Archives for posts with tag: Eagles

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.

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

There was quite a bit of excitement when the Big Ten announced that their men’s basketball tournament would be held at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.  But instead of a conference that had four top ten teams entering the 2013 NCAA Tournament or even the 2016 batch that yielded four schools in the top 20, there’s Wisconsin at #11 (after losing to Northwestern) while Purdue is 16th.  And before you get involved in the whole “strength of schedule” thing, look at the “projected top 16 seeds” released by the Tournament Selection Committee:  NO BIG TEN TEAMS.  While I’ve compared this made-for-TV exercise to tasting cookie batter, there is still some validity to the process.  And that process points to the Big Ten and say they’re pretenders instead of contenders in a world where the teams to beat range from bluebloods (Kentucky and Duke) to upstarts (Gonzaga and Butler).

Blame the name schools having off-seasons:  Michigan State has yet to really recover from a rough non-conference slate and Indiana’s December loss to Nebraska was more of a trend than a hiccup.  Ohio State and Michigan are bubble afterthoughts.  It’s also tough for the national media to get their heads around Northwestern and Minnesota as contenders.  Add in a Maryland team that lost four starters while playing a less than ambitious non-conference record, and you have a below-the-radar season for a school used to being above-the-fold on the front page.  Who’s ready for a first round that features 14th place Rutgers?

Bracket Racket- now that we are less than one month away from Selection Sunday, we’ll be including the ESPN and CBS NCAA Tournament projections.  Remember that the field of 68 is fluid…and has the attention-span off a hummingbird.

Alma Mater Update- two straight close losses have the Orange slipping down the bubble at 8-6 in the conference.  Remaining games on the road to the NCAA’s have Duke at home and Louisville on the road…with a home-and-away series against fellow Bubble resident Georgia Tech.  SU hasn’t had a comfortable win in exactly one month…and one hopes they respond to the latest bump in the road.

#23 Maryland (21-4, 9-3 Big Ten)- Anthony Cowan stepped up Saturday in the Terps’ 86-77 win over Ohio State with 19 points after scoring 19 in the team’s previous three games (and shooting 2-15 during the two-game losing streak).  The bench also outscored the Buckeyes’ reserves 33-0.  But up next are two tough tests on the road against conference contenders Northwestern (yes, I know…try not to chuckle) and Wisconsin.  Both models have the Terrapins a #6 seed:   CBS tickets them to the South Region and a first round game against the Georgia Tech/Wake Forest winner while ESPN has them in the East bracket against Clemson or Marquette.

Georgetown (14-12, 5-8 Big East)- Now that was the Jessie Govan we thought we might see.  The six-foot-ten sophomore tallied 23 points and 8 rebounds in the 80-62 win over Marquette.  After their team defense was described as “lazy” by the Golden Eagles JuJuan Johnson in December, the Hoyas responded by holding Marquette to under 40% shooting for most of the game and 3-for-14 from three-point range.  Now the question is:  can this team get back to .500 in conference play and merit at-large consideration in March?  They still have Creighton and Villanova on their schedule…plus road games at St. John’s and Seton Hall.  ESPN has the Hoyas as the eighth team to miss the tournament.

#14 Virginia (18-6, 8-4 ACC)- It’s cloudy in Charlottesville after an 80-78 double-overtime loss to Virginia Tech.  Cassell Coliseum is a very difficult place to get a win…no matter how good you might be.  But blow a 14-point halftime lead?  When you’re one of the best defensive teams in the nation, let alone the ACC?  Their starting forwards shot 2-for-10 from the field against the Hokies…and UVa missed 10 of 24 free throws.  London Perrantes can continue to dazzle from the perimeter, but if he doesn’t have help inside the rough and tumble world of the best conference in the game can be a little unforgiving.  The latest models both have the Cavaliers as a #4 seed playing Akron in the round of 64;  ESPN has UVa in the East while CBS places them in the Midwest.

Virginia Tech (17-7, 6-7 ACC)- now THAT was a big program win.  How do you rally from 14 down against your in-state rival?  How do you come back from 17 turnovers?  Somehow they forced the Cavaliers into a 2-for-9 shooting funk over a six-minute stretch in the second half…and got a gift when London Perrantes’ last-minute layup died on the backboard rim, resulting in a jump ball that went the home team’s way.  Seth Allen’s 20 points off the bench were punctuated by his game-winning jumper in the lane with 3.2 seconds left.  Sophomores Justin Robinson (4 rebounds, 6 assists and a blocked shot) and Chris Clarke (7 boards and 3 assists) continue to do the little things that an NCAA Tournament team needs.  Up next?  Back to back road games against the likes of Pitt and #8 Louisville.  CBS has the Hokies a #9 seed in the Midwest, facing VCU…while ESPN has them seeded 9th in the West and a first-round game with USC.

George Mason (17-8, 7-5 Atlantic 10).  Saturday’s 73-67 victory over Fordham was one of those games the Patriots would have lost earlier this winter or last year:  somehow they survived going scoreless for over seven minutes in the second half.  Sophomore guard Otis Livingston II has turned it on as of late, scoring 18 points while playing 37 minutes per game during the three-game winning streak.  The current surge has coach Dave Paulsen’s team pushing for a double-bye…but in order to be the best, you have to beat the best.  And over the next month the Patriots play conference co-leaders Dayton and VCU plus third place Richmond and fourth place Rhode Island.  Buckle up…

George Washington (13-12, 5-7 Atlantic 10).  How do you bounce back from the heartbreak of a last-second loss to VCU?  Feed Tyler Cavanaugh the ball early and often, which is what GW did in their 76-70 triumph over St. Bonaventure.  They also locked up on the perimeter, holding the Bonnies to 22% shooting from three-point range.  Remember the double-bye I mentioned earlier?  There’s also the dreaded first round of the A-10 Tournament that matches up the bottom four schools…and the Colonials are one game ahead of Fordham and Saint Louis for tenth place.  They own the tiebreaker with the Billikens and visit the Rams March 1st…ending a stretch where they play four of five games against teams that are sub-500 in league play.

American (6-19, 3-11 Patriot League).  The Eagles can also avoid playing in the first round of their conference tournament, but they’ll need to win the rest of their regular season games while getting help.  And even then they’d be in a tiebreaker at 7-11.  Let’s just give AU a chance to enjoy their 61-58 win over Army where they turned over the Black Knights 21 times.  They go for a season sweep of Lafayette Wednesday.  If you can’t avoid the dreaded first round, you may as well try to host it.

Howard (6-20, 3-8 MEAC).  The offensively challenged (338th in shooting and 331st in assists) Bison didn’t go down quietly at Hampton…but still have a way to go before righting the ship.  Of course the ship would be sailing a lot better if the injured James Daniel III had played more than two games this winter.  Instead, fellow senior James Miller and a nucleus of unseasoned young talent tries to fly on one engine.  Thank goodness they got a Monday night win at Morgan State…Miller leading the way with 24 points and a crucial block in the final minute of a 70-67 win over the Bears.  They next face winless in the league North Carolina A&T.

 

 

The college basketball world breathed a collective sigh of relief when Grayson Allen learned his lesson and returned to the Duke lineup for their bludgeoning of Georgia Tech.  After being suspended “indefinitely” for his third trip of an opposing player in less than a calendar year, the All-American sure learned his lesson this time.  I mean–even Bobby when taking out Daniel LaRusso’s leg in the All-Valley Karate Tournament was more apologetic (Dutch, a completely different story).  Johnny Lawrence would be proud with how the prized pupil of Durham’s Cobra Kai chapter handled himself in his return.  Just as by announcing the need for back surgery after the loss to Virginia Tech takes the focus off the Blue Devils’ loss in Blacksburg, the return of Grayson Allen after one game away sours those on the fence regarding the Blue Devils.  Just as the coach who publicly chastised an Oregon player in the handshake line after a loss now decides to teach his players “internally”, the phrase “double standard” once again begins and ends with a D.  A big, blue D.

 

Alma Mater Update-

How do you lose to Boston College?  Even though it was on the road, the Eagles don’t even try unless it’s hockey.  They even already have their “we can’t compete because of strict academic standards” speech ready for their eventual defeat.  As underwhelming as the ACC opener was, the win over Miami gave one hope.  At least until they play Pitt at noon Saturday.  It’s going to be one of those bubblicious seasons for SU-made worse because of the broom closet my Alumni Group has elected to watch games at in DC.  While the “Big Country Breakfast” is worthy of its name, one feels like they are in the middle seat on an airplane.  For future reference- use the restroom before tipoff.

Saturday’s games:

Noon-

Georgetown (8-7, 0-3 Big East) vs #18 Butler (13-2, 2-1).  The Hoyas haven’t started 0-4 in conference play since Hall of Fame coach John Thompson, Jr. retired midway through the 1998-99 season.  The Bulldogs are coming off a home win over top-ranked and defending national champ Villanova…so they might be ripe for the picking.  They’re also own the #1 turnover margin in the conference…while the Hoyas rank 9th and if there was a “costly turnover category” one feels they’d be leading that.  At least this game starts at noon instead of 11 a.m. like last week’s morning matinee with Xavier.

1pm-

VCU (12-3, 2-0 Atlantic 10) vs UMass (10-5, 0-2).  We could use the transitive property of basketball and say that because the Rams beat George Mason and the Patriots beat the Minutemen, Virginia Commonwealth is better than Massachusetts.  You could also go the Captain Obvious route and simply realize that VCU is better than UMass.  Just when the A-10 was getting used to a world without Melvin Johnson, freshman Samir Doughty tallies 23 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists in the Rams’ midweek win over Duquesne.  Meet the new boss…similar to the old boss.

2pm-

#21 Virginia Tech (12-2, 1-1 ACC) at #12 Florida State (14-1, 2-0).  The road will be cruel this winter in the Atlantic Coast Conference…as witnessed by the Hokies in their 104-78 loss at NC State where they allowed the Wolfpack to shoot 64% from the field.  It doesn’t get any easier…as the Seminoles lead the lead in shooting percentage and are second in the ACC in scoring.  Can Buzz Williams cook up a defense that can contain FSU’s Dwayne Bacon (18 points per game and less than a week removed from a game-winning three against Virginia)?

3:15 pm-

Maryland (13-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at Michigan (11-4, 1-1).  The Terps showed their fans the absolute ceiling (25-point thumping of Illinois) and floor (scoreless final 6:02 in a loss to Nebraska) for the upcoming conference season.  The Wolverines have been much more consistent, looking as equally underwhelming in their three-point loss at Iowa as they did in a three-point win at home against Penn State.  The maize and blue are also 13th in the Big Ten in rebounding margin and last in the league at defending the three-pointer.  With #25 Indiana coming to College Park Tuesday, this is a must-win from a standings, confidence and momentum standpoint for Melo Trimble and company.

5pm-

George Mason (11-4, 1-1 Atlantic 10) at St. Bonaventure (9-5, 1-1).  The Patriots held their own in their conference opener against VCU and played well in their victory over UMass…but will this translate to the road?  It’s been said that “defense and rebounding travel”…and Mason (led by Marquise Moore) leads the A-10 in rebounding margin.  The Bonnies boast the highest scoring offense in the conference and hit a league-best 38% of their three-pointers.  Junior Jaylen Adams is the A-10’s top scorer at 23 points per game and likely hasn’t forgotten last winter’s 3-for-16 shooting performance in Fairfax against GMU.

7pm-

Howard (3-12) at Columbia (5-7).  The Bison began MEAC play Wednesday with a 78=66 loss at home to Florida A&M.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that James Daniel played for the first time all season and the nation’s returning leading scorer tallied a team-high 24 points.  There’s more good news in the form of James Miller playing for the first time in eight games–netting 18 points.  Now that coach Kevin Nickelberry has his stars back, he needs to keep them healthy while finding the right combinations with the rest of a roster that’s shown plenty of talent.  This game is the final dress rehearsal for the preseason MEAC favorites.

Sunday-

12pm-

George Washington (9-6, 1-1 Atlantic 10) vs Richmond (8-6, 2-0). After making 11 of 18 three-pointers in their 73-69 win over Davidson Thursday night, the Colonials may find things a little stickier on the perimeter against the Spiders (2nd in the A-10 at defending the three).  GW continues to have issues taking care of the ball:  17 turnovers against the Wildcats didn’t help the school that’s last in the conference in turnover margin (Richmond is fourth-best in the league).  It’s a matchup of versatile big men in Tyler Cavanaugh against T.J. Cline- both average 17 points per game while being their team’s offensive focal point.  Richmond may be unbeaten in league play, but let the record show both of their A-10 wins have come against schools that are 0-2 in the early going.

2pm-

American (4-10, 1-2 Patriot League) at Lehigh (7-7, 1-2).  Both teams are coming off home losses…but the Eagles may be able to build off their 69-60 defeat to conference-leading Bucknell better than the Mountain Hawks in their attempted recovery from blowing an 18-point lead in a loss to Loyola (Md.).  AU freshman Mark Gasperini will have his hands full with two-time Patriot League Player of the Year Tim Kempton (21 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 38% from three-point range).  Sophomore Lonnie Rivera has the hot hand for the Eagles…although the 15 points he scored against the Bison were nine shy of equaling his total during Patriot League play last winter.  Thursday may be an isolated incident.

Navy (5-10, 0-3 Patriot League) vs Colgate (3-13, 1-2).  After dropping their first two conference games by a combined five points, the Midshipmen dropped the ball early and often Thursday against Boston University-turning the ball over 27 times during a 71-53 loss.  Coming into Annapolis is a red-hot freshman by the name of Will Rayman (averaging 22 points per game in conference play) and a team that actually has a better record on the road than on their own campus.  Okay, so 2-7 isn’t that much better than 1-6…but when you’re already ten games under .500 the first weekend in January you have to cook the books in some manner to highlight the possibilities.

8pm-

#11 Virginia (11-3, 1-2 ACC) vs Wake Forest (10-5, 1-2).  How crazy is the Atlantic Coast Conference season after one full week?  Entering Saturday’s games 10 of the 15 schools were 1-1.  The Cavaliers can ill afford to start 1-3 in league play…and they face a Demon Deacons team that is their defensive opposite.  While UVa  leads the conference in scoring defense and opponent’s field goal percentage, Wake ranks 13th in points allowed and 15th in opponent’s shooting.  They also don’t have the offensive weapons Florida State and Pitt possess.  Quietly, junior guard Devon Hall has scored in double figures in each of the Cavaliers’ ACC games…is that a three-game oasis or the start of a trend?

 

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…

Monday Night Football is a four-letter word around the district, beltway, commonwealth and select Maryland counties.  MNF could almost be transposed to “MF!” (kids under a certain age, that stands for “Massive Failings!”).  The Redskins had a chance to hold on to the #6 playoff spot handed to them last night when Tampa Bay lost to Dallas.  Instead, they coughed up a 26-15 clunker loss to Carolina and slid back into the NFC wildcard swamp.  

Much like Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by three ghosts, the Burgundy and Gold was haunted by three visitors:  the Ghost of MNF Past (the team is now 2-16 in Landover on Monday night), the Ghost of Playoff Picture Present (Skins need to win out plus get help from multiple teams to make the postseason) and the Ghost of Kirk Cousins Contract Conversations Yet to Come (that’ll be a nice thing to focus on this offseason).  God bless us, everyone!

For Starters- the worst-kept secret around the league is how the Redskins are slow to get in gear.  Over the last four games they’ve been outscored  53-28 in the first half and 27-3 in the first quarter.  This means the team has had to abandon the run during the second half as they’re playing catch-up.  Monday three of their first six possessions failed to yield a first down…and a fourth saw an interception. If they get outscored in the first half by the Bears…watch out.

Captain Kirk- the face of the franchise threw for 315 yards…but tossed a first-quarter interception that set up a Carolina field goal and lost a third-quarter fumble that set up the Panthers lone touchdown after intermission.  Third down was a nightmare again…as the red zone was more maroon and black than burgundy and gold.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent- “That Which Survives”, an episode that gets off to a confusing start and meanders for sixty minutes while producing drama yet not delivering greatness.

Tragedy of Robert III- well, the House of Griffin continues to attempt to re-establish itself as a pretender to the thrown in the Bailiwick of Brown.  RG3 threw for 196 yards while running for 48 more and the team’s lone touchdown in a 33-13 loss to Buffalo.  Meaning he gets to start in week sixteen against San Diego.

Running in Place- 13 carries for 29 yards…and running the ball on fewer than 20% of their plays from scrimmage.  Robert Kelley had his lowest output since a 15 yard effort against Detroit.  As it gets colder, the ground game becomes more important…and since the win over Green Bay it’s become much less productive.

DeSean and Garcon- the duo combined for 14 catches and 189 yards but nary a touchdown.  Two of Jackson’s grabs were of the sweet-scraping-both-feet-in-bounds variety, while Garcon was the usual tough customer.  Makes up for Jordan Reed tallying as many punches reaching opponents helmets (he was ejected in the second half) as receptions.

Third Down and Really Down- the Skins moved the chains on 2 of 12 attempts…and were 0-for-6 after halftime.  Robert Kelley was stuffed on 3rd & 2 in a run up the middle on the Skins’ lone run.  Kirk Cousins completed 3 of 11 passes on the money down, moving the chains twice.  The top target?  A tie between…guess who?  DeSean & Garcon each were thrown to four times…each reaching the marker once.  Cousins was 2-for-6 with one conversion throwing short to his right…and 1-for-4 with one conversion throwing short to his left.  Yardage breakdown? An ugly 0-for-3 on short-yardage, 1-3 on 3rd & 4-6 yards needed, and 1-6 on 3rd and long.  That 50% of the team’s third downs needed 7+ yards was a symptom of an ineffective offense on first and second down.

Defense, for Starters- Martell Spright notched 15 tackles in his first NFL start.  Mason Foster adds 13 stops.  They also held the Panthers to 4 of 15 on third down…forcing field goals to prevent the game from getting out of hand.  The defense bent but did not break…although in a game where the 2nd ranked offense produces just 15 points, bending was bad enough.

Semi-Special Teams- Tress Way after six punts the previous three weeks had to kick six times against the Panthers, averaging 47.7 yards per attempt.  Kicker Dustin Hopkins made field goal attempts of 26, 34 and 43 yards but missed an extra point.  The return game saw Will Blackmon bring the second half kickoff out of the endzone and get stopped at the 14…preceding the possession that ended on Kirk Cousins’ fumble that set up a short field for Carolina.

Flying Flags- the Skins were penalized seven times for 70 yards.  Four on offense (two holds, illegal hands and an unnecessary roughness), one on defense (facemask on Greg Toler), and two on special teams (illegal block and illegal formation).  While Josh Norman avoided dirty laundry this week his 12 penalties remain the most on the team.  Brandon Scherff’s hold gives him four of those calls this year and seven penalties on the season, good enough for a tie for second with Vernon Davis and Bashaud Breeland.  Worst penalty?  Jordan Reed’s punch/unnecessary roughness that turned a 2nd & goal from the 12 into a 2nd and 27.  Down two scores they had to settle for a field goal.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas  (12-2) topped Tampa Bay 26-20 to move within one win or one Giants loss away from locking up the NFC East.  One victory or one New York Giants loss delivers the division.  The Giants 17-6 triumph over Detroit clinches at least second place in the division and puts Eli Manning and company on the threshold of the Wildcard.  The third place Skins’ loss means they’re 7-6-1, 9th place in the conference and needing to finish 2-0 plus get help from orators.  Philadelphia’s 27-26 loss at Baltimore means the Eagles are officially eliminated from playoff contention and assured of last place in the NFC East.

East is the Beast- even with the Monday night loss, the NFC East remains the gold standard (34-21-1) while the AFC West is one half game back at 34-22.  The AFC North remains the division of depression.

Path to the Playoffs-in order for the Redskins to make the playoffs as a wildcard, they need to finish 2-0 (I’m not going the 1-0-1 route, even though an 8-6-2 season would be divine).  They then need to have Green Bay or Tampa Bay each lose once…or one of those teams plus Detroit go 1-1.

 

PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

After taking a break from their near-annual series last winter, American and Howard meet on Saturday, December 3rd.  One of the many dress rehearsals for two schools in one-bid leagues.  For AU and HU, RPI and SOS are simply excess filler in alphabet soup when the calendar turns to March–as the only way either school gets to the NCAAs is to win its respective league tournament.  American is just two years removed from taking on Wisconsin in the Round of 64, while Howard has its best chance in a quarter century to be playing in the big dance.

Yes, you read correctly.  It’s taken some time, but coach Kevin Nickelberry has Howard poised to make noise this winter-picked to finish first in the MEAC preseason poll.  A far cry for a school that not only hasn’t had a winning season since 2001-02, but had lost at least 20 games for eleven straight years.  Senior guard James Daniel III led Division I in scoring (27.1 points per game) last winter, but injuries (primarily to James Miller who was averaging 15 points per game before going down in December) butchered the Bison’s hopes of building off the previous campaign’s 16-16 mark.  Daniel and Miller  are just two of the top eight players in Howard’s rotation returning, so depth and experience should not be an issue.  Six-foot-ten Marcel Boyd (9.9 rebounds per game) and six-foot-seven Solomon Mangham (5.6 boards per contest) both enjoyed breakout junior seasons despite each missing time with injuries.  That’s a nice presence down low to let both Jameses go to work outside.

The schedule begins, ominously enough, in Ann Arbor Friday evening against NCAA Tournament hopeful Michigan.  The non-conference slate reads like a who’s who of area teams:  in addition to their home game against American, the Bison visit Georgetown, George Washington, Maryland, VCU and Old Dominion.  The MEAC schedule was kind this winter;  South Carolina State was picked to finish second and Hampton was ranked third in the preseason-and Howard only has to face each school once during the regular season.

American enters year four under coach Mike Brennan…and even though he didn’t recruit his current seniors, Brennan knows they’ve been instrumental to his success. “They bought into what we’ve been doing right away,” Brennan said, “having a group do that immediately and having them over the course of four years was just as helpful as being able to go out and recruit your own guys who’d fit with what you’d want to do.”  The Eagles have a major identity change with Jesse Reed, after exhausting opposing defenses throughout his career, has finally exhausted his eligibility.  One wouldn’t be surprised if the other Patriot League teams took a collection for Reed’s graduation present- the 6-foot-5 guard from Saltsburg, PA led AU in scoring each of his final three years and was the team’s top rebounder his last two seasons with the Eagles.

In theory, Delante Jones will have to step into the void but the sophomore from Chantilly will attract plenty of defensive attention.  “To be honest, I think he’ll have a tough year as people know about him and he’s our leading returning scorer,” Brennan said,”but he’s one of the hardest workers and one of the more coachable guys I’ve been around.  He’s made a lot of strides in the preseason.”  Serbian center Andrija Matic, George Washington transfer Matt Cimino and freshman Mark Gasperini each bring 6-foot-10 frames into the post.  Do they rebound by committee or does one of the bigs become the lead dog?

The schedule begins with a bang-an opening night date with #25 Maryland Friday, November 11th before they visit Texas A&M.  There’s also a December duel at defending National Champion Villanova.  “Those games usually sound better in recruiting in June…than they do two days before you’re going to play Maryland.” Brennan said, “it’s a great opportunity for those guys and they’re ready to compete.  You try to put together a schedule that prepares you for league play.”  American is picked to finish fifth in the Patriot League…a conference whose tournament they won in Brennan’s first year and whose title they played for in his second season at the school.  “It’s a great league-eveybody knows each other.  Obviously I think they got it right with the top four teams…those are the older teams this year.” Brennan said, “but the league has shown there’s not a big discrepancy between who finishes first and who finishes last.”  How well this team gels around Jones could determine where AU winds up…

 

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.