Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, September 26, 2011 at 9:20 AM
Quite a buzz has been developing about the Washington Redskins this year after they're 2-0 start. Rex Grossman is supposedly a quarterback who has found himself. Mike Shanahan has gotten rid of the clubhouse poisons and now has a full roster that's ready to play at full tilt. Nobody's suggesting Washington, who visits Dallas tonight on ESPN's Monday Night Football, is going to win the NFC East over the likes of Philadelphia...or make a run at the Super Bowl. But...there's some excitement in the nation's capital that we haven't seen for awhile.
It's great to be 2-0. But, it has to be noted that:
Washington started the season with two home games.
Washington beat two teams who probably won't make the playoffs.
Washington wasn't all that impressive in their wins.
Rex Grossman is still an inconsistent, turnover prone quarterback.
Networks prefer hyping upcoming telecasts to reporting reality.
Here's what Washington has done against a pair of teams in the NY Giants and Arizona Cardinals who may end up being 7-9 or 6-10 type teams when the season is in the books (maybe worse for Arizona). New York has been hit hard by injuries this year. Arizona is trying to recover from a disastrous season.
NY Giants 5.6, Washington 5.2
Arizona 6.8, Washington 5.8
If wins were based on what you gained per play, the Redskins would be 0-2 rather than 2-0, and nobody would be talking about what a great job Rex Grossman was doing. There's been a lot of offense across the league early in the season. Washington isn't in the group of teams who are moving the ball consistently and impressively. And, their defense has been worse than is realized on a per-play basis.
21-34-0-258 vs. the NY Giants
25-43-2-283 vs. Arizona
It's important to remember that standards have changed in NFL passing lines. If Cam Newton can come in and throw for big numbers right away...then popping an average near 270 doesn't mean what it used to. And, once you move past the volume...you see a high number of incomplete passes (13 and 18 over two games...compared to 8 and 11 for somebody like Aaron Rodgers, or 7 and 8 for Matt Schaub in his first two games).
In short Grossman is throwing a lot of passes to get to the 270 range. And, he's now averaging one interception per game...which is too high. Don't be a Fantasy square and think football success revolves around yardage volume. The best offenses average a lot of yards-per-play in a very efficient manner. Washington's just okay in yards-per-play and isn't very efficient.
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
5 of 14 vs. the NY Giants for 36%
6 of 16 vs. the Arizona Cardinals for 35%
You regular readers of the NOTEBOOK know that we consider this a great litmus test statistic for quarterbacks. Winners know how to move the chains. If you can't consistently move the chains, then you're probably not going to be a winner. Washington isn't moving the chains. At home against probable non-playoff teams (Arizona might make the playoffs in a horrible division, they aren't projected to be "playoff caliber").
Now, it does speak well for Washington that they've been able to put together some long scoring drives in the first two weeks. They scored 21 and 16 points on drives of 60 yards or more in the first two games. We're fans of that performance (though they may be relying too much on "big plays" given the lack of third down production...you can't COUNT on getting big plays every game). We don't want to suggest that Washington is some kind of 3-13 disaster that's had fortune shine on them the last two weeks. It's just...the excitement and buzz about this team heading into the Dallas showdown looks to be a bit overly optimistic when you did a little deeper.
Washington is 2-0 at home against non-powers, with some very clear skeletons in the closet. They're just one of many NFC squads who are in that "question mark" range where they might be as good as 8-8 or even 9-7 with a break or two...or they might be as bad as 6-10 or worse with some bad breaks.
In that group: Washington, NY Giants, Chicago, San Francisco
Maybe a tad better: Dallas, Detroit
Probably worse: Carolina, Minnesota, Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis
The NFC is kind of a mess once you get past the obvious contenders like Green Bay, Philadelphia, New Orleans, etc...
Washington's toughest test so far will come tonight in Dallas. Things don't get REALLY tough in 2011 until the back half of the season though. One reason Washington fans are so excited right now is that the early schedule looks so easy!
Tonight: at Dallas
Sunday: at St. Louis
October 9: Bye week
October 16: vs. Philadelphia (first power opponent, and it's at home)
October 23: at Carolina
October 30: at Buffalo
November 6: vs. San Francisco
November 13: at Miami
November 20: vs. Dallas
November 27: at Seattle
Let's stop right there. If you're really a good team...truly a playoff caliber squad...then that's about as easy as you can hope for in the NFL. The only league power is a home game. The other three teams you haven't played yet from the horrible AFC West are in the mix. The bye week comes early, which gives you a chance to be fresh (a blessing now, a curse later when the grind really starts to take its toll after Thanksgiving).
There's no way you can really pencil in automatic wins for a team like Washington on the road against the likes of St. Louis, Carolina, Buffalo, Miami, and Seattle (particularly Buffalo after they upset New England Sunday). But, if you HAVE to play road games...thanks for the gift schedule maker!
Nine games into the season Washington could reasonably be 6-3 even if they're not a playoff caliber team. A win in Dallas tonight gives them a shot to be even better.
Now, the coal in the Christmas stocking...
December 4: vs. NY Jets
December 11: vs. New England
December 18: at NY Giants
December 24: vs. Minnesota
January 1: at Philadelphia
Two AFC powers come up back to back (at least they're home games)...with road games against divisional rivals in two of the last three weeks. Tough to pencil in success after December 1st.
Tonight's result in Dallas will tell us how much of a tease the first half of the season is going to be for Redskins fans. Or, maybe it will hint at some unfortunately bad news...because the Redskins aren't going to matter this year if they don't play well on the road even with a friendly early schedule.
Will Washington play well tonight on the road? Or, is this when the bubble bursts? JIM HURLEY has studied the Monday Night game from every possible angle. His sources are on top of the quarterback situation in Dallas. His computer programmers have run simulations with both Tony Romo and Jon Kitna to account for all the possibilities. His Wise Guy connections know what the smart money is doing in this game, and whether or not dumb money has helped put the line in the wrong place.
You can purchase tonight's BIG JUICY WINNER right here at the website with your credit card. Or, sign up for the rest of the season at a great rate and make this your first score. If you have any questions, call the NETWORK office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about are postseason baseball package when you call. The MLB playoffs start this weekend!
Don't make a move in tonight's Washington-Dallas game until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say!