cleveland extra point).  Norman’s three flags gives him a team-high 7 for the season…while the biggest infraction remains false starts (10) followed by offensive holding (6).  None of the flags were as back-breaking as a few have been in previous weeks.  Which was the most costly penalty?  Jordan Reed’s offensive pass interference in the second quarter that turned a 3rd & 4 from the Browns’ 11 into a 2nd & 20 from the 27.  Instead of a TD, the Skins would settle for a field goal.  Here’s hoping Norman notches another INT against the Ravens and breaks out a cutlass.

Special Situations- Tress Way averaged 48.7 yards on his 3 punts…placing two inside the 20 yard line and getting one off in the face of full-pressure.  Dustin Hopkins nailed a 49-yard field goal.  With the recent history of the hot mess that was the kicking game, it’s nice see this unit that once imploded on a weekly basis actually help this team along.

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia (3-0) had the week off and remains in the top spot, while Dallas (3-1) moves into second place with their win at San Francisco.  The Giants (in first place just two weeks ago) slip into last place after their defeat at Minnesota–for remember, the Skins hold the head to head tiebreaker.  Third place is nothing to sneeze at for a team that has finished in last place eight times from 2004-14.  The NFC East is living up to its reputation with a 10-5 composite start-best in the league.  Worst division?  A tie between the AFC South and NFC South at 6-10:  of the eight teams only Atlanta has scored more points than its allowed.  Sadly the Skins draw both North Divisions this fall.

Hall of Fame football coach Chuck Noll passed away Friday evening.  I remember when I started following the NFL as a kid I had trouble telling the difference between Chuck Noll and Chuck Knox;  it wasn’t as bad as Frank Gifford saying that George Foreman and not Chuck Foreman was catching passes for the Vikings or, heaven forbid, Thurman Munson making tackles for the Cowboys.  In a world where coaches can often be larger than life personalities who often oversell and underdeliver, Noll was the quiet achiever.  Unlike Hank Stram, he wasn’t miked up to say “64-toss, power trap”…or anything else.  Even among colorless coaches in the 1970’s, Noll didn’t stand out:  he failed to make “silent and stoic” his trademark like Bud Grant…or even wear the quiet fedora like Tom Landry.  He taught, built, and won…while deflecting praise to his players.  In a sport where Bill Walsh went straight from winning Super Bowl XXIII to the NBC booth…Noll retired from the game and stayed out of the limelight.  In a world where Hall of Famer Bill Parcells releases the book “Finding a Way to Win” in the middle of a 6-10 season and then writes “The Final Season:  My Last Year as a Head Coach in the NFL” a few years before taking the Dallas job, Noll never wrote an autobiography.  Noll never even cooperated on a biography of his legacy as the architect of the team of the 1970’s.  In a game where a coach’s ego can often be the size of the stadium he coaches in, Noll was the quiet conscientious objector.

“Players win.  Coaches teach”– Before taking over the Steelers, Noll was a winner.  Twice an NFL Champion as a player with Cleveland (1954-55, while playing in the title game two other seasons)… an AFL Champion as an assistant with San Diego (with 4 other appearances in the title game) and an NFL Champ as Baltimore’s Defensive Coordinator in 1968 (before the Colts lost Super Bowl III to the NY Jets), winning seemed to happen around him.  Or he was an active part of the winning process. “The thrill isn’t in the winning, it’s in the doing”.

“Geese fly 75% faster in formation”– Noll took a misguided franchise that had 7 winning seasons to its 30+ year history.  The actual number of Steeler seasons in the team’s history can always be debated:  during World War II they merged with Philadelphia for one year (going by the name “Steagles”) and spent another season merged with the then-Chicago Cardinals (a less-imaginative “Card-Pitt”).  With Art Rooney, Jr. and Bill Nunn, Jr. (who passed away earlier this year), they built through the draft as opposed to trying to trade their way to respectability (as had been the case in the past with the franchise).  On the first day of training camp, Noll told the team that for the most part they weren’t any good…and a big chunk of them would be gone sooner rather than later.  But those that stayed would learn.  And from the first round picks to the free agent pickups, Noll would teach his players technique and repetition.

“The single most important thing we had in the Steelers of the 1970s was an ability to work together”— can we also say a little luck?  The Boston Patriots almost hired Noll after the 1968 season, but shied away just long enough after the Colts lost to the Jets in Super Bowl III…and hired Jets Offensive Coordinator Clive Rush.  The Patriots went 5-16 under Rush…and instead of 21 games Noll lasted 23 seasons in Pittsburgh.  The Steelers also won a coin flip with Chicago the following season that gave them the #1 pick in the draft.  If they lose the toss, the Bears get Terry Bradshaw…and the Steelers settle for Mike Phipps of Purdue (next QB taken) or Notre Dame DT Mike McCoy (next player selected)?  Two years later, Noll wanted to take a runningback in the first round–only it wasn’t Franco Harris but the University of Houston’s Robert Newhouse.  Art Rooney Jr. won that battle, and the Steelers made the playoffs 10 times in the 12 years Harris was with the team.

“Don’t leave anything on the beach but your footprints”–  we’re constantly talking about legacies and Mount Rushmores in sports and specifically football;  talking heads spout numbers and context until we realize that it’s actually sunny outside.  Noll’s legacy will no doubt be debated and held up against Lombardi, Landry, Shula, Walsh…and others for years.  But after spending 39 years in pro football…Noll simply got on with his life.  A licensed pilot who also dabbled in scuba diving… a wine connoisseur who enjoyed cooking…a jazz enthusiast who guest-conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony.  He always told his players to prepare for “their life’s work” after football.  Charles Henry Noll had a full life that wasn’t made more complete by wins or championships.