The New York Jets take on the Washington Redskins in Washington, D.C. this Sunday. Previewing this matchup, Andrew York over at Hogs Haven was kind enough to answer a few questions for me regarding the 2019 Redskins.
1. The Redskins have seemingly hit rock bottom this year. The team has not been great for a long time, but up until this year the Redskins were at least competitive. What have been the primary causes of the team declining so drastically this year?
The simple answers are: QB and coaching, along with a bit of missing perennial Pro Bowl LT Trent Williams. In terms of QB, the last time the Redskins had a season similar to how this one is shaping up was back in 2014, when we went 4-12. That was the very first year of Jay Gruden’s tenure here, and a year he was forced by ownership to start Robert Griffin III, who was a poor fit as a pocket passer in Jay’s offense and has since failed to succeed as an NFL starter. Though we could see signs of this happening last year, when we went 6-3 with Alex Smith as starting QB, but 1-6 after he went down with injury. Simply put: QB is the most important position and none of ours are very good right now, though we’re hoping Haskins has a lot of ability to grow.
In terms of coaching, something has been wrong this year. Some people think this was Jay Gruden’s “f*** you” tour, that he was fed up as a head coach and just phoning it in this year. I personally don’t think he had given up as a head coach, but he has proven poor at adapting his scheme to his personnel in the past, and this year may have required more adapting than any previous year. Whatever the case, both the offense and defense have regressed this year, and at least some of it has to be due to coaching.
And Trent Williams deserves a mention here too. Without getting too side-trekked into the details of his recent holdout, he has been one of the NFL’s best LTs since being drafted, and LT is probably the second most important position on the team. Losing him to a holdout has undoubtedly played a role in the team’s regression. This is the first year the team has been entirely without him since he was drafted in 2010. We certainly didn’t have a highly capable backup already on the roster, and were forced to sign aging veteran Donald Penn to fill this role late in the offseason. Penn has been serviceable as a replacement, but the dropoff from Trent has been obvious and has not helped our QBs or running game to shine.
2. The Redskins struggles resulted in the team firing head coach Jay Gruden mid season and replacing him with interim head coach Bill Callahan. What are your early impressions of Callahan as a head coach, and who do you think will be the head coach in 2020?
There are a few things that have improved with Callahan replacing Jay, but he is not worthy of a full time head coaching position. Jay was notorious for running soft practices and being a “players’ coach”. Callahan is the opposite, he’s an old-school disciplinarian who has the players running wind sprints at the end of practice to improve conditioning. Callahan has also committed to the run game, where Jay would often abandon it when down by two scores. Callahan has also introduced more self-scouting into practice. He has asked college referees to attend our practices and call penalties, which has actually resulted in fewer penalties in games (the Redskins were one of the NFL’s most penalized teams earlier in the season). He has also asked the team’s pro scouts to watch our games and give feedback on the Redskins player performances they see.
However, the results are still not much better than under Jay. Callahan seems unimaginative as a game planner and hasn’t inspired the players to do much better than under Jay. His run-heavy offense is one of the most anemic in the NFL, and Callahan hasn’t seemed to improve anything on the defensive side of the ball. It’s impossible to predict who will be head coach next year, but it shouldn’t be anyone currently on the staff. My ideal head coach hire would be Gary Kubiak (if we can convince him to be a head coach again). I don’t like many of the other offensive coaching options, but Colts DC Matt Eberflus and 49ers DC Robert Saleh would also be on my short list of head coach candidates. Some have also linked Todd Bowles as a possible head coach candidate for the Redskins due to his close ties with Redskins Senior VP Doug Williams and the fact that former head coach Joe Gibbs seems to hold him in high regard (owner Dan Snyder still consults with Gibbs often). Snyder reportedly tried to trade for Mike Tomlin shortly after Jay Gruden was fired, but it seems the Steelers weren’t interested in his offer.
3. After drafting quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the first round this year, the Redskins brought him along slowly this year. Haskins got his first start on November 3 in a loss against the Buffalo Bills. With the caveat that it is still very early, what are your impressions of Haskins? How has he looked in limited action? What are his strengths and weaknesses, and are you confident he can develop into a franchise quarterback?
I’ll start by saying that the Redskins have preached patience with Haskins ever since drafting him. It was understood that he was a very raw (but talented) NFL prospect given that he only started 1 year in college. There are many nuances of the position that he is still learning. His footwork needs improvement, leading to the occasional errant throw. He has struggled even calling plays at the line of scrimmage, sometimes not getting the cadence right and provoking a false start by the offensive line. Several of the free rushers in the Redskins backfield have been due to Haskins missing blitzes and calling poor protections at the line. And Haskins has been slow to read the field and often doesn’t see wide open receivers. He also takes too many hits when he should just throw the ball away.
That being said, Haskins has noticeably improved in all of these areas over the course of the preseason and regular season. In addition, he has a cannon for an arm and can deliver touch passes to all areas of the field. Based on what I’ve seen in interviews and heard from team sources, he also seems to have a lot of the intangibles (leadership, work ethic, intelligence) that a QB needs. He hasn’t looked like an NFL starter so far, but he has the tools and has shown enough improvement that fans are not ready to give up on him. Although I am nowhere near confident that he can develop into a franchise QB, I’d be willing to give him this season and next season to try. The upside is certainly there, he is just unproven and raw in virtually every aspect of QB play.
4. Speaking of quarterbacks, what has happened to the Redskins passing game? After performing well enough the first couple of weeks of the season, the passing offense has disappeared, averaging about 110 yards per game over the last six weeks. That is unfathomably unproductive. What is causing such a drastic fall off in the passing game?
The passing offense this year has only looked good with Case Keenum as the QB. Case Keenum actually started out somewhat hot at the beginning of the year, but his performance really dropped off as he dealt with an increasing number of injuries (he has reportedly dealt with hand and foot injuries, as well as a concussion that kept him sidelined multiple games) and teams started to figure him out (he decides too much pre-snap, and telegraphs where he wants to throw the ball). The biggest reason the passing offense has looked anemic recently is that Dwayne Haskins is the starting QB. In addition to the weaknesses I enumerated earlier, the Redskins run a restricted playbook for him that is limited to plays with which he is more comfortable. That has resulted in a run-heavy approach that isn’t very common in the modern NFL.
5. This week’s game between the 2-7 Jets and the 1-8 Redskins isn’t exactly an NFL classic. What’s your prediction for this game? Who wins, and why?
I think the Jets will win, mainly because it’s hard for me to believe the Redskins can win at this point. I want to say it will be a low-scoring game, but I said that earlier about the Bills and they blew us out. Either way, I think the Redskins offense will play a bigger role in determining the type of game than their defense. If the offense can put together drives, convert with passes on 3rd down, and actually score touchdowns in the red zone, it should be a close game. If the offense continues to go 4-and-out all the time, put the defense in a tough spot with poor field position and time of possession, and look anemic in the red zone (we’ve gone 3 games without a TD), then this will be a 1-sided game.
On the other side of the ball, I think the Redskins defense will bring a lot of pressure on the Jets offense. The Jets OL hasn’t done a good job of keeping their QB clean so far this year, and the Redskins have 4 first round picks in their front 5 on defense. I expect the Redskins defense to win the battle up front, stopping the run and bringing a lot of pressure on Darnold without needing to blitz. That being said, the Jets can defeat this if they game plan well. The Redskins LBs have been terrible in coverage this year, so passes to RBs will succeed. I also expect former Redskin Jamison Crowder to have a good game against us, as we’ve been weak defending the slot. If the Jets commit to a short passing game and runs outside, I think they’ll do well.