Love of the Redskins Week 1 extended far beyond the DMV and into fantasy football leagues from coast to coast. Everyone loves a sleeper, a bargain, a steal and the burgundy and gold certainly provided that and more with a 40-point performance. As for what it all means going forward...Robert Griffin III Now thats what you call a debut, in both real and fake football where RG3 outscored the likes of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and 27 other starting quarterbacks. Only Atlantas Matt Ryan posted more opening week points than the Griffining wonder. The Heisman trophy winner generally ranked in the 12-14 range on most fantasy football sites so he easily outperformed expectations (were talking those of fantasy pundits and owners, not face painting fans).Griffin made for an upside fantasy draft pick for those owners who missed out on the truly elite options. However, starting him on the road in his pro debut was no doubt risky, which is why only 30 percent of owners did so,according to MyFantasyLeagues.com. Expect that number to rise dramatically even against a Rams defense that intercepted Matthew Stafford three times and held the potent Lions offense without a passing touchdown until the final moments. Does that mean owners should who spent an early round pick on the aforementioned or other passing studs should do the fantasy equivalent of the Seattle Seahawks - sitting the expensive Matt Flynn for the newbie Russell Wilson by benching those veterans for the charismatic rookie? Um, no, in most cases, though over at FFToolbox.com we ranked RG3 ninth this week. Seeing as Michael Vick doesnt figure to light up the scoreboard in Week 2 against the Ravens, owners that drafted one running threat QB to backup another should seriously consider flipping the depth chart, for one week anyway.Alfred Morris Whether they came via Twitter or Facebook, email or just from those bending my ear in casual conversation, questions about how to handle the Redskins backfield in Week 1 ranked very, very high among all fantasy football queries. Considering the location, the Saints being favored and the head scratching scenario the Morris-Roy Helu-Evan Royster troika presented, advising folks to wait a week before using any of the options seemed reasonable.Oops. Well, in fairness to yours truly even the most optimistic fans could not have envisioned a scenario where the Redskins would be in a position to run and run and run after halftime. The Florida Atlantic rookie took advantage and used his physically nimble style to rack up 96 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. His 21 fantasy points tied him with New Englands Stevan Ridley and Detroits Kevin Smith for second among with all running backs. Smith, who averaged 4.8 yards on 13 carries, finished with 91 total yards and two scores. Why does this matter? Because the effort came against theRams That bodes well for Morris, which is one reason why hes moved from uncertain to a top 24 RB play and starter in most formats this week. Yes, that accounts for the Mike Shanahan loves to mess with fantasy players factor. Pierre Garcon Sounds like No. 88 avoided major injury and now its a wait and see approach for this week, though Garcon vowed after the game to play against the Rams. When he lined up against the Saints, the ex-Colt was everything his new team could hope for, especially seeing as the Redskins so desperately needed someone with major YAC (yards after catch) potential.Last season the Rams allowed the eighth most points to fantasy wide outs. While their revamped secondary proved solid against the Lions, dont be shy about using Garcon as a low-end WR2 or flex assuming he starts. Should Garcon sit, Santana Moss figures to increase his so-so Week 1 numbers (3-43) though Aldrick Robinson took over for Garcon and shined. And the restFred Davis didnt seem to catch RG3s gaze much in preseason and that carried over into the opener, but he remains a starting fantasy tight end in 12-team leaguesWhile I wouldnt go out of my way to acquire them, starting Billy Cundiff or the Redskins defense this week isnt a stretch, especially the latter seeing as the Rams just lost their starting center and tackle to injuries. Forward thinking owners will also note the Redskins defense only faces one high-end quarterback (Matt Ryan) over the next five weeks so adding them as a sign-and-stash could work if your regular defense has tougher matchups.
Barry Trotz does not think the Capitals’ history of playoff struggles has created a mental hurdle for the team to overcome.
“I think they’re all past that now,” Trotz said to reporters at the team’s breakdown day. “I think it’s so overworked by [the media] and everybody else that it’s actually becoming a joke to the guys.”
Well, the Caps weren’t laughing after their Game 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In some ways, Trotz is correct. Losing to Jaroslav Halak in 2010 is not why Washington lost to Pittsburgh this year. Giving up a 3-1 series lead to the New York Rangers in 2015 is not why the Caps were shutout in Game 7 by the Penguins.
But there does seem to be a mental hurdle the team has not been able to overcome and the players feel it.
“I just think mentally we have to just get over it and stop crumbling in certain situations,” John Carlson said.
“I think that a lot of it's mental,” Matt Niskanen said. “It's pretty clear that we could play really well in the regular season. It's either a mental thing or how we're built or how we play the game or something. We can't play well enough to advance as is.”
Even a player like Kevin Shattenkirk, who does not share the team’s history and was new to the Caps as a trade deadline acquisition talked about the cloud that seems to hang over the organization.
“You can feel it,” Shattenkirk said. “Of course you can feel it. It’s everywhere surrounding this team. It’s media. It’s the fans. It’s the players.”
Even before the players spoke, given how the Penguins series played out, it was clear the Caps were struggling with the mental pressure of the playoffs.
Washington lost its first two games against the Penguins, their archrivals and the defending Stanley Cup champions. Facing a must-win situation in Game 4 to avoid a 3-1 series deficit and with no Sidney Crosby, the Caps laid an egg and lost 3-2 in a game in which they never led.
Things changed when Washington went down 3-1. At that point, everyone assumed they were going to lose. With no pressure on them, the Caps looked like a completely different team winning Game 5 and blowing the Penguins out in Game 6. Suddenly with the series back within their grasp in Game 7, with all the pressure back on their shoulders, Washington collapsed again and failed to even score in a 2-0 shutout loss.
“I think once we got down 1-0, you almost felt it,” T.J. Oshie said of Game 7. “The building kind of got quiet, we kind of got quiet, and we didn't find a way to regroup and respond in time to win the game.”
Even Trotz, who was adamant this team’s history is not what is holding the Caps back, acknowledged that the Penguins clearly have a “mental edge.”
“They just believe that they can beat the Washington Capitals so that's the barrier, that's their advantage right now just because they've done it,” Trotz said. “… When everything's on the line, they believe they're going to get maybe that break where a team like us who haven't broke through, maybe we don't believe we're going to get that break.”
But here’s the problem: If the past has created a mental block, how can you overcome that? That’s the issue this team is now grappling with as it tries to determine what direction to go in and how much change is needed to finally get over that mental hurdle.
“There's really nothing we can do to change the past unless we do it in the future,” Carlson said. “I think maybe we've got to get over the fact that we haven't had that much success and that's all we talk about.”
“We can't play well enough to advance as is,” Niskanen said. “Something's got to change. I don't know what it is, but as is we didn't play well enough. That's the way it is.”
MORE CAPITALS: A bitter end to a better year
Free agency is done. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview and the 90-man offseason roster has been filled out. Now comes the difficult part for Jay Gruden and his staff: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin on Tuesday, Redskins Insiders JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will examine top priorities on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the team for training camp in Richmond later this summer.
Up today …
Finlay: There's a lot to do on the Redskins defensive line, and it starts in the middle. Expect free agent addition Stacy McGee to have a big opportunity to take over the nose tackle job. McGee ranked as a +5.5 run defender last season as rated by Pro Football Focus, and at 6-foot-3 and 308 lbs., he has the size to man the middle. McGee has plenty of talent, health has been his hiccup. He has only played all 16 games in one of his four seasons, and in 2016, he played only nine games.
Beyond McGee, the Redskins have some lottery tickets. Practice squad players A.J. Francis and Joey Mbu both have the size to play nose, but neither have the experience. Could Francis or Mbu emerge for significant snaps with the Washington defense? Sure, but it would be unexpected.
A bigger lottery ticket remains. Phil Taylor, a former first-round pick in 2012, has shown serious talent at the nose tackle position. At 6-foot-3 and 337 lbs., Taylor certainly has the size for the spot. At the same time, Taylor hasn't played an NFL game since 2014, losing both 2015 and 2016 to injury. Counting on Taylor would be short-sighted, but if he can remain healthy, there could be big value.
According to Jay Gruden, the most important piece of the nose tackle puzzle will come from new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Gruden said he expects Tomsula to "make" a nose tackle and improve the Redskins D-line. It's a tall order, but Tomsula has an impressive track record working in the trenches.
Tandler: The organization’s refusal to get a legitimate nose tackle either in free agency or in the draft will lead to them again spend the spring and summer trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
That’s what they did last year with Ziggy Hood. He took a lot of snaps at nose tackle and he simply wasn’t a fit for the job. It wasn’t his fault that the Redskins allowed a league-worst 5.0 yards per rushing attempt on first down; he’s an end and he was much more effective there.
Matt Ioannidis, a 2016 fifth-round pick, also took some snaps at nose, with similar results. At 6-3, 308, he just doesn’t have the size to be effective.
The worst part of it here is that they really can’t get too far in identifying the 2017 nose tackle. In the spring with no pads and no contact allowed they really can’t do much besides work on technique and learn assignments. Tomsula’s effort to “make” a nose tackle won’t really get going until they get to Richmond in late August.
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