The Washington Redskins should be thanking 8-pound, 6-ounce baby Jesus that they escaped Los Angeles with a win against the Rams last Sunday (even though there was no reason that should’ve ended up being a close game), because they have absolutely have their work cut out for them this Sunday evening, when they play the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders are one of the five-to-seven best teams in the NFL right now. They went across the country in Week 1, and beat a Tennessee Team that most people thought would be in the playoffs. They beat the pants off the lowly New York Jets last week (they were up 42-13 in the 4th quarter, before allowing a garbage-time TD to New York). They haven’t turned the football over yet, and they have the best point differential through two games (plus-35) in the NFL.
Derek Carr has excellent over the first two weeks of the season; he’s thrown an NFL-high five touchdown passes this year, and completed passes to 10 different pass catchers already. Michael Crabtree is the only wide receiver in the NFL with three touchdown receptions over the first two weeks of the season. Amari Cooper‘s stat line may not reflect this, but he’s still on the cusp of being the next great star receiver in the league. Oakland’s offensive line might have briefly leapfrogged Dallas’ offensive line for the title of “best unit in the game.” Marshawn Lynch — who I totally thought was finished — looks spry and refreshed thanks to his time off…
— Andy Benoit (@Andy_Benoit) September 22, 2017
Point being: the last thing the Redskins (and their own sputtering offense) want to do is get into a track meet or shootout with the Raiders. If there was ever a week for the offense to get their collective heads out of their asses, it’s this week.
This past offseason, to help bolster a defense that allowed the 6th most yards in the NFL last year, Oakland added another chef in the coaching kitchen, making John Pagano the Assistant HC/Defense, while Ken Norton Jr retained his “defensive coordinator” title; that basically means you have two different guys trying to run the same unit, which is never a good idea. Right now, the Raiders defense is one of the bottom 10 groups in the NFL, against both the run and the pass. Outside of their demonic pass-rushing duo of Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, the Raiders front seven on defense is still a collection of “just a guy.”
The Redskins went with a beautiful power-rushing attack last week against Los Angeles — watching our offensive linemen pulling in different directions gave me flashbacks to the Joe Gibbs and Joe Bugel days — before getting cute (again) and going away from it (again) in the second half. Even if Robert Kelley can’t play this Sunday, the Redskins have to play with the “keep away” strategy, using Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson (who just might be the best offensive skill player the Redskins have right now) to grind out as many yards as they can.
As good as they’ve looked so far, Oakland is still very beatable. They have yet to actually be tested this season by an offense that has the level of talent to match their own. They’re again traveling to the other side of the country for this game.
It just comes down to whether the Redskins can commit to what worked for them last Sunday, and stick with it.
Random Additional NFL Thoughts Between Week 2 and Week 3
* I don’t buy the report(s) late last week about Andrew Luck “demanding” a trade. That story was nothing more than a bunch of speculative thoughts and twisted words. The truth is that there were people around the league have basically said: “if I was Luck, I would demand a trade,” only because the Indianapolis Colts are such a disaster right now, and their head coach is totally incompetent. However, the far more interesting wrinkle in this story, which nobody in the Colts organization would admit to (though former NFL General Manager Mike Lombardi did bring this up in his weekly podcast on Bill Simmons’ The Ringer podcast network), is if the Colts would try and totally shut down Luck for the vast majority — if not the entirety — of the year, and essentially “tank” this season.
If the Colts ended up with the #1 or #2 pick in the QB-heavy 2018 NFL Draft, it would give them the leverage to demand a boatload of draft picks, in exchange for their draft pick (since they should — and will — remain committed to Luck). Colts General Manager Chris Ballard is an old school, build-through-the-draft type, and a disciple in the Ron Wolf tree of personnel management. In other words, he’s instilled with the same modus operandi as Ted Thompson in Green Bay, John Schneider in Seattle, and Scot McCloughan (who ran the Washington Redskins until this past offseason): 95% of the team should be built through the draft, with free agent acquisitions only sprinkled in as needed. That would give them the sorely needed picks that they need to totally rebuild this team.
* The New Orleans Saints are 0-8 in the month of September, since 2015. This year, they’ve allowed 777 yards of offense in two games. New Orleans has finished with a 7-9 record in each of the last three seasons, but the way they’ve looked this year, expecting a fourth straight year with (just) seven wins might even be a little ambitious. I didn’t have him on my original list of potential coaching casualties for 2017, but I don’t see how Payton stays in New Orleans if they have another bad season, especially given the Saints could also part ways with Drew Brees in the offseason.
If Payton is relieved of his job in New Orleans at the end of the season, there are two interesting landing spots for him: Dallas (where he’s always been closely linked since he owns a home in the Metroplex), and Chicago (Pace is very familiar with Payton — having been a personnel guy in New Orleans from 2002 through 2014 — and there’s no love lost between Pace and current head coach John Fox).
* Speaking of the Cowboys: We finally saw what would happen to Dallas, if an opponent was able to stifle their running game and force Dak Prescott to play “behind schedule.” Running back Ezekiel Elliott had four carries for five yards at halftime. Prescott averaged a pitiful 4.76 yards per attempt against the Denver Broncos’ defense, finishing with a QBR of 35.1. It’ll be interesting to see if Dallas’ opponents this year try and sell out to stop the run, and force Prescott to beat them on his own.
* I loved him from a fantasy football perspective before the season even started, but having watched bits and pieces of the Tennessee Titans over the first two weeks, it’s become even more clear: Derrick Henry is SO much better than DeMarco Murray. Irrespective of the balky hamstring that restricted Murray for much of the preseason, it was just a matter of time before Henry got the chance to showcase his startling combination of size, strength, and speed.
Week 3 Lines and Picks
LA Rams (-3) at San Francisco — pick made yesterday evening
Baltimore (-4) at Jacksonville
Cleveland (-1.5) at Indianapolis
Pittsburgh (-7.5) at Chicago
Miami (-6) at NY Jets
Denver (-3) at Buffalo
Houston at New England (-13.5)
New Orleans at Carolina (-5.5)
Tampa Bay at Minnesota (-1.5)
Atlanta (-3) at Detroit
NY Giants at Philadelphia (-6)
Seattle at Tennessee (-2.5)
Kansas City (-3) at LA Chargers
Cincinnati at Green Bay (-9)
Oakland (-3) at Washington
Dallas (-3) at Arizona
Last Week: 8-8
Season To Date: 14-17