[WARNING: I will be using the term “R-Words” throughout this article because I have no idea what’s right anymore]
I have been an R-Words fan my entire life. My father before me loved the R-Words. My older brother during me loves the R-Words. My son after me will love the R-Words. And my daughter will marry a man who loves the R-Words, like her mother before her. Actually, that man my daughter marries will be forced to commit several acts of vandalism against the C-Words before I even approve of him asking for her hand. Or he will have to bleed burgundy and gold in front of me. I don’t even care if he uses sleight of hand and ketchup and mustard packets to do it (dijon mustard, as yellow would be more like KC’s colors). It’s one of the two, buddy.
It’s a tradition. The problem is that tradition used to be a point of pride. Now, I have to keep that 1991 NFL Films Yearbook VHS handy to remember that old version of it. The 14-year long Dan Snyder era has tarnished it hugely. The new tradition has come to stand for several things. Mediocrity. Horrible free agent busts. A revolving door at the head coaching position. Quarterback controversy. And the R-Word.
I will now throw out some names intended to hurt you:
- Deion Sanders
- Jeff George
- Steve Spurrier
- Shane Matthews/Danny Wuerffel/Patrick Ramsey
- Adam Archuleta
- Jim Zorn
- Fred Davis/Devin Thomas/Malcolm Kelly
- Jason Taylor
- Albert Haynesworth
- Brandon Lloyd/Ryan Clark/Antonio Pierce (let go and succeeded elsewhere)
- Donovan McNabb
It’s a very bad resume. Joe Gibbs’ return was actually a brightspot, relatively. He took the R-Words to the playoffs two out of four years.
But notice, at least as I see it, the names of shame stop at 2011. I didn’t include the Shanahans on the list, because, say what you will about how they dealt with RGIII’s injury or Mike’s power hungry micromanagement, that’s when the organization seemed to take a turn for the smart. Granted, their overall record was 24-40, which was terrible. It’s important to note, however, that over the past four years, the R-Words have relied on solid, deep drafts and less on big name splash signings to build the team. Most importantly, Dan Snyder took a back seat and signed the checks. I think the downfall of the Shanahan tenure and that abysmal 3-13 2013 season can be attributed to the cockamamy handling of RGIII’s injury, and that’s not all Mike’s fault. Without going down that rabbit trail too deeply, I will now make my point. If Jay Gruden has any success in his first season as head coach, it will be due in large part to the team that Mike Shanahan assembled and left behind, and the good play of Robert Griffin III, which is the absolute and solitary key to the R-Words’ success in 2014.
“Let’s not beat around the bush, Kirk Cousins has played much better at the quarterback position than Robert Griffin III,” said former Washington great, Joe Theismann.
Not to be outdone, Herm Edwards concurred: “Right now I think the problem you have, if you closed your eyes and you didn’t know who was wearing those numbers, Kirk Cousins is playing quarterback more efficiently than Robert Griffin is.”
I would really like to see Herm Edwards display this method of analysis. I’m not sure how you’d be able to see how either quarterbacks are playing with your eyes closed, but I think I get it. Maybe he meant just partly closed, or one eye, but even then, I’d find it hard not to find out which guy is playing. The camera just pans so quickly. I picture Herm constantly closing one eye and frantically trying cover parts of the screen while he analyzes players. Maybe this led to his career being cut short as an NFL head coach.
Look, Captain Kirk is outplaying RGIII this preseason, but who cares?
Griffin has thrown a measly 20 passes in the preseason. That’s essentially three quarters of bad play. And, as much as I love Cousins, he’s playing against second string defenses, and his numbers in the regular season, when it matters, over the last two years pale in comparison to Griffin’s.
That includes last year, which was seen as a failure for RGIII. I do love Captain Kirk, but do I want him to captain the R-Words this year over RGIII? Hell, no. Griffin can be special, like one of the greatest of all time, and at his worst (last season), he’s still better than most. Cousins may be good, but he’s not worth benching someone who has game-changing talent that we have actually seen. Cousins hasn’t done much. He’s been a very good backup, but Matt Flynn was a better back-up. What happened when he got a starting position? Fired after two games. Literally fired, not even benched.
RGIII, barring being record-breakingly terrible, deserves the entire 2014 season at the starting position. He’s fully healed. It’s a new offense. We’ve seen him be great. We know it’s in there. After 2014, do what you will with him.
I will say that I hope Gruden isn’t on a mission to turn Griffin into a pocket passer. Sure, he should always be improving in that area, but he’s different. He’s so good that he needs to set free. He needs to be in situations where he might get hurt. He’s usually the fastest player on the field, and that should always be a threat. The freedom to let him do that is on Gruden’s coaching and play-calling, but maybe mostly, on Griffin’s confidence post-injury.
Think Vick’s injury-proneness. Dial it back a bit and pray hard that’s what Griffin is. But let him play, by God.
Having said that, RGIII has absolutely no excuse to play poorly with the weapons at his disposal. Bucky Brooks at NFL.com listed the R-Words’ receiving corps as the best in the league, ahead of Marshall and Jeffrey in Chicago, and Thomas and Thomas and co. in Denver. I won’t be ready to agree until I see it, but here’s who Griffin gets to throw to. He now has the league’s best deep threat in DeSean Jackson, the league’s receptions leader in Pierre Garcon, an up and coming top-10 tight end in Jordan Reed, and throw in former Cardinal, Andre Roberts, who was originally signed to be our our no. 2 WR before Jackson joined the team, and is now presumably an over-qualified no. 3, and it sounds incredible. Our running game, spearheaded by young stalwart, Alfred Morris, who has rushed just under 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in his first two seasons, basically returns. Sources say Gruden’s zone blocking scheme will not be too different from Shanahan’s.
Don’t get too excited, though. The R-Words newly defined tradition includes one aspect I forgot to list: looking incredible on paper. We R-Words fans are known by our ignorant exuberance in the off-season. There are always ways the season can turn depressing. Let me try.
How will DeSean Jackson, who comes with alleged gang ties and at least character issues, play with the other receivers? How would he react if Garcon caught another 113 balls this year? I get upset after a flag football game when I only get one target, and I consider myself a stand-up guy. Jackson would lose his shirt. Andre Roberts is a mild-mannered poet and he’s already upset about not being no. 2. More realistically, there might not be any implosions; it just won’t work. We R-Words fans know better than anyone that the NFL is not baseball. An all-star team on paper does not mean one on the field. Sometimes it just doesn’t click.
Alfred Morris might not actually be very good. I don’t actually believe this! But one can’t help but wonder if he was a classic Shanahan product: a late rounder no-name, who rushes for four figures once or twice, then is out of the league a couple years later. Can anyone say Orlandis Gary? Or how about Mike Anderson? Rebeun Droughns? Tatum Bell? Alfred Morris?
Jordan Reed and, of course, Robert Griffin III are injury prone. How about this scenario: Captain Kirk, who turns out to be a great fit as a journeyman NFL back-up, throwing to a disgruntled Jackson, a stymied Garcon, no Jordan Reed, and then handing the ball off to Morris, who “inexplicably” gains 2.8 yards/carry. It’s possible. Like I said, Roberts is already writing depressing poetry at night. Maybe his Eor-like tendencies will turn out to be the locker room cancer we fear Jackson to be. Think drooping helmets and cups being kicked all along the sideline.
And now to the most promising contender for our source of depression this year.
Jim Haslett has coached the R-Words defense for four years now. During that time, his defenses have never ranked higher than 21st in the league in points allowed. Last year they were 30th. There’s not much to say here because it’s all blind hope.
We can hope that:
- Mike Shanahan had actually been going over Haslett’s helmet and making bad play calls all along, as sources say, and that Haslett is secretly a defensive genius. We’ll take competent at this point, really.
- Bacarri Rambo, 2013 6th round safety selection, vastly improves at the safety position. He was terrible last year. Reports are that he has made leaps.
- Brandon Meriweather will stop getting suspended for illegal hits. Oh wait, he just did for two games!
- David Amerson, 2013 2nd round CB selection, pans out. He was okay in his rookie year.
- Keenan Robinson, 2012 4th round ILB pick, is ready to fill the yawning gap London Fletcher left behind and lead the defense.
- Jason Hatcher, our DE “steal” from the C-Words, doesn’t get added to the over-the-hill-free-agent-bust list. The hope is that he continues to play his best football in the twilight of his career. He’s 32 and while he’s coming off an 11 sack year, he never had more than 4.5 before 2013.
- DeAngelo Hall, 30, continues to play his best football in the second half of his career.
- Brian Orakpo plays the hell out of his franchise year to get that fat contract.
- The old adage that a good pass rush improves your pass defense because we did nothing to improve our bad secondary.
After all is said and done, though, the R-Words defense needs to just be okay. Middle of the pack. That would be an improvement. The burden of proof still remains on RGIII’s shoulders.
Oh yeah, them. In 2013, the R-Words special teams played like special needs players. They ranked near the bottom of the league in punting, punt returns, and kickoff returns. Bleacher Report ranks our new punter, Robert Malone, at 27th in the league. Zack Hocker was drafted in the 7th round this year to compete with incumbent kicker, Kai Forbath, who was accurate but has a weak leg. I imagine during kickoff competitions this offseason, Hocker was constantly saying, “Aw, Kai, that was so cute.” You know how kickers talk so much smack. Andre Roberts will be doing some returning as well, which looks like an improvement in preseason, and will hopefully give him something else to write about. Instead of poems about how his tears are falling, much like he did from the depth chart because of DeSean Jackson, maybe something about how he’s running into a sea of enemies… that all look exactly like DeSean Jackson. You know, stuff like that.
But honestly, who knows? It’s special teams.
All I know is that’s two out of three phases of the game where the R-Words were appalling last year and need improvement. Still, if RGIII plays well, the R-Words will be in the post-season.
2014 Season Forecast
I will find myself wondering why I was an R-Words fan again around week 5. RGIII will get injured again. My new wife will accidentally get pregnant. The baby won’t be mine. I’ll kill the bastard. I mean, the father, not the kid. Then I’ll take my wife and our little ethnic accident to South America to escape the authorities.
And by August 2015, the worst will be over and somehow, life will return to normal. I’ll be watching preseason games in my little poncho shop in the oppressive Ecuadorian heat on a tiny box tv that has sprouted rabbit ears. As I hit the side of the TV hard with the palm of my hand, I will find myself daydreaming that, maybe, just maybe, the R-Words will get to the Super Bowl in 2015.
With Peyton Manning at quarterback.
But all we need to worry about is this August. Time to delude ourselves: