Someone in the media at Redskins Park last week asked coach Jay Gruden if he thought the perception of his team among — well, everyone, save apparently for those covering the Redskins — was that they were “flying under the radar.”
Here was Gruden’s response: “Yeah, probably, but that’s where we should be really. You know, we were 7-9 last year and 1-5 in our division. There’s no reason why we should be on the radar. It’s our job to put ourselves on the radar and that’s by starting fast. We have to start fast.”
Now, Gruden wouldn’t be the first NFL coach to foster the notion that his team was not worthy of lofty expectations. Joe Gibbs used to do it all the time.
But that was Joe Gibbs. He had a Super Bowl ring or two on his fingers when he would dismiss preseason predictions that had put his Redskins squad in full view of the NFL radar for success.
This is Jay Gruden. He has rings around his collar from his time in Washington, but little else. And, unlike Gibbs, Gruden has a skeptical voice inside him that sometimes can’t be silenced — the sort of skeptical voice you might think the media covering the team would have.
Instead, here’s what you had — nearly every national media outlet dismissing the Redskins as the perennially mediocre team they have been, with little or no chance of making the playoffs. And oddsmakers have the Redskins over/under for victories in 2018 at 6½. Yet there was someone in the local media asking the coach, basically, “Aren’t all these people wrong? We think you’re going to be good. We’ve been saying how good everyone looks in training camp. You’re going to be good, right.”
And there was the coach, of all people, answering with the rightful dose of skepticism, in essence saying, “Are you kidding? Have you been covering this team? What have we done?”
He’s right. Their track record is one of failure — and particularly to start the season, as Gruden is 0-4 in Redskins season openers. And they can’t afford to start this season — Sunday in Arizona against the Cardinals — with their typical opening loss.
No, if Washington is going to find its way on the NFL winning radar, it had better make hay in the first two weeks, when they face injury-prone Sam Bradford, then the Indianapolis Colts and a shaky returning Andrew Luck. After that, it’s Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints and Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
If the Redskins defense — particularly their front seven and their pass rush pressure — is as improved as many expect it is, including yours truly, then they need to make the most of facing two vulnerable quarterbacks in the first two weeks of the season.
It was that defensive line — the healthy young duo of Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis, joined by rookies DaRon Payne and Tim Settle — along with outside rushers like Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith, playing for a new contract, who I have believed would give this team a chance to perhaps turn around their 7-9 record to 9-7 or maybe even better.
A strong pass rush can create more turnovers, and, even without turnovers, can still give the offense better field position — both of which have been lacking with this team. If their top offensive weapons like tight end Jordan Reed and running back Chris Thompson stay healthy and connect with new quarterback Alex Smith, those turnovers and better field position should add up to more points.
But this defense showed none of the promise expected in four preseason losses. In fact, they looked like a liability, not an asset, particularly when it came to the basic act of tackling.
It’s frustrating, though, and often foolish, to make judgments on preseason football — fake football, for all intents and purposes. I have come to the conclusion that the less teams show in the preseason, the more they have.
But that may only apply to good teams — the Atlanta Falcons, a favorite to be NFC champions — went winless in fake football as well.
The Cardinals, who went 3-1, seemed to be really good at fake football, with a defense that created 17 turnovers in four games.
So what are we to make of these 2018 Washington Redskins, with a new quarterback that owner Dan Snyder called a “breath of fresh air” and a seemingly young and rejuvenated defense?
Like Jay Gruden said, they haven’t done anything, and to expect otherwise would require a leap of faith.
That’s too big a leap for an organization consumed by the “aura of self-destruction” for nearly two decades now. Expect the Redskins to be battling again at the end of the year for 8-8 mediocrity and whatever respectability .500 affords.
⦁ Thom Loverro’s podcast, “Cigars & Curveballs,” is available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver network.
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