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Gregg Williams in the Crosshairs

Gregg Williams in the Crosshairs

You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net

Normally, one would say ho, hum. Another article ripping the Redskins for being an organization is disarray. Wake me up when they get past the part about Dan Snyder being a megalomaniac and fantasy football owner. Most such articles never do.

This one, however, merits close examination. This article is not from one of your typical foaming at the mouth, Snyder hating, Art Monk dissing, card carrying Redskins bashers. It’s by Tom Friend, currently with ESPN and formerly with the Washington Post. He was the Post’s Redskins beat writer for much of the team’s glory years under Gibbs. What he has written about the Redskins in the past has been mostly fair and has stayed away from the conventional myths that surround the team (i. e. Snyder as fantasy GM). For a national writer he seems to be pretty knowledgeable about the team. So, when Friend writes an article that takes Joe Gibbs to task and rips one of his assistant head coaches and beats up on a lower level assistant we should take a closer look.

It’s a long article, a few thousands words, and it needs to be read in its entirety. I’m going to summarize a few things here, but you really have to read the whole thing if what is following here is going to make any sense.

In summary, Friend says that:

  • Gregg Williams is arrogant and mean spirited. When his defense was one of the best in the league he could get away with being that way. Now that his defense is statistically the worst in the NFC his style is wearing thin—to the breaking point, in fact—with his players. He stubbornly insists on sticking with a variation of the Cover 2 defense that has the safeties also playing the run and the mish mash isn’t working. Instead of getting the best of both worlds, the defense is getting the worst of it.
  • Steve Jackson, who coaches the safeties, is pouting over not being promoted to secondary coach. Williams threw him a bone and let him run meetings with the safeties, meaning that they have been meeting separately from the cornerbacks. This has led to communication breakdowns in the secondary, leading in turn to busted coverages and big pass plays by opposing teams.
  • Joe Gibbs has passively watched all of this unfold, something that he never would have done in the 1980’s. In fact, it seems to Friend as though Gibbs has lost his fire after cranking it up for the five-game run to the playoffs at the end of last year.

On the first read, anyone who cares about the Redskins has got to be saying, “Holy crap,” or perhaps something much stronger. Not only is it a scathing indictment of the team’s present state but it makes the team’s future look rather dim as well. More upheaval on the coaching staff and player turnover seems to be in the offing when next year rolls around. On top of that, the whole question of “if Gibbs can’t save the franchise, who can?” seems to be heading towards finding out who the alternatives to Gibbs are.

It’s an indictment, yes, but is there enough here to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that this article accurately portrays the state of affair at Redskins Park? The thinnest aspect of the piece is that it is built primarily on profanity-laced statements made by one defensive player who remained anonymous. To his credit, Friend does point this out in the latter part of the article when he lends a few paragraphs to rebuttal of what he wrote. There is a lot of conjecture by Friend here, a lot of analysis presented as fact.

There are some contradictions in here as well. Williams supposedly let players like Antonio Pierce and Fred Smoot walk because the players didn’t matter; the success of the defense was all about his schemes. But why, then, did he push to sign Adam Archuleta and Andre Carter? And there’s this:

Scapegoat No. 3: Rogers. He's the cornerback that was left on an island on the go-ahead touchdown Sunday against Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway. Williams blitzed and missed, costing the team the score. Afterward, Williams took public blame for the call, a rarity, but a Redskins player said, "No, he didn't. In meetings, Carlos still heard about it."

So, what, Williams, behind closed doors in a meeting, was not supposed to say anything to the player who was nowhere near the receiver who scored the game-winning touchdown? I think that we’re reaching here.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some truth, perhaps a lot of truth, in what Friend wrote. While it’s unlikely that the one defensive player who talked with him represents the view of most of the unit, there are always players who don’t like a coach’s style or disagree with is tactics. This player probably has company in feeling the way he feels about Williams. The way that the defense has been performing with a supposed upgrade in personnel certainly doesn’t speak well about Williams’ schemes.

It’s certainly possible that a turf war led to the corners and safeties meeting separately. That’s an assertion that would be too easy for someone to refute if it wasn’t accurate. Was Jackson pouting and not coaching during practices and during the Tampa Bay game? What may look like pouting to one—arms folded, distant look on the face--may actually be a state of deep thought. We don’t know. The player may know or he might just think he knows. If you don’t like somebody you’re usually going to have a negative take on whatever he does.

Has Joe Gibbs been watching all of this going on, condoning it with his silence? Or, worse, has he been totally unaware of? The third option, of course, is that all of this is being blown out of proportion and there’s nothing for Gibbs to correct.

Just like with all of this, I think that the truth lies somewhere in between the confused, messy picture of an organization in disarray that Friend paints and the ideal scenario of a tight, well-oiled machine running the Redskins’ football operations. When you’re winning, the flaws are largely ignored and the good traits are magnified. When you’re losing the bright spotlight shines on all of the warts.

It’s as simple as this, really: This is the kind of stuff that’s going to get written about you when you are falling as short of expectations as the Washington Redskins are. When the Redskins were winning five straight to get into the playoffs last year Gibbs was calm and unflappable. Now they’re 3-7 and he’s detached and burned out. When I talk to him he seems like the same guy to me. If the Redskins win three in a row, Williams will be a hard-nosed innovator who demands the best out of his players. Now, he’s stubborn, arrogant, and mean. Again, he’s the same guy who has been exchanging jabs with the press every Thursday during the season for the past three years.

Are there big problems at Redskins Park? Yes. Are they as bad as Tom Friend and his anonymous source make them out to be? Probably not.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when they moved to Washington for the 1937 season through 2001. It makes the perfect stocking stuffer for the Redskins fans on your shopping list. For details and ordering information go to http://www.RedskinsGames.com

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Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 23, four days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 10
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 31
—Training camp starts (7/27) 95
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 140

In search of someone, anyone, to stop the run

One of the areas the Redskins needed to improve last year was their rushing defense on first down. In 2015, they gave up a league-worse 5.0 yards per carry on first down. That was the worst performance in the league. It’s pretty tough to play defense when a handoff makes it second and five. The Saints, who had a historically bad defense that year, were second, fiving up 4.8 yards a pop.

Well, it was no better for the Redskins defense in 2016. Again, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down, again the worst performance in the league.  Remember, this is on first down, when teams are most likely to run.

The Redskins’ problems on third down were well known. They were dead last in the league allowing first downs on 46.6 percent of third-down attempts. For context, an average performance on third down is allowing about 38 percent and the best teams are around 35 percent.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. The Redskins weren’t very good at getting teams to third down. They allowed first downs on 33.8 percent of their opponents’ second-down plays. That put them in the bottom third of the league. Again, you don’t have to look too hard to connect the dots to link that back to the five yards per rushing play on first down. Second and five is a piece of cake most of the time.

You don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to figure out that the Redskins defense isn’t going to get much better if they can’t stop teams from running the ball on first down.

It’s easy to point to the defensive line, which has not been very good, and say that the problem is there. That certainly has something to do with it. But the Redskins didn’t have a very good D-line in 2014 and they allowed 4.1 yards per first-down rushing attempt, a performance that was right at the league average.

The factor that was common in 2015 and 2016 and was different in 2014 was the defensive coordinator. It’s possible that opposing teams found a flaw to exploit in Joe Barry’s scheme that wasn’t there in Jim Haslett’s (which surely had flaws in other places).

But X’s and O’s can only get you so far. The Redskins will be looking to take a defensive lineman early and perhaps use an additional pick or two at the position later in the draft. While getting one who can rush the passer would be a plus, they need a run stuffer who can take snaps on first down and bottle up the ground game.

The focus in the draft will be on the first-round pick but, as has been discussed here many times, that pick is unlikely to be a defensive lineman. There isn’t likely to be one at 17 who would represent good value. That could mean that the Redskins’ second- or third-round pick, perhaps an interior lineman like Caleb Brantley of Florida, Larry Ogunjobi of Charlotte, or Montravius Adams of Auburn, is just as important to the team’s success as the first-round pick.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 22, five days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 20
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 32
—Training camp starts (7/27) 96
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 141

The Redskins week that was

Redskins full 2017 schedule released—Even with the Caps and Wizards in full playoff mode, the DMV stops to take a look and see when the Redskins will be playing. The Thanksgiving game was surprising. It’s another working day but I worked at various places since I was 14 and last year was the first time I’ve had to work on Thanksgiving so I can’t complain too much about working two in a row. It’s a small price to pay for having the best job in the world.

Don't count out any RB for Redskins at 17—Yeah, I know that NFL teams aren’t supposed to take running backs in the first round any more. But that is one of those trends that comes and goes. In 2013 and 2014 there were no RBs taken in the first. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in the last couple of years began to shift the thinking. If the Redskins think that Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey can help them win games more than any other player on the board they should pull the trigger.

Rise of Patrick Mahomes could bring big payoff for Redskins—It seems likely that quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky will be taken before the Redskins pick at No. 17 goes on the clock. That means that two players in whom the Redskins might be interested will be available, pushed back by the quarter backs. Could Mahomes, out of Texas Tech, push a third player back to Washington. The buzz is that a team might grab him in the first half of the first round.

The Redskins' five best salary cap bargains for 2017—When I started pulling the numbers for this post I thought I’d find more key players with salaries of under $1 million. I only found three and one of them is the kicker. This means that they don’t have very many late-round or undrafted players who are contributing a lot of value. They need more out of players like Anthony Lanier, Matt Ioannidis and Maurice Harris. That is how a team thrives in the salary cap era. A couple of Saturday picks could make or break this draft.

Redskins mock 2.0 goes offense early, defense often—There are a lot of ways the first 16 picks of this draft can work out. It seems almost certain that everyone’s favorite first-round pick, a stud defensive lineman, won’t be a realistic option on the board. This could send things in an odd direction for the Redskins. It’s fun to do a mock and I’ll do one or two more prior to draft day but there are too many variables to think that it has a high degree of accuracy. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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