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On Brunell: The Last One to the Party

On Brunell: The Last One to the Party

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

I have to park a long ways away since all of the spaces nearby are taken. I come inside and nobody says hello because they are all involved in intense conversations. There are empty Newcastle bottles all around but all the beer that is left is domestic light. The Grey Goose bottle is drained, too. There was once a nice spread but the crab bites are long gone; only a few cold pigs in a blanket, celery sticks and ranch dip and some broken chips are left.

Yep. Once again, I’m the last one at the party.

It’s time to sit Mark Brunell.

The body of evidence that Brunell can’t lead this offense effectively has been growing and has been explored in great depth elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the straws have been piling up on the camel’s back all year long. The last straws that broke the back came in the second half on Sunday.

The Colts had scored rather easily on their first possession of the third quarter, taking just 2:01 to drive to take a 20-14 lead. It was apparent that Indy was about to get on a roll and that the Redskins were going to have to respond if they were going to save their season. After Ladell Betts got one first down on the drive to save the season with a nice 19-yard run, the Redskins faced third and eight at their own 48. Brunell dropped back and fired the ball out to Betts in the left flat. Colts immediately surrounded him and he was tackled after a gain of three yards.

Washington punted and it took the Colts 2:02 to score another touchdown to make the score 27-14. If the previous drive was critical for the Redskins the next one, with the Colts offense on fire, was desperate. With a touchdown, it remains a competitive ballgame. After two plays the drive to maintain hope of saving the season the Redskins again faced a third down, this time with seven yards to go. Instead of going back to the same throw, Brunell really crossed the defense up this time. He threw to Betts in the right flat. The trickeration had no effect, however, as the Colts must have scout this left flat-right flat tendency and they made the tackle just inches short of the first down. Well, it was 180 inches--or five yards--short of the first to be precise.

After the punt, the Colts ground out a time-consuming drive taking every bit of 3:11 to take a 33-14 lead with 2:36 left in the third quarter. The lights were flickering, but the Redskins still could pull off a miracle if they could get a quick six points.

The Redskins converted a third and one with a Betts run and then they faced third and eight at the Colts 49. Brunell really tried to cross them up here, going to Mike Sellers in the right flat for four yards. Three third and long situations, three passes to the flat well short of the first down.

Santana Moss temporarily bailed the Redskins out with a one-handed grab on fourth down, but all that did was give Brunell yet another opportunity to fail to convert yet another third down, this time on a short toss to Clinton Portis. The season was over even before Nick Novak missed a 35-yard field goal attempt.

It’s not always a bad idea to dump the ball off short of the sticks in a third-down situation. Sometimes you can catch the defense back on its heels, the receiver can break a tackle and make the necessary yardage. That only works, however, if there is some threat of throwing deeper downfield like, say, eight or ten or even 15 yards. But there is no such threat with Mark Brunell. One dumpoff is OK to mix things up, sometime there could be a reason to do it twice. But three or more is a trend that opposing defenses can bank on.

And it’s not the offensive play calling. None of the plays was a maximum protection deal where all of the receivers besides the one who caught the ball were back blocking. There were other options, other receivers in patterns. Brunell had time to throw on all four plays. I don’t have to see the game film to know that at some point some other receiver who was positioned past the sticks had a reasonable chance of making the catch.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if Brunell can’t make the deep throws or if he won’t make them. The result is the same; an offense that halfway through the season has no identity and is, for the most part, utterly ineffective.

If you don’t want to bench Brunell based on four plays, the big picture is an indictment as well. One of the reasons you want a veteran at quarterback is to provide leadership and a steady hand for the tough road games. In the Redskins’ three tough road games this year, the ones in Dallas, the Meadowlands, and Indianapolis they have scored exactly one offensive touchdown when the outcome of the game was in any kind of doubt. That is unacceptable.

Would putting in Jason Campbell mean that the Redskins are giving up on the season? Possibly, but not certainly. In 1985, Joe Theismann was a struggling veteran quarterback just like Brunell is now. He was completing 55% of his passes for an anemic 5.6 yards per attempt with 16 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. Through 10 games the Redskins were 5-5. Joe Gibbs, however, steadfastly refused to bench Theismann in favor of the untested backed, Jay Schroeder.

We all know what happened in the second quarter of the 11th game, with Lawrence Taylor breaking Theismann’s leg and Schroeder coming in. His first pass was a bomb to Art Monk and the Redskins went on to beat the Giants. Overall they won five of their last six games to finish at 10-6, although they lost out on a playoff spot due to tiebreakers.

Gibbs had his reasons for sticking with the struggling veteran then and he has them now. One can only speculate as to what they are. That’s because there are very few if any apparent to even those who observe the team very closely from week to week throughout he year.

One wonders if it will take an injury like the one that Theismann suffered to force Gibbs to pull the plug on Brunell. Nobody wishes such a fate on Brunell, certainly, but it’s looking more and more like that’s what it will take.

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. For details and ordering information go to http://www.RedskinsGames.com

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Grading the Redskins' 2017 draft

Grading the Redskins' 2017 draft

Since we don’t know how the careers of the players picked by the Redskins yesterday will turn out we must dig in a little more to come up with a grade for the draft headed up by Bruce Allen. Here’s my assessment, feel free to leave yours in the comments.

Strategy—B

There really isn’t enough to love or to hate here. They didn’t do much wheeling and dealing while on the clock, making only a minor deal with the Vikings to move up two spots in the sixth round in exchange for moving down 10 slots in the seventh.

For the record, the trade (picks 201 and 220 from Washington to Minnesota in exchange for picks 199 and 230) was just about a wash on the Jimmy Johnson trade chart, with the Redskins giving up a statistically insignificant one point of value.

Whether center Chase Roullier, the player they traded up to draft, makes the team and has an impact or not is not going to make or break the draft but it should be noted that they gave up something of value to get him so it was a player they wanted to make sure they got as his name was still on the board.

The deals that got them up to 10 picks had already been made by Scot McCloughan on draft day last year as he added picks in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds with various trades.

Perhaps they deserve the most credit for a potential deal they did not make. As their first-round pick got closer and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen remained on the board it had to be tempting for them to spend a mid-round pick to jump up and grab him before anyone else could. But Gruden said that they had a number of players to choose from as the pick approached and they decided to stay put. The gamble paid off as Allen fell into their laps at pick No. 17.

Talent/fit/needs—A-

The Redskins needed to bolster their defense and they certainly gave it a go. Their first three picks were on defense as were four of their first five and six of 10 overall.

But the raw number of the picks doesn’t really tell the story; it’s the value of the picks that really matters. According to that Jimmy Johnson pick value chart, they spend 1,596 points on defense and 126 points on offense.

They hit on their biggest needs with their first two picks. They had not drafted a defensive lineman in the first round since 1997 and the neglect of the position was evident. In Allen they got a player with Pro Bowl potential in their biggest area of need.

Allen will help the pass rush from the inside and then in the second round they acquired some edge rushing ability with Ryan Anderson. It seems that this pick was strongly influenced by Scot McCloughan’s draft board. His height, weight, and combine numbers were not what a lot of teams are looking for in an edge rusher but his tough mentality and obvious love for the game are attributes that McCloughan valued.

Although Gruden expressed his confidence in Rob Kelley to be his running back it appeared to most outside observers that an upgrade was needed and they got that in Samaje Perine. You can’t have too many good corners and Bashaud Breeland is set to be a 2018 free agent so they took Fabian Moreau in the third round. They had no backup center Roullier could develop into that spot. Gruden said earlier this offseason that they needed a blocking tight end and that is what Jeremy Sprinkle is.

They didn’t hit on all their needs. With the top three inside linebackers set to be free agents next year many thought they would spend a top pick there. And although there were a few possible nose tackles on the board in the later rounds they bypassed that position. You can’t solve everything in one draft but the Redskins have now had eight drafts since converting to the 3-4 defense and they still haven’t found a solution at nose tackle.

As far as value goes, it doesn’t get much better than Allen, who was a consensus top-five talent who lasted until the 17th pick. Moreau may have been a first-round pick before tearing a pectoral muscle lifting weights during his pro day.

On the other end of the value scale, the fourth round seemed to be way too early to take safety Montae Nicholson. There is something to be said for taking a guy with good measurables who didn’t have good game tape and taking a shot at developing him. But the fourth round is too soon for taking such a chance.

Overall—B+

After their first two picks, they didn’t shy away from red flags. Moreau and Nicholson both have injuries that will keep them out of action until sometime in training camp. Sprinkle had a highly-publicized shoplifting citation that got him suspended from Arkansas’ bowl game. Seventh-round pick Josh Harvey-Clemons failed multiple drug tests during college.

They did stay away from players with histories of high-profile violent incidents like Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon, and Caleb Brantley.

How those red-flag players turn out will be the key to this draft. It’s fine to take some chances, especially when you go into the draft with 10 picks. But you have better win more than you lose.

There were enough players taken who seem to be sure bets to be productive, if there is such a thing in the draft, to make it unlikely that the draft will be a total bust. Allen, Anderson, and Perine are clean prospects who have very high floors. Allen and Anderson may have Pro Bowl ceilings.

Given that, they seem to be assured of having a least a productive draft (again, with the caveat that nothing in the draft is certain). If Sprinkle develops into a good third tight end who can block and be a threat to catch a pass, that’s a plus. If Moreau can develop into a starter, this could be a pretty good draft. If sixth-round WR Robert Davis can contribute on special teams and be a productive fourth or fifth wide receiver, that would be another plus.

In short, the Redskins did some good work towards giving this draft a chance to be a success. Now it’s up to the coaches, to luck, and seeing how players who are projected to play well at age 22 actually perform on the field when they get older and suddenly have a six-figure salary. 

MORE REDSKINS: Clear winner from Redskins 2017 Draft?

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Why Nate Sudfeld is one clear winner from Redskins 2017 NFL Draft

Why Nate Sudfeld is one clear winner from Redskins 2017 NFL Draft

For months Redskins fans debated if the organization would take a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft. The question made little sense though, as Washington has three passers on the roster already.

Certainly Kirk Cousins unique contract situation brought some intrigue to the draft. Might the Redskins consider a draft day trade of their franchise quarterback, especially if the team knows a true long-term deal remains elusive? Even with a rumor floated about the Browns pursuit of Cousins, no trade materialized, as most plugged in Redskins reporters had been suggesting for some time. 

Still, at each Redskins pick national commentators wondered if Washington might look for another passer. Pittsburgh's Nathan Peterman was one name. He lasted until the fifth round when the Bills selected him, giving the 'Skins not one but two chances to draft Peterman in the fourth round. They chose Samaje Perine, a true value pick in the fourth, and Montae Nicholson, an upside play after an up and down career at Michigan State.

Later in the draft, when the 'Skins were flush with picks, the team continued to eschew from quarterbacks. Miami Hurricanes QB Brad Kaaya didn't get picked until the 215th pick. It's possible that the Burgundy and Gold draft board never popped with a QB when the team's pick came up, just simple bad timing. But one thing was certain during the NFL Draft in Philadelphia, teams will make aggressive moves to get QBs they believe in. Washington didn't. Even late in the draft, the 'Skins moved up to get a player they liked in Wyoming's Chase Roullier. The organization wasnt afraid to go get players they liked. 

What does all this mean? It likely means the Redskins believe in Nate Sudfeld.

Drafted in the sixth round in 2016, Sudfeld showed some promise during the preseason his rookie year. At 6-foot-6 and 235 lbs., the former Indiana Hoosier has ideal size for the position. Most important, former Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan was a big believer in Sudfeld's promise.

Washington showed again and again that McCloughan's input still mattered on their draft board. Early picks like Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson certainly seem like McCloughan picks - and the former GM scouted Anderson at the Senior Bowl in January. Samaje Perine, the strongest RB in the draft, fits McCloughan's physical football player mold.

Cousins is going nowhere in 2017, and maybe, just maybe, the team and their quarterback get a deal done before the July 15th deadline. Colt McCoy is locked in at backup QB, and the organization believes that he could step in for Cousins and the offense would not be particularly slowed.

And then there's Sudfeld.

Cousins is under contract for 2017, and Bruce Allen made clear the team has more options in 2018. It's entirely possible Cousins is the 'Skins QB for the next five years, a deal could get done, or the team could use the non-exclusive franchise tag on Cousins in 2018. Let the QB negotiate with other teams, and Washington can match or get compensated for his exit. 

By that time, Sudfeld would be two years in the Redskins system. It's likely he will get a lot of work again this preseason, and the team will be watching his development with a close eye. Should Cousins exit, it's still premature to suggest Sudfeld would emerge as the Redskins starter in 2018, as McCoy is under contract in 2018 also. 

What is clear, however, is the Redskins did not invest in another developmental quarterback in 2017's draft. They must like the development of the passer that's already in house. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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