Archives for posts with tag: Eagles

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So much for a duel in the Dominion.  Tuesday’s ACC battle royale between #4 Virginia and #9 Virginia Tech turned into a rout almost from the outset:  the Cavaliers scored the game’s first five points and held the Hokies without a field goal for the first three and a half minutes.  There would be no repeat of last winter when coach Buzz Williams’ scrappy bunch shocked then-second ranked UVa in overtime.  Instead, the Cavaliers hit 59% of their shots and 54% from three-point range while winning the battle of the boards 27-19.  The 22-point point lead at intermission would turn the entire second half into mop-up time as coach Tony Bennett’s team emerged as the ACC’s last remaining team unbeaten in conference play.  And just like Florida State two weeks ago, another top ten team tumbles before leaving John Paul Jones Arena.  Virginia’s four league wins have come by an average of 20.5 points per game and while a date with #1 Duke awaits, the Cavaliers have undercut their instate foes (don’t you dare tell the Charlottesville faithful that the Hokies are their rivals) once again.  Set your calendar for Monday, February ninth when these two teams battle in Blacksburg.

 

Alma Mater Update- nothing like washing off the smell of a double-digit home loss to Georgia Tech by beating #1 Duke at Cameron Indoor in overtime.   A 4/5 court heave by Elijah Hughes that went down.  A monster game that saw Tony Battle and his 32 points remind everyone why they all rejoiced when he announced he was coming back for his junior season.  Despite the injuries and illnesses, the Blue Devils are the team to beat and the Orange did just that.  Now they play a pesky Pitt that’s pesky and guided by a former Duke assistant in Jeff Capel.  SU has proven they can win on the big stage–can they sustain their solid play?

 

Friday’s Game:

Maryland (15-3, 6-1 Big Ten) at Ohio State (12-4, 2-3), 6:30 p.m, BTN.

This is the second of four Friday games for the Terrapins this winter.  Friday night hoops should involve me wearing a blue foam finger in Manchester, NH and scrounging up enough money to get Ugli sticks at Luisa’s Pizza on the west side.  The Terps have won consecutive games against Indiana and Wisconsin despite not putting together complete 40-minute efforts.  What’s encouraging is that even when things have gone sideways this month coach Mark Turgeon’s young team has found a way to win.  The Buckeyes have dropped three straight, including a three-point loss at Rutgers.  Perhaps they need to get the ball more to Kyle Young, who leads the conference in shooting (72.1%) but has taken just 12 shots during the slide.

 

Saturday’s Games:

Richmond (7-10, 1-3 Atlantic 10) at Davidson (12-5, 3-1), 12:30 p.m., NBCSN.  Both teams are looking to bounce from discouraging defeats:  the Spiders lost at home to Duquesne for the first time in 25 years, while the Wildcats fell at St. Joe’s by one.  Both teams bring plenty of firepower to Belk Arena:  Davidson leads the A-10 in three-pointers made per game while the Spiders rank second in the conference in field goal percentage.

 

American (8-8, 2-3 Patriot League) vs Lafayette (4-12, 1-4), 2 p.m.  How friendly has home court been for the Eagles thus far in conference play?  They’re 2-0 at Bender Arena and 0-3 outside DC.  Perhaps this is the game where Sa’eed Nelson finds his stroke from three-point range:  the Leopards rank last in the Patriot League at defending the three and are 9th in scoring defense.  But they do have a pair of offensive threats in Justin Jaworski (18 points per game in league play) and Alex Petrie (50% from outside the arc in conference action).

 

Navy (6-10, 3-2 Patriot League) at Army (8-10, 3-2), 2:30 p.m., CBSSN.  It’s not the football game, but this mid-January matchup has two schools recovering from nightmarish pre-conference schedules.  While the Midshipmen are still trying to find their way after losing last year’s leading scorer Shawn Anderson to graduation, the Black Knights are led by juniors Matt Wilson inside (2nd in the conference in rebounding) and Tommy Funk outside (2nd in assists).

 

#9 Virginia Tech (14-2, 3-1 ACC) vs Wake Forest (8-8, 1-3), 4 p.m., ACC Network.  Can the Hokies pick themselves back up from Tuesday night’s wreckage?  They face a Demon Deacons team that is fresh from upsetting #17 NC State by holding the Wolfpack to 37% shooting and 21% from three-point range.  Wake also has a second-generation star in Brandon Childress (son of assistant coach and 1995 ACC Tournament MVP), who’s averaging 16 points with 4 assists per game.  Despite the debacle in Charlottesville, Tech does lead the ACC in shooting and ranks second in scoring defense.  They should be able to find get their mojo back at Cassell Coliseum.

 

Howard (7-11, 1-3 MEAC) at South Carolina State (4-15, 2-1), 4 p.m.  Remind me not to buy into the Bison until they have a winning record entering February: eight losses in nine games has one feeling that “next year” won’t be happening this year.  Tuesday’s defeat to Morgan State was made possible by 18 turnovers and R.J. Cole’s second-lowest scoring output of the season (12 points in 42 minutes).  But as long as Cole and Charles Wiliams (25 points against the Bears) are around, the Bison are a threat to break out on a scoring spree.  And bring me back into the camp thinking that it might just happen this winter.

 

#4 Virginia (16-0, 4-0 ACC) at #1 Duke (14-2, 3-1), ESPN, 6 p.m.  The Cavaliers will have little time to bask in their beatdown of the Hokies…traveling to Durham to face an angry Blue Devils team that lost at home as a top-ranked team for the first time ever (previously 60-0 in that situation).  Adding injury to insult, guard Tre Jones is out indefinitely with a right shoulder injury.  But they still have the ACC’s leading scorer in R.J. Barrett and walking double-double Zion Williamson to test the pack-line defense.  UVa’s ultra-efficient offense that leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio won’t easily have its way with a Duke defense that holds teams under 40% shooting and under 30% from three-point range.

 

VCU (12-5, 3-1 Atlantic 10) vs UMass (7-10, 0-4), 6:30 p.m., NBCSN.  The Rams defeated Dayton Wednesday thanks to Marcus Evans: the transfer from Rice scored 17 points-including the team’s last seven and the go-ahead three with 33 seconds remaining.  The Minutemen may be tied for last in the conference, but three of their four league losses have come by five points or fewer.  They lead the A-10 in three-point shooting and are #2 in field goal percentage, while junior guard Luwane Pipkins scored 38 points last year against the Rams.

 

George Mason (10-8, 4-1 Atlantic 10) vs. Fordham (9-8, 0-4) 7 p.m., ESPN+.  The Patriots outscored UMass 18-9 over the final 6:40 of the second half to beat the Minutemen 68-63 Wednesday as Justin Kier tallied 22 points and 9 rebounds–the junior is averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds in league play.  That makes up for Otis Livingston II struggling over the last three games to the tune of 7-32 shooting (22%).  The Rams lead the conference in turnover margin, but are 1-4 on the road (those losses include a defeat to Houston Baptist).

 

Sunday’s Game:

George Washington (6-11, 2-2 Atlantic 10) vs. Duquesne (12-5, 3-1), 4 p.m., NBCSN.  The Colonials bounced back from a horrid first half at La Salle by shooting 68% after intermission in their 68-63 win Wednesday;  they’ll find the Dukes a little tougher to contend with even though the game is in Foggy Bottom.  Duquesne is 12-5 and 3-1 in the league for the second straight January;  last year’s edition stumbled the rest of the way into a 16-16 finish.  Sincere Carry averages 5.5 assists per game;  I can’t think of a more appropriately named point guard.

 

 

 

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There’s no place like home for the holidays- or hope for the area men’s college basketball teams.  Each of the locals have played from 10 to 13 games…and while there’s plenty of optimism on each campus that 2019 will be a banner year, there’s a long way from December to Selection Sunday.  While everybody has at least one win to hang their hat on, every team with the exception of unbeaten Virginia has a loss that will certainly keep them up late–until the next heartbreaker.  There’s also no place like conference play– which will make November and December feel like years ago once league action begins in earnest.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange have been ranked as high as #10 by some voters, but SU looks like less than the sum of its parts in an 8-4 start.  Losses to Old Dominion and Buffalo (first time since 1962-63 season) have not been ideal and the fact that Buddy Boeheim’s name was misspelled on the back of his jersey only adds to the fun.  Bring on ACC play.

Maryland (9-3, 1-1 Big Ten)- the Terps have been on the cusp of the top 25 since winning their first six games of the season.  But before you start punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, remember they started 9-3 with a 1-1 conference mark last year.  And with the exception of the 2014-15 season, they’ve always had a worse record the second half of league play under coach Mark Turgeon.  Best Win:  the day after Thanksgiving the Terps roasted Marshall 104-67 while shooting 57% from the field and 56% from three-point range.  Worst Loss:  the 62-60 loss at Purdue saw the Terps shoot 1-for-9 with four turnovers over the final 4:20.  Player to Watch:  Jalen Smith has captured Big Ten Freshman of the Week multiple times as the forward is averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday another NCAA Team from 2018 (Radford) comes to College Park.

 

Georgetown (9-3)- the Hoyas entered their Christmas break with a 102-94 overtime win over Arkansas-Little Rock in a game where Mac McClung earned Big East and National Freshman of the Week honors by scoring 38 points.  Best Win: November 13th they beat Illinois 88-80 in Champaign despite 22 turnovers, precisely the kind of road game this team has had trouble winning in recent years.  Worst Loss: the 72-71 loss December 8th at Syracuse saw the Hoyas let a double-digit lead evaporate…and 24,002 orange-clad fans get the last laugh in the four-game series between former Big East archrivals.  Player to Watch:  yes, McClung is providing the sizzle and senior center Jessie Govan is the steak–but freshman guard James Akinjo (15 points and 5 assists per game) is the steady playmaker that every tournament team needs directing its offense.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday they wrap up pre-conference play by hosting Howard at noon.

 

Virginia (11-0)- the Cavaliers are ranked 4th by the writers and 1st by the coaches, boasting the best scoring defense in the nation and…haven’t we been here before?  Seriously.  Shouldn’t we wait until March?  Best Win:  November 24th in the Bahamas UVa held #25 Wisconsin to 18 first-half points in a 53-46 win.  Player to Watch:  sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter has bounced back from the broken wrist that kept him out of last year’s NCAA Tournament loss to UMBC, averaging 15 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 44% from three-point range.  Ringing in the New Year:  New Year’s Eve coach Tony Bennett’s team hosts Marshall, a school that ranks 324th in scoring defense.

 

Virginia Tech (11-1)- the 10th ranked Hokies are one of six ACC schools currently in the top 25.  And while they’re not the defensive equal of best in the nation Virginia, Tech ranks second in the ACC in scoring and is third in turnover margin.  Could this be the year the Hokies enter the upper echelon of the conference?  Best Win:  an 89-83 November 19th triumph over then-#23 Purdue where the Hokies hit 55% of their shots.  Worst Loss:  their only defeat thus far was a 63-62 stumble at Penn State where the Nittany Lions hit 10-of-19 from three-point range.  Player to Watch:  sophomore guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker averages 19 points with 4 rebounds and 4 assists while making 47% of his three point shots.  Ringing in the New Year:  the Hokies begin ACC play by hosting Notre Dame January 1st.

 

George Mason (6-6)- the Patriots began the year 0-3 but appear to be hitting their stride with Atlantic 10 play just around the corner.  Best Wins:  victories over former CAA foes James Madison, Navy and William & Mary.  Worst Loss:  an season-opening 78-75 loss to American where Mason turned the ball over 15 times.  Player to Watch:  Otis Livingston II may be the team’s primary weapon, but Justin Kier (14 points with 5 rebounds per game) has filled the second-option role well.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday the Patriots visit a Kansas State team that’s began the year in the top 25 but has had its share of hiccups this month.

 

George Washington (3-9)- this was a far from ideal season before the Colonials lost their best rebounder for the season when Arnaldo Toro went down to injury, and that issue isn’t going away:  GW was outrebounded by 18 in a loss to Harvard.  Best Win:  a 70-64 handling of Howard where they held high-octane guard RJ Cole to 4-of-19 shooting.  Worst Loss:  a 69-53 stumble against Vermont (in the Mike Lonergan Classic) where they were outscored 21-5 over the last 7:53 of the second half.  Player to Watch:  Illinois transfer DJ Williams leads the team in scoring and is tops among active players in rebounding.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday the Colonials host American.

 

VCU (8-4)- the Rams own the best RPI (28th) in the Atlantic 10, and have already exacted sweet revenge on former coach Shaka Smart’s Texas team.  Best Win: a 70-54 victory December 22nd over Wichita State in a battle between onetime NCAA Cinderellas.  Worst Loss:  an 83-79 December 15th defeat to Charleston where VCU missed 11 free throws.  Player to Watch:  Rice transfer Marcus Evans leads the team in scoring, picking up where he left off when he averaged 20 points per game over two seasons under coach Mike Rhoades when they were both with the Owls.  Ringing in the New Year:  Sunday they host Rider.

 

Richmond (5-7)- hey, they could be 2-10 like they were last year at this time.  Best Win:  anytime you knock off an ACC team there’s cause for celebration, and the 84-74 victory over Wake Forest is the early-season highlight.  Worst Loss:  a 63-58 defeat to…Longwood?  Didn’t the Lancers used to be the Washington Generals of Mid-Atlantic hoops?  Player to Watch:  forward Grant Golden is averaging 19 points with 7 rebounds…and badly needs a supporting cast.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday the Spiders host South Alabama.

 

American (6-4)- the Eagles have already equalled last year’s win total and look to contend in the always topsy-turvy Patriot League.  Best Win:  a 78-75 overtime win over George Mason November 9th where AU silenced Doc Nix and the Green Machine.  Worst Loss:  a 56-55 loss December 18th to 1-9 Mount St. Mary’s.  Players to Watch:  Sa’eed Nelson is averaging 19 points with 5 assists…while sophomores Sam Iorio and Mark Gasperini give Nelson two solid scoring options.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday they visit George Washington.  Can coach Mike Brennan’s team make it 2-for-2 against the A-10 Georges?

 

Howard (6-7)- December is often difficult for the Bison, who usually go on the road for the bulk of the month.  But the six wins are the most of any MEAC team at this time.  Can coach Kevin Nickelberry guide the program to its first winning season since 2002?  Best Win:  a 68-63 win November 16th at UMass that made this team 4-0.  Worst Loss:  a December 22nd stumble to Hampton where they coughed up 57 points in the second half of an 89-82 defeat.  Ringing in the New Year:  Saturday at noon they visit Georgetown.  Good luck.

Remember last year when the Redskins went to Seattle with an offensive line held together by duct tape and paper clips, only to bring back a victory from Puget Sound?  Well this past weekend the Burgundy and Gold used rubber bands and masking tape to keep the line semi-solid in a 16-3 win by Tampa Bay.  Instead of losing a second straight game to a fellow future wildcard contender, the Skins are two games clear of a muddled NFC East and are off to their best start in ten years (we won’t mention who was coaching the Maroon and Black that autumn).  This has the feel of 2012 and 2015 all over again:  a first-year starting quarterback at Fed Ex Field exceeding expectations amidst a division ripe for the taking.  Enjoy the ascent, because if there’s anything we’ve learned from 2012 and 2015 it’s that 2013 and 2016 are distinct possibilities.

Turnovers Told the Tale- four takeaways helped keep the Buccaneers out of the end zone.  Josh  Norman’s interception at the goal line on the first drive of the day set the tone.  Greg Stroman’s interception led to the team’s final points of the afternoon.  Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s fumble recovery in the end zone ended another Bucs drive into the red zone.  And Ryan Kerrigan’s fumble recovery inside the ten ended Tampa Bays’ last best chance to rally.  And the Skins did not turn the ball over at all.  The team now ranks third in the league at +11 in turnover margin, and they needed every one Sunday to prevail.

Mr. Smith Goes to Consistency- for the third time in four weeks Alex Smith threw for exactly 178 yards.  The Skins won all three of those games…and are 5-0 when he throws for under 250 yards (1-3 when he crosses the 21st century marker for “productive passer”).  If he throws for exactly 178 yards against Houston, we’ll know the fix is in.

Cousins Comparison- Kirk and company had a bye this past week, but I took my bye last week (writing back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back college basketball previews for WTOP.COM) so let’s revisit how the former Franchise Tagged one fared:  18-22 passing for 164 yards and a touchdown with an interception in the Vikings’ 24-9 win over Detroit.  Minnesota is 5-3-1 and in second place of the NFC North, currently owning the second wildcard.  Cousins for the season owns a passer rating of 102.2 (9th best in the league) while Alex Smith is at 90.7 after nine games (21st in the NFL).

Peterson Provides Production- he didn’t gain 100 yards, but the Skins main threat on the ground rushed for 68 yards–including two first down scampers in third and short situations.  His 672 yards through nine games is already more than his numbers from the last two years (and three teams) combined over 13 games played.

Catching On- Maurice Harris led the team with 5 catches for 52 yards, following up his 10 reception effort against Atlanta.  With 26 catches this fall, the third-year pro has already more than doubled his career numbers.  Not bad for a fringe roster player.

Third and Two Halves- the Skins went 0-for-4 on the money down in the first half and 5-for-9 after intermission.  Alex Smith completed 5-of-8 passes while getting sacked once, moving the chains twice.  The running game moved the marker on 3-of-4 plays (Peterson twice and Kapri Bibbs once).  Smith’s top target?  Maurice Harris and Josh Doctson each notched a pair of catches on two targets–each moving the chains once (Doctson’s grab was for a touchdown).  Yardage breakdown:  2-for-2 on short-yardage, 1-for-5 on intermediate (4 to 6 yards needed) and 2-for-6 on long-yardage.  Almost 50% of the third downs needed seven or more yards-less than ideal.

D gets a pass- so they gave up 501 yards…but when it mattered they stopped the Buccaneers shy of the end zone each time.  Mason Foster led the way with 10 tackles while Preston Smith and Matt Ioannidis notched sacks.  Plenty to be happy with, but also plenty to work on moving forward.

Extra Special Teams- Dustin Hopkins nailed his three field goal attempts (unlike his Tampa Bay counterpart Chandler Catanzaro who missed two of three and was cut) with a long of 43 yards.  Tress Way averaged 49.4 yards per punt, but that merely graces the surface.  Four of his five landed inside the Bucs’ 20 with Way’s three second-half kicks landing at the four-, six- and 13-yard line.

Flying Flags- eight infractions for 52 yards gives the team 64 for 624 yards (9th and 4th most in the NFL). Of the five on the offense, two were false starts while the other three were holds (the Skins 21 holds this year are the most in the league).  Morgan Moses had one of each while recent pickup Jonathan Cooper had a pair of holds.  The two defensive penalties (neutral zone infraction and a hold) came in the fourth quarter and were luckily wiped out by Ryan Fitzpatrick’s third turnover of the day.  The special teams’ flag was an illegal formation on a kickoff.  Costliest penalty?  Those two that kept the Bucs’ late drive alive.

Dissecting the Division- the Skins own a two-game lead in the NFC East and due to conference record would be the fourth seed “if the playoffs began today”, which they obviously do not.  Dallas (4-5) owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with Philadelphia thanks to Sunday night’s win and is in 10th place of the conference–the Eagles holding down 11th.  The New York Giants may be in last place of the division but depart the conference basement with their Monday night victory in San Francisco.

NFC East no Longer Least- despite the worst winning percentage (.444) of the league’s eight quartets, the Skins’ division after a 3-1 week at least moves into lock-step with the NFC West (17-21) and AFC East (18-22).  The NFC South (21-15) continues to be the best bunch, even with a 1-3 week that saw Tampa Bay squander 501 yards of offense, Atlanta lose to Cleveland and Carolina get crushed by Pittsburgh.  The Interconference Contest (that means absolutely nothing) is also tied at 22 wins apiece.

 

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By George, that was one rough opening night.  Which was more painful, George Mason’s 72-71 loss at home to Penn or George Washington wasting a 22-0 first half lead in their defeat to Stony Brook?  Never mind, as GW compounded it by losing to Siena Thursday evening.  The Patriots and Colonials will battle twice in Atlantic 10 play, with GW going to Fairfax January 26th and Mason heading to Foggy Bottom March 9th.  Meanwhile, DC houses two more Division I programs…and American visits Howard December 8th.  Both teams are rebuilding:  the Eagles are looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 while the Bison have a 26-year Big Dance drought.  Of the four, George Mason has the best chance of making waves this winter while the other three have hopes-for the moment.

 

George Mason- the Patriots enter coach Dave Paulsen’s fourth year at the helm, meaning every player in the program is someone brought to Fairfax by his efforts. “There’s just a comfort level that the kids have and a comfort level that I have with the kids,” Paulsen said, “What we’re starting to see when is when the players enforce the culture, when the players can help correct some things on the side.”

Mason has improved from 12th to 7th to 5th in the Atlantic 10 over the last three years;  this fall the Patriots return all five starters and have been picked to finish 4th in the A10’s Preseason Poll.  Paulsen returns all five starters and every significant bench player from last winter.  This is a team built to contend. “We talk a lot about playing two-tempo basketball:  being able to push it in transition but also be able to really execute on the offensive end.”

Leading the returnees is guard Otis Livingston II: the senior was named Preseason all-Atlantic 10.  While his 17 points per game paced the Patriots last winter, Livingston’s coach feels they’ve only scratched the surface.  Paulsen said, “We really challenged Otis to become a complete point guard in the truest sense.  To assert himself more defensively and pressure the ball…and continue to be aggressive scoring the basketball.”

Livingston will have plenty of options at his disposal:  Jaire Grayer led the team in threes while the 6-foot-5 guard was also the best player on the boards.  Six-foot-seven Minnesota mountain man Goanar Mar looks to build off of what was a productive freshman season in the post.  Paulsen said, “I do think we’ll have better balance–we pretty much lived and died on the perimeter last year and I think we’ll be able to throw the ball inside and get some easy buckets in there as well.”

That they’re picked 4th in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll is nice, but the coach expects a long winter with many twists and turns.  “There’s always a team that does very well and always a team that doesn’t perform as well as expected–but there’s no easy night”, Paulsen said.  The schedule has Mason playing defending A10 regular season champ Rhode Island once (on the road) and tournament winner Davidson at home.

 

George Washington- Maurice Joseph’s team was picked to finish 13th in the conference after losing their top three scorers off of last year’s 15-18 team.   Stepping into the vacuum of the graduating Yuta Watanabe and Patrick Steeves plus the transferring Jair Bolden (bound for South Carolina), 6-foot-8 forward Arnaldo Toro.  The junior from Puerto Rico led the Colonials in rebounding last winter and will be expected be the primary post presence moving forward.  Getting him the ball will be Baltimore product Terry Nolan Jr.:  the preseason Atlantic 10-All Defensive Team guard was fifth in the conference in steals as a freshman.  The season begins with a bang as GW faces top 25 teams Virginia and Michigan in November.

American- the Eagles were extremely young last year and it showed in a 6-24 finish (3-15 Patriot League).  But after taking those lumps coach Mike Brennan’s team returns a nucleus of Sa’eed Nelson (Preseason Player of the Year), senior Larry Motuzis (15 points and while leading the team in threes) and sophomore Sam Iorio (15 points while leading the team in rebounding).  Despite the experience, the Eagles are picked seventh in the conference…with everybody chasing Lehigh and Bucknell.  Games to watch include trips to George Mason (November 9th) and George Washington (December 27th).

Howard- forgive me for being shy about the Bison.  This program was THIS CLOSE to breaking through with James Daniel leading the nation in scoring and his teammates leading the country in untimely injuries.  Kevin Nickelberry has rebuilt the roster and has HU picked to finish fourth in the MEAC (keep in mind they have one winning conference record since 2002) and once again boast a high-powered backcourt.  Preseason MEAC Player of the Year RJ Cole looks to build on one incredible freshman season (his 24 points per game ranked 7th nationally) while junior Charles Williams (20 points per game last winter) can fill it as well.  Upper Marlboro, MD native Zion Cousins led the Bison with 7.1 rebounds per game as a freshman.  If he can develop a better offensive game, Howard might just finally find a way to turn from pretender to contender.

Sunday’s 20-13 win at the New York Giants had “trap game” written all over it in such a manner it was almost disgusting.  If Hollywood cast for “Letdown Games”, this would be the prime candidate.  But instead of a disappointing defeat to cut whatever momentum the Redskins had built, coach Jay Gruden’s team comes home off to their hottest start since 2008 (we won’t go over how that ended, but it involved the Skins wearing burgundy on burgundy in a prime time game).  For a franchise that has missed the postseason in eight of the last ten years, there are no small victories.  Especially in the division.  Especially on the road.

Mr. Smith goes to the Meadowlands- Alex completed 20 of 32 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown while running for 13 yards on three carries and avoiding a sack.  While he’s not winning the Skins games at this time, Smith isn’t losing them.

Country Cousins- Kirk threw for 359 yards and two touchdowns, but also tossed an interception that was run back for a New Orleans touchdown.  While Cousins’ passer rating is over ten points (102.5 to 91.3) higher than Smith’s he also has four interceptions plus four lost fumbles this fall to just a pair of turnovers for Smith.

Yo Adrian- Mr. Peterson rumbled for a season-high 149 yards and a 64-yard touchdown while catching a TD pass that put the Skins on the board.  The offseason pickup is on pace to rush for 1,300 yards- not bad for a 33-year old.

Top Targets- Jordan Reed had arguably his best day of the season, catching seven passes for 38 yards.  Josh Doctson added season highs of five grabs and 49 yards.  While Paul Richardson and Chris Thompson are less than 100% and Jamison Crowder is on the shelf, Doctson’s presence is all the more important.

Third and Just Enough- the offense moved the chains on 6-of-15 attempts…with Alex Smith completing 8-of-12 passes for five conversions.  He also had a scramble for three yards on 3rd & 13.  Jordan Reed was the top target- catching four of seven passes thrown his way for two conversions.  The two runs?  Adrian Peterson gained one yard on 3rd & 1 while Christ Thompson gained a yard on 3rd & 10 in the fourth quarter.   Distance breakdown:  3-for-4 on 3rd & short (1-3 yards needed), 2-for-5 on 3rd and medium (4-6) and 1-for-6 on 3rd & long (7+ yards needed).

D continues to Grade Well- the Skins held the Giants to 37 yards on 14 carries while handcuffing NY to 2-of-14 on third down.  Matt Ioannidis tallied 2.5 of the team’s seven sacks while Mason Foster led the way with 13 tackles.  D.J. Swearinger posted a pair of interceptions to give the safety a league-best four picks on the season.

Special Situations- Tress Way averaged 49.2 yards per punt.  Wow.  Dustin Hopkins made two of three field goal attempts-missing a 41-yarder-while connecting on both extra point tries.  While the punt coverage team allowed a 19-yard return, there were minimal failures.

Flying Flags-  eight penalties for 90 yards–with 46 of coming on a defensive pass interference on Montae Nicholson that set up a Giants field goal (and that was the only flag on the D).  Four penalties were on offense (two false starts, a hold and a PI) while to were on special teams (false start on an extra point and offsides on a free kick).  Seven weeks into the season, over 50% have been either holds (13) or false starts (12).  Sunday’s most costly penalty?  A false start on Morgan Moses turned a 3rd & 1 into a 3rd & 6–resulting in a field goal.

Dissecting the Division- the Skins at 5-2 keep their one and a half game lead over Philadelphia, who beat Jacksonville in London Sunday morning.  There’s heaven, hell, purgatory and 9:30am London games.  Idle Dallas drops two games off the pace at 3-4 and responds by firing their offensive line coach.  The New York Giants at 1-7 continue to make the case for not being as good as their record would lead you to believe.  NFC seed/place:  Redskins are 3rd, Philly is 9th, the Cowboys are 12th and the Giants are 16th.

NFC Least- the division still has the worst composite record at 13-17, one half game behind the AFC South (14-17).  Good news for the Skins who still play Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee.  The best quartet?  The NFC South is 17-11–bad news for the Burgundy and Gold who still have to play Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

 

Well how about that?  Sunday they turned back the clock and put the Redskins-Cowboys game on CBS…kicked it off in the late-afternoon window and the two teams played in a 20-17 nailbiter decided on the final play.  The only thing missing was promos for “Murder………………She Wrote” coming up after “Sixty Minutes”.  Instead of being in a rugby scrum for the NFC East lead, the Skins find themselves with a rare early season cushion–yes, it’s only one and a half games but it’s their biggest advantage since the end of the 2015 campaign.  And if one looks a the upcoming schedule, the Burgundy and Gold face ONE team currently with a winning record the rest of the year.  That “winning” team is 4-3 Houston.

Mr. Smith Goes Underneath- Alex completed 14 of 25 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown.  The 23-yard pass to Kapri Bibbs for the game’s first touchdown was his second-longest completion of the afternoon.  Now his average yards per completion for the season may rank 19th in the league at 11.2, but he’s almost one yard better than Captain Checkdown himself-Kirk Cousins (10.3).

Captain Kirk in Exile- the former franchise tagged threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns against the very team that outbid Minnesota for his services last winter in a 37-17 rout of the New York Jets.  For the season, Cousins has a passer rating of 101.8 to Smith’s 91.9.  But Smith has fewer turnovers (two to Kirk’s four).

Peterson’s Presence- Adrian rushed for 99 yards on 24 carries without a touchdown so the Fantasy Football players will be bummed, but once again the Redskins runningback gave the team exactly what they needed and wanted on the ground.  Can you imagine the offense without the offseason pickup?

Third and Troubling- the Skins went 3-for-12 at moving the chains with 10 of their 12 third downs needing at least seven yards.  Not ideal.  Smith went 5-for-7 with three conversions.  Kapri Bibbs led the team with two catches on two targets (and one conversion).  Smith scrambled twice and fumbled once.  His second scramble was the one he’d like back as Alex failed to stay in bounds and keep the clock moving late in the fourth quarter.   For the season the team ranks 23rd in the NFL at 37.5%, better than last year’s 32.1% that ranked 31st in the league.  Yardage breakdown:  0-for-2 on a pair of third and short (under 4 yards needed) runs and 3-for-10 on third and long (7+).

D earns an A- the Redskins handcuffed the Cowboys’ ground game, allowing 73 yards on 22 carries.  They also held Dallas to 5-of-14 on third down and Ryan Kerrigan’s strip-sack led to Preston Smith’s touchdown that proved to be the difference in the end.  It’s less than two weeks from the debacle at New Orleans, but one has to feel good about this unit-especially up front with Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen.  Kerrigan also notched his first two sacks of the season after being held in check.  Watch out for #91 as he gets untracked.

Special Situations- Dustin Hopkins drilled both of his field goals and extra points while Tress Way averaged 37.8 yards per punt–landing five of his six kicks inside the Dallas 20.  Nice to know that part of the game is not beating the Skins in a razor-thin margin league at this time.

Flying Flags- “Don’t Beat Yourself”.  It’s an easy mantra to have, but a tougher one to follow.  The Skins had five penalties (plus one that was declined) for 35 yards, keeping the team in the pack of least-penalized clubs (7th fewest infractions, 8th fewest yards).  Three of the five were on the offense (hold, false start and pass interference) while the other two were on the defense (encroachment and holding).  The early leaders in the clubhouse are holds (12) and false starts (9), with Trent Williams team-high five flags (3 holds and 2 false starts) making the tackle the most-whistled Redskin after six games.  Sunday’s most costly penalty?  Josh Harvey-Clemons’ defensive hold in the fourth quarter that turned what would have been a 3rd & 10 from the Skins’ 11 into a 1st & goal from the 6.  Dallas would reach the endzone three plays later.

Dissecting the Division- the win prevented the Redskins from falling out of first place in the NFC East…and they received an additional gift when Philadelphia blew a 17-0 lead to Carolina at home.  The Skins (4-2) are now a game and a half ahead of the Eagles and Dallas (Philly owns the division record tiebreaker) and are three and a half games up on the last-place New York Giants, who have dropped 19 of their last 23 games.  Conference Playoff Rankings:  the Redskins get the #3 seed while Philadelphia is in 11th place and Dallas holds down 13th (both are within two games of the second wildcard at this time).  The Giants are dead last in the NFC because San Francisco has a better conference record.

NFC Least- the 1-3 week meant that the Skins’ division dropped to 11-16…the worst record of the eight divisions.  The NFC South is #1 (Redskins still face Atlanta and Tampa Bay) with a 15-10 mark…while the AFC West and both Norths are above .500 at this time.  After a hot start the AFC East has returned to the “Patriots with three hot messes” and the NFC West has a pair of six-loss clubs in Arizona and San Francisco that look lost in the desert and by the bay.  Will the Eagles wake up from their early-season slumber?  And will the Cowboys’ trade for Amari Cooper be the jolt their sagging offense needs?  The Redskins are the hunted…for now.

 

We just knew the Skins would bounce back from their thrashing in New Orleans, right?  The 23-17 win over Carolina swings the burgundy and gold pendulum back over .500–and in a league where 16 of 32 teams are within a game of breaking even the “every week a new season” mentality is not even halfway over.  Buckle up and prepare for the pendulum to swing again.  And again.

Mr. Smith goes to the Endzone- Alex tossed a pair of first-half touchdowns, and while he only threw for 163 yards on the afternoon didn’t have any back-breaking mistakes.  And that was all minus Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder (a combined 39 catches, or 44% of Smith’s completions this year).   And that was with a banged up Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson.

Captain Kirk in Exile- Cousins threw for 233 yards and a touchdown while running for another score in 3-2-1 Minnesota’s 27-17 win over Arizona.  For the season the former franchised one has a passer rating of 102.7 (10th in the NFL) while the new kid in town has 90.9 (18th).  Not that anyone is keeping track.

Running is Back- Adrian Peterson and the ground game continued their rollercoaster ride.  One week after the Skins rushed for just 39 yards at New Orleans, Peterson (and his banged up shoulder) rumbled for 97 of the team’s 132 yards.  In three wins the team has averaged 160 yards rushing, and in three losses they’ve been held to 52 yards per game.

Best Run of the Day- the biggest run was not by Peterson but by his former Oklahoma teammate Trent Williams.  The left tackle somehow found a fumble in his hands on a third and long…and instead of going to the ground rumbled ahead eight yards.  He didn’t reach the first down marker, but got to the Carolina 38 and Dustin Hopkins’ 56-yard field goal was good.  Instead of the Panthers needing a field goal to tie with under a minute left, they had to go for the endzone.  Perhaps going forward this might be a new wrinkle in the playbook.

Tight End Tandems- Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis received 12 of the 34 targets,  with the duo combining for 8 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.  Reed had one sweet one-handed grab to help keep a first half drive alive and Davis caught the game’s first touchdown.  The TD was set up by a fumble recovery by fellow TE Jeremy Sprinkle on a special teams play.

Third and Reed-  the Skins moved the chains on 7 of 16 money downs…running the ball just once (a sneak by Alex Smith that got the job done).  Smith completed 8 of 13 passes for 6 conversions while getting sacked once.  Jordan Reed was the top target–with four passes thrown his way (two catches for one conversion).  Paul Richardson caught both of the passes thrown his way while generating one first down and one touchdown.  Yardage breakdown:  5-6 on 3rd and short, 1-3 on 3rd and manageable (4-6 yards needed), 2-7 on 3rd and long.

Norman Invasion Leads the Defense- six days after being benched in the loss at New Orleans, Josh Norman tallied his first interception since December of 2016 while also forcing a fumble that would lead to a field goal.  DJ Swearinger paced the team with seven tackles and recorded their only sack.  The D earned an A on third down, holding the Panthers to 3 for 9 while keeping Cam Newton and company out of the end zone on their final drive of the day.

Special Situations-  Dustin Hopkins connected on 29, 49 and (a career-long) 56 yard field goal attempts while Tress Way averaged 41 yards per punt.  But the big play came on a fumbled punt return by Carolina’s DJ Moore.  Jeremy Sprinkle recovered the loose ball and the Skins would convert on the very next play with the previously mentioned 22-yard TD pass from Smith to Davis.

Flying Flags- five penalties for 43 yards gives the team 33 for 300 on the season (seventh fewest infractions and ninth fewest yards in the NFL).  Two holds (Trent Williams and Morgan Moses) plus an intentional grounding on Alex Smith were the offensive flags.  Preston Smith picked up a neutral zone infraction while DJ Swearinger was whistled for taunting after the Panthers went incomplete on fourth down with under a minute to play.  Most costly flag– Smith’s grounding took the team out of field goal range after they had the ball on the Panther 33-yard line.

Dissecting the Division- the victory keeps the Skins ahead by one half game in the NFC East and owns the tiebreaker over Chicago for the #3 seed (common opponents).  Philadelphia owns the common foes tiebreaker over Dallas for second place.  Both the Eagles and Cowboys are a half game out of the Wildcard (Green Bay’s MNF win puts the Packers in the #6 spot).  The New York Giants remain in the cellar and dead last in the conference…and the gap is widening by the week.

NFC Least- well, the 10-13 composite record of the division is the seventh best in the league…only better than the AFC South (good news, the Skins have three more games against the South this year).  The AFC North is tops at 13-9-2 (boosted by 2-3-1 Cleveland) …with the NFC North (11-9-2) and AFC East (13-11) helped by last-second field goals in prime time.