Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Offensive and Defensive Ranks of teams within the NFC East:

1) Redskins
2) Dallas (+22 Yards/Game)
3) Eagles (+53 Y/G)
4) Giants (+54 Y/G)

1) Dallas
2) Eagles (-2 Y/G)
3) Skins (-27 Y/G)
4) Giants (-86 Y/G)
As I have said all year, there is very little difference in talent between the teams with the top and bottom records in the NFC East, with two exceptions: 1) The Giants are clearly worst, spotting 140 yards per game in total to the best in the division; and 2) The Redskins are rising while the rest are falling, especially on defense with the young guys--Breeland, Amerson, Murphy, Kerrigan, and Robinson--who are rising fast, paired on offense with RG3, Morris, and Jordan Reed.
If RG3 were healthy all year, they likely would have beaten Philadelphia in Philadelphia, and the Cardinals in Arizona. Kirk cousins' meltdowns kept them from winning those games. Those two wins alone would place the Skins in first place right now. And, we don't know what would have happened in the Giants game if Kirk didn't melt down completely in the second half of that game, which was close until Paulson fumbled in the red zone with 2:00 to go in the first half. Or, what would have happened with a competent QB in the Seahawks game, which was a one-score game deep into the fourth quarter.
The good news: Kirk will not be given any more chances to melt down unless RG3 and McCoy get hurt. And, RG3--the Franchise--will be back for the Tampa game and the Skins will probably be 4 - 5 when he does. That record is one game better than their 3 - 6 record in 2012 when Griffin put the entire team on his shoulders and carried the Skins to the NFC East title.
On the other hand, I am still hearing nonsense from DC media that RG3 should not take the field if McCoy is 3 - 0 after the bye. Nuts. RG3 is one of the best QBs to step on a football field in the past 25 years. You don't keep a guy like that on the bench when healthy.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

" A Guy Who is a Friend of a Guy Close to Gruden Says (Anonymously)..." This Talk is Nuts. RG3 is a Once in a Generation Talent

The Redskins franchise took a major hit yesterday with the injury to RG3. You wouldn't know it from all of the media coverage, which in DC seems downright giddy this morning, but if one takes an outsider's view, it is pretty easy to see.

First, I have to dismiss Mike Wise's ridiculous column published last night.

I like Wise, but c'mon. I paraphrase: "A source close to Gruden who wishes to remain anonymous said Gruden is essentially relieved that he doesn't have to bench RG3 in favor of Cousins who can run his offense better?" Please. There is no head coach in this league would have benched RG3 in favor of Cousins at any point for as long as Griffin was healthy; not even that genius Belichick.
That is no knock on Kirk Cousins who is a player that I believe is capable of winning football games for a lot of teams, including the Redskins. In fact, it would not surprise me to see this team, with its dramatically improved defense and special teams, and awesome running game, to go far in the playoffs with cousins at QB. It's just that Cousins is no RG3. And, as good as Cousins was in relief yesterday against a weak team, RG3 was on his way to having an even better day. Had the refs gotten the call right on the deep ball to Jackson, RG3 would have been 3 for 3 for over 80 yards and at least one TD before his injury.
There have been very few athletes who ever stepped on an NFL field who were as good at their positions as RG3 is at QB. The few that immediately come to mind: Rice at WR, Montana at QB, Lawrence Taylor at LB, and Sean Taylor at S. That is not hyperbole. Those are "step-away-from-the-situation-and-look-at-the-facts" observations. The numbers are there and your eyes are not deceiving you. His all-time record PASSER rating for rookie NFL QBs is one thing. The fact that he redefined the position is another, when as a rookie he made several head coaches around the league adapt their offenses to try to get their QBs to approximate what RG3 was doing in DC. The latter includes Russell Wilson, last year's Super Bowl winner, and everyone's darling Colin Kaepernick.
RG3 is a special talent that comes along once or twice a generation. Smart, competitive, and incredibly athletic. As for being "injury-prone", there is a strong case to be made that a less-athletic player--one with athletic ability merely like the top QBs in the game--would not get injured as severely or as often. The dislocated ankle he suffered was not the result of a hit, but of incredible body contortion in an effort to avoid a hit and still deliver an accurate pass. His teammates are still in awe that he completed that pass. Jackson, who caught the pass, was so surprised by it that he failed to get up from the ground and run it into the end zone. The Jaguars defense was so surprised by it that they didn't bother trying to touch Jackson while he was on the ground. I was screaming at the TV for Jackson to get up and run it into the end zone, but he didn't, and the refs seemed so surprised by it, they blew the whistle to end the play before anyone touched Jackson.
In RG3's contortion, he awkwardly planted his left foot. It could be argued that no other QB in the game would have even attempted that move because no other QB has the talent to make that throw in the first place. The answer to RG3's freak injuries, then, is to have RG3 dial down his athleticism to be more like the merely great QBs in the game as opposed to a once or twice in a generation player.
Which brings me full circle. I like Cousins a lot, but he is not special. I understand the concept of having diversified talent and not vesting so much in one player, even a special one like RG3, but that ship has sailed. The Redskins are vested. When RG3 is healthy it will once again be time to exploit the talent that they acquired because so few teams ever get opportunities like this. There is no reason to settle for a lesser QB merely because he theoretically fits a system better. It is time to make the system exploit the extraordinary talent that is already there. And that includes developing RG3 into a pocket passer because most of his extraordinary talent--most of the reason that he is special--is because he makes great decisions, throws accurately to all parts of the field, and can move around IN THE POCKET better than anyone to buy time and wait for a receiver to break free.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

I Don't Even Recognize the RG3 That These Guys Write About

I am astounded by the all of the criticism being thrown at RG3. I may not be an expert on all of the technique--footwork, arm angles, vision, etc.--necessary to be a great quarterback, but I think the criticism of RG3 has gone way overboard. He has now gone from a "cannot miss" Hall of Famer after his first season in the NFL when he posted the best NFL passer rating of all time for a rookie, to what many consider a bust. It's preposterous.

He has retained all of the qualities that made him a great PASSER and leader in 2012. Enough already.


Monday, September 08, 2014

Fumblin and Bumblin: Skins 6 - Texans 17

When one is in an old fashioned gun fight against a Texan and one pulls a gun out of the waist of one's pants, one shouldn't pull on the gun by the trigger. Yet, that's exactly what the Redskins did yesterday shooting themselves in places where it hurts before the Texan could get off a shot.

If the Redskins had held onto the ball all three times that they found themselves inside their opponent's ten-yard line (turning it over twice), they would have won the game. Had they merely blocked those rushing the PAT attempt and the punt, they probably would have won the game. These are simple things. Things that can be corrected pretty quickly.

The good news:
  • Griffin played well. Going against a very good defense, Griffin finished with a passer rating close to 97, which is good enough for tenth in the league so far, and he looked a lot like the pocket passer that Gruden wants him to become. He ran only three times and mostly moved around in the pocket buying time for receivers to open up. I'd say he has learned the new system pretty quickly, not that it's a surprise (per my Season Preview). And, more importantly, Griffin's decisions were outstanding--just like in his rookie season. He consistently took what the defense gave him and didn't try to force anything. The Texans were not going to let him burn them deep, so Griffin took the five to fifteen yard plays every time at a high success rate;
  • Alfred Morris is a beast. He average 6.5 yards a carry yesterday and should have gotten more than 14 opportunities;
  • Jordan Reed's early injury was a reminder how much they miss him when he is hurt, especially on third down. The injury is supposed to be minor;
  • The defense is as good as I suspected it would be. They made few big plays, but they forced a lot of three and outs. They only let up one big play and only let up 10 points when they were on the field. There is a lot of talent there even if it turns out that Cofield will be out for a while with the ankle injury he sustained;
  • Their new punter looked very good. The block was not his fault;
  • Roberts was exceptional on returns and may have broken one had his own teammate not knocked him out of bounds. Damn these unforced errors. He also had another big return called back on holding away from the play;

The bad news:
  • Right Tackle Tyler Polumbus has looked bad every time he has played. I'm not sure what it will take to give the rookie tackle Moses a chance, but surely Moses could not have been much worse than Polumbus yesterday. In the preseason, Moses substituted for Trent Williams against Cleveland's first-team defense and did extraordinarily well. Let's hope the Redskins give Moses a start at RT soon;
  • All of the unforced errors;
  • Injuries to Reed and Cofield
It would be very damaging for a lot of reasons for the Redskins to fall to 0 - 2 after playing the Texans, who were on a 14-game losing streak before yesterday, and the Jaguars next Sunday. So, as ridiculous as it sounds, this week is almost a "must-win" game. The good news is that it is very winnable. The bad news: so was yesterday's game. The Redskins have to stop shooting themselves.

A win against Jacksonville should give them confidence in the system and Gruden and Griffin and the defense, especially if they fire on all cylinders. That would put them in position to do some early damage in the NFC East with the Eagles and Giants coming up after that. If it turns out that the Redskins are 3-1 after the Thursday Night game against the Giants, they will be sitting alone in first place with the tie breakers. After that Giants game, they play four games in which they should win three, for a potential 6 - 2 record at the halfway point and a lot to look forward to in the second half.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The CounterTrey 2014 Redskins Season Preview

This will be quick. The Redskins defense and special teams will be significantly better than just about everyone expects, and certainly much better than last year when the D and special teams were atrocious. That, combined with a prolific offense, will propel the Skins into the playoffs, possibly with a bye. No one thinks that the Redskins are a playoff team today, certainly not at NFL.com where ten of the eleven analysts have predicted that the Eagles will win the NFC East and that the Redskins will fail to make the playoffs.

I find it laughable that there is so much "concern" about Robert Griffin III and his ability to pass from the pocket and digest Jay Gruden's offense. I find it hilarious that many think that RG3, the quarterback with the best rookie passer rating in history, somehow forgot how to pass the ball properly.

RG3 came out of college with passing statistics that the Wall Street Journal noted were huge predictors of success in the NFL: Namely, combined he had one of the highest completion percentages and yards-per-attempt of any quarterback coming out of college in the past thirty years or so (I looked for the info graphic the WSJ published before RG3's rookie season in 2012 in order to paste it here but could not find it).

The WSJ displayed those two passing stats in a Cartesian plane and demonstrated that the QBs in quadrant II, the upper right with the highest numbers in both categories, were known to have the most success in the NFL. Griffin's (x,y) point in that plane was better than almost all QBs coming out of college in the last thirty years. It was another data point that proved the WSJ correct because Griffin had the best rookie passer rating (not rushing rating) in NFL history. RG3 didn't just inch past the others in passer rating history, many of which turned into NFL greats, RG3 blew them away. Did I mention that his passer rating for a rookie quarterback was the best in NFL history and was almost 9% better than Dan Marino's rating? There are a couple of $100 million QBs on this list.

Highest Passer Rating (Qualified), Rookie Season
Robert Griffin III
Ben Roethlisberger
Dan Marino
Russell Wilson
Greg Cook
Matt Ryan
Cam Newton
Charlie Conerly
Charlie Batch
Andy Dalton
Joe Flacco

But, now after a leg injury in the playoffs in 2012, after RG3 carried a team on which his coach had given up, he forgot how to pass the football. Enough said.

The Redskins probably have the best collection of offensive weapons in the NFL. The trio of starting WRs have Santana Moss and Aldrick Robinson as BACKUPS. Both backups would start on half the teams in the NFL. Jordan Reed had an explosive 9-game rookie season at TE with many clutch catches and will dominate if he can stay on the field. And, of course, like most Redskins teams, the running game is one of the best in the NFL. In the last two years, only Adrian Peterson gained more yards on the ground than Alfred Morris, yet no one talks about Morris as one of the best in the NFL. The more they ignore the Redskins, the better are the odds that they will sneak up on teams.

When Joes Gibbs came back to coach, one of his first decisions was hiring a strong defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams. One of the first things Williams did was make sure the Skins signed middle linebacker London Fletcher. Fletcher was a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine. If he put hands on you, you would go to the ground. Fletcher was an undrafted free agent from a DIII school who became the fifth leading tackler in NFL history, but only got voted to the Pro Bowl two times, and even then it seemed it was out of pity at the end of his career. The last two years, it was apparent that Fletcher had lost a step. Whereas before he could go all the way to the sideline to get a sweeping ball carrier, get his head in front, and make the tackle, in the last two years that head didn't get in front so often, and then even when it did, he often uncharacteristically failed to bring the carrier to the ground.

Given the huge importance of a middle linebacker, it was understandable why the Redskins went from a perennial top-ten D since Gibbs' first year back in 2004, to one of the worst last year. It was more than Fletcher but the MLB spot was important. This year the Redskins have a young LB crew with Keenan Robinson taking over for Fletcher. Robinson was outstanding in preseason, going sideline-to-sideline and making brilliant open-field tackles.

So, the Redskins front seven should be very good. They picked up a sack machine in Hatcher who bolsters a D line that get Jarvis Jenkins healthy. The front seven will make up for any deficiencies they have in the secondary, but there is improvement there too. Getting Ryan Clark back adds much needed leadership at safety. David Amerson now has a year of experience after a good rookie season at CB. Breeland, a rookie CB, received a ton of accolades in the preseason.

Special Teams:
When the Redskins signed Jackson at WR, it made it more likely that they would use Roberts in kick and punt returns. Roberts was outstanding at both in the preseason. When the Redskins lost ST coach Danny Smith's leadership before the 2013 season, their special teams became a joke. Gruden and new coordinator Ben Kotwica have stressed the importance of special teams and the players seem to have figured it out. That and the threats of losing jobs seems to have made many much more enthusiastic for special teams than in 2013.

I see the Redskins winning at least 10 games, which should be good enough to win the division. The quicker that RG3 demonstrates that he is close to the RG3 we saw in the NFL in 2012 and at Baylor before that, the greater that win total will be. If we see that RG3 in week one, 12 wins is very possible. If it takes until week 8, it could be only 8 wins. But, I suspect the greatest rookie QB in NFL history, the one who not only graduated college but graduated in three years, will figure it out pretty quickly.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Skins Logjam at WR and RB

At WR, Garcon, Jackson, and Roberts are locks to make and start for the Redskins. Roberts should start most games in the slot (and return punts and kicks). Garcon and Jackson are Pro Bowl players and Garcon quietly led the NFL in receptions last year.
Robinson made circus and clutch catches last year and is a speed burner. He likely makes it and get significant playing time.
Ryan Grant--the rookie from Tulane--is a lock after hearing the praise coming from everyone on the skins and seeing his production in the two preseason games, which validated the praise. That makes five WRs. Will the Skins keep six?

What about Ross who has been outstanding returning kicks and receiving deep passes? Does Santana Moss make it based on his outstanding career? Ross and Moss would start on half the teams in the NFL. Nick Williams--the Hun School grad--will almost certainly be cut but he should land on someone's roster.
Maybe this logjam of talent at WR was the result of luck. We know the Skins signed Roberts before they knew they could land Jackson. But then they drafted Grant in the fifth round. I knew about Grant because of his career at Tulane and maybe he was head and shoulders above all of the other picks they could have made at that spot, but the Redskins must know how hard it is to trade talent that otherwise has to be cut. Drafting Grant likely made Moss expendable.
The same is true at the RB position. Morris and Helu are locks. So, how do the Redskins decide between Seastrunk, Redd, Royster, and Thomas? The first two are rookies who have looked outstanding.
Couldn't they have used some of these picks and salary cap on linemen and defensive backs where they had more of a need? How do they realize value for the players they have to cut that will probably be starters elsewhere?
18 Doss, Lee WR 6-1 178 23 R Southern
88 Garçon, Pierre WR 6-0 216 28 7 Mount Union
14 Grant, Ryan WR 6-0 193 23 R Tulane
87 Hoffman, Cody WR 6-4 210 23 R BYU
11 Jackson, DeSean WR 5-10 178 27 7 California
17 Lawrence, Rashad WR 6-1 190 22 R Northwestern
89 Moss, Santana WR 5-10 193 35 14 Miami (Fla.)
12 Roberts, Andre WR 5-11 187 26 5 The Citadel
15 Robinson, Aldrick WR 5-10 184 25 3 Southern Methodist
19 Ross, Rashad WR 6-0 167 24 R Arizona State
13 Williams, Nick WR 5-10 184 23 2 Connecticut

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Seahawks at Redskins: An "Outsider's" View

(It has been two years since I posted here--too little time to devote to blogging with work and family beckoning. It feels good to be back.)
Most pundits and many NFL pros—"insiders" on sports television networks, sports writers, etc.—have been hyping or picking Seattle to win in this matchup. Perhaps that is part of the reason that the Seahawks come into this game as a three-point favorite—Vegas gamblers are listening. But, in my professional experience, Michael Mauboussin is correct: when outcomes are largely probabilistic, it is important to have an "outsider’s" perspective.

In his book Think Twice, Mauboussin told the story of the handicapping that favored Big Brown (BB) to win the Belmont and the Triple Crown in 2008. The gamblers made BB a prohibitive favorite. Many insiders—professionals close to horse racing—had proclaimed it a forgone conclusion largely because of the way BB won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and BB's imposing physical stature. Insider confidence was extremely high.

But outsiders knew that since 1950, of the twenty horses who were in position to win the Belmont and the Triple Crown, only three had succeeded—a mere 15%. In addition, of the last seven horses who attempted it, BB was the slowest. The result: BB not only failed to win, he failed to finish the race. Contrarian gamblers who had an outsider’s view profited because the overwhelming odds in favor of BB created big payouts for horses other than Big Brown.

So what can Triple Crown betting tell us about this week's NFC playoff game? Insiders point to the Hawks’ number one defense in the NFL (in points allowed) as the one item that separates these two very similar teams—they both run and pass the ball well with great running backs and outstanding rookie QBs. The Seahawks’ defense is at the top of the NFL in points allowed while the Redskins’ defense is near the bottom in yards allowed, especially against the pass. It probably does not hurt the Seahawks’ Vegas line that they also own the underdog story. Wilson was the underappreciated QB in the draft—the David who was not drafted until the third round—and is going against Goliath, the Heisman Trophy winner and endorsement king Robert Griffin III, who was the second overall pick in the draft. Many who bet with their hearts love the underdog.

But an outsider takes the following into consideration: The Seahawks have been a juggernaut when they play at home. Indeed, they are a perfect 8 - 0 at home this year. But when they play on the road, they are pedestrian at best. On the road, the Hawks are 3 - 5. Yes, they only won three games on the road this year and they are playing Sunday’s game on the road.

At home the Seahawks average game score is Seahawks 30 - Opponents 12. Their average game score on the road is Seahawks 21 - Opponents 19. But the latter included a ridiculous game in which the Seahawks ran up the score against a pitiful Buffalo team. Remove that one and their average score on the road is Seahawks 17 - Opponents 19. Not quite the juggernaut the insiders project for this game.

Is Seattle’s poor road record this year the result of having to play all of their tough games on the road; did they face a lot of powerhouses on the road? Not quite. When not playing the Seahawks, the combined record of the eight teams that Seattle played on the road is 52 wins, 63 losses, and 2 ties for a 0.444 winning percentage. Only one of the eight is a playoff team—the 49ers—to which Seattle lost on the road. Six of Seattle’s eight road opponents finished under 0.500 and Seattle’s record in those six games is 2 – 4.

So, was Seattle’s poor road record merely a statistical anomaly? Maybe, but it is an anomaly that has been true for at least six years. The Seahawks are 14 – 34 on the road going back to the 2007 season and they have never played worse at home than they did on the road. The last two times that they won their division (2007 and 2010), they finished 3 -5 on the road just as they did this year. In those division-winning years they won their first playoff game at home and followed that with a blowout loss on the road (to Green Bay in 2007 and Chicago in 2010).

Yes, but all road teams have little chance in the playoffs, right? Well, not quite. Five of the last seven Super Bowl winners were teams that played during Wild Card weekend; i.e. they had to play at least one playoff game on the road. So, Seattle seems to be uniquely bad on the road.

There are two theories for Seattle’s poor play on the road relative to at home: First, their home stadium is built to reverberate sound down to the field and is deafening. Some say it is illegally so as Seattle pipes crowd noise through loudspeakers. It makes it extremely difficult for opposing offenses to call plays and hear snap counts. Second, many of Seattle’s road games involve long travel from the west coast. It will not get any shorter for them this weekend.

Insiders are also touting Seattle’s five-game winning streak and talking about how important it is to get hot immediately before the playoffs. If we ignore the statisticians who have debunked the “hot hand” theory, those who have made the statement that Seattle should win this game because they are hot must be willfully blind. No team in the NFC is hotter than the Redskins who have won seven straight games, each a veritable elimination game and they knew it was an elimination game when they played it. In many respects, Sunday’s game will be RG3, Alfred Morris and the other Redskins’ eighth playoff game.

Finally, since defense is the only item that insiders believe separates these two teams, we should look at both defenses. Few would argue against the notion that the Redskins defense has turned it around in the last seven games. Perhaps that is because it took them some time to adjust to the early losses for the season of four starters: their two safeties just before the season and their defensive end and outside linebacker, a Pro Bowler, in their second game. Regardless, the Redskins’ defense has been a statistically different defense in its last seven games; it has given up fewer than 20 points per game and only 17 points per game at home. That vaunted Seattle defense gives up 19 points per game on the road.

The outside view tells a completely different story from the one professional insiders are telling. Perhaps Seattle’s remarkably good defensive statistics are mostly due to their remarkably good speaker system. Does Paul Allen have an investment in Bose?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

McNabb Must Go; Defensive Schemes Must Change

If it wasn’t clear before that Andy Reid knew exactly what he was doing when he traded Donovan McNabb to a division rival, it should be perfectly clear now. If it wasn’t clear that the 3-4 defensive scheme does not fit the Redskins personnel before, it should be perfectly clear now.

Even with a 3-4 defense, if the Redskins had an average quarterback who made good decisions they would be 7-4 at worst (Swap losses to the Vikings and Lions for wins). If they had an above average QB who made good decisions, they would be 9-2 now at worst (swap additional losses to the Texans and Colts for wins).

How many times will we have to see McNabb under- and over-throw wide open receivers who inexplicably have gotten five yards behind the defense before the coaching staff realizes he is not the answer? Today the difference between winning and losing was the underthrow of a wide-open, seven-yards-behind-the-defense Anthony Armstrong.

But, it is not the poor throws that have been the most frustrating thing about watching McNabb this year; it is his poor decisions. I expect an aging quarterback who is obviously three or more years past his prime to make poor throws, but not poor decisions.

Today, while deep in Redskins territory he threw a seven-yard pass to Santana Moss at about the fastest speed he could throw it. Moss had no time to get his hands up to catch it. It ricocheted off of his face mask and bounced way up in the air and was intercepted at the Redskins nine-yard line. The Redskins prevented the Vikings from scoring a touchdown, and the field goal they scored was less than the margin of victory, but is was a backbreaker to say the least. Throwing the ball that hard was not a physical shortfall of an aging quarterback, it was a poor decision. McNabb could have decided to dial it down. His decision to let it fly cost the Redskins a win.

That wasn’t the only poor decision to cost the Redskins a win. His decision to throw into triple coverage against the Lions when he had a four-point lead with four minutes left in the game was what got him benched the first time. The interception turned a win into a loss. The Redskins are now 3 – 1 against the best teams in the NFC (Eagles, Packers, and Bears) and 0-2 against two of the worst teams (Lions and Vikings).

His decision to run out of bounds to stop the clock with a lead against the Eagles with about 3:53 in the first game should have cost the Redskins a win. The Eagles had enough time to make a reasonable 32-yard throw (not a Hail Mary throw) into the end zone because McNabb had killed the clock by running out of bounds earlier in the quarter. The pass hit an open Celek, Philadelphia's tight end, in both hands in the endzone, but he did not hold on. The Redskins were lucky to win that one. It would have been the first of three losses that McNabb’s poor decisions had cost them.

As for their defensive scheme, I wrote earlier about it and pointed to Washington Post articles that wrote the same thing: The Redskins have an inordinate amount of talent on defense. They should be near the top of the league in defensive statistics. Instead, they are dead last. They were a top-ten defense since Gregg Williams took over in 2004. The only reason they are not a top-ten defense this year is that the coaching staff has changed the scheme and that change keeps the best defensive player in the NFL (Haynesworth) on the sideline. Today, when Haynesworth was in the game, he blew up practically everything that the Vikings wanted to do. When he was on the sideline, the Vikings did just about everything they wanted to do.

In addition to keeping the best player off the field, the new scheme has several players playing out of position, as they alluded to on today’s broadcast. Andre Carter was an excellent defensive end who had eleven sacks last year. This year he is an ineffectual outside linebacker.

It is so frustrating being a Redskins fan.